The History of Incense
- A Walk Through History
- For centuries cultures around the world have used incense
to appease and honor their Gods and Goddesses. It is a practice
seen in every religion and in every region of the world. Today
you can find thousands of books and resources giving guidance
and direction for the use of herbs and oils to make soaps and
creams. You can find resources for using leaves of various plants
to create medicinal teas. Plus countless works for how to reference
books for how to create your own incense.
- Not many of these touches on the history behind the use of
herbs and spices in incenses, or a historical look at how they
- One of the oldest surviving texts, (the Ebers Papyrus 2000
BC), defines a list of medicinal herbs in use around 1800 BC.
From ancient texts like these, and Egyptian Hieroglyphs we know
that burning incense was a big part of this early cultures spiritual
life. Priests are depicted burning incense on street corners
during festivals to appease the Gods. Writings indicate that
a healer would burn incense to cast out demons from an ill patent.
Incense was always kept burning within temples to honor the Egyptian
gods and goddesses.
- Ancient writings provide insight into how religions and cultures
of old used incense in their practices. From the Hebrew and Christians,
to Buddhists, Hindu, Pagan, Native American cultures and more.
All these cultures from around the world had access to various
plants, herbs, spices and oils from which to develop a recipe
for pleasing the nose and mind.
- In Exodus 30:34-36 of the Torah, God gives his first instructions
to Moses for using and preparing incense. He says to Moses, "Take
sweet spices, stace and onycha, and galbanum, sweet spices with
pure frankincense (of each shall be an equal part) and make an
- In Luke 1:8 of the Bible, we find an account of how the Priests
used incense in the temple. "Now while he was serving as
priest before God when his division was on duty, according to
the custom of the priesthood it fell to him by lot to enter the
temple of the Lord and burn incense."
- In Revelation 5:8 of the Bible, we find another description
of the importance of incense and in particular its smoke. "And
when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the
twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a
harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers
of the saints."
- In Revelation 8:3-5 of the Bible, we find a description of
how the Biblical Angels used incense. "And another angel
came and stood at the altar with a golden censer; and he was
given much incense to mingle with the prayers of all the saints
upon the golden altar before the throne; and the smoke of the
incense rose with the prayers of the saints from the hand of
the angel before God. Then the angel took the censer and filled
it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth;"
- Buddhists provide offerings of incense to spread its fragrance
to remind practioners to cultivate good conduct. It symbolizes
the fragrance of pure moral conduct.
- According to Liu Zhongyu of the Taoist Culture and Information
Center, "The earliest known record of Daoist using incense
is mentioned in the History of Wu in the Annals of the Three
Kingdoms, which states that the Daoist Yu Ji taught people to
burn incense and read Daoist books in the eastern reaches of
the Yangtze River."
- It is a Chinese tradition of Chan Buddhism; we find the origin
of the 'Incense Board'. In Chan meditation, the incense board
is in the shape of a sword. This symbolizes the diamond wisdom
cutting off ignorance and illusions. The board is lit and a prayer
is said over the flames. A practitioner meditates in a seated
position for a short time; they will stand and continue their
meditation while walking. In this manner, the length of the board
and how long it takes to burn determines the length of the meditation.
- Incense sticks are part of the 16 essential offerings during
a Hindu ritual. Each of these offerings have symbolic spiritual
significance and are offered to the Divine in a particular order.
In Hinduism, incense keeps the practioner calm while performing
ritual worship. The other offerings in these rituals are betel-nut,
betel-leaf, cardamom, camphor, clove, cloth, diva (lamp) flower,
fruit, grain, naivedyam (mixture of nine offerings), sandal paste,
- The ancient Greeks provided a scientific approach to the
use of incense. The father of medicine, Hippocrates (460-377
B.C.), is believed to be the first person to establish and set
down a scientific system of medicine. In this system, the use
of aromas through incense is said to play a significant roll.
Legend says Hippocrates freed Athens from the plague by burning
aromatic plants through out the city.
- The Japanese came relatively late to the use of fragrances
and incense compared to other parts of the world. But once the
Nara and Kamakura Periods (710-1333 C.E.) stepped onto the bandwagon,
they carried it to a fine art. According to the Japanese, incense
purifies mind and body, improves communication, acts as a companion
in the midst of solitude, and brings moments of peace amidst
- According to the Norse Poetic Eddas, incense was used to
honor the Norse Gods and to herald the coming of a Warrior into
Valhalla. The Eddas contains many descriptions of a warrior being
set upon a boat with his belongings, treasures and often times
a maiden who would be killed as the ship was set ablaze and pushed
into the sea. These tales describe great lanterns to light the
way and a fire of incense burning at the rear of the boat to
herald the great warriors arrival to Valhalla.
