From time immemorial incense has been a part of worship and has been used in temples, ashrams, churches and mosques as well as in the home to purify and sweeten the atmosphere.
Many people who are familiar with stick incense have never experienced the pleasures of burning pure resins. Now, I encourage you to release these fragrant treasures of nature into your personal enviroment.
Here's a few items you'll need to get started:
- A container
- Charcoal Tablets
- Matches or a cigarette lighter
- A taper candle
- Mica Plate
- A feather or piece of cardboard
Long handled Tweezers or needle nose pliers
* #'s 4 - 9 are recommeded, however they are non-essential.
Beginners can start with a store bought incense burner, or anything which suits the purpose (such as an ashtray). Look for one that is brass, bronze, or stoneware and that has legs. The legs of the vessel prevent the heat from damaging the surface beneath it. You can use a plain metal or porcelain bowl but make sure you set it on a fireproof surface its on. Traditional incense vessels had three legs - symbolizing the body, mind and spirit.
You can use a plain metal or porcelain bowl but make sure you set it on a fireproof surface - like a trivet. It's best if you can fill it with sand and sit your charcoal on the top. Use your imagination, most likely you already have something around the house that will make a great censer. You don't need a fancy incense burner to enjoy the ritual of incense burning.
If you want to burn incense outdoors find a large flat stone and heat it up in a campfire. You may then sprinkle the surface of the stone with your incense. If you throw herbs or incense directly into a fire they burn too quickly. This method will also work in your home fireplace.
Another type of burner is the incense stove. These set ups usually involve a fine mesh screen where the incense is placed sitting directly above a lit candle. The incense stove produces less smoke than the charcoal or rock method. Incense burns much more slowly which is great for expensive ingredients (like aloeswood) and blends.
The Charcoal disks used for incense burning is NOT the same used for your backyard barbecue grill. You won't want to use BBQ charcoal indoors as it produces noxious fumes.
Incense charcoal is self-lighting. The means of combustion is included in the disk. Tablet sizes vary *typically 33 - 38 mm. If you are only burning a small amount of incense, you can easily break up the charcoal disks. This way a 5 or 10-pack will last much longer.
If you have a hard time lighting your charcoal, it may be damp. Leave it out in the sun to dry.
It's always best to place charcoal on a bed of sand. It will burn more evenly and keep its amber like glow longer. In addition the sand will reduce the risk of the container cracking due to extensive heat charcoal produces. The sand layer under the charcoal should be at least 3/4-1 inch thick.
If you have a Mica Plate (a small thin piece of the mineral Mica) you can lay it on top of the charcoal. As you deposit your powder, herb or resin onto the plate it will begin to burn. Mica plates help your materials last longer as they are not in direct contact with the charcoal.
Feathers are traditionally used to fan the lighted charcoal. Any kind of large feather will do - as will a post card, etc. Fanning the charcoal provides oxygen which will allow the tablet to produce a more even burn.
I like to light a taper candle when burning incense. Most often I will select a candle color corresponding to my intentions. Light your candle with the matches or lighter and then using your tweezers - light the charcoal tablet. This prevents the annoyance of matches extinguishing before you get the tablet going and/or burning your fingers.
Use a long handled pair of tweezers to hold the charcoal over the candle flame and then deposit it in the incense vessel. Traditional Japanese incense kits include these types of tweezers. You will also find them in laboratory supply catalogs.
Burning Your Incense
Set aside enough time so that you can enjoy the ritual of incense burning. When selecting a location, make sure there are no easily combustible objects nearby. Fanning and blowing charcoal may send sparks into the air.
First, light you taper candle. Holding one side of the charcoal tablet with your tweezers, place it in the candle flame. The briquette should start to crackle and glow.
Next set the charcoal in your container on a bed of sand. Slowly fan or blow on the tablet. Only after the charcoal is aglow and stops crackling do you put your incense into the indentation on the top.
Be careful...it's hot. Use a knife, spoon or tweezers to drop your incense onto the tablet.
Finally, be aware of potential fire hazard. Charcoal may continue to burn for two hours after lighting - so don't just throw it in a wastebasket. To be certain it's fully extinguished, use your tweezers to extract the tablet and submerse it in water.