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~ Incense ~

Incense are a tool of the element Air.

Alter ~ Athame ~ Incense ~ Candles ~ Bell ~ Figurines ~ Chalice ~ Two Bowls

Broom ~ Wand ~ Pentacle ~ Robes ~ Censer ~ Charcoal ~ Cauldron ~ Sword
Intro Incense Chart   The Materials 
The 2 Forms Of Incense Noncombustible Incense  Combustible Incense
Rules Of Combustible Incense Incense Papers The Censer
Using Combustible Incense Using Noncombustible Incense Charcoal Blocks

I have scanned a chapter from Complete Book of Incenses, Oils and Brews for this section. And added a incense chart myself.

Cunningham's Intro to Incense

INCENSE HAS SMOLDERED on magicians' altars for at least 5,000 years. It was burned in antiquity to mask the odors of sacrificial animals, to carry prayers to the Gods, and to create a pleasing environment for humans to meet with Deity.

Today, when the age of animal sacrifices among most Western magicians is long past, the reasons for incense use are varied. It is burned during magic to promote ritual consciousness, the state of mind necessary to rouse and direct personal energy.  This is also achieved through the use of magical tools, by standing before the candle-bewitched altar, and by intoning chants and symbolic words.

When burned prior to magical workings, fragrant smoke also purifies the altar and the surrounding area of negative, disturbing vibrations. Though such a purification isn't usually necessary, it, once again, helps create the appropriate mental state necessary for the successful practice of magic.

Specially formulated incenses are burned to attract specific energies to the magician and to aid her or him in charging personal power with the ritual's goal, eventually creating the necessary change.

Incense, in common with all things, possesses specific vibrations. The magician chooses the incense for magical use with these vibrations in mind. If performing a healing ritual, she or he burns a mixture composed of herbs that promote healing. When the incense is smoldered in a ritual setting it undergoes a transformation. The vibrations, no longer trapped in their physical form, are released into the environment. Their energies, mixing with those of the magician, speed out to effect the changes necessary to the manifestation of the magical goal. Not all incense formulas included in this book are strictly for magical use. Some are smoldered in thanks or offering to various aspects of Deity, just as juniper was burned to Inanna 5,000 years ago in Summer. Other blends are designed to enhance  rituals.

You needn't limit incense use to ritual, but avoid burning healing incense just for the smell, or to freshen up your stale house. Burning magically constructed and empowered incenses when they're not needed is a waste of energy. If you wish to burn a pleasant-smelling incense, compound a household mixture for this purpose.

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Incense Chart

BlueberryBurn to keep unwanted influences away from your home and property
Blue RosesSpecially crafted to honor the Goddess in all her aspects
Carnation A sweet floral scent traditionally used for healing
CherrySacred to Venus, this blend will attract and stimulate love
CinnamonUse to gain wealth and success
Coconut Burn for protection and purification
CopalSacred to the Mayan and Aztecs, this blend is suitable for honoring the Gods
Frangiapani Burn to brighten your home with friendship and love
FrankincenseDraw upon the energy of the sun to create sacred space, consecrate objects, and stimulate positive vibrations
HoneysuckleBurn for good health, luck, and psychic power
Jasmine For luck in general, especially in matters relating to love
LotusFor inner peace and outer harmony, to aid in meditation and open the mind's eye
Musk Burn for courage and vitality, or to heighten sensual passion
MyrrhAn ancient incense for protection, healing, purification and spirituality
PassionflowerFor peace of mind, this sweet scent will soothe troubles and aid in sleep
PatchouliAn earthy scent used in money and attraction spells
Pine Burn for strength, and to reverse negative energies
RoseFor love Magic, and to return calm energies to the home
Sandalwood A delicious all purpose scent used to heal and protect
SpiceA fiery scent to be charged for any Magic
SpiritRaise your personal vibration, attract spirit guides and honor your personal deity
StrawberryFor love, luck and friendship
TangerineA solar aroma used to attract prosperity
TempleA devotional incense for the altar during ritual
Vanilla Stimulate amorous appetites and enhance memory
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Incense: The Materials

Incenses are composed of a variety of leaves, flowers, roots, barks, woods, resins, gums and oils. Semiprecious stones may also be added to incenses to lend their energies to the mixture, much as emeralds were once burned in fires by ancient Meso-American peoples.

