Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Incense Guide

Making your own incense and tools can be very gratifying as well as being more powerful for you, looking at it from a majickal standpoint, as you are putting your own energies into everything you make, marking them with your own energies and “linking” them with your Self (Spirit). It can also be very therapeutic, not only by taking pride in that you have created something in which you enjoy but also as a means to center yourself. Yes, center yourself by focusing on something you are putting effort into, relaxing and de-stressing, focusing your all and releasing all around you and grounding yourself with All, allowing yourself to be a part of Universe as you focus on the project at hand.  I will be sharing with you what works best for me, after much trial and error, of experimenting with most of the recipes in the “Incense Recipes” post. With that said, let’s get started.

First of all, let us start with a few basics.

Make sure that you are not allergic to any of the flora or spices that you intend to use as this could cause reactions just as badly, if not worse, as it would to be ingested, as you burn them, you inhale and your body absorbs through every pore, not just in breathing and will leave a residue in the space where you are burning it, leaving long-lasting reactions. I know this seems common sense, but it must be taken into account, including if you intend to give as gifts, consider that persons allergies, as well. I go by the general rule; if you can’t eat it, don’t inhale it.

Always use a censor (burner), no need to cause a fire, safety first. If you don’t’ have a censor, a ceramic, pottery or thick metal (such as brass, nickel) dish will work fine.

No need to go buy expensive ingredients. In most cases, you can find them in your yard or spice rack. If you like how they smell, chances are they will work wonderfully in your incense. The same holds true for oils and potpourri. Do your research if you come across a plant that you like the smell of but not sure of what it is and make sure it isn’t a toxin.

When drying plants or spices, make sure, If you are picking your own, that they are at the height of of maturity and you pick them on a dry day. When you bring them in, hang them upside down in a dry airy place in between the temps of 70-90f they are completely devoid of moisture or else they will mold when you store them.  They need to be stored in airtight containers such as jars (canning jars work well), crockery, pottery or metal containers. As long as they are airtight, they are fine.  Keep them in a cool space and out of the sunlight as this ages them very quickly and weakens their aroma. If you keep them in a place where there is a lot of sunlight, be sure to cover the containers with some dark cloth or a towel for a longer shelf life.

If using oils along with the flora or spices, be sure they say on them essential oils. Otherwise they are synthetic and you will need to use (on average) twice as much. Some synthetics are also water based (such as perfume form) which could cause problems while making your incense.

The raw plant material you use could change dramatically when it ages and also when burned. Always use a small amount of your recipe (dry mix) as a testing. Do this in its non-combustible form (before you add the salt peter, AKA potassium nitrate/KNO3, or gums).

Be sure that all of your dried ingredients are ground to a fine powder just before you use them. This helps to hold their aromatic scents within them. Though if buying just before making mixing your recipes, or wish not to grind them yourself, buying in powder form works too, they are simply just not as fragrant and you may need to adjust the measurements of that particular ingredient. To grind to a powder, you may use a blender, coffee grinder, food processor or a pestle and mortar. It is a good idea, if you use a pestle and mortar, that you have 2; one for dry ingredients and one for the gum mixture as the resins tend to stick and stain.

As far as your supplies, no need to go extravagant, it doesn’t have to be expensive. Use what you can from what you already have on hand or grow on your own. Traditionally, this is how it’s always been done, same goes for substitutions. As far as the grinding medium, I suggest to buy 2nd hand and use only for incense. Also, I use a 2nd hand Tupperware pie mat to lay over my counter and roll it out on in place of pesky wax paper that moves everywhere and is easier clean up since you can just pick the whole thing up. I use the same one for making candles and oils too. I have also found that an old wooden chopping board (about 1’x 2-3’) works well too, if it has a varnish or wax finish.

Some ingredients may be hard for you to find. That’s ok, simply substitute.  *If you can’t find a flora or spice in dry form, but can in oil form, use the oil. **If you need a different variation of a plant/spice, try to find one that is in the same family or you can refer to any number of books/sites that have the common substitutions. You can find most spices, herbs and oils at your local pagan shop or an herbal supply shop. Most of the spices and herbs you will find at the grocery store, in fresh and/or dried form. The charcoal block (not briquette) can be found in pagan shops and also many novelty shops carry them in bulk. These are used to burn your non-combustible (dry) incense, as they smolder your dry incense. Eyedroppers can be found in the pharmacy section, along with the saltpeter and gum arabic, though you may have to ask the pharmacist for the latter two. If making stick incense, you can use long cocktail skewers.

I also suggest that you use (pre-bought ground) orris(iris) root (1 part) as a preservative and stabilizer, especially in those recipes that don’t include resins such as frankincense, myrr or amber.

When choosing your ingredients, make sure they correspond for what you want them to do or go with. I have made a short herbal chart for this purpose in the “Majickal Guides: Quick Reference” page (tab is just below the heading picture).

There are two forms of incense; combustible and non-combustible. Combustible are those in which are formed, such as sticks, bricks or cones. These are always made with saltpeter (potassium nitrate/KNO3). This makes them to burn evenly and well. Non-combustible are those in which are in the form of loose powder and burned over a smoldering charcoal brick.

