The Great Incense FAQ – The Smelly Truth: Part 2

Incense

Incense

Well here we are, at the beginning of the second edition of the Great Incense FAQ.  The first part covered most of the basic questions I get, so this second part will be dedicated to some of the more obscure inquiries that I have found interesting, and also to some of the important questions that few people ask but should.  So, without further ado, on to the questions!

Q: Where does incense burning come from?

A: As early as the 50th century BCE, people have been burning incense in one form or another.  The date is probably much earlier than that, really, but when one looks back 7000 years things get a little fuzzy.  It’s doubtful that cavemen would have missed that placing certain woods or resins on the fire produced a certain, distinctive aroma.

The earliest records of incense trade date to around the 30th century BCE, and it is known that some of the areas involved in this kind of trade included Vedic India, ancient Egypt, Persia, Babylonia and Rome.  All of these cultures used incenses of different kinds in a spiritual capacity, whether in actual religious ritual or to bring about aromatheraputic benefits (a term that would not be coined until 1937 AD).

Q: Will I set my house on fire with incense?

A: Probably not.  Like anything that burns or smolders openly, once incense is lit it is inadvisable to leave it unattended.  That being said, I have to admit that I have never heard of anyone burning their house down in this way.  The worst things that have been reported to me involve burning a line in the carpet (from a dropped incense stick), and circles on the table (from burning charcoal in a brass screen burner without a coaster).  Candles are far more dangerous.

Q: ‘Ash Catchers’ don’t seem to do a very good job of catching ash.  Is there a tidier way?

A: There are three kind of burners that I can recommend for this problem:

  • Smokers – most commonly, smoking bottles and statues.  This is very tidy because the incense is enclosed, so there is nowhere for the ash to fall except straight back into the burner.
  • Lay-down-type burners – any kind of burner that has a wide-mesh metal screen or a row of small metal bars that allow you to lay the incense flat instead of sticking it into a hole and leaving it suspended.
  • A wide bowl filled with sand – you wouldn’t think that this would be one of the tidier ways, but incense that is stuck straight up in sand will have a tendency to collect more ash before it falls off the stick, making it heavier as a whole and limiting the distance it is likely to drift with small eddies in the air currents.

Q: You mentioned some incenses in your previous article that can cost in the hundreds of dollars.  Is the expensive stuff REALLY that much better than the less-costly variety?

A: ‘Better’ is a relative term.  Some people think so (especially in Japan), others much prefer the more pedestrian incenses.  The best answer/advice that I can give to this is, if you are interested or curious about finding a ‘better’ incense, to start at the lower end of the spectrum and pick up some of the rolled Japanese incenses.  These are your best bargains, and give you an idea of what to expect from some of the more expensive ones.  If you want to jump straight into the really fine stuff, our Plymouth shop carries 8-stick sample packs that bring the price down to a more comfortable level for most people.

Q: Should I use incense when I’m meditating/praying/performing a ritual?

A: Of course you should!  People have been doing this since time immortal, and even mainstream religon continues to do it to this day!

What I recommend in a meditational incense is a very light variety – something that scents the air without demanding attention, so to speak. Keep it a respectable distance from where you will be sitting, because there is little more distracting than getting a noseful of scented smoke while you’re trying to transcend the material plane.

For ritual use, on the other hand, I recommend getting old-school and using charcoal and resins/herbs/woods.  This is the purest way to burn (the way the Catholics do it), and the most fitting offering to your respective deity/spiritual power.  The downside, of course, is that it requires more attention than the self-burning variety.

Q: My incense is called ‘frankincense and myrrh’, does that mean it actually contains those things?

A: Not necessarily – in fact, much of the time the answer is ‘No’.  Most incense is made with scented oils which, no matter how much they smell like real materials, do not actually contain them.  The only ones you can be assured contain real resins/herbs/woods are some of the better Japanese varieties and Fred Soll’s resin-on-a-stick line.  If you need absolute purity and certainty in what you are burning, buy the natural material by itself and burn it on charcoal.

Well, that’s about all the things I can think of to say about incense right now.  I hope that this little tutorial has been instructive to some of you, and that the next time you come in to pick up a pack of incense you will do it with more confidence as a better-educated consumer.  The only way to learn more about the subject is, in my opinion, to start trying different kinds and brands.  If ever you are in doubt, the Earth Lore staff can usually make some good reccomendations.

Happy sniffing!

Cleansing Crystals and Minerals

Crystals and Stones

Crystals and Stones

Why do crystals and minerals need to be cleansed? Crystals and minerals need to be cleansed because they hold both positive and negative energy. For example: you have a new stone, you want to show your friend, and while they are holding and looking at it the stone absorbs their energy from the day (whether they are having a “good” day or a “bad” day, the energy can transfer to the crystal). The crystal will naturally absorb whatever kind of energy that you or they are sending out. Keep in mind when you are in a store like Earth Lore and the stones are picking you, that people have previously touched the stones and that they may be carrying negative or positive energies from other people, which will inhibit the stone from transmitting its pure energy. This is especially true for dark or black stones. Most of these stones are used to help us with protection, so they absorb the negative energy instead of us. These stones should be cleansed often.

There are many traditions and rituals that work with cleansing stones. Here are a few basic ideas that I have tried and they work:

  1. Smudging: Using white sage, hold the stone in the smoke-stream of the sage while saying a prayer or affirmation, with the intention for the stone to be cleansed and all negative energy to be removed.  Smudging is a Native American ritual that cleanses negative energy, from self, objects and home.
  2. Sea Salt and Water: Sea salt has a masculine energy or yang/positive charge. Water has a feminine energy or yin/negative charge. When the two are combined, it creates a neutral charge transmuting negative energy to positive.  Use a pinch of sea salt to two cups purified water. Soak your stone(s) for 1-12 hours; listen to your intuition as to when the stones are done.  Some people recommend burying the stones in sea salt without water. This is too harsh for crystals, and can eat away their etheric energy.  (editor’s note: A few stones react badly to saltwater – never use this method on any opalized stone or chrysocolla).
  3. Brown Rice: Brown rice is neutral in charge. Bury the stones in uncooked brown rice, for 1-12 hours. Remove the stones and you can eat the supercharged rice when you are done. It will not absorb any negative energy.
  4. Breath: Using the power of intention and your breath can quickly cleanse any stone. Cup the stone in your hand (this method is best used one stone at a time), say a prayer or affirmation with the intention for the stone to be cleansed and all negative energy to be removed. As you inhale, visualize white light coming filling your lungs, hold the crystal close to your mouth and with a forceful exhale blow all of the negative energy out of the crystal using the white light.
  5. Running Water: One of the quickest cleansing methods to use. While saying a prayer or affirmation with the intention for the stone to be cleansed and all negative energy to be removed, hold the stone(s) under running water visualizing the negative energy washing away. Faucets will work if need be.
  6. Stones that never need to be cleansed: Currently there are 14 stones that never need to be cleansed. Earth Lore carries 3 of these, for the others see Melody’s Book “Love is in the Earth, a Kaleidoscope of Crystals”. These three are Citrine, Kyanite, and Selenite. So if you have one of these you can place it in a bowl or talisman with your stones that need to be cleansed, (Citrine, Kyanite and Selenite will naturally absorb the negative energy before the other stones do, or draw the negative energy from the stones). If you have three or more stones you can make a crystal array or crystal grid by surrounding the stones that need to be cleansed with the stones that never need to be cleansed.

Just one little reminder when you are doing cleansing of any kind, intentionally send the negative energy to the earth to be transmuted to positive energy. This way the negative energy does not hang around and wait for something else to stick to.

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