Out of the literally hundreds of potential incense ingredients perhaps 14 are most frequently used. Keep a stock of these herbs on hand if you plan to make several incenses. These might include:

Pine needles or resin (pitch)
Rose petals

Be aware that many plants (if not all!) smell quite different when being smoldered.  Sweet scents turn sour fast.

If you wish, take a large number of dried and finely ground plant substances (flowers, leaves, bark, roots) and drop a small portion of each herb onto a hot charcoal block; then decide whether the scent is pleasing or not. You might make a notation of each botanical and its scent in a special notebook reserved for this purpose or on three-by five-inch cards. Also note any psychic or other sensations you notice with each burning herb. In this way you'll eventually build up a thorough knowledge of incense materials, which will aid you in your herbal magic.

Do remember that, as surprising as it sounds, scent isn't a factor in magical incense, except very generally: sweet odors are usually used for positive magical goals, while foul scents are used for banishing rituals. Scent is power. It allows us to slip into ritual consciousness, thereby allowing us to raise power, infuse it with the proper energies, and send it forth toward the magical goal. However, not all magical incenses smell sweet.  Some have strong, resinous odors; others, intensely bitter scents. Incenses intended forritual use are blended to provide the proper energies during magical operations - not to smell pleasing to the human nose.

Don't let this scare you away from incense, however. Most of our associations with "pleasant" and "foul" odors are learned, and our noses aren't as capable of determining various scents as they should be. Retrain your nose to accept exotic scents, and the art of incense burning will become a joy, not something to be tolerated for the sake of magic.

Occult supply stores stock incense intended for use in magic. Many rare blends can be purchased for a few dollars. While these are magically effective, you may wish to make some of your own.


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The Two Forms of Incense

Incense is virtually a necessity in magical practice, but there seems to be a great mystery surrounding its composition. Fortunately with practice, it's surprisingly easy to make incense.

Two types of incense are used in magic: the combustible and the noncombustible. The former contains potassium nitrate (saltpeter) to aid in burning, while the latter does not. Therefore combustible incense can be burned in the form of bricks, cones, sticks and other shapes, whereas noncombustible incense must be sprinkled onto glowing charcoal blocks to release its fragrance. Ninety-five percent of the incense used in magic is the non-combustible, raw or granular type. Why? Perhaps because it's easier to make. Herbal magicians are notoriously practical people. Also, some spells (particularly divinatory or evocational rites; see the Glossary for unfamiliar words) call for billowing clouds of smoke. Since cone, stick and block incense burn at steady rates, such effects are impossible with their use.

The advantages of combustible incense can outweigh its drawbacks, depending on circumstance. Need to burn some money drawing incense for an unexpected ritual?

You could take out the censer, a charcoal block and the incense, light the charcoal, place it in the censer and sprinkle incense onto it. Or you could pull out a cone of money-drawing incense, light it, set it in the censer and get on with your ritual.

Different magicians prefer different types of incense. I'm partial to raw or noncombustible incenses, but the wise magical  herbalist stocks both types. Hence, instructions for the reparation of both forms appear here


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Noncombustible Incense

Be sure you have all necessary ingredients. If you lack any, decide on substitutions

(see Chapter 5 or Part III for ideas).


Each ingredient must be finely ground, preferably to a powder, using either a mortar and pestle or an electric grinder. Some resins won't powder easily, but with practice you'll find the right touch. When I first worked with herbs I couldn't powder frankincense.

It kept on gumming to the sides of the mortar and to the tip of the pestle. After a while I stopped fighting it (and cursing it, I'll admit-not a good thing to do with herbs used in incenses) and got into the flow of the work. The frankincense came out just fine.

When all is ready, fix your mind on the incense's goal-protection, love, health. In a large wooden or ceramic bowl, mix the resins and gums together with your hands.

While mingling these fragrant substances, also mix their energies. Visualize your personal power-vibrating with your magical goal-exiting your hands and entering the incense. It is this that makes homemade incense more effective than its commercial counterparts. Next, mix in all the powdered leaves, barks, flowers and roots. As you mix, continue to visualize or concentrate on the incense's goal.

Now add any oils or liquids (wine, honey, etc.) that are included in the recipe. Just a few drops are usually sufficient. On the subject of oils: If there's a sufficient amount of dry ingredients in the recipe, you can substitute an oil for an herb you lack. Simply ensure that the oil an essential oil, for synthetics smell like burning plastic when smoldered.

