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PaganCrafts Incense Page

Nothing clears the air or sets the tone of our homes and magickal lives as does smoldering incense. It's easier to make than most people think, so settle back, read this page, and then see if making your own incense - magickal or not - is still out of the question.

[pagancrafts] Making Incense
Date: Thu, 22 Oct 1998 20:32:49 -0700
From: Crone
Organization: Mama Yasmini's Place

In a few minutes, I'll be sending along 2 or three posts on making incense. There aren't any recipes in these posts, but I can post some of those later on if anyone is interested. These posts are my own notes - from making the incense myself and when I was teaching how to do it a few years back. If there are any points that anyone is not clear on, please, just ask. I rarely make cones, sticks, cylinders or blocks anymore. I find that, for my needs, loose incense works best, costs less, and is a whole lot easier (yeah, I'm lazy). :)

I make some of my own oils. But, when it comes to certain hard-to-get oils which some recipes call for, I have found a supplier who lives fairly close to me. I met her through another list I'm on and found, through use, that her oils are excellent for crafting and aromatherapy. They are good quality and much more subtle (less harsh than most I've tried). You can see her selection at http://www.wellnaturally.com/ I also get my bottles for oils from her and herbs used in the incense I make. I mention her company mainly because some of the recipes call for oils that are not readily available in most areas.

Anyway, if you have questions, fire away. I'll be only too happy to help.

[pagancrafts] Making Incense - General
Date: Thu, 22 Oct 1998 20:32:59 -0700
From: Crone
Organization: Mama Yasmini's Place

Aromatic Substances

Different forms - basic scents
Not all inclusive -numerous exceptions

Bark - woody, semisweet, mild
Berries - earthy, resin-like, heavy
Flowers - grassy, semisweet, dry
Gums - resin-like, semisweet, heavy
Leaves - grassy, herby, dry
Roots - earthy, woody, different, heavy
Seeds - smokey, bitter, burny
Spices - sweet, dry, mild
Wood - woody, semisweet, mild

Aromatic substances that are pleasing in natural form can be offensive when burned - i.e. mint smells clean, fresh, cool as leaves but awful when burned. However, if you are making magickal incense, the scent is not as important as the intent.

Before using herbs in incense, try a little by itself and test prior to adding to incense. If it's scent is pleasant and agreeable, then you can use it. If it is awful, then use the scent or essence or oil instead.

If you have asthma, hay fever or skin problems, making incense "could" cause adverse effects. However, since the amounts used are small, problems are usually not severe or long-lasting and may not even occur. In most cases, the making or using of incense will not cause any problems with your general heath UNLESS the substance is poisonous or narcotic - i.e. hemlock, belladonna, etc.

There are literally hundreds of ingredients that can be used in making incense. However, there are some that are used over and over again. Scott Cunningham, in The Complete Book of Incense, Oils and Brews, gives a list of 14 of the most common. These are:

Basil
Bay
Benzoin
Cedar thyme
Cinnamon
Copal
Frankincense
Juniper
Myrrh
Pine needles or resin
Rose petals
Rosemary
Sandalwood

There is no PERFECT incense formula. Each substance - flower, herb, spice or blends of substances - is different.

ESSENTIAL TASKS:

Make sure when trying new blends and formulae that you make accurate notes of exactly the quantities of different ingredients you use, the correct names of all ingredients, and the end results of your trials. This will allow you to reproduce accurately blends that you really like and not end up with blends that you were not happy with. Keep records of all good and bad blends so you don't, by accident, reproduce the bad.

When starting out, always make small batches. This eliminates waste until you determine whether or not the blend is a good one for you. It also allows you to find out if the blend you are using burns easily.

When using a recipe from a book, you can follow it exactly OR you can adjust quantities to suit your tastes. Try it as given first. If happy with it, fine. If not happy with it, experiment by changing some of the proportions or adding and subtracting ingredients. Just remember to keep the basic formula ratios in mind.

Beginners experimenting with blends should start with equal amounts of aromatics. With experience, you will be able to adjust the ingredients in amounts that are most pleasing to you.

MEASURING: It is recommended that you use level teaspoons or tablespoons. This keeps the ingredients accurate and allows you to reproduce any blend exactly.

Ingredients should always be as fine a powder as possible. When buying herbs, roots, etc. for making incense, buy in powdered form whenever possible. If using your own herbs, etc., these can be powdered bu a number of different methods. Leaves and flowers can often be powdered in a mortar and pestle. For others, a blender or coffee grinder can be used. There are some coffee grinders that are not suitable for leaves and flowers and others that will take anything. Gums and resins should be bought in powdered form if at all possible as they will gum up virtually anything that you use to powder them. Once you have powdered your herbs, sift them through something like a flour sifter or just a fine screen sieve to make sure that all un-ground pieces are removed and you have a fine powder. This is especially important when making cones, sticks or cylinders, but not as essential if you are making loose incense.

