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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Foundations of Incense: Sandalwood

In the next several entries I plan to quickly explore the materials that have formed the basis of incense historically as well as those that modern incense makers use regularly.  One of the most important incense ingredients historically is sandalwood.

There are 5 different varieties of sandalwood that are used in scented products, although only 3 of those have commonly been used in modern times.  Indian yellow sandalwood (santalum album) has historically been a preferred base material for incense in Asia and Africa.  Even in modern times, sandalwood is burned in every form from large pieces in fires to powdered bits in incense sticks and cones.  The biggest consumer of sandalwood, by far, is the perfume industry.  Sandalwood is a key ingredient in many popular perfumes.  Once you work with the fragrance for a while you will begin to recognize it in colognes and perfumes.  The popularity of sandalwood over the centuries has led to its endangered status in India, the motherland of incense.  International treaties have reduced the trade in sandalwood from India to the realms of bootleggers.  For some years now the only sandalwood from India that was legally available in the USA was from existing stockpiles.  It is now virtually impossible to get real sandalwood from India in the USA, although there are many imitation products sold under the label of “Indian sandalwood”.

For a while it looked as if incense makers would need to give up this fragrant wood that is often viewed as the ultimate incense base.  Thankfully, growers in other parts of the world have stepped up their production and we now have wonderful sandalwood available from places like Australia.  There are even experiments in growing sandalwood in Florida.  None of these sandalwoods have reached the level of maturity that we see in sandalwood from India, but they often produce absolutely amazing scents.

Magickally speaking, sandalwood has been used for about everything you can imagine.  It is often used to cleanse space or otherwise remove negative energies.  It is associated with healing and wishes as well as general energy raising.  Sandalwood has been deeply entwined with human spirituality since before written history.


Sandalwood is an outstanding incense base as well as aromatic.  It has wonderful burning properties and an unmistakable scent.  Although new supplies of sandalwood are becoming easier to find, this is a sacred wood and I hope you will always view it that way.  Treat this rare material with respect and you will be rewarded with amazing incense.

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  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  


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