Category Archives: Herbalism & Rootwork & Wortcunning

A Very Brief History of Incense

 

Most ancient cultures used incense for sacred, healing and practical purposes. It’s likely we even tossed a few pleasant smelling plants into the fire back when we lived in caves. And were delighted to find some of them even kept the bugs out, could heighten the senses, get you high or just cover up the stench of human habitation.

It probably wasn’t long before folks were dedicating this fragrant smoke to their gods or ancestors, or what have you. Watching as their hopes, prayers and wishes spiralled upwards on the air currents produced by flame and wind.

IMAG0008The earliest historical records we have for the use of incense dates back to Egypt, though there are some references that may be about incense use in ancient Sumeria. As far back as 1000 BCE, ancient civilizations made use of peppermint essential oil. Archaeologists have even caught wifs of peppermint while entering ancient Egyptian tomb. As early as 3000 B.C. the Egyptians were importing large quantities of myrrh. This was used in the embalming of their dead, as an antiseptic medicine, and to burn on their altars as a sacrifice to the gods. They also believed it purified the worshippers. In certain Egyptian temples there are carved the ingredients for incense: Frankincense, Spikenard, Mastic, Henna, Rose, Cinnamon and Myrrh.

Among the oldest sources we have regarding herbalism and incense is the Indian Vedas, where we see a mixture of herbalism and incense burning used for healing, sacred rites and what we would consider magick. Other ancient cultures to use incense are everything from Japan to Mesopotamia, Phoenicia to Arabia, Greece to India.

Incense was among one of the highest valued and most moved commodities in the ancient world. By the 1st century A.D., Rome was going through about 3,000 tons of imported frankincense and 500 tons of myrrh per year.

For many years Frankincense from the Arabian peninsula was actually a more valuable currency than gold or silver. Frankincense was used by the ancient Egyptians, Persians and Assyrians, and later the Romans. The Frankincense trade flourished for fifteen hundred years, peaking at the height of the Roman Empire. The word incense comes from the Latin verb incendere, which means “to burn”.

The Babylonians used Cedar of Lebanon, Cypress, Pine and Fir Resin, Myrtle, Clamus and Juniper in incense.

Phoenician merchants traded in Chinese Camphor and Indian Cinnamon, Pepper and Sandalwood.

The First Nation People of North Americans have also burned herbal smoke mixtures in ceremonial cleansing and healing rituals for thousands of years. This is the practice we know as smudging.

A somewhat similar practice found in Scotland and possibly other Celtic countries was sainning, which typical involves the burning of aromatic plants and wood, such as juniper and spreading or fanning the smoke with a goose feather or some instrument.

Buddhism has helped to spread the use of incense all over the world. It has been used during Buddhist meditations to create a favourable atmosphere for seeking wisdom and truth, and to help free them of negative states of mind.

According to the Norse Poetic Eddas, incense was used to honour the Norse Gods and to herald the coming of a Warrior into Valhalla.

There are references to incense in the Bible. The three wisemen gifted baby Jesus with gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Roman Catholics still use incense in their religious rituals.

According to the Old Testament when the Jews returned from captivity in Babylon and Egypt, the ancient Hebrews adopted the habit of using fragrant products, especially incense and used it to consecrate their temples, altars, candles and priests.

Today incense is also popular amongst modern day Pagans, Heathens and Witches

The connection between incense, religions, medicine, and shaman practices is obvious, it would be impossible to separate them, or say which came first. In nearly all religions, aromatic oils, leaves and powders were considered a gift from the Gods, symbolic of divine grace.

Incense works on subconscious level. Scent can cause an instant and sometimes very strong reaction, either pleasant or unpleasant, in a way that no other sensation can. Scent is connected with memory, and is therefore a powerful mood affecter.

Other benefits of burning of incense include the purification of an area, to cleanse and disinfect living spaces, to change a mood and trigger certain states of mind (which can facilitate meditation or religious practices) to create atmosphere, to drive away unwanted insects and possibly guests as well, to send our prayers and energy to the otherworlds and to burn as offerings. Let’s not forget how people use it to symbolize certain elements as well!


Incense has come to signify the much cherished and heartfelt link between the seen and the unseen.

Recipe for New Flesh

Reddening the Bones

The first step is to spend time with the spirit who is to be housed within the bones and find out what ingredients it wants. Then add what you may feel will add certain desired qualities. Make sure there are ingredient that will actually redden the bones and that they are the main active ingredients.