Once all has been thoroughly mixed, add any powdered gem-stones or other power boosters. A few-not many-of the recipes in this book call for a pinch of powdered stone.

To produce this, simply take a small stone of the required type and pound it in a metal mortar and pestle (or simply smash it with a hammer against a hard surface). Grind the resulting pieces into a powder and add no more than the scantest pinch to the incense.

One general power-boosting "stone" is amber. A pinch of this fossilized resin added to any mixture will increase its effectiveness, but this can be rather expensive.

The incense is now fully compounded. Empower the incense (see Chapter 2) and it is done. Store in a tightly capped jar. Label carefully, including the name of the incense and date of composition. It is ready for use when needed.

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Combustible Incense

Combustible incense (in the form of cones, blocks and sticks) is fairly complex in its composition, but many feel the results are worth the extra work.

To be blunt, this aspect of incense composition isn't easy. Some of the ingredients are difficult to obtain, the procedure tends to be messy and frustrating, and some even question whether combustible incense is as magically effective as its noncombustible counterpart. For years I hesitated making or using sticks, cones or blocks because they contain potassium nitrate. This substance is magically related to Mars, and I felt this might add unneeded aggressive energies to the I incense.

But when I considered that the charcoal blocks I use to burn I noncombustible incense also contain saltpeter, I relented and experimented. However, to this day I prefer the raw form. To each their I own.

At first, making combustible incense may seem impossible to accomplish. But persevere and you'll be rewarded with the satisfaction of lighting incense cones you've made yourself.

Gum tragacanth glue or mucilage is the basic ingredient of all molded incenses. Gum tragacanth is available at some herb stores; at one time in the past every drugstore carried it. It is rather expensive ($3.00 an ounce as of this writing), but a little will last for months.

To make tragacanth glue, place a teaspoon of the ground herb in a glass of warm water. Mix thoroughly until all particles are dispersed. To facilitate this, place in a bowl and whisk or beat with an egg beater. This will cause foam to rise, but it can be easily skimmed off or allowed to disperse. The gum tragacanth has enormous absorption qualities; an ounce will absorb up to one gallon of water in a week. Let the tragacanth absorb the water until it becomes a thick bitter-smelling paste. The consistency of the mixture depends on the form of incense desired. For sticks (the most difficult kind to make) the mixture should be relatively thin. For blocks and cones a thicker mucilage should be made. This is where practice comes in handy after a session or two you will automatically know when the mucilage is at the correct consistency. If you can't find tragacanth, try using gum Arabic in its place. This, too, absorbs water. I haven't tried using it for incense yet, but all reports say it works as well as tragacanth.

When you have made the trag glue, cover with a wet cloth and set aside. It will continue to thicken as it sits, so if it becomes to thick add a bit of water and stir thoroughly.

Next, make up the incense base. Not all formulas in this hook can be used for combustible incense; in fact, most of them were designed to be used as noncombustible incenses. Fortunately, by adding the incense to a base it should work well.

Here's one standard formula for an incense base:



6 parts ground Charcoal (not self-igniting)
1 part ground Benzoin
2 parts ground Sandalwood
1 part ground Orris root (this "fixes" the scent)
6 drops essential oil (use the oil form of one of the ingredients in the incense)
2 to 4 parts mixed, empowered incense

Mix the first four ingredients until all are well blended. Add the drops of essential oil and mix again with your hands. The goal is to create a powdered mixture with a fine texture. If you wish, run the mixture through a grinder or the mortar again until it is satisfactory.

Add two to four parts of the completed and empowered incense mixture (created according to the instructions for Noncombustible Incense above). Combine this well with your hands.

Then using a small kitchen scale, weigh the completed incense and add ten percent potassium nitrate. If you've made ten ounces of incense, add one ounce potassium nitrate. Mix this until the white powder is thoroughly blended.

Saltpeter should constitute no more than ten percent of the completed bulk of the incense. If any more is added, it will burn too fast; less and it might not burn at all.

Potassium nitrate isn't difficult to obtain. I buy mine at drug stores, so check these (it isn't usually on the shelf; ask for it at the pharmacy). If you have no luck, try chemical supply stores.

