A common use for incense, particularly in past times is creating a sacred space for ritual and ceremonial work. From Buddhist temples in Japan China and Tibet to Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches you will often see incense used as a tool to create a powerful and purified ritual space. Incense is also often used in this way buy followers of pagan religions and paths. The rising smoke is considered a symbol of prayer by many and as an offering rising up to deity. The smoke is also believed to have the ability to remove negative stale and unwanted energies from a space. These energies are collected and carried away as the smoke rises.
There are two types of incense that are used, known as combustible (sometimes called direct burning) and non-combustible (or indirect burning) incenses. Non combustible varieties include loose incense as well as incense cones and pellets. These can be used without the heat source actually needing to touch the incense itself. The cones, pellets or loose material are placed above a heat source and this heating causes the aromas to be released into the air. One method of achieving this is by using an incense stove or oil burner. The incense should be placed in the top section just as you would essential oils, and a lit tealight candle is placed in the section directly underneath. The candle flame will create a gentle heat without causing any smoke or burning. Care should be taken when using incense in this way as the burner can become very hot. They should always be placed out of the reach of children or animals and on a heat proof surface. Incense burners should also not be placed anywhere where they could be knocked over or forgotten and care should be taken regarding other close by items. Check for any flammable items such as curtains.
Special charcoal disks can also be used to burn loose incense, cones and pellets. Unlike the stove or burner, these may burn the incense producing unpleasant smells and smoke. One way to try to avoid htis is to place a layer of sand or salt directly on top of the burning charcoal and then to place the incense on top. To be used, the charcoal disks are lit and placed in a heat proof container until they turn white. The incense of your choice can then placed on top. To be extinguished do charcoal discs can be placed in cold water. The charcoal discs any container used will be incredibly hot so it is important to use caution while handling these.
Combustible incense is the form that more people are familiar with and is found mainly as sticks and cones. This type is lit directly, for example using a lighter or match. The flame is then gently extinguished leaving the end of the incense glowing. As the incense burns down it’s aroma is released and only ash will remain. There is a wide range of holders and burners available for this type of incense. These range from simple wooden trays to intricately carved boxes and statues and are often made from sheesham wood. Incense sticks can be bought in many shops and in a wide range of fragrances. Some examples include fruity scents, nag champa, floral fragrances, frankincense and sage. Varieties can also be bought with themed aromas such as based on star signs on natural environments such as the sea a forest.