 

Start with your dry ingredients, then add liquids. You may want to add the ingredients in a certain order.

The recipe provided may or may not be complete, a witch has her secrets and privacy after all. Your recipe will not be the same as mine anyways. A recipe for a different spirit and/or  a different witch would be different. This is an example to inspire.

 

  • Red ochre (Fe2O3)
  • Graveyard dirt
  • Black salt (aka Witches’ salt) typically the soot, ash and char from the bottom of a cast iron cauldron mixed with salt. In this case, sea salt.
  • Brimstone (sulphur)
  • Yew leaves (Taxus brevifolia)
  • Northern wormwood aka wild sage up in the Yukon (Artemisia frigida)
  • Juniper, bark, berries and leaves (needles) (Juniperus communis)
  • Sun flower petals (Helianthus annuus)
  • Lavender flowers (Lavandula angustifolia)
  • Golden Witches’ Broom or Spruce Broom Rust (Chrysomyxa arctostaphyli)
  • Canada Violet (Viola Canadensis)
  • A burned message or letter
  • Finely ground crow feather
  • Fly agaric (Amanita muscaria)
  • A windblown maple leaf (Acer saccharum)
  • Diviner’s sage (Salvia divinorum)
  • Henbane (Hyoscyamus niger)
  • Cinnamon (Cinnamomum, courtesy of the grocery store)
  • Belladonna (Atropa belladonna)
  • Water from a mineral spring taken from a volcanic landscape (Wells Gray provincial park in BC)
  • Gin (a spirit that is flavoured with juniper berries)
  • Linseed oil (Linum usitatissimum, Linaceae)
  • Menstrual blood
  • A drop of blood from a certain finger on a certain hand
  • Red wine
  • The petals from a rose in our garden, the very last one to bloom this year
  • Rendered duck fat
  • Mixed in a small ceramic cauldron then placed over fire while stirred, then poured into a jar
  • The jar is in then placed outside as the storm known as Sandy passes over

Fancy wording for the ingredient list:

* Blood of the earth, blood of the grave, handprints of the deep ancestors. To give you flesh of the ancient ones.

* Soil from the resting place of the dead. To honour your death.

* Tears of the earth, soot from a cauldron, mineral of the sea. To give you entryway to the underworld.

* Love of the alchemists, a breath of flame, symbol of the soul, powder of the sun. To give you the spark of life.

* Ancient tree of death and rebirth, cousin of the world Tree. To guide you through the crossroads.

* Name of the star, bitter medicine, herb of Artemis.  To give you healing power, a gift wildcrafted from home.

* Flesh of the tree whose name I bear, tree of rebirth, protective shrub (by grell). To give you rebirth, to protect you on your journeys.

* Flower of the sun, symbol of the harvest, reminder of renewal. To refresh and renew, to give you the strength of the sun.

* Flower of sweet dreams, elf leaf, the washing herb. To give you peaceful rest and solace.

* Golden witches’ broom, deformity of a spruce tree, nest of squirrels. To give you a home.

* Violet of our nation, flower of home. So you know the way home.

* Ashes of a message. So that you can bring tidings.

* Feather of a bird. So that you know what you are.

* The red toadstool. To ease your passage and grant you vision.

* A wind blown leaf. To give you flight and wind beneath your wings.

* The diviners sage. To grant you the power of prophecy.

* The bane of hens. To give you flight and magick. To grant you the ability to tell that which is dangerous to birds.

* The skin of a tree which is used at the winter’s solstice. To give you skin, to bring rebirth from darkness.

* Beautiful death, poison of empresses, herb of Atropos. To perceive fate.

* Well spring waters from the underworld. To slake your thirst, the ease your travels across the Veil.

* Spirit of juniper berries. To give you medicine and strength in flight.

* Oil of the flax seed, that which was mixed with red ochre by painters of old. To preserve and protect.

* Moon’s blood. To give you life, to give you blood, to give you flesh. So that you can find me.

* Blood from the hand that hexes and binds. To give you magick. So that you can find me.

* Blood from the vine, drink of Dionysus. To give you blood, to give you sustenance.

* Spit of a witch. To give you voice.

* Petals from summer’s last rose. To draw you to the middle world, to remind you of summer’s kiss, to renew.

* Fat of fowl. To give you flesh.

* Heat from a flame. To enliven your spirit.

* The winds of a cyclone. To give breath to new flesh.