Incense Magick: Art & Ritual of Incense

Incense fanatic Carl Neal walks you through the joys, wonders, and science of making and using natural incense. From making your first basic cone to creation and use of elaborate incense rituals, Incense Magick is your guide to the sometimes secretive world of incense and incense making. Every article explores different facets of incense, incense making, ingredients, rituals, tools, or techniques.

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Carl Neal

Carl Neal

  Carl Neal has walked a Pagan path for 30 years. He is a self-avowed incense fanatic and has published 2 books through Llewellyn Worldwide on the topic. For many years (and even occasionally these days) he was a vendor of altar tools and supplies which led him to write The Magick Toolbox for Red Wheel/Weiser  
The Simple Trick To Making Backflow Incense Cones

As an incense maker I get all sorts of questions from incense users and makers all around the world.  The question I’ve been asked the most over the last 2 years has been “how do you make backflow incense cones?”  The “backflow” or “down flow” incense cone is something reasonably new in the marketplace.  Unlike a traditional cone, a backflow cone not only sends a stream of smoke into the air but it also sends a stream of smoke downwards.  When used with a special burner the smoke flows downward like fog or water.  There are backflow burners that look like a pot pouring tea, a dragon breathing smoke, a castle wrapped in fog, and many others.  All of those very clever burners require the use of a special backflow incense cone.

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Sabbat Incense: Lammas

Most people I meet who are interested in making or using incense want to make sticks and cones.  That’s understandable since these are the most familiar commercial forms.  Many of us have a variety of nifty incense burners for these types of incense and they are simple to use.  Probably the next largest group of incense makers/users I encounter are, by many measurements, the exact opposite.  They prefer to mix aromatics in a “raw” form and use incense charcoal to heat whatever blend they mix.  There is a wonderful style of incense that fits right in the middle of these two extremes.  It’s easy to make and many people have everything needed in their cupboards right now.

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Incense Correspondences

Pick up any Pagany book about incense (or virtually anything else) and you are bound to find a “chart of correspondences” to tell you which herb works for what type of magick.  Want to make incense to help bring prosperity?  Look up “prosperity” in the closest correspondence chart and use whatever the chart says!  Personally, I am generally opposed to using a correspondence chart created by someone else.  I understand pragmatism and the limited amount of time that people have…I get it.  My personal experience with such charts has often shown me that I find different magickal energies in some ingredients.  Sometimes I use things in the exact opposite way as I have seen it described by others.  Don’t misunderstand me.  This isn’t a huge criticism of such charts.  If you’ve read “Incense: Crafting & Use of Magickal Scents” then you know that I included a fairly large correspondence list for incense makers.  What I’m really saying is that nobody should take those charts as gospel nor believe that they can explore every type and variation of plant and tree the way that we can as individuals.

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Foundations of Incense: Oak

When I think about making incense cones and sticks, I usually see wood (a base material) as the simplest and most reliable ingredient in the blend.  After all, it’s the base material that provides the heat to evenly burn the other ingredients.  I generally use a simple formula when creating a pure wood incense: 2 tablespoons of wood powder, 1/8 teaspoon of gum binder, and about 1 tablespoon of water.  Simple right? 

When it comes to woods, Oak is a wood seen as sacred by multiple cultures.  It is fairly easy to powder and has wonderful burning properties.  Most of us are familiar with the pleasing smell of Oak burning in a campfire.  These facts make Oak seem like a natural base material to use for many different types of incense.  Occasionally, Nature likes to teach us humility by showing us that we aren’t nearly as smart as we think.  Oak has been chuckling at me for decades, but I think we have finally found our middle ground.

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Making Incense With A Wood Chipper

Yes, you read that correctly.  I’ve been making incense for more than 20 years and in the early days I never would have imagined adding a chipper to my arsenal of incense making tools.  I searched  for an appropriate chipper for several years. A few months ago I finally took the plunge.  Oh how I wish I had done this sooner!

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Sabbat Incense: Beltane

Beltane is right around the corner, so this is a great time to make some incense for your Beltane celebration.  Here’s a fun recipe that’s easy to roll and could be the perfect companion to your Beltane rites.  While Beltane is strongly associated with fertility, remember that fertility is about more than sexual reproduction.  It is also about bringing new ideas and plans to fruition.  It’s about moving from planning something to bringing that project to life.

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Foundations of Incense: Sage

In the Paganisphere, there is perhaps no more widely used incense than sage.  When I vend at Pagan events, sage bundles are usually the first thing that sells out.  But there is a lot more to “sage” than might meet the eye.

First, we should define “sage”.  Most of us use common names to refer to plants, although this can be confusing.  “Sage” is definitely one of those instances.  In the Pagan world, people generally mean “white sage” (salvia apiana) when they say sage.  Other forms of sage are also used in incense making.  “Culinary” or “garden” sage (salvia officinalis) comes in many different varieties and is a wonderful ingredient in incense.  Pineapple sage is my personal favorite. In fact, the whole issue of common names comes up again when we talk about “desert sage” because there are several different plants called by that name.  and Salvia eremostachya is known as “desert sage”, as is artemisia tridentate.  Although not a true sage it still imparts a very similar scent.  This is one of the reasons that plant aficionados like to use Latin names for plants to ensure everyone is on the same page.  The fact that there are four totally different plants that we often refer to as “sage” is a good illustration of why.

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