Scent is a powerful sense in the human brain. It is the most strongly connected to memories, meaning that even a slight hint of a familiar smell can take you back to that place where the memory was formed instantly. Unlike most senses, the sense of smell is directly wired to your brain meaning it is rapid and ancient in nature. So that being said, does it not make sense that purposefully triggering this part of your brain could indeed be beneficial to you in certain ways if used correctly? Using the proper scent is key to changing the atmosphere of the room and the mood of yourself. This means it is an incredibly powerful tool for use in meditation and the benefits that brings to you spiritually and physically.
Use of incense has been common in many religious ceremonies for this very reason. It creates a space of introspection and worship allowing the mind to be at ease and soak in the message you are trying to obtain. Buddhist temples, Chinese and Tibetan church, and the Catholic Orthodox church all use incense for religious practices and can almost always find incense burning in these places. The smell immediately transports your mind from where it was to a reverent state of mind. Besides this it can be used simply in the home for adding a pleasant aroma or masking smells such as cat litter or cigarette smoke.
Incense comes in a variety of forms, most commonly that of cones and cored sticks. These two types of incense burn quite differently from each other and require different types of incense burners to use effectively. The cones are just what they sound like, solid cones of pure incense that sit on a plate and are lit from the top and burn down slowly releasing their scents and particulates throughout the room as it slowly smolders. The cored sticks on the other hand are long thin wooden sticks that are surrounded by incense, these are burnt inside of long incense “boats” that have a hole in one end for the end of the stick to be set in. The stick is lit from the tip and slowly burns down dropping the ash onto the boat to catch it. Both types have their benefits, it’s up to you to decide which style works for your particularities.
Incense’s popularity in the West came mostly from India, though its origins did not necessarily begin there. India produced some of the most popular fragrant incenses, they were exotic scents that were almost entirely new to the Western World. This boom of incenses from India were due mostly that the country is home to many popular types of incense such as sandalwood, myrrh, Cannabis, and many more. In the Vedas, an ancient Hindu holy scripture, they discuss the use of incense and its aromas as a form of medicine. It is considered to be the first stage of Ayurvedic healing, and so incense was primarily done by monks and doctors.
China is the birthplace of the true artisanal incense we see today. About 200 CE a group of wandering Buddhist monks brought with them incense making to China. Here it was incredibly popular and new forms of incense, such as the solid stick incense which has no wooden core, came about. The Chinese, too, used many forms of incense in healing and religious ceremonies. Cannabis https://www.iceheadshop.co.uk/cannabis-seeds.html and camphor were the most popular with Cannabis burning being used in a medical capacity to help with eye and stomach ailment and Camphor used somewhat similarly medically but also used in a religious capacity. The Chinese also invented the incent clock, which were sticks that burnt so regular one could tell the time by how low they were.
After China, incense made its way to Japan where the art form was improved upon once again. Even into the modern age, a traditional Japanese incent maker will study his entire life to gain mastery of this art form. Due to the amount of diligence that went into the making of Japanese incense, it became a jewels for the high courtly arts of Japan. The Way of France, Kodo, is one of the three classical arts of refinement, along with tea ceremony and flower arrangement in tradition Japanese culture. The scents of Japan are generally quite simplistic, but are used to represent an idea or feeling purely by smell alone. They play games with the incense where they compare each other’s blends or a game called Genjiko, in which the players inhale pre-made incense blends to determine which chapter of the Tale of Genji they represent.
Europeans have a long history of incense use as well, though it is not quite the same as that from the Far East. This incense is more akin to potpourri, where burning is not required. Although, in some druidic and herbalist cultures burning of certain plants were associated with magic ritual and witchcraft. These traditions have mostly died out and the incenses of the East have become more popular throughout the world.
In the Americas as well, even before the European colonists, there was a long tradition of incense use. Indigenous American tribes would light coals and use plants such as Cannabis, Sage, Pine, or Tobacco and place them on the coals as part of a ritual to send their prayers to the gods.
All these traditions and more are now incorporated throughout the world as society expanded at a blistering pace. Incense’s popularity in the West is now larger than ever as we have easy access to many of these plants that grow in what was once faraway lands. Explore the world of scent through incense, try many different types to find what is best for you. Take advantage of the primal nature of smells and let them whisk you away to new mental states, old memories, or into mysterious lands by the simple act of burning resins.