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INCENSE: A PRIMER AND SOURCES

In the Worship of the Hellenic Gods

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Incense is an Offering to Gods

Burning incense is an offering to Gods. Before we can discuss incense in the context of this website, we need to have an idea of why we would want to make any kind of offering to Gods at all.

In Ællinismόs (Hellenismos; Gr. Ἑλληνισμός), the ancient Greek religion, we speak of the progressed soul who becomes attracted to the great beauty and goodness of the Gods. This attraction is called Ǽrohs (Eros; Gr. Ἔρως). Our Ǽrohs immediately gains the attention of the Gods, who have been awaiting this, our invitation. Why do the Gods await our invitation? It is because there is a great law that the Gods do not violate our freedom and our conscience. But when the Gods feel our Ǽrohs, this is an invitation to the Gods to come into our lives, and this invitation is met by an immediate flow of Ǽrohs back from the Gods to us. When we make offerings to Gods, the offering actually represents the Ǽrohs flowing between Gods and mortals.  We make offerings in order to honor the Gods and express our love and appreciation for them. Without Ǽrohs, our offerings are meaningless, the smoke from our incense blows about and never is savored by the Gods:

"He (ed. Ǽrohs) interprets between Gods and men, conveying and taking across to the Gods the prayers and sacrifices of men, and to men the commands and replies of the Gods; he is the mediator who spans the chasm which divides them, and therefore in him all is bound together, and through him the arts of the prophet and the priest, their sacrifices and Mysteries and charms, and all prophecy and incantation, find their way. For God mingles not with man; but through Love (ed. Ǽrohs) all the intercourse and converse of God with man, whether awake or asleep, is carried on." [1]


Ritual Incense 

Incense: (Etym., from the Latin, incendere, "to burn or kindle." The Greek word for incense is thumíama; Gr. θυμίαμα.

In the traditions of Ællinismόs, incense is used purely as an offering to Gods. [2]  It is not proper (in ritual) to use incense as a means to "create a mood" or a tool to conjure some kind of "magic." The correct attitude is that incense is an offering of love, generosity, gratitude, and worship. You are giving a gift of something fine and precious to the blessed Olympian Gods and the extended pantheon of deities. 

The use of incense as an offering to Gods is traditional. Incense has what is called evodía (Gr. εὐωδία), a "sweet smell," pleasing to the Gods. Reference to incense can be found throughout ancient literature. Of particular note are the Orphic Hymns which suggest a type of incense for most of the principle deities. You will find here frankincense, myrrh, storax, and others.  

The two most commonly known substances in the Western world used for incense are frankincense and myrrh. Most people associate these two with the Christian Christmas story, but in reality, frankincense, myrrh, storax, and many other plant materials have been used long before the Christian era in all localities of the ancient world for the worship of all the Gods and Heroes.

Historically in the West, incense is a mark of polytheistic devotion to Gods. After the Roman Empire became Christian by imperial edict, the use of incense was suppressed by law during the ensuing persecutions of pagan religion. In time, after the church felt confident that the ancient religions had been thoroughly crippled, the practice of burning incense re-emerged and entered into Christian religion. Nonetheless, the idea that incense is somehow connected with pre-Christian worship persists to this day and there is good reason for it. Every time we offer a pinch of incense, we affirm by our action that our convictions persevere and remain relevant.

Natural Incense: Gums, Resins, and Plant Materials

This page is dedicated to natural and, for the most part, unmingled incense materials, particularly pure resins and gums, which is not to say that other forms of incense (such as sticks or cones) are in some way unsuitable as an offering. No, it is only that the author of this article particularly appreciates the purity and loveliness of these naturally occurring substances; it is simply my preference. The use of these raw substances also makes it possible to follow the suggestions for incense-offerings made in the Orphic Hymns, the foundation of ritual in our tradition.  

In our contemporary world of artificiality, a world where the ingredients of most perfumes are concocted in the laboratory, aromatic natural substances are an expression of the primal beauty of Earth. Indeed, they evoke exotic places and recall fascinating stories. To give but one example, the labdanum resin is collected from the rock-rose (Cistus genus) by shepherds who drive their goats into thickets of the bush. The amazingly fragrant resin exudes from hairs on the leaves and young stems of the plant. The animals love to graze on these plants. When they have had their fill, they emerge from the brambles and their owners comb out the resin which has stuck to their beards and coats. [3]  Such substances as this bring us into contact with natural found beauty of often stunning sensuality.

What are resins and gums? They are secretions of plants, generally encouraged by their being bruised in some way. The two words, resin and gum, are often used as synonyms of one another, a manner of speaking we will adopt in this very article, but it is not actually correct. Resins are not soluble in water, where gums are. Many natural incense materials have qualities of both, so they may be called gum-resins. Another term that you will find is oleo, which means oily or fatty. So we have oleo-resins or oleo-gum-resins.  

Sometimes other parts of plants are used as incense, such as the bark or the wood beneath it, flowers, or leaves. It is said that in Greece, before approximately 900 BC, the use of gums and resins in worship was unknown or rare, but fragrant woods and plant materials were used as incense. Therefore, such substances are 100% traditional. Even today in Greece in the Orphic community, native plant materials seem to be preferred (in particular, leaves of laurel). For Hellas they are more ancient.  

