Wednesday, March 12, 2008


INCENSE - Information on how to make

I have two books on the subject of making incense, one of which is useful and
the other of which is occasionally amusing. The books are:

The useful one: Smith, Steven R. _Wylundt's Book of Incense_, York Beach, ME:
Samuel Weiser, Inc. 1989, 300 pp.

The amusing one (which will probably be easier to find, alas):
Cunningham, Scott. _The Magic of Incense, Oils & Brews_, St. Paul, MN:
Llewellyn Publications, 1986, 165 pp.

There are two kinds of incense: that which will burn by itself, and that which
won't. The self-burning kind is the stuff formed into cones, sticks, and so
forth. Non-self-burning incense is easy: mix up whatever herbs please you and
drop it on a hot coal. You can buy self-igniting charcoal which was made to be
used with incense at either occult shops or ecclesiastical supply shops. This
charcoal has saltpeter mixed in it, so that when you hold a match to it, the
saltpeter burns and provides enough of a start for the charcoal to catch. You
get a line of sparks marching across the coal. I think it's really neat, but
then I'm a bit of a pyromaniac. Put the coal in a heatproof dish and drop herbs
on it. The coals usually burn for about an hour. You can get large clouds of
smoke this way. On the other hand, the charcoal is both messy and dangerous.
It really does get hot. I am very careful to put it in something that will
contain both the fire and the heat. The best solution I've found so far is a
good-sized stone ashtray with a trivet underneath.

Self-burning incense is tricky. I've had reasonable success with the recipes in
Smith, but not with creating my own recipes. Do not follow Cunningham's
instructions for making self-burning incense. He has no clue what he's talking
about. Use his recipes that please you, and ignore his techniques.

From this point on, unless I say otherwise, I'm referring to self-burning
incense. Incense requires the following ingredients:

- Aromatic substance: the stink-pretty. This can be whatever you want.

- Base: a neutral or pleasant smelling substance that burns easily. Fine sawdust
is easy to get and cheap. Sandalwood works beautifully, but costs more.
- Potassium Nitrate: aka saltpeter. To make sure it burns.

- Binder: glue, to hold it together. Smith has a list of necessary features,
such as 'must not revert to powder when dry'. Gum tragacanth is best.

- Liquid: to make the binder become sticky. Usually water.

One of the tricks to incense is getting the correct amount of saltpeter. Like
I said above, I haven't figured out this one, so I do it by the book. The other
trick is to get all the ingredients evenly mixed together. Here's the secret to
doing this: mix the binder in with the base and aromatics, and dissolve the
saltpeter in the liquid. This is why I tell you not to follow Cunningham's
methods. He tells you to do exactly the opposite (saltpeter with dry
ingredients, binder with liquid). I tried it his way before I found Smith, and
it Does Not Work.

I strongly recommend Scott Cunningham's Incenses, Oils and Brews from Llewellyn
Publications. Scott has recipes for a wide variety of incenses for various
purposes. Most of these are for powder incenses to be used with charcoal but I
believe he also talks about how to make cones. I prefer using charcoal myself,
as you don't need to include any binders or other extraneous ingredients in the
incense. Good luck! Making your own incense is very rewarding and the end
product tends to have better energy than store-bought.

If you prefer making your own cone or stick incense, I suggest using gum
tragacanth, which can be obtained from most herb suppliers.

Start with a tablespoon of the gum and a large (12 ounces) glass of water. Add
a bit at a time until it is a stiff, paste-like consistency. Add to this your
powdered herbs and/or oils. Remember that your oils will have a stronger odor,
so adjust accordingly.

For stick incense, get some joss sticks from an incense store and simply dip
them in the mixture.

To create cones, make the mixture thicker and shape by hand.

Keep your mixture covered with a damp cloth, else it turns into a hard, unusable

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