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Introduction to Using Incense in Magic

Updated on December 23, 2018
Elderberry Arts profile image

Claire has worked with crystals and many other aspects of paganism for over 12 years. She has also studied reiki up to master level.

Incense can be bought in many varieties but it is also possible to make your own.
Incense can be bought in many varieties but it is also possible to make your own. | Source

Incense has been used in spiritual and religious practices all over the world for thousands of years. It can be used in creating a cleansed and focused area for meditation, for carrying prayers and magic into the universe or to deities and often features in practices designed to cleanse sacred spaces. Incense can be used to encourage a required state of mind for rituals or other practices as well as being burnt purely for fragrance.

Incense can be bought in a wide range of varieties and in different forms including cones and sticks. These are often intended as a way to fragrance your home but there are also many that can be purchased that are designed for specific purposes for example meditation or happiness. These blends contain ingredient that are associated with these desires due to them possessing various vibrational properties. For example white sage is a common herb that is used in incense and herbal bundles intended for cleansing and purifying a space, item, person or room. This herb has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties so it is clear to see why it is so valued for use in this way. It is also reported to help in reducing anxiety, lift mood and improve memory.

White sage is commonly burnt to cleanse and purify a space.
White sage is commonly burnt to cleanse and purify a space. | Source

Each variety of incense possesses a unique set of properties based on the ingredients used to make it and so these can be chosen based on need. Some examples of this include using healing blends to aid those recovering from illness or using incense as a study aid that increasing concentration, memory and eases stress. Incense can also be used in magic and ritual to create an appropriate atmosphere or to carry intent into the universe on the smoke as the incense burns. Incense may also be burnt as an offering or thanks to deities or spirits.

Incense is created using a variety of plant materials such as leaves, flowers, roots, barks, wood and resin. Gums and oils can also be used and depending on the type of incense it may include additional ingredients designed to hold it together or help it burn. It is worth noting that some bought incense, especially cheaper varieties may not contain genuine plant materials and instead may use artificially created fragrance to create the scents. These do not possess the beneficial properties of the plants are so these cannot be used in the same way. Some people find that these are also more likely to have adverse effects such as causing watery eyes, sneezing and other respiratory issues.

Incense sticks are the most commonly sold incense.
Incense sticks are the most commonly sold incense. | Source

Forms of Incense

There are two forms of incense and these are combustible and non-combustible blends. Many people will be familiar with combustible incense as this is the form most commonly seen for sale and used. This incense can be lit and burnt in a suitable holder and is often found in sticks and cones. Non-combustible incense is unable to burn by itself and is instead sprinkled onto hot charcoal blocks or used in burners. These heat the incense releasing the fragrance into the surrounding area. Each type has advantages and disadvantages and which you choose will depend on many factors. These include what you are using the incense for, the ease of obtaining ingredients, space, living circumstances and safety. Although the term burn is commonly used when referring to loose incense, in fact it should not burn at all. Burning will of course produce unpleasant smells just as when anything burns and although you may still be able to detect the incense scent, it will not be as obvious and pleasant as it should. The correct term for heating incense is smolder which means to burn slowly without a flame.

Non-combustible Incense

Although it is possible to buy non-combustible incense this is generally only available in specialist shops or online. This form of incense is fairly easy to make at home as it consists purely of a mixture of plant materials. For the best results these should be ground to a power to ensure even mixing and burning but this is not essential. Grounding can be done by hand using a pestle and mortar or by using a small electric grinder such as those used for grounding coffee. It is important to keep these tools specifically for this use rather than using one also used in food preparation. This is because not all materials used in creating incense are safe for consumption and this removes any risk of these ending up in foods. Making your own loose incense blends means that you are able to customise these to suit your personal needs and tastes and that intent can be infused into the ingredients and finish product during the creation process. Many people believe that this gives the finished item an increased ability to work toy your intent. Once the materials have been sufficiently ground any liquids and oils required can be added. Essential oils are often used but other items such as honey or wine are included in some recipes. Once finished the incense blend can be empowered if required and then should be stored in a lidded jar or other container. This should be labelled clearly for future reference.