An example of bark used for incense would be storax bark (not to be confused with ancient storax). An example of wood used as incense is sandalwood. Rose petals, lavender, chamomile, chrysanthemum, and jasmine are flowers are used as incense. Laurel, oak, myrtle and sage are examples of leaves that are used, as well as various needles of conifers such as pine and spruce. Many of these plants have associations with a particular God. For instance, laurel is particularly associated with Apóllohn (Apollo; Gr. Ἀπόλλων), the oak and olive with Zefs (Zeus; Gr. Ζεύς), myrtle with Aphrodíti (Aphrodite; Gr. Ἀφροδίτη) and Apóllohn, grape-ivy with Diónysos (Dionysus or Bacchus; Gr. Διόνυσος); and there are many other associations.


The Incense Burner and the Source of Heat 

CAUTION: Every precaution should be employed to assure that you handle burning charcoal and hot incense receptacles with complete safety. Lit charcoal briquettes can severely burn hands, children's fingers, pets, burn holes in carpets, even set fire to your home...if you are not careful. As an added precaution, place the incense burner with the lit charcoal on a fire-safe plate. Even the incense burner itself can get very hot and will discolor varnish or paint, especially if it the burner is made of bronze rather than stone.

Many people are reluctant to use these virgin substances. Perhaps you have had difficulty in the past with charcoal and simply find stick-incense or cones easier to use, but when the technique is acquired, it is not so difficult at all to offer natural incense.

You will need the following items: incense, charcoal (or Makko, see below), flame, and an incense burner. You will find sources for these items further down this page. The greatest difficulty that you will encounter is two-fold: fully lighting the charcoal and keeping it lit. Most of the available briquettes are impregnated with salt-peter (sodium nitrate or potassium nitrate) to make them self-igniting (with the help of a flame). The salt-peter of self-igniting charcoal is only modestly efficient; once the salt-peter is exhausted, the charcoal will often die out. Therefore, the first obstacle to conquer is to fully light the charcoal. Even after charcoal has been thoroughly lit, sometimes it will still die out before burning all the way through. This is primarily due to inadequate air-flow. The solution is to bring in air below the charcoal.  

So, the first step is to acquire a suitable incense burner. This author has found that incense burners that have the shape of a large bowl, where the briquette sits quite freely, the bottom dimple raising it above the level of the floor of the burner, seem to work the best. Before you do anything, simply try out the burner and see if you the charcoal stays lit. If you use it successfully several times without difficulty, you have purchased an incense burner that is fine "as is," but if the briquette dies out and there is an appreciable amount of unburned charcoal, consider one of my suggestions: 

1. Using Ash: Buy a large, bowl-shaped incense-burner, and fill about 1/2" full with ash. Initially, you can buy this type of ash from a shop that specializes in Japanese incense supplies, such as Scents-of-Earth. The ash seems to provide just the right amount of air beneath the charcoal. After the ritual, wait until the briquette is cold, then use a fork and powder it, mixing it with the old ash, and leave it in the incense-burner or save it in a jar for the next ritual.

2. Drilling Holes: There is another method which works very well; drill many small (1/8" - 1/16") holes throughout bottom of the cup, the area where you will place the charcoal. You can remove any burrs by twisting a larger bit along the edges. The holes will allow air to flow, such that the briquette should burn all the way through. If you are still having trouble, you must drill additional holes. The more holes, the better the charcoal will burn (of course, being careful not to destroy the burner!). Taking the time to drill these holes or to use the ash for incense will save you much aggravation in the future and you will be able to make your offerings without being concerned about mundane practicalities. 











Two More Methods From Other Traditions

3. Makko Powder: There is another method using ash worthy of experimentation, using Makko powder instead of charcoal briquettes. I have not tried this method, but it is appealing because you can avoid unnatural additives that are used in some briquettes. Makko simply means "incense-powder," but the product you are looking for is made from the bark of the tabu no ki tree (Machillus thunbergii) which is said to be nicely combustible, burns evenly, and has no fragrance. The Makko powder is poured into a trench (usually U-shaped) impressed in the ash and ignited by laying a lit match at one end. Once it is red-hot, resin can be placed on the burning Makko.

4. Mica Plate: A second non-traditional method (for Ællinismόs) worthy of experimentation may be appealing to people who have a problem with smoke. This is the Mon-Koh Japanese method using a mica plate where the incense is not actually burned but rather heated, releasing the fragrance. Since I have not tried this method, I am not sure how well it will work with resin incense, which may melt onto the mica plate; I believe it is usually used for fragrant woods.

About Charcoal

I suggest that you basically ignore the instructions that came with the charcoal in one respect: do not expect the self-lighting chemical to actually fully ignite the briquette. You will need a gas stove or a candle. 

Method One: If using self-lighting charcoal, grasp the briquette with charcoal tongs or a pair of pliers and suspend it over a flame. The salt-peter will ignite and eventually stop sparkling. Continue to hold it above the flame until the coal glows red, turning it over to fully kindle both sides of the briquette. Now position it in the cup of the incense burner. This whole process should take no longer than a minute or two, if using self-lighting charcoal. 

Method Two: If possible, it is much better and safer to rest the charcoal on a stove-top burner-grate, and if you are using pure charcoal briquettes with no additives, the gas-flame, stove-top method is almost essential. Just lay the briquette on the grating and turn the gas on high; after a couple minutes, use the charcoal tongs to turn it over until it acquires a grey color. 

