Incense is believed to have been used in China from as far back as Neolithic times. Some of the oldest references to incense appear within the Vedas (ancient Hindu texts) dating back at least 3,500 years although this number could be closer to 6,000 to 8,500. Around 2,000 BC, Ancient China was the first civilization who began to use incense in the religious sense, namely for worship. Incense was used by the ancient Egyptians not only to counteract unpleasant odors but also to drive away demons and please the Gods.
Incense is composed of aromatic plant materials often combined with essential oils. It may be made from: wood such as cedar or sandalwood; from resins and gums such as frankincense, myrrh and copal; leaves such as sage or patchouli; flowers and buds such as lavender and rose; seeds and fruits such as juniper and vanilla; roots such as calamus and spikenard; and lastly animal derived materials such as musk and ambergris.
Even today, incense has ritual and symbolic meaning particularly as a sign of reverence and dedication. Its sweet aroma and rising smoke symbolize something pleasing and acceptable, such as a prayer, being offered to God. The smoke additionally reflects the actual movement of that prayer to a higher Being and can be seen as the instrument or vehicle that carries our energy to the other side of the veil. Buddhists provide offerings of incense to remind followers to cultivate good conduct. To them, incense symbolizes the fragrance of pure moral conduct. For pagan practioners of Witchcraft and Celtic Shamanism, incense has long been used to summon an individual’s chosen Deity, Spirit Guide or a specific type of energy needed for a spell or ritual.
So let’s close this blog with Psalm 141, “Let my prayer come like incense before you.”
Here are the answers to the Incense quiz:
1. What incense did the Egyptians use to apply their eye liner? Frankincense.
2. Name the two types of incense that are available. Flammable and non-flammable. Flammable scents contain potassium nitrate to enhance combustion. Non-flammable ingredients are sprinkled onto charcoal embers.
3. What is Dragon’s Blood? Bright red resin obtained from a number of different plants. The red resin was also used in ancient times as varnish, medicine and dye.
4. The oldest incense burner we have found thus far dates back to when? The 5th Dynasty (2498–2345 BC).
5. What is the name for any type of vessel made for burning incense? Censer.