- Native Americans throughout the Americas have long used smudge
sticks for purification, honoring the Spirits and inducing psychic
visions. A smudge stick is a bundle of dried herbs that are tied
with sinew in the shape of a stick, or braided and tied together.
When smudging, an individual would hold the smudge or place it
in a bowl and use an eagle's feather to fan the smoke in an area
or over a person.
- In Celtic legend, Leprechauns kept their prize possessions
in large cauldrons made of brass, copper or iron. When anyone
came along who might discover their store of gold or gems, the
Leprechaun would throw a handful of powdered oak or pine into
the cauldron releasing a great smoke and hiding his precious
treasure. An other tales speaks of Leprechauns who sprinkle powdered
Irish clover over the head of a sleeping human who has earned
the respect or compassion of the little people. The clover would
bring the person luck in the matters of there that was causing
them trials or trouble.
- For pagan practioners of Witchcraft and Celtic Shamanism,
incense has long been used to summon an individuals chosen deity,
spirit guides or a specific type of energy needed in a spell
or ritual. These practices have been kept secret since the "Burning
Times" of the European Inquisitions. But with the modern
era of openness, many are coming out of the broom closet to share
their knowledge. Bringing information from ancient family Grimoires
that describe how the God, Goddess, or energy to be used within
the ritual, will dictate the fragrance to be used during the
ritual. Knowing this allows the Witch or Shaman to blend a variety
of herbs and spices to meet their specific needs.
- Each of these societies looks upon the use of incense as
a necessary part of their spiritual life and practice in honoring
both their chosen Divine force and for their own personal enlightenment.
- The Purpose of Incense
- The concepts behind all these ancient cultures and practices
are found today in modern society. And not just in the societies
descended from these cultures. As the west grew, so did the influx
of immigrants bringing with them their many cultural and religious
- These aromas can enhance meditations or devotional activities
as the fragrance of the incense lingers in the air. In meditation,
an individual can pull in the aroma and energy of their chosen
mixture and allow it to carry their conscious thoughts to a higher
state of awareness. In doing so, the consciousness turns its
control over to the subconscious and provides an opportunity
for Divine Spirit connection and communication.
- For this reason, incense can be a valuable tool for any spiritual
practioner. Incense is used to heighten an individual's awareness,
focus their thoughts, and bring about calm or healing energies
during spiritual work. They are used for giving thanks and honoring
spirits. Or they can be used to assist a practioner during meditation
to achieve a particular goal.
- When used to enhance energy, incense provides assistance
to direct one's energy in a specified direction to work on self
healing, Divine communication and even altering one's inner perceptions
about the self to create a more positive and successful life.
Of course incense cannot do this alone. But it can help create
or enhance the desired energies.
- Many agree that lighting an incense starts this process of
empowering an individuals thoughts or prayers into the blended
herbs. And many agree that the smoke of the incense carries the
prayers or desires up and into the spirit world for manifestation.
This is seen in Hebrew, Christian, Pagan and Native American
practices. The smoke itself is the instrument or vehicle that
carries the desire energy to the Divine Spirit.
- Whither walking clockwise in an area to clear and cleanse
the energy for spiritual work, or using a feather to fan the
smoke over a body or object, the smoke is an important component.
But the fragrance also has an important role to play. If it didn't,
than any mixture of herbs, flowers or trees would do the trick.
But the focus on fragrance from the past shows us the first working
knowledge of aromatherapy for bringing about change. For thousands
of years and into modern times, what we smell affects our views,
perceptions and energies.
- In his book "Incense, Oils and Brews", Scott Cunningham
describes how ancient people looked beyond the physical world
of science and saw into the mystical connections of nature. Including
the connection between humans and plants, their fragrances and
medicinal uses. Learning about which incense can enhance or support
certain energies is a key step to using incense for rituals and
- Choosing The Right Incense
- For centuries there have been mystical properties associated
with various herbs, trees and flowers. Apples for instance have
long been associated with knowledge and wisdom. Used for love,
healing, immortality and garden magic rituals. Knowing which
herb or plant to use is an exercise in using the right energy
with the right purpose.
- Correspondence lists have been published in magazines, books
and newspapers for centuries. The Old Farmer's Almanac has often
published a listing of herbs, flowers and their mystical meanings.
Even the recent publication for the 2008 Almanac contains a listing
of the Symbolic Meanings of Herbs, Trees and Flowers. Some of
the oldest correspondence listings can be found in Benjamin Franklin's
"Poor Richards Almanac", published from 1732 to 1758.
- Of course there isn't one set in stone correspondence listing.
But a good search of resources and historical publications can
give an individual a good listing and cross reference of mystical
properties. I have placed a short-listing of Incense
Symbology to share my own research.
- Tools: Incense
- - A History Of Incense
- - Creating Your Own Incense
- - Incense Symbology
- Source: 1, h1,
- Created: 05.14.2008 Updated: 05.14.2008