When the charcoal is all gray, it is ready to place in the burner.


Making the Offering

When you are ready to make the offering, take a piece of resin about a quarter inch in diameter and place it on the coal. It is that simple. Better still, crush the resin in a mortar and pestle (see below) to powder or make smaller pieces, or even mix it with other types of incense, if appropriate. This is different from stick or cone incense; it will burn through quickly. The smoke will also cease within a short time, but the fragrance will be intense and will persist for quite a long time in your home. You can make multiple offerings, saying prayers in between and allow the previous offering to burn through. It is also useful to have some toothpicks to break up the last offering a bit, and some water in a bowel to extinguish tip of the toothpick, which will likely start on fire.


After Ritual

When the ritual is complete, when the coals are burnt through and cold, what do you do with the remainder? Offerings are sacred and what remains should be treated with respect. There are three approaches to this:

1. You can powder and save the charcoal, with a fork, to use as ash, as described above.

2. If you don't use the ash, or if you acquire too much ash, I suggest placing the cold briquette or excess ash on the ground at the same place that you make libations. When possible, turn the soil with a garden trowel.

3. If it is simply impossible to place the charcoal outside on the soil, you could view the spent charcoal as merely the vehicle to deliver the offering (the smoke) to the God, and wrap it nicely in a paper towel and respectfully dispose of it.


Miscellaneous Suggestions for Working With Incense

Powdering Resins

If the resin incense that you are using consists of very large tears, it will be necessary to break these tears into smaller chunks or even powder them. They will burn through much better if powdered in any case. For most resins, it is a mistake to put them into a blender. The great majority of resins, frankincense, myrrh and benzoin included, are extremely sticky when broken up and will gum up a blender making it almost impossible to clean. For many of the gums and resins, there is no elegant solution. The best method I have found is to use a mortar and pestle. Do not use a set made of wood, but use one made of stone, brass or glass, materials which are much easier to clean.  

Some resins will powder in a mortar and pestle, but then you may find that the powdered resin semi-solidifies in the storage jar and is difficult to remove for use. One such resin is Maydi frankincense. Maydi does not actually require powdering to burn easily, but it is sticky enough to make it difficult to work with. I crush it to a powder in the mortar and pestle and mix it with commercially available powdered frankincense/olibanum (available here: PennHerb, be sure you order "powdered"), which is rather dry. Using this same principle, you can usually find a good solution to almost any resin.

After crushing resin, you will find that much of it is stuck to the tools. Most resins are not soluble in water or even alcohol. The best solution I have found is to purchase a tin of acetone from the hardware store. Acetone will very easily remove any resin particles. It is an extremely useful cleaner to have in your home in any case, but keep in mind that acetone is highly flammable, so exercise extreme caution, and it will melt most plastics. It is useful for all clean-up problems with resin and gum incense.


Semi-soft resins and gums, such as gum elemi, galbanum, or labdanum, can be difficult to work with because they never fully harden, are tacky, and will even get stuck to your fingers. Labdanum is usually sold in little jars that, when opened, look like a mass of tar. 

One technique is to store them in foil or wax paper in the freezer. This will harden them making it easier to break off a piece.  

Some of these semi-soft resins and gums combine well with other types of incense and you can take advantage of that. For instance, benzoin Sumatra (not Siam) tends to be quite dry and is easily powdered. You can roll a semi-soft resin into the benzoin powder to make little balls of incense for future use, or, as mentioned earlier, the commercially available powdered frankincense/olibanum is also dry and works well in situations like this.   

Another method: take a wooden toothpick and push it into labdanum or galbanum. Twist the toothpick around, almost as if you were gathering up spaghetti. When you have as much on the toothpick as you desire, start pulling it out while continuing to twist the toothpick. Now roll this in benzoin powder or similar. Rolling it in frankincense/olibanum powder works particularly well. Rolling labdanum in powdered rose petals or powdered sandalwood is a very lovely offering for female deities. Once you have coated the resin or gum with powdered incense, you can ease it off with another toothpick, or even cut off most of the toothpick if you like, what remains of the wood will burn away.


Clean-up: As suggested above, acquire a tin of acetone to clean both the burner and also the mortar and pestle.  You can obtain this at any hardware store. And it is worth repeating that acetone is extremely flammable and melts most plastics, so exercise caution.

You will also discover that in due time the smoke will leave a shiny, varnish-like coating on your walls (incense resins have been used as varnish for centuries), particularly near the incense burner. This is an unavoidable by-product of making incense offerings. Very careful use of acetone will remove the resin, but the acetone also removes wall-paint, usually not all at once, but after a number of applications. With acetone, particularly when the area is viewed from a distance, you can improve the darker areas around the incense burner. The reality is clear, however, that periodically you will need to re-paint the walls, but this takes some years to develop.

 

Using Incense in Ritual  

In Hellenic religion we honor all the Gods, in particular the Olympian Gods. If you use the Orphic Hymns, there is an incense that is recommended for most of the principal deities. However, if you make an incense offering for each God, it could become quite complicated. For the Greeks who taught this author, the most traditional offering is a single leaf of fresh laurel from each participant; anything else is in addition to this. It is best to be modest with the incense offerings and not fill the whole house with endless smoke for many deities, but, rather, make an offering for the principal deity being honored, and the leaf of laurel will serve the rest. In truth, there is no rule except common sense, but avoid transforming ritual into a burden.