Next, add the tragacanth glue. Do this a teaspoon at a time, mixing with your hands in a large bowl until all ingredients are wetted. For cone incense you'll need a very stiff,

dough-like texture. If it is too thick it won't properly form into cones and will take forever to dry. The mixture should mold easily and hold its shape. On a piece of waxed paper, shape the mixture into basic cone shapes' exactly like the ones you've probably bought.  If this form isn't used, the incense might not properly burn.

When you've made up your cone incense, let it dry for two to seven days in a warm place. Your incense is finished. For block incense make a 1/3 inch-thick square of the stiff dough on waxed paper. Cut with a knife into one-inch cubes as if you were cutting small brownies. Separately slightly and let dry. Stick incense can be attempted as well.

Add more tragacanth glue to the mixed incense and base until the mixture is wet but still rather thick. The trick here is in determining the proper thickness of the incense/tragacanth mixture and in finding appropriate materials to use. Professional incense manufacturers use thin bamboo splints, which aren't available. So try homemade wooden or bamboo splints, broom straws, very thin twigs, or those long wooden cocktail skewers that are available at some grocery and oriental food stores.

Dip the sticks into the mixture, let them sit upright and then dip again. Several dippings are usually necessary, this is a most difficult process. When the sticks have accumulated a sufficient amount of the incense, poke them into a slab of clay or some other substance so that they stand upright. Allow them to dry.

One variation on stick incense making uses a stiffer incense dough. Pat down the dough on waxed paper until it is very thin. Place the stick on the dough. Roll a thin coating of dough around the stick. The incense shouldn't be more than twice the thickness of the stick. Squeeze or press it onto the stick so that it will stay put, let dry.

Personally, I find the inclusion of charcoal in this recipe to be distasteful and unnecessary. It makes it imperative that you wash your hands numerous times throughout this process. Although traditional, charcoal also lends a peculiar odor to the incense. So here's another recipe I've used with good results:



6 parts powdered Sandalwood (or Cedar, Pine, Juniper)
2 parts powdered Benzoin (or Frankincense, Myrrh, etc.)
l part ground Orris root
6 drops essential oil (use the oil form of one of the incense ingredients)
3 to 5 parts empowered incense mixture

In this recipe, powdered wood is used in place of the charcoal. Use sandalwood if it's included in the incense recipe. If not, use cedar, pine or juniper, depending on the type of incense to be made. Try to match the wood base of this incense to the incense's recipe. If you can't, simply use sandalwood.

Mix the first three ingredients until combined. Add the oil and mix again. Then add three to five parts of the completed incense to this. Again, this should be a powder. Weigh and add ten percent potassium nitrate. Mix, add the gum tragacanth glue, combine again and mold in the methods described above.


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Rules of Combustible Incense Composition

Here are some guidelines to follow when compounding combustible incense.

These are for use with the Cone Incense Base #2 recipe above. If they aren't followed, the incense won't properly burn. There's less room for experimentation here than with noncombustible incenses.

First off, never use more than ten percent saltpeter. Ever!

Also, keep woods (such as sandalwood, wood aloe, cedar, juniper and pine) and gum resins (frankincense, myrrh, benzoin, copal) in the proper proportions: at least twice as much powdered wood as resins. If there's more resinous matter, the mixture won't burn.

Naturally, depending on the type of incense you're adding to the base, you may have to juggle some proportions accordingly. Simply ensure that frankincense and its kin never constitute more than one-third of the final mixture, and all should be well.

Though this hasn't covered all aspects of combustible incense making (that could be a book in itself), it should provide you with enough guidelines to make your own.

Experiment, but keep these rules in mind.


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Incense Papers

Incense papers are a delightful variation of combustible incense. Here, rather than using charcoal and gum tragacanth, tinctures and paper are the basic ingredients.

When finished you'll have produced several strips of richly scented paper that can be smoldered with a minimum of fuss.

To make incense papers, take a piece of white blotter paper and cut it into six-inch strips about an inch wide. Next, add one and one-half teaspoons potassium nitrate to one half cup very warm water. Stir until the saltpeter is completely dissolved.

Soak the paper strips in the saltpeter solution until thoroughly saturated. Hang them up to dry. You now have paper versions of the charcoal blocks used to burn incense.

The obstacle in scenting them is to overcome the normal smell of burning paper. For this reason, heavy fragrances should be used, such as tinctures. Tinctures compounded from gums and resins seem to produce the best results. I've tried using true essential oils with incense papers but without much success.

