Burning incense is a practice that spans through the centuries and across the globe. From Ancient Egypt to contemporary China, the art of burning aromatic material holds an important place in spirituality and culture. Here at Dragonspace, incense and sage bundles are consistently some of our best-selling products.
So what is the allure of aromatic products? Is there a difference between incense cones and sticks? How exactly do you burn resin or smudge your home with sage? Below, we’ve answered some of the frequently asked questions we get about this many-layered world of scent and smoke to help you in your practice.
What is incense?
Incense is a composition of botanical materials that release fragrant smoke when burned. These materials can be condensed into manageable forms - like sticks and cones - or kept whole and unprocessed - like resins or herb bundles. Common botanicals used in incense are barks, wood, seeds, fruits, leaves and flowers. The aromatic smoke that incense creates can be used for a variety of purposes, from purely olfactory to deeply spiritual.
How do you burn incense?When many people think of incense, they instantly think of sticks. But incense can actually come in a variety of forms, all of which require different burning methods as outlined below.
You’re likely already familiar with this form of incense. These thin sticks have a core, normally made of bamboo or sandalwood, which is coated with a thick layer of hard powdered incense.
This is the easiest type of incense to burn. All you really need is a traditional ‘boated’ incense holder, like our collection here. Or, if you want to get a touch more glamorous, check out our range of dragon or Green Man incense holders! These holders normally come with small holes to stick the wooden end of the stick into, and an easy catchment area where the incense ashes will fall.
Once your incense stick is securely in the hole, light the incense-coated end of the stick until it glows and emits a light smoke. It will then continue to smoke all on its own. Please note that incense should never be left burning unattended.
Solid Sticks and Cones
Solid formats of incense don’t come with a wooden core, and are better for one-time use. Incense cones are small and compact, so they burn through quite quickly. And solid sticks can actually be broken into individual portions, so you can control how long they burn for.
You must use a fire-proof burner for solid sticks and cones, as they burn all the way through--don’t use wooden burners for these. Brass pyramid holders are great for cones, while resin and stone holders are a safe bet for solid sticks.
Ignite incense cones from the pointed ends, and solid sticks from either end. It might take a bit longer for them to ignite than cored sticks, but once they start glowing and emitting smoke then you've done the trick.
Resin and Herbs
Incense can also be burned in its more natural unprocessed forms. Resin or gum incense is made of hardened tree sap condensed into a granular form, with common types being frankincense, copal and myrrh.
Some dried herbs and flowers can also be burnt directly as incense, like sage, lavender, or eucalyptus. Your herbs should be completely air-dried before burning (this can take a few weeks).
It’s a little trickier to burn raw incense, but it’s worth it for the rich scent and heady smoke you’ll produce.
How to burn resin or herb incense:
Equipment you'll need: charcoal discs (specifically for incense-burning), a fire-proof bowl or plate, and a lighter or matches.
- Place the charcoal disc on the fire-proof vessel, and stand it on its side or hold it in the air using a tong or pliers (not your fingers).
- Light the edge of the disc for around twenty seconds, until it self-ignites.
- Place the disc in the vessel and wait for the charcoal to warm up. You’ll see it starting to go grey around the edges after a few minutes.
- Sprinkle a small amount of your resin or dried herbs on top of the charcoal disc.
- The heat from the charcoal will begin to burn the natural materials, releasing their fragrance and power into the air.
Why should you burn incense?
While burning incense undoubtedly smells wonderful, there are a number of spiritual and cultural reasons to burn incense in your home or sacred space.
- Divination - Reading patterns in incense smoke is a form of divination, which we touched on in our 'Divination at Dragonspace' blog post.
- Meditation - The aroma of scents like lavender and tea-tree have a calming effect, making them a powerful meditative tool.
- Ceremony and ritual - Scent is considered a powerful pathway to a higher consciousness, and can enhance your magical practice.
- Cleansing - The smoke from incense or smudge sticks can cleanse a space of negative energies or bad spirits.
- Blessing - Incense or smudge sticks can also be used to bless people and places.
What is smudging?
When we talk about incense, we often get questions about smudging. Smudging is a ceremonial practice common in several First Nations and Indigenous cultures. We would recommend looking to these communities and their Elders to learn more about the intricacies of this sacred practice.
The purpose of smudging is to cleanse or bless people and places. It involves burning raw whole incense or herbs, which are commonly wrapped in a wand-like bundle.
The smoke produced from the incense is fanned lightly by the hands or an ethically-gained feather, with a fire-proof vessel or decorative shell held underneath to catch the ashes. The smoke is directed around a space, or a person's body, with clear intention and purpose.
You may wish to smudge when you first move into a house or an office space, or when you have been through a challenge or ordeal. Some people even choose to smudge daily. It's a powerful way to cleanse, purify and strengthen. To learn more about clearing spaces, check out 'Clearing Spaces' by Khi Armand, a fantastic book on the topic.
The world of incense and smudging is an immensely sensory and spiritual one. Whether it's cleansing a sacred space with smoky sage, or meditating in a haze of warm lavender, we hope your next aromatic journey is a little more meaningful and magical with the information above!