Incenses are composed of a variety of leaves, flowers, roots, barks, woods, resins, gums and oils. Semiprecious stones may also be added to incenses to lend their energies to the mixture. Out of the literally hundreds of potential incense ingredients, perhaps 14 are most frequently used. Keep a stock of these herbs on hand if you plan to make several incense. These might include:
Frankincense, Myrrh, Benzoin, Copal, Rose petals, Bay, Cinnamon, Pine needles or resin (pitch), Juniper berries, Sandalwood, Cedar, Thyme, Basil, Rosemary, Sage, Cardomom, Amber, Plumeria, Vanilla bean, and many more
Be aware that many plants (if not all) smell quite different when being smoldered. Sweet scents turn sour fast.
The Two Forms of Incense
Two types of incense are used in Magick: the combustible and the noncombustible. The former contains potassium nitrate (saltpeter) to aid in burning, while the latter does not. Therefore combustible incense can be burned in the form of bricks, cones, sticks and other shapes, whereas noncombustible incense must be sprinkled onto glowing charcoal blocks to release their fragrance.
Be sure you have all necessary ingredients. If you lack any, decide on substitutions. Each ingredient must be finely ground, preferably to a powder, using either a mortar and pestle or an electric grinder. Some resins won’t powder easily, but with practice you’ll find the right touch. When all is ready, fix your mind on the incense’s goal. In a large wooden or ceramic bowl, mix the resins and gums together with your hands. While mingling these fragrant substances, also mix their energies. Visualize your personal power–vibrating with your Magickal goal–exiting your hands and entering the incense.
Next, mix in all the powdered leaves, barks, flowers and roots. As you mix, continue to visualize or concentrate on the incense’s goal. Now add any oils or liquids that are included in the recipe. Just a few drops are usually sufficient. Once all has been thoroughly mixed, add any powdered stones or other power boosters. The incense is now fully compounded. Empower the incense and it is done. Store in a tightly capped jar. Label carefully, including the name of the incense and date of composition. It is ready for use when needed.
Combustible incense (in the form of cones, blocks, and sticks) is fairly complex in its composition, but many feel the results are worth the extra work. Gum tragacanth glue or mucilage is the basic ingredient of all molded incenses. Gum tragacanth is available at some herb stores. It is rather expensive, but a little will last for months. To make tragacanth glue, place a teaspoon of the ground herb in a glass of warm water. Mix thoroughly until all particles are dispersed. To facilitate this, place in a bowl and whisk or beat with an egg beater. This will cause foam to rise, but it can be easily skimmed off or allowed to disperse. The gum tragacanth has enormous absorption qualities; an ounce will absorb up to one gallon of water in a week.
Let the tragacanth absorb the water until it becomes a thick, bitter-smelling paste. The consistency of the mixture depends on the form of incense desired. For sticks (the most difficult kind to make), the mixture should be relatively thin. For blocks and cones a thicker mucilage should be made. This where practice comes in handy; after a session or two you will automatically know when the mucilage is at the correct consistency.
If you can’t find tragacanth, try using gum arabic in its place. This, too, absorbs water. When you have made the trag glue, cover with a wet cloth and set aside. It will continue to thicken as it sits, so if it becomes too thick add a bit of water and stir thoroughly. Next, make up the incense base:
Cone Incense Base: (example: one part could equal 1/2 ounce for your batch)
6 parts ground Charcoal that is finely powdered (not self-igniting)
1 part ground Benzoin
2 parts ground Sandalwood
1 part ground Orris root (this “fixes” the scent)
1 dram essential oil (use an oil that matches of one of the ingredients in the incense)
2 to 4 parts mixed, empowered incense as described in noncombustible
Mix the first four ingredients until all are well blended. Add the essential oil and mix again with you hands. The goal is to create a powdered mixture with a fine texture. It may help to run the mixture through a grinder or mortar again until it is satisfactory. Now add your 2 to 4 parts of the completed and empowered incense mixture. Combine this well with your hands.
Then using a small kitchen scale, weigh the completed incense.
Add exactly ten percent potassium nitrate. No more, no less.
If you’ve made ten ounces of incense, add one ounce potassium nitrate. Mix this until the white powder is thoroughly blended. Next, add the trag glue. Do this a teaspoon at a time, mixing with your hands in a large bowl until all ingredients are whetted. For cone incense you’ll need a very stiff, dough-like texture. If it is too thick it won’t properly form into cones and will take forever to dry. The mixture should mold easily and hold its shape.
On a piece of waxed paper, shape the mixture into basic cone shapes, exactly like the ones you’ve probably bought. If this form isn’t used, the incense might not burn properly. When you’ve made up your cone incense, let it dry for two to seven days in a warm place. Your incense is finished.
Add more trag glue to the mixed incense and base until the mixture is wet but still rather thick. The trick here is in determining the proper thickness of the incense/trag mixture and in finding appropriate materials to use. Try homemade wooden or bamboo sticks split into fourths, broom straws, very thin twigs, or those long wooden cocktail skewers. Dip the sticks into the mixture, let them sit upright and then dip again. Several dippings are usually necessary; this is a most difficult process.
When the sticks have accumulated a sufficient amount of the incense, poke them into a slab of clay or some other substance so that they stand upright. Allow them to dry. One variation on stick incense making uses a stiffer incense dough. Pat down the dough on waxed paper until it is very thin. Place the stick on the dough. Roll a thin coating of dough around the stick. The incense should not be more than twice the thickness of the stick. Squeeze or press it onto the stick so that it will stay put, and let dry.
Incense papers are a delightful variation of combustible incense. Here, rather than using charcoal and gum tragacanth, tinctures and paper are the basic ingredients. To make incense papers, take a piece of white blotter paper and cut it into six-inch strips about an inch wide. Next, add 1 1/2 teaspoons potassium nitrate to 1/2 cup very warm water. Stir until potassium nitrate is completely dissolved. Soak the paper strips in the nitrate solution until thoroughly saturated. Hang them to dry.
You now have the paper versions of the charcoal blocks used to burn incense. The obstacle in scenting them is to overcome the normal smell of burning paper. For this reason, heavy fragrances should be used, such as tinctures. Tinctures compounded from gums and resins seem to produce the best results. Empower the tincture(s) with you Magickal need, then pour a few drops of the tincture onto one strip of paper. Smear this over the paper and add more drops until it is completely coated on one side. Hang the strip up to dry and store in labeled, airtight container until needed.
To speed drying, turn on the oven to the lowest temperature, leave the door open, and place the soaked incense papers on the rack. Remove them when dry. Generally speaking, incense papers should be made with one tincture rather than mixtures. To use incense papers, simply remove one paper and hold it above your censer. Light one tip with a match, and after it is completely involved in flame, quickly blow it out. Place the glowing paper in your censer and let it smolder, visualizing or working your magickal ritual. Incense papers should burn slowly and emit a pleasant scent.
Plain unscented papers can be used in place of charcoal blocks. For this purpose soak the papers in the potassium nitrate solution and let dry, then set one alight in the censer. Sprinkle a thin layer of the incense over the paper. As it burns the paper will also smolder your incense. You may have difficulty in keeping incense paper lit. The secret here is to allow air to circulate below the papers. You can ensure this by either placing the paper on some heat-proof object in the censer, or by filling the censer with salt or sand and thrusting one end of the paper into this, much as you might with incense sticks. The paper should burn all the way to its end.