The Pagan Basics series is for those looking to find out more about the basic concepts, symbols and values of paganism. A series of short articles which give explanations to some of paganism’s most fundamental concepts, images and shared understandings.
Incense (from Latin incendere “to burn) is composed of aromatic natural materials, which release fragrant smoke when burned. The term incense refers to the substance itself, rather than to the odour that it produces.
It is used in ceremonies and rituals, ritual purification, aromatherapy, meditation and for creating a spiritual atmosphere.
It comes in many forms, which are split into ‘direct’ and ‘indirect’ burning. Direct burning, or combustible incense is lit directly by a flame and then fanned or blown out, leaving a smoldering ember which produce aromatic smoke. This type includes incense sticks (sometimes known as joss sticks) cones, coils, solid sticks or pyramids. These can be purchased in a variety of scents, and can often be purchased singly or in packs.
It is wise if using incense indoors to place a holder or ash catcher underneath to catch the hot ash. These can also come in different shapes and sizes, dependent on the type of incense used. Commonly these are disk shaped for spiral or cone incense:
or most commonly an elongated oval shape with a groove down the centre to catch the falling ash from an incense stick, and again can be plain or highly decorative, dependent on personal requirements.
For indirect burning, pieces of incense are placed directly into a heat source, such as a charcoal disk, or hot plate within a censer or thurible.