The content of this page has been taken from many different sources and has been put together over a period of several years not as the opinion of an expert but in a way that has been tried and tested and makes sense to me. In essences this is a very basic description of the art of incense and its usage and I would advise you to get a good book on the subject if you intend to make and use your own incense.
Why use Incense?
Apart from smelling nice, incense is a useful tool to concentrate and direct the latent energy contained within the subconscious mind. In choosing and/or preparing your incense you are tapping into your subconscious mind and unconsciously focusing that latent power into the incense as you prepare it. As you burn the incense you are releasing the energy contained within the incense so that it can influence the act, spell/invocation or ritual you are performing. The same as when choosing colours; candles; Gems; Stones and/or Crystals, you are concentrating on the re-action your action requires. The more thought given to a spell/invocation or ritual the more magical power they are charged with. In selecting your incense you are mentally preparing yourself spiritually for the task you have set yourself, i.e. the casting of the spell/invocation!
Incense has been used by our ancestors for thousands of years as an aid to working magical spells, meditation, trance work, vision questing and journeys beyond the veil (the ‘Otherworld’), some incorporating certain natural drugs.
Our ancestors used many natural drugs some mildly narcotic and some very potent. Some of the drugs incorporated into their mix of incense were drugs such as Cannabis, Amanita Mushrooms, Belladonna, Henbane, Poppy and many others. The witches of old used to anoint their bodies with a hallucinogenic ointment which caused the sensation of flying; they would ‘fly’ to their Sabbats. And the use of the same ingredients in incense would I’m sure produce the same or a similar effect if inhaled. Perhaps these drugs eased the transition when the spirit left the body. Perhaps incense has a similar but weaker effect on the subconscious mind.
Incense can be made from almost any herb, natural resin, gum or sap; even some un-natural substances! But we won’t delve into that area as there is not enough room on this page; and as there are lots of books and tapes etc that can be obtained, there is no need. The list of incenses that can be used in and outside the magic circle is vast; as is the amount of books written on the subject. We must also remember that the different incenses can be blended in various ways to produce exactly the aroma and subtle subconscious effect you require for your ritual.
Do I buy incense or make my own? Basic incense can be bought in a wide variety of shops ranging from your local craft shop to major stores to shops who specialise in supplying magical paraphernalia. If you just want general incense for aroma, just look around your local cheap shop and you will usually find packets of incense sticks for around 99 pence or a £1, but for the purer incense, gums and resins required for magical purposes you need to go to the specialist shop or supplier, but these can be expensive. The other alternative is to make and mix your own using the herbs, resins and gums available in your area and only buy those that are not available. Then once you have acquired the necessary tools to manufacture the incense the only other outlay apart from your time and patience is for a mortar and pestle and charcoal discs or blocks to burn them on and a censer to burn them in. To take it one step further you could always make your own charcoal from the desired woods that correspond with the herbs, resins and gums used in the incense. For instance; as an aid to burning your incense at Lár Bealtinne you could use charcoal made from the nine sacred woods of the Celts; this could also be used at other fire Sabbats such as Lár Samhradh. (For a list of the nine sacred woods see Sacred Fires) When you make your charcoal make it in single wood type batches so there’s no confusion over which is which? Once you have made your charcoal make sure you keep it in separate labelled boxes of some sort so that it doesn’t get mixed up until required.
The following is a short list of the most popular herbs, resins, oils and gums used in incense just to start you off.
Ambergris Allspice All Mints Aniseed
Bergamot Benzoin Carnation Cedar
Clove Cinnamon Frankincense Fennel
Galangal Jasmine Juniper Lavender
Lemon Myrrh Musk Patchouli
Pine Rosemary Rose Sage
Sandalwood Sassafras Tansy Valerian
Vanilla Vervain Yarrow Ylang Ylang
Then dependant upon what you are doing you blend two, three or more together by grinding them in a mortar and pestle. Some witches do this ritually i.e. chanting some sort of spell or invocation as they grind away deosil at the herbs etc. I suppose the most universal incense mix is the following:
4 parts Frankincense, 3 parts Myrrh,
2 parts Benzoin and 1 part Sandalwood.
Then mixing in ¼ parts of other herbs and/or incense and gums to correspond with the ritual/effect you are trying to achieve. You can also add 2 or 3 drops of various essential oils to help bind your incense together and help it burn better.
This next one is specifically used in rituals at full moon esbats is equal Parts of:
Plus a few drops of Ambergris oil
Again; add in ¼ parts of other herbs, incense and/or gums to add that extra bit of power. Some good ones to add would be Jasmine, Violet, Marigold, Nicotiana (tobacco plant) or any plant that is night scented. For Sabbats the general rule is 3, 2, 1, that is:
3 parts Frankincense,
2 parts Sandalwood or Myrrh,
1 part Benzoin,
Plus, a few drops of essential oils such as Patchouli, Musk, Lavender or Ambergris.
For a good earth incense blend together;
1 part Myrrh gum, 1 part Thyme,
1 part Bay, 1 part Pine resin,
1 part Cypress;
And add a few drops of patchouli oil.
For an incense that is good for the south and fire mix together;
1 part Opoponax gum;
1 part Benzoin;
2 parts Aniseed, 2 parts Ginger
And 2 parts Cinnamon.
Then add a few drops of Amber oil
For good incense that has an airy smell mix together equal parts of;
Mastic gum, Benzoin gum,
Frankincense gum, Rosemary,
Then add a few drops of Lavender oil.
After a while you will become more proficient at mixing and using incense and you can start to experiment with different blends and mixes that have an attraction for you and you will naturally gravitate towards those mixes that go well with your style of ritual.
If you are going to use essential oils don’t make the mistake of using the cheap oils specifically used for oil burners; you need to use the purer essential oils to get the full impact of the oils aroma and energy. The types you need are the concentrated oils. These are also the types of oil you use when dressing or empowering a candle or for that matter any other magical anointing or consecration. Of course if you really want to have oils that you know are pure you could always distil your own! I’ve included a few oil mixes that may come in useful;
This one is a good oil mix to wear at Sabbats when you are communing with the Goddess and the God.
3 parts Patchouli oil; 2 parts Musk oil,
1 part Sweet William oil,
2 parts Frankincense oil,
1 part Myrrh oil, 1 part Clove oil.
Again this is also good for Sabbats.
Use this next one to anoint the body at Esbats or when summoning lunar powers and energies.
3 parts Attar of Rose;
2 parts Attar of Jasmine
1 part Sandalwood
This next one is a good one to anoint the High Priestess with when invoking the Goddess.
3 parts Attar of Rose,
2 parts Attar of Lemon
1 part Ambergris oil
This one can be used to anoint the High Priest when invoking the God.
3 parts Frankincense;
2 parts Musk
1 part Bay; 1 part Rosemary
If you anoint your altar on a regular basis with oils this next mix is a good one to use.
4 parts Frankincense;
3 parts Myrrh
1 part Lavender;
1 part Valerian
And of course you can always experiment with various mixes and quantities until you get the mix right for you.
Researched and written by Rainbird