 

Essays on various incense:

Ammohniakón (Gum Ammoniac)

Benzoin - Visit this page: Stýrax. 

Dáphni (Bay Laurel) 

Frankincense 

Lídanon (Gum Labdanum)

Stýrax (Storax)

 

The following types of incense are requested in the Orphic Hymns:

Frankincense (lívanos; Gr. λίβανος) is requested in the Orphic Hymns twenty-two times, that is, if we include the hymns which include a combination of mánna (Gr. μάννᾰ) with frankincense, and a list of these hymns followsMánna is sometimes translated as frankincense, but this may not be accurate.

28. Ærmís [Hermes; Gr. Ἑρμῆς]
65. Áris [Ares or Mars; Gr. Ἄρης]
73. Daimohn [Daemon; Gr. Δαίμων]
62. Díki [Justice; Gr. Δίκη]
63. Dikaiosýni [Equity or Justice; Gr. Δικαιοσύνη]
8. Ílios [Helios or the Sun; Gr. Ἥλιος] (livanománna)
66. Íphaistos [Hephaestus or Vulcan; Gr. Ἥφαιστος] (livanománna)
12. Iraklís [Heracles or Hercules; Gr. Ἡρακλῆς]
38. Kourítæs 2 [Curetes 2; Gr. Κουρῆτες]
39. Korývas [Corybas; Gr. Κορύβας]
77. Mnimosýni [Mnemosyne or Memory; Gr. Mνημοσύνη]
76. Mousai [The Muses; Gr. Μοῦσαι]
82. Nótos [The South Wind; Gr. Νότος]
4. Ouranós [Sky or The Heavens; Gr. Οὐρανός]
75. Palaimohn [Palaimon; Gr. Παλαίμων] (powdered)
79. Thǽmis [Themis; Gr. Θέμις]
22. Thálassa [The Sea; Gr. Θάλασσα] (livanománna)
37. Titánæs [Titans; Gr. Τιτᾶνες]
72. Týkhi [Tyche or Fortune; Gr. Τύχη]
80. Vorǽas [Boreas or the North Wind; Gr. Βορέας]
81. Zǽphyros [Zephyrus or the West Wind; Gr. Ζέφυρος]
20. Zefs Astrapaios [Zeus, Author of Lightning; Gr. Διὸς Ἀστραπαίος] (livanománna)

Aromatic Herbs (aróhmataGr. ἀρώματα) - Aromatic herbs are called for twenty-two times.

56. Ádohnis [Adonis; Gr. Ἄδωνις]
58. Ǽrohs [Eros, Cupid, or Love; Gr. Ἔρως]
84. Æstía [Hestia or Vesta; Gr. Ἑστία]
7. Ástrohn [Astron or Stars; Gr. Ἄστρων]
32. Athiná [Athena, Pallas, or Minerva; Gr. Ἀθηνᾶ]
70. Efmænídæs [Eumenidis or The Furies; Gr. Εὐμενίδες]
16. Íra [Hera; Gr. Ἥρα]
74. Lefkothǽa [Leucothea; Gr. Λευκοθέα]
71. Meilinóï [Melinoe; Gr. Μειλῐνόη]
59. Mírai [The Fates; Gr. Μοῖραι]
41. Mítir Antaia [Miter Antaia or Ceralian Mother; Gr. Μήτηρ Ανταία]
24. Niriídæs [Nereids; Gr. Νηρηΐδες]
51. Nýmphai [The Nymphs; Gr. Νύμφαι]
43. Óhrai [Horae or The Seasons; Gr. Ὧραι]
83. Okæanós [Oceanus or Ocean; Gr. Ὠκεανός]
86. Óneiri [Oneiroi or Dreams; Gr. Ὄνειροι]
47. Pærikiónios [Bacchus Pericionius; Gr. Περικῑόνιος]
10. Phýsis [Nature; Gr. Φύσις]
14. Rǽa [Rhea; Gr. Ῥέα]
9. Sælíni [Selene or Moon; Gr. Σελήνη]
48. Savázios [Sabasius; Gr. Σαβάζιος]
52. Triætirikós [Trietericus; Gr. Τριετηρικός]

Mánna - (Gr. μάννᾰ) Mánna is called for fourteen times, sometimes alone and sometimes together with frankincense and once with storax. Sometimes mánna is translated as frankincense, but this does not seem to be correctTo gain a more thorough understanding of the issues surrounding the word mánna, visit this page: ΜΑΝΝΑ.

69. Ærinýæs [The Furies; Gr. Ἐρινύες] (mánna + storax)
34. Apóllohn [Apollo; Gr. Ἀπόλλων] (manna)
36. Ártæmis [Artemis or Diana; Gr. Ἄρτεμις] (mánna)
67. Asklipiós [Asclepius or Esculapius; Gr. Ἀσκληπιός] (mánna)
8. Ílios [Helios or the Sun; Gr. Ἥλιος] (livanománna)
78. Ióhs [Ios or Aurora or Dawn; Gr. Ἠώς] (mánna)
66. Íphaistos [Hephaestus or Vulcan; Gr. Ἥφαιστος] (livanománna)
46. Liknítis [Liknitus Bacchus; Gr. Λικνίτης] (mánna)
33. Níki [Nike or Victory; Gr. Νίκη] (mánna)
54. Seilinós, Sátyros, Vákhai [Silenus, Satyrus, and the Priestesses of Bacchus; Gr. Σειληνός, Σάτυρος, Βάκχαι] (mánna)
22. Thálassa [The Sea; Gr. Θάλασσα] (livanománna)
87. Thánatos [Death; Gr. Θάνατος] (mánna)

68. Yyeia [Hygeia or Health; Gr. Ὑγεία] (mánna)

20. Zefs Astrapaios [Zeus, Author of Lightning; Gr. Διὸς Ἀστραπαίος] (livanománna)


Stýrax (storaxGr. στύραξ) - Storax is called for thirteen times.

