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 Sumer. Other blends are designed to enhance Wiccan 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.
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:
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-byfive-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 at 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 for ritual 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.
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 noncombustible, 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) 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 moneydrawing 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. Instructions for the preparation of both forms will appear here in the next update.
One of the secrets of real magic is that it is controlled by the mind. The more things in your ritual to help your mind associate with your goal, the more powerful your ritual may be. Colored candles, scented oils, natural incenses, and more all add to the impact of the magic you wish to do. But how do you know which incense to burn? Is it possible to add scented oils together to get a more powerful oil? And how do you make your own appropriately-scented tools?
The answers to questions like these and hundreds more can be found in The Complete Book of Incense, Oils and Brews by world-famous author Scott Cunningham. This is a greatly expanded and rewritten version of The Magic of Incenses, Oils and Brews. It includes over 100 new formulas, proportions for each element of the recipes (the most requested feature from his previous book), how to substitute ingredients, and much more. Besides the formulas, it also includes the exact methods of making all of these scented tools, including how to extract the essences from the herbs.
Each one of the formulas in this magic book is precise and easy to make. Do you need luck? Take 2 parts vetivert, 2 parts allspice, 1 part nutmeg, and 1 part calamus, grind them together as finely as possible, then sprinkle the powder in a circle around you, beginning and ending in the East and moving clockwise. Sit within this circle and absorb the powder's energies. Also included are other ways to use magical powders that will have you coming up with your own ideas for them, too.
There is a legion of recipes for incenses. There are three for the sun and two for consecrating talismans. There are incenses for each of the astrological signs and ones to help you study better and gain success. You'll also find incenses for each of the planetary influences. There are four for Saturn alone!