Empower the tincture(s) with your magical need, then pour a few drops of the tincture onto one strip of paper. Smear this over the paper and add more drops until it is completely coated on one side. Hang the strip up to dry and store in labeled, airtight containers until needed. To speed drying, turn on the oven to a low temperature, leave the door open, and place the soaked incense papers on the rack. Remove them when dry.

Generally speaking, incense papers should be made with one tincture rather than mixtures. But, once again, try various formulas until you come up with positive results. 

To use incense papers, simply remove one paper and hold it above your censer.  Light one tip with a match, and after it is completely involved in flame, quickly blow it out. Place the glowing paper in your censer and let it smolder, visualizing or working your magical ritual. Incense papers should burn slowly and emit a pleasant scent, but again your results will vary according to the strength of the the tincture and the type of paper used.

Plain unscented incense papers can be used in place of charcoal blocks. For this purpose soak the papers in the potassium nitrate solution and let dry, then set one alight in the censer. Sprinkle a thin layer of the incense over the paper. As it burns the paper will also smolder your incense.

You may have difficulty in keeping incense paper lit. The secret here is to allow air to circulate below the papers. You can ensure this by either placing the paper on some heat-proof object in the censer, or by filling the censer with salt or sand and thrusting one end of the paper into this, much as you might with incense sticks. The paper should burn all the way to its end. Incense papers are a simple and enjoyable alternative to normal combustible incense. Try them!

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The Censer

Whether you use raw incense, blocks or incense papers, you'll need an incense burner. The censer can be anything from a gilt, chain equipped, church-type affair to a bowl of sand or salt. It truly doesn't matter. I know occultists who have used the bowl-and-salt method for years, long after they could have afforded to purchase other censers.

Although I have several, perhaps my favorite censer is actually a mortar from Mexico.  It is carved from lava, stands on three legs and is perfect for use as a censer.

Your own taste should determine which censer is right for you. If nothing else is available, use a bowl half-filled with sand or salt and get on with it The sand protects the bowl and the surface on which it sits against heat. It also provides a handy place on which to prop up stick incense.


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Using Combustible Incense

Simply light it, blow out the flame after the tip is glowing, and set it in the censer.

As it burns visualize your magical goal manifesting in your life. It's that simple. You may wish to also burn candles of the appropriate color, perhaps anointed with a scented oil that is also aligned with your goal. Naturally, incense may also be smoldered as a part of a larger ritual.


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Using Noncombustible Incense

Light a self-igniting charcoal block (see below) and place it in a censer. Once the block is glowing and saltpeter within it has stopped sparkling, sprinkle a half-teaspoon or so of the incense on the block. Use a small spoon if you wish. It will immediately begin to burn, and in doing so, release fragrant smoke.*  Remember: Use just a small amount of incense at first. When the smoke begins to thin out, add more. If you dump on a spoonful of incense it will probably extinguish the charcoal block, so use small amounts. Incenses containing large amounts of resins and gums (frankincense, myrrh and so on) burn longer than those mainly composed of woods and leaves.

Don't knock off the ash that forms on top of the charcoal unless the incense starts to smell foul. In such a case, scrape off the burning incense and the ash with a spoon and add a fresh batch. Frankincense does tend to smell odd after smoldering for some time.

Incense can be burned as part of a magical ritual, to honor higher forces, or as a direct act of magic, such as to clear a house of negativity and to smooth peaceful vibrations throughout it. ___________________ * There's a difference between burning and smoldering; though I use such terms as "burn this incense" several times in this book, I really mean "smolder."


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Charcoal Blocks

These are necessities for burning noncombustible incense. They're available in a wide range of sizes, from over an inch in diameter (they're usually round) to about a half-inch size. Most religious and occult supply stores stock them, and they can be obtained from mail-order suppliers.

Potassium nitrate is added to these charcoal blocks during their manufacture to help them ignite. When touched with a lit match, fresh charcoal blocks erupt into a sparkling fire which quickly spreads across the block. If you wish, hold the block. It may light easily. If so, quickly place it in the censer to avoid burning your fingers. Or, light the block in the censer itself, thereby preventing burns. This is some what harder to do.

Unfortunately, some charcoal blocks aren't fresh, have been exposed to moisture, or haven't been properly saturated with the potassium nitrate solution and so don't light well. If this is the case relight the block until it is evenly glowing and red. Then pour on the incense.

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