69. Ærinýæs [The Furies; Gr. Ἐρινύες] (mánna + stýrax)
57. Ærmís Khthónios [Terrestrial or Earthy Hermes; Gr. Ἑρμῆς Χθόνιος]
40. Dimítir Ælefsinía [Demeter or Ceres Eleusinian; Gr. Δημήτηρ Ἐλευσινία]
30. Diónysos [Bacchus or Dionysus; Gr. Διόνυσος]
60. Kháritæs [The Graces; Gr. Χάριτες]
49. Ípta [Ippa; Gr. Ἵπτα]
13. Krónos [Cronus; Gr. Κρόνος]
42. Mísa [Mises; Gr. Μίσα]
25. Prohtéfs [Proteus; Gr. Πρωτεύς]
2. Prothyraia [Gr. Προθυραία]
44. Sæmǽli [Semele; Gr. Σεμέλη]
15. Zefs [Zeus; Gr. Ζεύς]
19. Kærafnós Zefs [Thundering Zeus or Jove; Gr. Κεραυνός Διός]


Smýrna (myrrh; Gr. σμύρνα) - Smýrna is called for five times.

35. Litóh [Latona or Lito; Gr. Λητώ]
21. Næphǽlai [The Clouds; Gr. Νεφέλαι ]
23. Niréfs [Nereus; Gr. Νηρεύς]
17. Poseidóhn [Poseidon or Neptune; Gr. Ποσειδῶν]
6. Prohtogónos [Protogonus or First-Born; Gr. Πρωτογόνος]


Et Varia (pikílaGr. ποικίλα) - "Et Varia" is called for twice. Thomas Taylor calls this "the Fumigation from Various Odours."

27. Mítir Thæóhn [To the Mother of the Gods; Gr. Μήτηρ Θεῶν]
11. Pan [Gr. Πᾶν]


krókos (crocus; Gr. κρόκος) - Krókos, which is saffron, is called for once, for Aithír, but it would also be appropriate for Ækáti (Hecate; Gr. κάτη), who is described in her hymn as being draped in saffron (line 2, κροκόπεπλον). 

1. Ækáti [Hecate; Gr. κάτη]
5. Aithír [Ether or Aether; Gr. Αἰθήρ]


Dalós (firebrands; Gr. δαλός, ΔΑΛΟΣ. Plural masc. acc. is δαλούς.) - Firebrands, burning aromatic wood, is called for once. 

3. Nyx [Night; Gr. Νύξ]


Opium Poppy + incense (thymíama mætá míkohnos; Gr. θυμίαμα μετἁ μήκωνος. Etym. thymíama, "incense" + mætá, "with" + míkohnos, "poppy") - The combination of opium poppy + incense is called for once.

85. Ýpnos [Hypnos or Sleep; Gr. Ὕπνος]


Incense and any grain save beans and aromatic herbs (thymíama pan spǽrma plin kyámohn kai arohmátohnGr. θυμίαμα πᾶν σπέρμα πλἡν κυάμων καἱ ἀρωμάτων) - This combination is called for once. 

26. Yi [Ge or Earth; Gr. Γῆ]


Fumigation from all Aromatics with the exception of Frankincense + a libation of Milk (thymíama pánta plin livánou kai spǽndæ gála; Gr. θυμίαμα πάντα πλἡν λιβάνου και σπένδε γάλα) - This offering is called for once.

53. Amphiætous [Amphietus Bacchus; Gr. Ἀμφιετοῦς]


Confusing Terms

For aromatic herbs you can use a whole variety of substances. I use chamomile for Æstía, various flower-petals, and woods such as Storax calamitos (black styrax bark) and sandalwood. I have heard of people using nutmeg and cinnamon. No-one actually knows exactly what was meant by "aromatic herbs," therefore, the point is to find pleasant things that you imagine the deity likes or things that may remind you of that deity.

Firebrands is requested in the Orphic hymn Nyx for use as an incense offering, as translated by Apostolos N. Athanassakis. Thomas Taylor translates this as "torches." The actual Greek is dalous (Gr. δαλούς), which would appear to be a form of dalós (Gr. δᾱλός), represented by the English word "firebrands." [4] Firebrands is defined as a piece of burning wood or other material [5] ; therefore, perhaps sandalwood, aloes-wood, Storax calamitas (black styrax), or some other fragrant wood would be appropriate as this offering. The text calls for θυμίαμα δαλούς; thymíama simply means "incense" [6] ; therefore, using dalous as incense would imply that you are burning wood for its fragrance.

