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: 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.


You see, unlike most wood powders, Oak loves to burn but hates to be told what shape to take.  If you use Oak as a base for powdered incense or incense pellets you shouldn’t have any problems.  If you want to use Oak for incense sticks or cones, you won’t find oak to be quite so cooperative.  I first discovered this at a most inopportune moment. 

If you check my YouTube channel I have an old video ( where I appeared on Oklahoma’s PBS network to demonstrate incense making.  Foolishly, when I grabbed supplies to use on television I grabbed some of the Red Oak I had just acquired.  I thought it was Red Cedar but boy was I wrong.  So with the cameras rolling, I discovered that Oak (red or otherwise) was not going to easily be molded into incense.  If you look at the close-up of the cone that roll in the video you will see that it is barely holding together.  You see, Nature taught me a valuable lesson that I’ve never forgotten!

As with many incense ingredients, to use Oak effectively in cones and sticks you need to get to know it and learn how to best use it.  After a lot of years of working on making Oak a viable base for incense, I have created a recipe that makes it possible to roll incense with Oak with virtually the same results as any other base material.  It took some listening to Oak itself and some practice to get it right, but I’m very happy to give you this new recipe.  You can, of course, add other ingredients to this simple recipe.  Nice, heavy resins are a good choice to use with Oak.

Oak Incense Cones/Sticks

1 ½ Tbsp Oak wood powder

½ Tbsp Alder wood powder

¼ tsp Xanthan gum powder

Up to 1 ½ Tbsp of water

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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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