Combustible Incense

This form of incense is often familiar to people as it can be found in many shops. It can be bought in many scents and is most commonly found in stick and cone form. To use these are placed on a heat proof surface, and many specially designed burners are available for this and then lit using a match or lighter. It is possible to make combustible incense at home but this is more difficult than creating your own loose incense. The gum tragacanth or makko powder and potassium nitrate required can be expensive and difficult to find in shops, though both can be bought online. This form of incense requires that the ingredients be ground very finely and also requires more time in order to be ready to use. It also does not always work well with all recipes as some ingredients such as resins can affect how easily the finished product will burn. If you would like to try making your own combustible incense it is possible to find instructions online such as those found on

When creating your own incense in any form it is important to use tried and tested recipes from a respected source or to thoroughly research the items you intent to include. Although the ingredients are natural and some may even grow freely in the wild this does not mean that all are safe or safe in all circumstances. There are many herbs and other plants that are toxic even just when touched and many others that cannot be used in certain situations. This includes with pregnant and breastfeeding

Using Incense Safely

Using combustible incense is a simple process that requires a safe surface to place the incense and a lighter or match to start it burning. There is a great range of incense burners available to buy ranging from simple wooden trays to beautiful decorative sculptures and containers. Incense burners can also be found in box form and these often also have a small storage draw were incense sticks can be placed. When using these incense is placed inside and then the lid is closed. The smoke can still escape through carved spaces in the wood but the burning end is protected from being touched or accidently knocked into. This makes them a good choice if you have inquisitive pets or small children. Incense burners are may also be called censers and these range greatly in design though are often found as highly ornate metal containers or shaped to represent animals or mythical creatures.

Non-combustible incense cannot burn on its own and so needs a separate heat source. The most common way of providing this is using small charcoal disks that are placed into a heat proof container. The disk is lit and left until it is glowing, then the powered incense is placed on top. It is best to start with a small amount of incense to start with to avoid extinguishing the charcoal. If this is your first time burning that particular blend this also helps in seeing how it smells and also how long it burns for. The burn time of loose incense can vary based on what ingredients were using in creating it. As a general rule blends that container large amounts of resins or gums will burn longer than those composed mainly of woods, leaves, flowers or petals. The incense can then be left to smoulder and if you have issues with burning smells this can solved by gently scrapping the burnt incense from the charcoal.

Incense can be burnt in a range of containers.
Incense can be burnt in a range of containers. | Source

Charcoal disks should always be handled using tongs during lighting and afterwards as they get very hot, very quickly.

Due to the heat produced by the hot charcoal it is very important that these are placed into a suitable censer or other container. Metal is a good choice but ceramic and glass containers designed for cooking can also be used. It is possible that the container will still get very hot when in use so you may wish to raise it up from the surface using a trivet of some kind. Small version intended for cooking or plates designed for burning candles are some choices for this. Some people choose to place sand, salt or soil into their censer and then place the charcoal on top of this. This is not essential but does protect the container from burning, reduces it heating up and can make cleaning up easier.

Antique bronze incense burner.
Antique bronze incense burner. | Source

Creating Incense Recipes

Incense recipes can be as simple or complex as you wish, however it is worth remembering that lots of ingredients or using expensive or hard to find ingredients will not necessarily result in a better finished product. Sometimes the nicest scents are produced by combining a few items or even by using one herb on its own.

Using single herb incenses can be particularly useful when working towards a specific intent or incorporating incense into spell work and rituals. Herbs and other plants have magical correspondences that will help you in deciding which is right for you. This information may also be included in the details of the spell or ritual. If you make and use a lot of incense these correspondences are a great addition to your book of shadows or magic journal, if you have one. It is also good to note down any vibes you get from the ingredients and also notes on how your use of each recipe worked out.

Many common loose herbs can be used to create aromatic incense blends.
Many common loose herbs can be used to create aromatic incense blends. | Source

If you are new to making your own incense do not worry about rushing out and buying a huge amount of herbs as it is likely that you already have many perfectly useable ones at home. It is also not worth buying a large range and then discovering that you won’t use them or decide not to continue making incense. Ingredients such as allspice, cinnamon, basil and rosemary do not have to be purchased from specialist stores in order to be used in incense. The ones you have in your kitchen for cooking are just fine and often cheaper too. For more specialised or magic use only plant materials you may need to shop online or hunt down a metaphysical or pagan themed shop to find these. It is also best to buy your incense ingredients in small amounts as they are best when used fresh.

Some simple one ingredient incense with correspondences includes:

  • Clove – protection, money, love and purification
  • Rosemary – protection, purification, healing and love
  • Thyme – healing, health, purification
  • Lavender – health, love, peace
  • Ginger – sexuality, love, courage, money

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2018 Claire


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    • Elderberry Arts profile imageAUTHOR


      18 months ago from Lincolnshire, UK

      You'revery welcome and I totally agree.

    • Melissa Meadow profile image

      Melissa Meadow 

      18 months ago from United States

      Awesome article. Very informative.

      I love incense and use it daily. I love its ability to cleanse an area and to set a mood as well.

      Thanks for sharing!

    • Elderberry Arts profile imageAUTHOR


      19 months ago from Lincolnshire, UK

      Thank you so much.

    • manatita44 profile image


      19 months ago from london

      Very thorough, well-written article on incense. Excellent! Om Shanti!!


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