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: Frankincense

While sandalwood is arguably the most traditional base material for incense, perhaps no ingredient’s name is better known than frankincense.  Its fame is based on more than just its place in the story of Christ’s birth in the New Testament book of Matthew.  In fact, frankincense plays an important role in ancient history that begins thousands of years before the beginning of the Common Era.  Frankincense was one of the key products shipped on the famed “silk road” of the ancient world.  It was a source of great wealth and, as a result, also a product of mystery and intrigue.  Even today the locations of many of the traditional groves that produce the highest quality frankincense remain a closely guarded family secret.

Also known as “olibanum” and “boswellia”, frankincense is a light-colored resin.  Ranging in color from almost white to translucent green, most frankincense is yellowish.  It has a light, penetrating scent that is very similar to pinyon.  It’s well suited to use on charcoal (unprocessed or in powder or pellet form) as well as in all forms of self-combusting forms of incense.  It has excellent burning properties, although, like all resins, frankincense will produce more smoke than wood will.  Frankincense resin is often referred to as “tears” because of the shape of the small droplets that are collected and dried.  The trees that produce the resin can live for hundreds of years and don’t suffer harm from harvesting.  Unlike sandalwood, frankincense is in no danger extinction.  In fact, I’ve recently learned that frankincense is now being grown in Florida!

Energetically, frankincense is usually considered elementally to be under the sign of Fire.  It is generally considered a masculine energy.  It is most commonly used for cleansing and protection, but its long history has seen it used for almost any purpose imaginable.  The Christian church has a long and uncomfortable history with frankincense.  For hundreds of years after the rise of the Christian Church, frankincense (and all incense) was considered heretical.  This is often attributed to the persecution of early Christians by the Romans.  Legend has it that early Christians were sometimes forced to offer frankincense to Roman gods in obvious disobedience to their own dogma.  After 500 years or so, many Christian churches had added the use of frankincense into their practices.  Even today both Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches use frankincense ritualistically.

Personally, frankincense is my favorite resin after dragon’s blood.  I consider it to be a “bright” scent as opposed to the “darkness” of dragon’s blood.  It blends well with practically any ingredient and is easy to work with.  Likewise it is easy to grind and quickly makes a fine powder.  Unlike ancient times, in the 21st Century high quality frankincense is available for surprisingly low prices.  If you want to experiment with resins it’s hard to imagine a better choice than frankincense.  Here’s a quick recipe to get you started.

2 Tbsp powdered pine or Australian sandalwood

1 tsp powdered frankincense

¼ tsp gum tragacanth or guar gum


Mix the ingredients in a small bowl until the mixture is one consistent color.  Add up to 1 Tbsp of room temperature water and blend.  Never use more water than you need or your mixture will be too wet to shape.  You want to be able to roll the incense “clay” into a single large ball that has few cracks on the surface but will still hold the ball shape.  Cracks in the clay mean you need to add a few drops of water.  Knead the clay for several minutes to ensure an even distribution of the water.  Break off ¼ tsp pieces and roll into the traditional cone shape or roll the clay out flat and cut sticks.

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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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