How to burn incense for purification & sacred work, by Dr Rebecca Beattie

High priestess Dr Rebecca Beattie explores the age-old cleansing ritual of burning incense, as well as how to burn incense to create a sacred space.

By: Dr Rebecca Beattie.   Posted

Burning incense to create and cleanse a sacred space is as old as the world. From the beginning of recorded history, there are stories chiselled onto temple walls that tell us how important the use of incense was to our magical ancestors. It was an important ingredient of creating a holy space. The tradition continues today. We can burn incense for prosperity, divine communication, success, love and more, and we can create bespoke blends to support our endeavours. But first, let's look at the fundamentals of incense, as well as how to burn incense safely and effectively. 

A fundamental ingredient: frankincense

Frankincense has a long history of use in consecrated settings. If you have ever spent time in a high church or other ritual setting, the smell of frankincense will be very familiar to you. Burning frankincense resin has been used variously to create holy space, to cleanse sick rooms, and also to make an offering to the gods. 

In the ancient world, the frankincense tree was grown only in the land of Punt, which roughly corresponds to the modern coastline of Ethiopia. Punt amassed great wealth through its ability to provide frankincense resin (the tree's sap) to be burned in temples the world over. This precious resin was carried along the Frankincense Trail, a trade route very like the Silk Road from China. As a fundamental sacred ingredient, it was highly sought-after. Thankfully, frankincense is far easier to come by these days.

From frankincense to incense blends

Our understanding of the uses of sacred smoke has expanded. In Wicca, we use incense in multiple ways, just like our ancestors did in Ancient Egypt and beyond. Primarily, we cleanse and create the space for a witches' circle by burning frankincense. However, we are also aware that frankincense - and bespoke incense blends - can be a useful (and drug-free) way of altering consciousness. The minute I step into a circle and catch the scent of frankincense, I am automatically carried into a state of sacred consciousness, and one that is ready to perform ritual. 

You can burn frankincense resin pearls on a charcoal disc in a censer, just as they do in cathedrals the world over. However, you can also add a selection of herbs, plants and essential oils to create blends of your own which are then infused with your own purpose from the get-go. This is important in magical, ritual or esoteric settings where intent is everything. There is something incredibly powerful about creating and burning your own incense blend that you have created with your intention in mind.

How to burn incense safely

To burn loose incense, you will need a roll of charcoal discs (available in international supermarkets or online) and a censer. Don't worry, you don't have to buy a special censer to burn incense in. What's important is that it is made of something that won't shatter if it gets hot. You can buy specially made thuribles, or you can create your own incense burner using an old mug. The mug version is quite handy, as it has a handle for you to move it around safely.

Fill the censer up to about two centimetres below the brim with earth, sand, or salt. This is to prevent the mug from getting too hot. You will place the charcoal disc on top of this once you have lit it. To light the charcoal disc, grip it with tongs and hold it over a flame. It takes a little while to catch, so you might want to use a candle. It will start to spark, and then you will see a fine line of sparks moving across the disc as it heats through. Then place it in your censer with the concave side up. It's now ready for you to add your special incense blend!

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