The base is used for a number of reasons. One is that it can often keep the aromatic scents from becoming overpowering. Another is that it frequently helps the blends burn. How much or how little base you use is really a matter of personal choice - after you have become experienced at making incense.

[pagancrafts] Making Incense - Loose
Date: Thu, 22 Oct 1998 20:33:02 -0700
From: Crone
Organization: Mama Yasmini's Place

Loose Incense:

Loose incense can be made up solely of herbs, roots, etc. or a mixture of herbs and some type of liquid such as oils, honey, etc. (usually only a few drops) or a mixture of Bamba wood base (crushed bamboo which has a pleasant scent and comes in several colors - making it excellent for magickal incenses) and appropriate oils.

Loose incense must be burned on charcoal. This is not the charcoal you use in your barbecue, but rather the kind you can get either at a religious supply or new age/pagan store. These are quick light and safe for use indoors - which barbecue briquets are not.

Loose incense does not require a bonding agent, saltpeter or liquid. Therefore it can be less expensive to make and is definitely easier to make. Herbs used in loose incense also does not have to be completely powdered. A few bits and pieces of twigs, flowers, leaves, etc. can be excellent in loose incense although these should still be kept to a minimum.

Loose incense can be stored in small wide-mouthed jars (for easy retrieval) in a dark, dry place. The top shelves in closets or in overhead kitchen cabinets are good. Remember to label the containers with the ingredients or recipe, date made, and any other info you think might be important. Incense should be stored in glass containers especially when ingredients such as camphor or menthol (or any other strong-scented scents) are used. If it is at all possible, a small packet of silica gel should be added to protect against moisture.

[pagancrafts] Making Incense - Cones, Sticks, Blocks, Cylinders
Date: Thu, 22 Oct 1998 20:32:56 -0700
From: Crone
Organization: Mama Yasmini's Place

Cones, Sticks, Blocks, Cylinders

METHOD: - taken generally from Wylundt's Book of Incense

Basic Formula: Use this as a general base for incense and adapt and experiment from here.

20 parts aromatic substance
4 parts base
1 part bonding agent (tragacanth gum or gum arabic)
Aromatic substances should be at least twice as much as the base.

All dry ingredients, EXCEPT saltpeter, should be mixed before adding any liquid. Make sure that they are thoroughly mixed so that you don't have incense that smells of one aromatic in one spot and then changes to another scent as it burns down. A popsicle stick is one of the best mixers around. You should be able to get them at any hobby/craft store.

Liquid changes the bonding agent from powder into glue. It also dissolves the saltpeter which is used to make the cones, sticks or cylinders burn. Make liquids by combining the water and saltpeter in the following measurements.

Quarter Blend (QB) = 1/2 cup water and 1/4 teaspoon saltpeter
Fire Water (FW) = 8 teaspoons water and 1/4 teaspoon saltpeter
Liquid Fire (LF) = 4 tablespoons water and 1/4 teaspoon saltpeter

After the saltpeter has been thoroughly dissolved, the liquid should be added to the dry ingredients. This applies for all types of bonding agents you might use.

The amount of liquid may be given in some recipes. For those where it is not given, the following is a general estimate of liquid to dry.

For 2-1/2 teaspoons of dry use:

Leaves &/or flowers = 1 to 1-1/4 teaspoons liquid.
Roots = 1-1/2 to 2 teaspoons liquid.
Powdered herbs and spices = 1-1/2 to 1-3/4 teaspoons liquid.
Base and scent (oils, essences, etc.) = 1-1/2 to 2 teaspoons liquid.
All other blends = 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 teaspoons liquid.

If uncertain about the amount to use, start with 1 teaspoon liquid and add 1/4 teaspoon at a time till mix it moist and workable.

The consistency should be that of a soft, lumpy putty or moist dough, easily workable. If mix is too wet, the incense will run and sag. If too dry, it will be crumbly and hard-to-shape.

METHOD: - taken generally from The Complete Book of Incense, Oils and Brews

There are two recipes in this bookfor cone incense base. To use these for making blocks or sticks or cylinders, you would adjust the liquid accordingly.

Cone Incense Base #1 6 parts ground charcoal (not self-igniting)
1 part ground Benzoin
2 parts ground Sandalwood
1 part ground Orris root (this "fixes" the scent)
6 drops essential oil (use the oil form of one of the ingredients in the incense)
2 to 4 parts mixed incense (finely powdered herbs)

Mix the first 4 ingredients untill all well blended.

