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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Heating Incense

I talked about the honored history of the incense pellet as well as how to make your own at home.  The final key, of course, is actually using the incense. The basic act of heating pellets is the same as any other “non self-combusting” incense (how’s that for a mouthful?). 


There are three ways that we typically heat pellets, loose incense, and other incense of this type in the modern era.  There is also an ancient method that can still be useful today.  The most common method used to heat incense these days is on charcoal.  This is certainly a tried and true method that has existed for a very long time.  Just be aware of what most Japanese incense fans have long known:  be very selective about the charcoal that you use.  For more than 20 years I have been preaching about the use of incense charcoal.  The round charcoal tablets sold in most stores (often labeled “self-lighting”) are a terrible choice for any style of incense for several reasons.  First and foremost, this type of charcoal has a terrible smell.  Potassium nitrate is what makes this charcoal “self-lighting” and also is a major contributor to its foul smell.  It does make the charcoal easier to light, but that’s hardly worth the tradeoff.  Likewise, the ingredients used to make this style of charcoal have often been called into question.  Some brands apparently use wood particles leftover from the plywood making process.  Not only does this style of charcoal smell, it also generally burns 10 – 20% hotter than other styles of charcoal.  That means it tends to burn up your incense a lot faster than charcoal designed for use with incense.

There are a number of brands of natural incense charcoal available.  If you prefer using charcoal I urge you to seek out proper incense charcoal.  You will be greatly rewarded for the effort.

Charcoal isn’t the only heating method.  If you own an aroma lamp it can also be used to heat incense.  Rather than filling the reservoir with water, line the bottom with a piece of foil.  You can place your incense pellet (or other incense) onto the foil and then light the candle as you normally would.  The candle will heat the incense and when you are finished the foil will allow for instant and complete cleanup.

If you really enjoy incense, you might even consider purchasing an electric incense heater.  They range in price from $40 - $200 but they offer far more precise control over temperature.  They are also much more convenient to use than any other method.  I have owned several over the years and my current one has been in regular use for three or more years.  They are easy to clean and heat up quickly, so if you love incense as I do this is a great option.


There is also a more ancient method that is tricky but rewarding.  You can use a fresh ember from a fire in place of charcoal.  It takes a bit of practice to be able to move a live ember from a fire into your censer while it still has life enough to heat your incense.  It’s worth it on occasion.  It’s one of those acts that always makes me feel connected to incense users from the distant past.  The act of moving the ember can even be incorporated into a ritual if you’d like.


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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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