The lesson that the more time, energy and hands-on work you put into ritual supplies and tools the more powerful and better keys to shifting consciousness they are is a lesson that is well ingrained in most devotees of the craft. So, it should come to no surprise that making your own incense also falls into this concept of study and practice.
With some basic knowledge of herbalism, careful study of what plants are safe to burn and inhale, and a little time and space to create, anyone can make their own incense blends for any need or occasion.
My favorite part of making my own incense is the ability to be unique to myself and to my immediate needs. Rather than relying on a nearby store (usually a smoke shop selling sticks and cones of unknown origin and date) to have the specific blend needed (which never really seems to happen unless the specific blend I need is ‘special brownies’ or ‘cherry soda’ scented), I can instead rely on my own stock of dried herbs and have a nearly infinite list of possibilities.
When I want to relax, I merely check my stores of lavender or when I want to pray to Anubis I use some of my sandalwood and dried funeral flowers like carnation.
I can also control where and when the herbs were gathered in many cases. Speaking previously of funeral flowers, I have some dried flowers from a funeral of a friend’s father given to me and use a petal or two when I wish to call upon ancestors, ask a favor of the departed, or other similar need. When I have need of romantic aid or blessings from the mother, I gather wild roses when the moon is waxing, close to full and dry them for future use. This is an act I cannot guarantee with stick incense from Joe’s Smoke Shop.
Making Your Own Incense
When making your own incense blends, there are two different types to consider – combustible and non-combustible. The use of the term combustible can bring to mind science labs and explosives but really they only mean: do you need an outside source of heat like burning charcoal in order to ignite the herbs.
I prefer non-combustible incense and the use of charcoal for most purposes. I do not have much skill in making combustible and prefer to just order cones or sticks if they are ever needed (in cases like time-keeping for meditation and prayer, sticks are a great option).
The simplest and one of the most common incense known to witches is a smudge stick. This is super easy to make, especially if you already grow your own white sage, lavender, or sweetgrass. Gather a good bit of the fresh herb and bind it with twine into a bundle. You can use a single herb in a bundle or you can blend herbs (basil and mint with sage smells fantastic and is great for prosperity and business). Let dry completely then you can cut off the twine, the bundle should keeps its shape, and burn when needed.
To make loose incense blends to be burned on charcoal, very few tools are needed. Make Your Own Incense class on Witch School lists the tools:
Your incense ingredients (herbs, flowers, resins, crystals, stones, oils), measuring devices, mortar and pestle (I use a black and white onyx one that works great for me, if you really want to invest in your tools, you could have different stone and metal mortar and pestles for different needs and rites), some small bowls or containers for the powdered ingredients, a large ceramic/glass mixing bowl to blend your ingredients, an airtight container for storing your finished incense, and lastly a pen and paper to write down exactly what you did, so you can replicate it in the future.
When it comes to choosing the ingredients, like many have said before, the more time and energy put into your tools the better. Growing and or wild-crafting your own ingredients and drying them, especially in accordance to certain moon cycles, days, and sabbats, will create a stronger incense.
In a pinch, common kitchen ingredients such as dried and powdered condiment herbs like black pepper, cinnamon, ginger, bay, and clove can also be used and one should never feel they cannot make any of their tools with readily available ingredients such as these on hand.
Other ingredients than herbs are resins, oils and other liquid ingredients such as red wine and honey. Oils, specifically essential oils, should be from a reputable dealer and I would recommend only using therapeutic or pharmaceutical grade versions. These will be more costly but will be purer and have less chance of being adulterated. I also recommend a witch keep a basic set of oils in her tool chest including lavender, a favorite mint (or peppermint if you cannot decide), clove, eucalyptus, and a rose, geranium, neroli or jasmine depending on availability and personal preference.
Knowledge – A Great Tool for Any Lesson
A tool not commonly listed that I recommend when making your own incense is a good book on herbs and their magical and medicinal uses. A great one is Scott Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs. Having a book like this, even in the age of wireless internet where one can easily google “What is the magical property of – “ is still of great use in situations of no electricity or to simply keep in the magical mindset of looking into a great tome for magical knowledge.
Having a great book is of course no reason to not memorize the magical properties of your most used or of a basic list of herbs and oils so that you have that knowledge with you at all times.
Another way to know the properties of certain herbs is to experience it yourself. Make Your Own Incense states:
“you might want to test them to see what kind of smell is produced. Light a charcoal and drop one piece at a time on the hot coal and see how you react to the smell. Keep a journal or index cards for this purpose. Record your first impression of the odor; your second opinion; what the smell reminds you of; whether it smells sweet or foul; and any other notes.”
By doing this, you not only figure out whether or not a certain blend will work before it ruins a ritual by making you nauseous, but you can also see if the wild pink rose makes you think of romantic love or maybe of familial love instead or if you receive a vision of a loved one when working with vanilla and peppermint rather than clearing the mind for work at hand.
In the end, experiential knowledge is a better tool than what any book or website says.
Sacred Incense – Kyphi
Mentioned before was the most basic way of making incense. The following is the most complex recipe for incense I have come across in my studies and one that has a history that rivals the time it takes to make it.
Kyphi or Kapet is an ancient Egyptian incense using in sacred ceremonies, burning in prayer to the gods, and used in funeral rites. Kyphi has even been found in burial chambers of Pharaohs so that they might use it in the afterlife. Recipes and mentions of Kyphi has been found on the Pyramid Texts, the Papyris Harris I, and the preparation was focused on even in the Materia Medica written by Dioscorides.
The ingredient list of Kyphi is long and uses dried herbs, oils, resins and other liquid ingredients all at certain and specific times. the preparation is long and some recipes call for 6 weeks, other for 30 days, and still others for 6 to 12 months before the incense is cured and ready for use.
Momma Sarah of hoodoo curio shop, Conjure Cardea has a family recipe for Kyphi that contains golden currants, spiced red wine, raw honey, cardamom, cinnamon, juniper berries, and 11 other ingredients in a process that takes her 30 days. One the time that it takes to make it, Momma Sarah says, “Many recipes claim you can create this overnight…you can’t. I highly enjoy this process, it is meditative and strengthens my connection to me deities.”
In the end, whether its a simple purification with white sage or spending half a year perfecting your own recipe for Kyphi, making your own incense can be a magic all on its own.
Witch School First Degree Lesson 11 by Rev. Don Lewis
Witch School Make Your Own Incense Momma Sarah of Conjure Cardea – http://conjuredcardea.blogspot.com/2010/10/beginning-of-my-kyphi-kapet-process.html