Incense has always played an important role in the religious ceremonies and rites of people all over the world.
Records tell us that in ancient Babylon, an immense amount of incense was burnt in offerings to the gods. It has always been an integral part in the life of the people in Asian countries where the floral perfumes were blended with sandalwood.
In the Middle East a wealth of incense ingredients was produced and to satisfy the seemingly insatiable demand, the ancient trading routes into Arabia developed and became known as the Incense Trails.
Throughout Europe, incense was to become one of the main trading products. The wealth of the kings and nobles was often seen to be measured by the extent of their stores of incense. In religious worship and in all churches including the Christian church, censing became an integral part of the ritual as it proved helpful in inducing a devotional mood in the congregations. The Bible contains specific instructions for preparation of the sacred incense recipe.
Perfumes and incense were highly developed in classical times. The Romans, through Nero’s behaviour, left us records of infamous incidents where extravagant uses of perfumes were employed in the times of unimaginable decadence.
Subsequently over the centuries, perfumed products were incorporated more and more into the general customs of people everywhere, reaching heights of popularity not only in the Middle Ages in the ecclesiastical sphere but later in France. Queen Elizabeth I was well known for her love of perfumed gloves, which were to become fashionable. The extravagant use of perfumes at the French Court, where a different perfume was used each day, caused it to become known in the 18th century as the perfume centre of the world, a reputation that persists without challenge, even today. No longer were expensive resins and oils and scented timbers being burnt by the ton in primitive rituals as in ancient days. Although incense continued to be burned to cleanse the atmosphere in times of plague and to over power smells from poor sanitation, it was becoming a cultural art of refinement, for personal use as well as providing a pleasant atmosphere in churches, homes and at public gatherings.
Today most people are familiar with the use of perfumed or essential oils employed in aromatherapy, particularly that aspect associated with massage and relaxation techniques. Professionals are developing the art of natural perfumes to assist in psychological and physical conditions requiring therapy often involving respiratory techniques. With our good fortune to have access to a wide range of natural oils from all over the world, consumers are tempted to try many delightful scents, which can be used effectively in healing simple conditions and stressful states.
However, the burning of essential oils, gums and resins is also being appreciated not only in creating a pleasant atmosphere in the home or garden setting, but also in assisting the mind in preparation for meditation. There is now a great resurgence in the knowledge of the art and it has become a very popular habit. Naturally, there is an increasing interest in learning more about why we burn incense; what to burn and for what specific purposes.
Burning incense has a direct influence in helping to eradicate negative psychic influences and some of these ritualistic practices are retained in the church ceremonies.
Generally the refined nature of sandalwood and frankincense moves a congregation to more devotional aspirations and appeals to those who wish to meditate or to create a feeling of sanctity about their own special place of peace.
It is often recommended to burn incense before moving into a rented apartment or to create a good feeling when first inhabiting a new home.
It has become common practice to burn lavender and other oils to keep insects at bay in outdoor barbeque areas and when introducing an exotic touch at a dinner party or gathering.
It was in Asia that a convenient and practical method of burning incense sticks, or joss sticks developed. It proved to be economical, safe and certainly very convenient method when compared with the elaborate preparation often followed in religious ceremonies. The practical value of the incense stick is seen over the more complex ritual of burning gums and resins as they do in the church, using charcoal as a base and having to keep supplying additional incense ingredients to replace the initial ones. It is only the really enthusiastic who set themselves up to be able to prepare their selected ingredients in this manner.
One can compromise however and rub a few drops of the essential oils into the stick before lighting in order to enjoy your personal favourite perfumes, using the plain sandalwood stick as a basis. It is best to avoid the highly scented cheap perfumes which not only are ineffectual for the spiritual purpose, but can be directly harmful as an irritant in the respiratory system, particularly for asthmatics. There are many delightful perfumed oils and essences to choose from. Remember, to inhale a few drops of the finest essential oils is better than a quantity of cheap artificial scents. Learn to enjoy them and continue searching until you find those offering you most satisfaction regarding their pleasantness as well as potential benefit. Each perfume when inhaled directly affects your brain and influences your mood in a subtle way. Rely upon your natural instincts to help you in determining the best ones for your well being. Happy explorations!
Note: Safety Factor It is obvious that there are safety factors to be aware of when burning incense. The most important is to avoid any carelessness that may leave matches available to infants and possible accidental injury. Always place your incense burner whether it is a traditional burner for charcoal and other materials. Place an incense stick in safe situation to avoid possible harm to people and animals. Be sure that there are no curtains or materials close by that may prove to be a fire hazard if a breeze should occur. Always check that the incense has burnt out before leaving the environment.