 

Incense of the Americas:

Being that we practice Ællinismόs (Hellenismos; Gr. Ἑλληνισμός), the ancient Greek religion, a traditional offering such as frankincense is appropriate and obvious. However, in the Americas we have access to a number of magnificent native resins, wonderful gifts of nature that make excellent offerings. From Mexico and beyond there are the great copal resins. You will discover quite a variety, visually ranging from almost pure white, to a translucent yellow, to black, and with a similar range of different fragrances.

I would particularly like to make the case for the pinion resin from the Southwest. This pine resin is incredibly fragrant, amazingly so, like perfume, and very different from the more ordinary pine incense one smells at Christmastime. 




GLOSSARY OF INCENSE

NOTE: A list of abbreviations can be found on this page: GLOSSARY HOME.

Æpithymíama - (epithymiama; Gr. ἐπιθυμίαμα, ΕΠΙΘΥΜΙΑΜΑ) An æpithymíama is an incense-offering. (L&S p. 635, left column. Edited for simplicity.) Cf. Æpithymíasis.

Æpithymiáoh - (epithymiao; Gr. ἐπιθυμιάω, ΕΠΙΘΥΜΙΑΩ. Verb.) Æpithymiáoh is a verb meaning to offer incense. (L&S p. 635, left column, within the entries beginning with ἐπιθυμίαμα. Edited for simplicity.)

Æpithymíasis - (epithymiaris; Gr. ἐπιθυμίασις, ΕΠΙΘΥΜΙΑΣΙΣ) An æpithymíasis is an offering of incense. (L&S p. 635, left column, within the entries beginning with ἐπιθυμίαμα. Edited for simplicity.) Cf. Æpithymíama.

Æpithymiatrós - (epithymiatros; Gr. ἐπιθυμιατρός, ΕΠΙΘΥΜΙΑΤΡΟΣ) An æpithymiatrós is one who burns incense. (L&S p. 635, left column, within the entries beginning with ἐπιθυμίαμα. Edited for simplicity.)

Ammohniakón - (ammoniacom; Gr. ἀμμωνιακόν, ΑΜΜΩΝΙΑΚΟΝ) Please visit this page: Gum Ammohniakón.

Ammoniac, Gum - Please visit this page: Gum Ammohniakón.

Aróhmata (aromata; Gr. ἀρώματα, ΑΡΩΜΑΤΑ, plural of  ἄρωμα.) Aróhmata is aromatic herbs and spices. (L&S p. 254: ἄρωμα)

Bay Laurel - Please visit this page: Dáphni.

Bdǽllion - (Guggul or bdellium; Gr. βδέλλιον, ΒΔΕΛΛΙΟΝ) Bdǽllion is guggul, the oleo-gum resin collected from Commiphora wightii, also known by the name Balsamodendrum mukul, the Indian bdellium-tree. Bdǽllion is thought of as an offering to Áris (Ares or Mars; Gr. Ἄρης). Bdǽllion is believed by some to be a type of myrrh, but this is incorrect as it is entirely distinct; it comes from a different plant and has a unique fragrance. Cf. Smýrna.

Bdellium - See Bdǽllion.

BenzoinPlease visit this page: Stýrax.

Boat - The boat or navicula (Latin for small ship) is a portable container which holds incense supplies, incense and a spoon for placing it on the coals, this term used in Christian churches.

Censer - A censer is an incense-burner, a thymiatírion.

Copal - (Etym. from the Nahuatl [Aztec] word copalli, "incense.") Copal is a resin incense obtained from a variety of trees in Central America used ubiquitously in Mexican churches and elsewhere, as well as in Native American religious rituals from these regions. Since the copals come from various different trees, there is considerable variety in fragrance between variant types. There are resins marketed as copal which originate in East Africa as well.

Dalós - (firebrand; Gr. δαλός, ΔΑΛΟΣ. Plural masc. acc. is δαλούς.Dalós is a firebrand, likely meaning burning aromatic wood for incense.

Dáphni - (Bay Laurel) Please visit this page: Dáphni.

Frankincense - See Livanohtós and Lívanos.

Galbanum - See Khalváni.

Guggul - See Bdǽllion.

Incense - See Thymía and Thymíama.

Khalváni - (chalbane; Gr. χαλβάνη, ΧΑΛΒΑΝΗ) Khalváni is the resinous juice of all-heal, Ferula galbaniflua, ed. galbanum, an ancient incense resin. ( L&S p. 1971, left column)

Krókos (crocus; Gr. κρόκος, ΚΡΟΚΟΣKrókos is the saffron crocus, Crocus sativus. 2. saffron (made from its stigmas). (L&S p. 998, left column.)

Laurel, Bay - Please visit this page: Dáphni.

Lídanon - (labdanum; Gr. λήδανον, ΛΗΔΑΝΟΝ) Please visit this page: Lídanon.

Livanohtós - (libanotos; Gr. λιβανωτός, ΛΙΒΑΝΩΤΟΣ = λίβανοςLivanohtós is incense or frankincense. The use of frankincense is of such great antiquity that the word for incense came to mean frankincense.
- Lexicon entry: 
λῐβᾰνωτός, ὁ, also ἡ :— frankincense, the gum of the tree λίβανος, used to burn at sacrifices: called, when in small pieces, χόνδρος λιβανωτοῦ; when pounded, μάννα λιβανωτοῦ; cf. λιβανομάννα: the best kind was λ. ἄρρην. II. the frankincensemarket. III. = λιβανωτρίς(L&S p. 1047, left column. Edited for simplicity.)
- Cf. 
Lívanos.
- Please visit this page: 
Frankincense.