Cone Incense #2

6 parts powdered Sandalwood (or Cedar, Pine or Juniper)
2 parts powdered Benzoin (or Frankincense or Myrrh, etc.)
1 part ground Orris root
6 drops essential oil
3 to 5 parts powdered incense mixture

In this recipe, the charcoal is replaced by powdered wood. Use Sandalwood - if it is included in the recipe - otherwise cedar, pine or juniper. Mix first 3 ingredients until well blended.

Add the essential oil and mix again. Then add the incense mix (powdered herb mix). Weigh this mixture and add 10% potassium nitrate (saltpeter). If you have 10 ounces of incense, you add 1 ounce of potassium nitrate - NO MORE or it will burn too fast - NO LESS or it might not burn at all. Then add tragacanth glue - a teaspoon at a time.

For cones and blocks, you need a very stiff, dough-like texture. For stick incense, more glue should be added so that the mix is wet, but still rather thick.

Keep woods (sandalwood, wood aloe, cedar, juniper, pine) and gum resins (frankincense, myrrh, benzoin, copal) in proper proportions - at least twice as much powdered wood as resins. If there is more resinous material, the mixture will not burn.

Wylundt's Methods for Various Types

The best way to dry incense is on a wood surface. It should not be covered or placed in a box but allowed to sit out where air can cirulate around the different pieces. Stick incense can be dried by placing the sticks into a ball of clay, a block of styrofoam, or into a bowl filled with sand. Cones and cylinders can be dried on a windowsill or even in the back window of a car (with the windows down, of course). They will take about a day and a half to dry. Conditions that can cause slowing in the drying process, or even ruin your incense, are dew, shade, high humidity, improper ventilation and cold. If drying your incense outside, remember to bring it in at night. Incense dries slowly when there is high humidity or rain, and it really needs direct sunlight and/or heat to dry quickly and completely.

Each blend of incense should be stored separately in a dark, dry place. The top shelves in closets or in overhead kitchen cabinets are good. Remember to label the containers with the ingredients or recipe, date made, and any other info you think might be important. Cones and cylinders can be stored in jars or tightly sealed plastic bags. Stick incense should be placed in a tall thin jar. Glass containers are best for storage especially when ingredients such as camphor or menthol (or any other strong-scented scents) are used. If it is at all possible, a small packet of silica gel should be added to protect against moisture.

CONES

After incense has been thoroughly mixed and kneaded, break off a piece and form it into a cone shape. It should be about 1-3/4 inches long and 7/16 inch in diameter at the base. It should resemble a fairly thin, inverted ice cream cone with one scoop of ice cream on it. Hold it vertically and press the rounded end gently on a flat surface to flatten. If the bottom is shaped like a scoop of ice cream before flattening, it won't flare out but rather form a nice cone.

As the cones dry, they will shrink. The more liquid in the mix, the more they will shrink.

Most cones burn from 10-25 minutes, depending on size and ingredients used.

CYLINDERS

These are very similar to cones - except for the shape. Use the same recipes as for cones, but add a little plain water until the mixture is moist enough to easily work.

Break off a piece of incense mix and gently roll it on a clean, smooth surface. These may be difficult at first, but if you work them like you would a piece of clay, it will soon become quite easy.

Cylinders can be any size, but the best is approximately 2-3/4 inches long by about 5/16 inch diameter. This is small enough to work easily, but large enough to burn for a long time.

You can also form cylinders using a cake decorator. If you have a plasic or tin one, all you need is to enlarge the hole in one of the removable spout attachments. The hole should beno less than 5/16 inch and no more than 3/8 inch. Incense will not flow through if the hole is too small and the cylinders will be too large if the hole is too wide.

As the cylinders dry (about 1/2 hour), roll them over 180 degrees, and then roll over again in about another hour. This prevents them from sticking to your drying board. They will dry in about half the time it takes for a cone to dry. A batch made in the morning should be dry by that evening.

STICKS

There are several ways to make stick incense, however, this is probably the easiest. Prepare your incense as for cylinders, adding the little bit of water as well as about a dozen drops of mineral oil.

Roll the incense into cylinders and then push a thin bamboo stick into the cylinder, lengthwise. Roll again to smooth out the finish. Your incense will probably be about 3/8 to 1/2 inch in diameter, but as you become more proficient at rolling the cylinders and placing the sticks, you can probably make them thinner.

Cunningham's Methods for Various Types

Check under Wylundt's information for methods of drying and storing if none are given below.

CONES

See the method of forming the cones in Wylundt's. When done, let it dry for two to seven days in a warm place.

BLOCKS

Form the mixture into a square or rectangle about 1/3 inch thick on waxed paper. Cut with a knife into 1 inch cubes as if you were cutting small brownies. Separate the cubes and let them dry.

STICKS

You can make a little stiffer incense dough, pat it out on waxed paper until it is very thin. Place a stick on the dough and roll a thin coating of dough around the stick. The incense shouldn't be more than twice the thickness of the stick. Squeeze or press it onto the stick so that it will stay and then dry.