* I will post how to make your own oil and many oil recipes.
**I will later add some substitutions or a substitution guide/chart.

Here is the basic list of what you will need (apart from what was already mentioned):

Eyedroppers, one each per oil, unless you intend to wash and try in-between each oil scent.

Base oil, ideally saffron, jojoba or sesame oil, also, to make your other ingredients stretch farther, you may wish to also use some talcum powder or sawdust in with the dry ingredients. This is known as your dry base and is added in as your last dry ingredient.

Baggies, gallon and sandwich sizes, for mixing and short-term storage

Small spoons, for easily scooping out small samples to burn during you’re making process, or can just use pinch amounts

Small containers, such as old washed and completely dried pill bottles or film canisters to keep in extra or loose incense. They’re not very pretty, but work.

Some would say to also use an Astrological Calendar to align with the certain energies that are corresponding to what you wish to use the incense for, your own personal correspondences or of that of the God/ess that you are making it to honor. I, however, judge this by sensing. Whatever I feel at the time is right, is the one I use. Though someone not that familiar to the Arts may wish to use one.

Especially in the beginning, until you are familiar with each scent and their notes, you will want to have some already tried and true recipes. I have posted many or you may wish to look into Cunningham’s “The complete Book of Incense, Oils and Brews” or one such as Wylundt’s “Book of Incense” which uses more kitchen spices. Both are available in free PDF format.

Finally we are ready to begin making your incense. I will explain how I make them and have had the best success with.

Firstly, make sure your, your work surface and the area you are working in are clean (physically) and cleansed of all negative energy. Lay out everything you will need on your work surface and draw a circle. If you do not already know how to do this, please refer to the “Drawing a Circle” post. This allows only positive energies to be attracted to your creation. No need to be formal about it. Just do what feels right for you.

Re-read your base recipe that you wish to use. Be sure you are familiar with it and understand that a “part” is no certain measurement, just make sure each “part” that you use are equal in measurement to each other.

Take out your gallon baggie (or bowl) and add each dry ingredient, one at a time, close baggie and shake till well mixed before adding the next. Do the same in your bowl, stirring well after each, either with your hands or a stirring device such as a spoon or stick.

After all dry ingredients are mixed, begin to add the essential oils. Keep in mind that if you are substituting oils for the dried form, that the oil is much more potent, so use sparingly until you get the proper proportions to your liking. Mix in your oils according to notes from base to top (This is covered in greater detail in the “Oils Guide”), one at a time, mixing thoroughly each time, making sure to get out all the dark spots.

After you have mixed them all thoroughly, do a burn test and see if you are pleased. If not, play with it till you reach the proper adjustments. The way to do this is to use another flora/spice of the same note to balance it out. Don’t worry, you will become more familiar with them and be able to tell which you need just by scent after some time. If it seems as if you can’t smell it, or has no scent, you have balanced it too much and may want to add a little more of one or two that “speak” to you.

Once you are happy with it, it’s time to add the base. Add in small amounts till it sticks to your hands a little, you don’t’ want to add too much and make it wet.  I should make mention that if you add the base, you’ll have to let it set and cure for about a week to a week and half before you can burn it or else it will, more than likely, smell “off” or like burning smoke instead of what you with it to smell like. After about a week, go ahead and do a burn test. If it
‘s still smoking far too much and not smelling right, you can leave the container open for the next couple of days. If you want to use it immediately, leave out the base oil, it simply preserves it longer.

Sounding labor intensive so far? Don’t worry, once you become accustomed to everything and all the ingredients, it will come as second nature to you and as easy as baking some cookies.

Now for the molded (combustable) incense.
Stick incense or jossticks, are generally formed by dipping the stick in the base till it’s covered to the size that you wish. Though some like to form the clay consistency of the incense mix around the stick, rolling it back and forth on the work surface till it’s the desired size. I find the former to be less labor intensive. After the incense is finished, you will need to allow it to dry standing upright. You can do this by sticking the stick end into a clean pot of soil, clay, or anything where it won’t fall over or lean.

For block incense, roll out your final mix on your workspace (on wax paper if you don’t’ have a pie mat) as you would cookie dough, till about ¼” (6.35 mm) thick, then just cut into 1” (25.4mm) squares and let dry.

To make cone incense, simply roll into cone shapes. It will be the consistency of clay, so just play with it.

Let these dry, at least, overnight. Store any unused portions either in the small baggies, or containers, airtight.

Gum Arabic is the glue for all molded incense. To make the glue, put 1tsp (5ml) into a glass of warm water. One ounce will absorb about a gallon of water in just a week, so thicken it slowly. A foam will mostly likely form on the top, just move it ot of the way or skim it off while dipping in your incense stick. Let the gum absorb the water till it’s a paste consistency. When making the block or cone incense, be sure that the gum mixture is the last ingredient you add, just after the saltpeter, one tsp at a time, mixing thoroughly in between each.

I believe I have covered everything, if not please comment and bring it to my attention. Now have fun and Blessings!

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