The Obsequies of an Egyptian Cat (1886). [Source: WikiCommons]
The use of incense stretches back thousands of years and is found in almost every major civilisation in the world.
Here in our Treadwell's apothecary you can find a selection of gums, resins and woods that are commonly used as incense. Below you can find a quick guide to some of the incenses we currently have – what they are, their history, traditional uses and popular associations.
Feel free to take a 'How to Use Loose Incense' leaflet from the shelf, if you need an illustrated guide on how to use these incenses safely!
Mentioned in both the Hebrew Bible and the Vedic scriptures – going back to 1400 BCE – this precious incense is formed deep inside the Aquilaria tree, which produces a dark resin in response to mold infection. This resinous wood, when burned, releases a rich, profoundly layered scent, hence its Chinese name: chenxiang, or literally, 'deep scent'.
Perfect for: meditation; occasional temple/altar use.
Amber may be more commonly known as a resin in which fossils of long-extinct creatures are often found frozen in time, but it also has a long history of being used as an incense. The scent is woody and sweet.
Perfect for: general temple/altar use; relaxation.
The creamy scent of benzoin is often likened to vanilla, and is therefore perfect for focusing the mind on the sweeter things in life. It is also a potent ritual incense that has strong associations with the energies of Venus.
Perfect for: ritual use; Venusian workings; empowerment; love; beautification.
Styrax benzoin. [Source]
It is no surprise – given its majestic stature – that cedar is most commonly linked to Jupiter and its powers. Cedarwood itself is commonly used as a natural repellent against moths and spiders. As an incense, the scent itself is gorgeous – smooth and stately.
Perfect for: Jupiterian workings; empowerment; protection; prosperity and abundance.
Copal incense is derived from the resin of the Protium copal tree and has a long history of use in religious ceremonies by the pre-modern civilisations of Central and South America, such as the Mayans and the Aztecs.
Perfect for: general use; purification; consecration.
The resin of pine trees, also known as rosin, produces an elegant woody scent when burned. Rosin is used by musicians to prepare the bows of stringed instruments, and ballet dancers also use it on the base of their shoes to improve grip. Pine is commonly associated with fire, and with the planet of Mars.
Perfect for: general temple use; beauty; Martial and/or fiery workings.
Dammar, or dammar gum, is made from the resin of the Dipterocarpaceae tree and produces a beautiful, citrus-like scent that can be used on its own or as a complement to other incenses.
Perfect for: mood-lifting; general temple use; attracting joy and good luck.
This powerfully named resin is derived from trees such as the Pterocarpus and Dracaena. Its spicy, potent scent makes it suitable for more active, energetic acts of magic. Naturally, it has strong Martial associations.
Perfect for: general magical use; Martial workings; evocation; protection & defence.
Most famous as one of the three gifts offered to the infant Jesus, myrrh's use as an incense goes back all the way to the ancient Egyptians. Its scent is rich, dark and earthy, with an edge that is both bitter and sweet. It has strong Earth and Saturnian assocations.
Perfect for: general temple use; boundaries and protection; consecration; offerings; Saturnian workings.
Commiphora myrrha. [Source]
The name opoponax is derived from Greek and literally means 'all-healing juice'. Its scent is sharp and savoury, like myrrh but without the sweetness, and is appropriate for works of cleansing and purification.
Perfect for: incense blends; cleansing, purification.
Not to be confused with white sandalwood, red sandalwood is also known as saunderswood or red sanderswood, and is derived from the Pterocarpus tree. With its vivid red colour, it is prized as a hardwood for crafting furniture. The scent is subtle, and is suitable for incense blends.
Perfect for: incense blends
Extracted from the Tetraclinis articulata tree, sandarac is traditionally used as a varnishing material. Its aroma is delicate and slightly balsamic, and is appropriate as a base for incense blends.
Perfect for: incense blends
Sulphur is one of the 'Three Primes' in the art of alchemy, alongside mercury and salt. Its pungent odour was known to the ancients, and makes it a potent incense for workings requiring the appropriate force: needless to say, use sparingly and with maximum caution (and ventilation)!
Perfect for: banishment and exorcism; particular types of spirit work; alchemy
The wood of the Santalum tree is one of the world's most popular and widely revered incenses, with an elegant, beautiful fragrance that can be found in Buddhist and Hindu temples everywhere. Sandalwood is the perfect complement for meditation and contemplation, or simply as a calming home incense.
Perfect for: general use; meditation; prayer.
Santalum album. [Source]