INCENSE PAPERS

Take a piece of white blotter paper and cut it into 6 inch strips about an inch wide. Add 1-1/2 teaspoons potassium nitrate (saltpeter) to 1/2 cup very warm water. Stir until the saltpeter is completely dissolved. Soak the blotter strips in the solution until thoroughly saturated. Hang to dry.

The problem with the papers is getting a scent that overcomes the smell of burning paper. Because of this, it is recommended that heavy fragrances - such as tinctures - should be used, with tinctures compounded from gums and resins producing the best results.

Pour a few drops of the tincture onto a strip of the dried, saturated blotter paper. Smear it over the paper, and continue until one side of the paper is completely coated with the tincture. Hang the strips to dry again and then store in airtight containers.

If you wish to speed drying of the papers, turn your oven on to a low temperature, leave the door open and place the soaked papers on the rack. Remove when dry.

Hold a paper above your censer and light one tip with a match. Once it is completely involved in flame, quickly blow it out and place the glowing paper in the censer and let it smolder. They should burn slowly and emit a pleasant scent.

Plain incense papers, soaked only in the saltpeter mix and dried, can be used in place of charcoal for burning loose incense. Simply light one in the center of the censer and place a thin layer of incense over the paper. As it burns, it will smolder your incense.

qmark.gif[pagancrafts] Charcoal incense:-)
Date: Tue, 17 Nov 1998 16:07:12 PST
From: Nina Twitchell

Hi, this is Nina/Gentle Spirit. I have got a question about using charcoal to burn incense on. I did it tonight and it seems a lot of charcoa odor and not a whole lot of the incense. Any suggestions on how to make the good scent come out and not so much charcoal. I know it is a silly question, help:-)

Nina/Gentle Spirit

Date: Tue, 17 Nov 1998 17:01:19 -0800
From: Crone
Organization: Mama Yasmini's Place

Nina, did you have the special charcoal? It's available in church supply stores and when I burn it, there's no charcoal smell at all. It's also not toxic indoors which regular charcoal (like for your BBQ) is.

Date: Tue, 17 Nov 1998 18:29:39 PST
From: Nina Twitchell

Yes, that is the charcoal that I had. I got it at the local pagan shop. The same type that the ex-husband used at the chapel. He was an RP in the Navy. It didn't have a smelly charcoal smell so much as it did not burn evenly. Is that normal. I know that sounds silly, but I am new to it and not sure what I am doing:-) I would rather ask than to waste the good incense that I mad:-) I appreciate your help:-)

Date: Tue, 17 Nov 1998 19:35:48 -0800
From: Crone
Organization: Mama Yasmini's Place

Nina, it should be self lighting and you only put a little bit on at a time or it has a tendency to go out. Also, some of the smell may be the different herbs since they do smell differently when they burn, and not all of them smell that pleasant - especially those for different magickal purposes. I burn a little at a time and have a tendency to break the charcoal disk into smaller pieces so that it lasts for maybe 10 times longer (well, depending on the number of pieces I get from one disk). :) Either that, or make sure that you have the charcoal really glowing and then you can add a little more herbs to it. As it burns down, it should smell of the herbs.

BTW, which recipe are you using?

Date: Wed, 18 Nov 1998 10:58:24 -0800 From: Marilyn Warren
Organization: Crone's Network

A little more as to charcoal. You have to let is burn a while before you start. When I start mine there is a lot of spitting and sputtering as the igniting takes place. That takes about 2 minutes on average for me. Then I wait until the surface turns white, as you would with regular charcoal. By then there is no smell at all.

The smell at first is the burning of the igniting compound. That really smells bad in an enclosed space, but has little or no odor out doors.

Hope this helps a little.

Date: Wed, 18 Nov 1998 09:16:44 PST
From: Nina Twitchell

I am using the apple pie incense recipe. It doesn't smell bad, but I am going to take your advice and brak the disc up into smaller pieces to make it last longer and I probably won't have as much problem with it that way. I think what I did was put to much of the herb onto it which caused it to have the smokey, almost cigarette like smell to it. I think I am getting the hang of it:-)

Date: Wed, 18 Nov 1998 10:08:27 -0800 From: Crone
Organization: Mama Yasmini's Place

Great, Nina. Let me know how it turns out. I add just a little bit and then add more as that burns down.

Date: Wed, 18 Nov 1998 20:43:28 PST
From: Nina Twitchell

I appreciate that. I am a novice to the charcoal discs. I am use to using the stick incense that you buy at the store, but for magigal purposes I needed to be able to burn some herbs that were not available in the store. No that I know how to use them to the best effectiveness I should be good, I hope:-)

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