Lívanos - (libanos; Gr. λίβανος, ΛΙΒΑΝΟΣ = λιβανωτόςLívanos is frankincense, both the tree as well as the incense derived from the resin of the tree.
- L
exicon entry: λίβᾰνος [ῐ], ὁ, frankincense-tree, Boswellia Carterii. II. = λιβανωτός, frankincense, in which sense it is fem. in Pi.Fr.122.3, E.Ba.144 (lyr.); but masc. in PCair.Zen.69.13 (iii B.C.), AP6.231 (Phil.), 9.93 (Antip. Thess.); indeterminate in Sapph.Supp.20c.2, S.Fr.1064, etc. (L&S p. 1047, left column. Edited for simplicity.)
-
 Cf. Livanohtós.
- Please visit this page: Frankincense.

Mánna - (Gr. μάννᾰ) Please visit this page: Mánna.

Mýrra - (Gr. μύρρα, ΜΥΡΡΑ) Mýrra is Aeol. for smýrna, myrrh. (L&S p. 1155, left column. Edited for simplicity.)

Myrrh - See Mýrra and Smýrna.

Navicula - The navicula (Latin for small ship) or boat is a portable container which holds incense supplies, incense and a spoon for placing it on the coals, this term used in Christian churches.

Olibanum - Please visit this page: Frankincense.

Smýrna (myrrh; Gr. σμύρνα, ΣΜΥΡΝΑ) Smýrnan is myrrh.
Lexicon entry: 
σμύρνα, freq. written ζμύρνα, ἡ,= μύρρα, myrrh, the gum of an Arabian tree, Balsamodendron myrrha (itself called σμύρνα), used for embalming the dead; burnt as incense; used as an unguent or salve. II. Indian bdellium, Balsamodendron mukul (ed. a resin sometimes used as an offering to Áris [Ares or Mars; Gr. Ἄρης]). (The orig. form must have been μύρρα, from Phoen.) (L&S p. 1620, left column.)

Staktí - (Gr. στακτή, ΣΤΑΚΤΗ) Staktí is oil of myrrh. (L&S p. 1633, left column, within the entries beginning στακτερία.)

StoraxPlease visit this page: Stýrax.

Stýrax (storaxGr. στύραξ, ΣΤΥΡΑΞ) Please visit this page: Stýrax.

Thurible - A thurible is a hanging thymiatírion ( incense-burner) which can also be swung by hand to fumigate or purify. Cf. Thymiatírion and Thymiató.

Thurifer - The thurifer is the priest, priestess or attendant (acolyte) who holds the thymiatírion (censer).

Thymía - (Gr. θυμία, ΘΥΜΙΑ) Thymía is incense.
- Lexicon entry: 
θῡμία, Ion. -ιη, , = θυμίαμα, -ίῃσι κακώδεσι Aret.SD2.11. (L&S p. 809, right column)

Thymíama - (Gr. θυμίαμα, ΘΥΜΙΑΜΑ. Plural is θυμιάματα.Thymíama is incense.
L
exicon entry: θῡμί-ᾱμα, Ion. θῡμί-ημα, ατος, τό, incense,  name of a particular kind (perh.= ἀμμωνιακόν. ed. gum ammoniac); usu. in pl., fragrant stuffs for burning, Hdt.2.130. 2. stuff for embalming. (L&S p. 809, right column, within the entries beginning θυμιάζω. Edited for simplicity.) 

Thymiatírion -  (Gr. θυμιατήριον, ΘΥΜΙΑΤΗΡΙΟΝ) A thymiatírion is a censer, an incense-burner.
- L
exicon entry: θῡμι-ᾱτήριον, Ion. θυμιητ-, τό, censerHdt. 4.162. 2. vessel for fumigationII. name of the constellation Ara. (L&S p. 809, right column, within the entries beginning θυμιάζω. Edited for simplicity.)

Thymiató - (Gr. θυμιατό, ΘΥΜΙΑΤΟ) Thymiató  s modern Greek for the hanging thymiatírion (thurible) used in Christian churches. These often very beautiful and expensive censers can be used in Ællinismόs, if you can afford one, for general use or fumigation/purification. The three chains represent for the Christians the trinity, but they could represent for us the Three Zefs (Olympian Zefs, Poseidóhn, and Ploutohn) and the single chain from the top of the thurible could represent the Kósmos. Cf. Thymiatírion and Thurible.


 

Sources of Incense:

Soma Luna has the most complete selection of incense for sale that I have been able to find on the Internet, very impressive indeed.  When available, they carry the wonderful hojary frankincense, the highest quality, as well as several lower grades, but they have everything you can imagine.  http://www.somaluna.com/

 

Scents of Earth has an impressive selection of incense of all kinds. And Scents of Earth also has a selection of ash for use with charcoal briquettes, and all the supplies necessary for the Japanese styles of burning incense: http://www.scents-of-earth.com/

 

Alchemy Works, another source of many varieties.  The owner is quite willing to share his considerable knowledge of these materials.  http://www.alchemy-works.com/incense_index.html

 

Wood Finishing Enterprises is an unusual source for resins. They supply craftsmen with resin to make varnish for fine furniture and musical instruments. Many of their resins are of equal quality to any available, but at a much more affordable price. One must be careful, however. For instance, the elemi that they sell is not suitable as a religious offering, so experiment with small quantities before spending too much money on larger. http://www.woodfinishingenterprises.com/varnish.html

 

Antique 968 is an Ebay seller located in Oman. He has access to the finest hojary frankincense at the best price, despite any shipping costs. Unfortunately, he has not been active lately, but perhaps if enough people wrote him, he would consider re-kindling his business.  

http://myworld.ebay.com/antique968


Madeuk, another Ebay seller from Oman, sells high quality hojary frankincense.  

http://search.ebay.com/_W0QQfgtpZ1QQfrppZ25QQsassZmadeukQQssPageNameZSTRKQ3aMEFSQ3aMESOI

 

 

Floracopeia  sells a variety of resins, including several grades of frankincense. They notably sell Ogaden frankincense, Boswellia rivae, easy to find as an oil, but difficult to buy as raw resin.  Floracopeia also sells the impossible-to-find Hasiki frankincense. 

http://www.floracopeia.com/index.php


PENNHERB  sells many things, but of special interest, they sell powdered frankincense which is specifically called for in several Orphic Hymns and is also useful, by combination, to help make other sticky resins more easily used (see above Semi-Soft Resins and Gums).  It is not so easy to actually powder frankincense.

http://www.pennherb.com/cgi-bin/herbstore.cgi/find?;Frankincense

 

The  Labdanum-Creta Blogspot is a great place to learn about the wonderful resin labdanum. You can purchase Cretan Labdanum through the website, which is not so liquid-y as all the other varieties. And his pricing is superb.  The shipping is reasonable and relatively quick: 

http://labdanum-shop.blogspot.com/

 

Sources of Charcoal:

Charcoal is easy to find at incense dealers. Buy a big box; buy several boxes, but try the brand first before you do so, although they do not vary too much from one manufacturer to the another, from my experience, with some exceptions.


Sheehan Religious Articles sells the Char-lite Self-Lite Charcoal. This is standard salt-peter encrusted charcoal, but the advantage is the very large size of these briquettes. They are 1-3/4" in diameter. Therefore if you are making many offerings, these may be the ideal choice.  

 

Unaltered natural charcoal is difficult to use for burning incense, but is an excellent choice for burnt offerings, as may be suitable for a larger gathering of people out-of-doors. Visit this page for sources: Burnt Offerings.  

 

Belgian Natural Charcoal - The billow of sparks and smoke that erupts when you light charcoal briquettes is not actually the charcoal, but the "instant-light" additive that helps it to ignite (usually saltpeter). If you want to avoid breathing in the additive, you can try Belgian Natural Charcoal briquettes. This is another form of natural charcoal, except rather than the irregular-shaped branches as in the above-mentioned unaltered natural charcoal, this has been formed into traditional briquettes. This author uses and recommends Belgian Natural Charcoal briquettes. They emit very little smoke at all. They are hard to light and are more expensive. You need to hold the pieces over fire for several minutes to get them going, but they are a truly superior product. Even their instant-light type is superior to others, both types very dense and the burn time is long:  

http://www.somaluna.com/botanicals/charcoal/belgian-natural-charcoal/

 

Koh-Doh Cup Charcoal - You can find briquettes made in Japan that do not have an additive. This is extremely clean-burning, high-quality charcoal, but the briquettes are very small, too small, in my opinion for incense burners. They measure approximately 5/8" across and the top is not indented as in other briquettes, making it difficult to place the incense squarely on the charcoal. I cannot recommend them for burning incense. They are appropriate for Koh-Doh cups, ceremonial Japanese diffusers using a mica plate. They could be experimented with for people who have problems with the regular method of burning incense. See this article: http://www.sensia.com/kohdoh.htm        


NOTES:  

[1] Plato's Symposium 202-203, translated by Benjamin Jowett, 1892; found in the 1937 Random House edition of The Dialogues of Plato, Vol. I, p.328.

[2] To clarify this statement, within a religious context, the correct use of incense would be an offering to Gods. When not used specifically for religious purposes, these substances are appropriate for medicine or various other applications including simply for enjoyment. In ancient times, incense would also be used to fumigate ritual space when blood sacrifice was performed, in order to mask unpleasant odors, a practical thing. The idea I am trying to convey is that when we employ incense in ritual, it is not an empty artifice utilized merely for drama or for one's amusement; it is a gift to the Gods and therefore becomes sacred. This is not to say that we should somehow refrain from enjoying the fragrance, only to point out that this enjoyment is serendipitous and should not be the motive for using it in ritual. Outside of ritual, it is appropriate for more mundane uses.

"Incense is for the Gods, but praise to good men." (Pythagorean saying preserved by Stobaeus)

[3] Or they cut off the resin impregnated beards of the goats. There is another method of collecting labdanum using a tool called the ladanestirio. This is a rake-like instrument that has many leather straps at the further end. The farmer usually waits until the hottest time of the day and drags the ladanestirio through the bushes, gathering the resin. When a sufficient quantity is gathered on the straps, it is scraped off.

[4] L&S p. 368, left column.

[5] The New Century Dictionary of the English Language, 1927, The Century Co./Collier, 1944 edition, p. 575, left column.





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