The Green Witch: Your Complete Guide to the Natural Magic of Herbs, Flowers, Essential Oils, and More - Arin Murphy-Hiscock 2017
Making Herbal Incense
Create and Craft Green Witch Magic
Walking the Green Path
If you use incense in stick form, then you are familiar with the sweet and gentle smoke created by lighting one end of the stick, gently blowing out the flame, and resting the stick in a censer or incense boat to smolder slowly.
Herbal incense is a completely different experience. It is a wonderful method of experimenting with the bounty of nature. When you create your own herbal incense, you can mix and match the kinds of magical energies you wish to weave together, tailoring them precisely to your specific goal. You can make as much or as little as you like, empowering the blend with your own personal energy.
Herbal incense must always be made with dried herbs. Fresh herbs will not burn correctly and will rot if you attempt to store them. If the only sample of the herb you wish to use in your blend is fresh, then spread the herb on a baking sheet and place it in a barely warm oven (100°F) for forty-five minutes to an hour, watching it carefully. Alternatively, you can spread the herb in a single layer on a paper towel and microwave it for thirty seconds on high. Check to see how dry it is. You can microwave in ten-second increments for further drying. Some green witches, concerned that the microwave damages the herb’s energy, recoil in horror at the idea of microwaving their herbs, whereas other green witches have no qualms about using modern equipment such as a microwave, a juicer, or an electric coffee grinder to prepare their magical supplies. It’s your choice. As a modern green witch, use what you have at your disposal, as long as you feel comfortable with it.
TEST YOUR HERBS
Before you blend herbal incense, it’s important to do some research to find out what kinds of herbs and flowers are best for your recipe. Before you mix and burn any herb or combination of herbs, it is important to look up the toxicity of each plant. If it’s poisonous to touch or eat, chances are the smoke is also poisonous to breathe. Don’t take chances.
Once you have a short list of the herbs you’d like to use in your magical incense, take an hour or so to light a single charcoal briquette and drop a tiny pinch of each herb by itself onto the ignited surface. Burning herbal matter will not smell like the fresh herb. In fact, it usually smells like some sort of variation on burning leaves or grass clippings. Testing each herb alone will give you an idea of what it smells like. As it burns, make notes in your green witch journal about the smell, the density of the smoke, how quickly the herb is consumed, and what kind of energy you sense it giving off as it smolders. Also make a note of how you react physically to the herb. It is better to discover now in a test run that you react badly to a certain herb than when you’re attempting to use it magically.
Once you’ve tested each herb, you’re ready to work with proportions. Do you want to add more of one herb and perhaps only a pinch of another? Much of the green witch’s work is intuitive, which means that you’ll feel drawn to something without necessarily having solid information or reasoning to support your feeling.
One of the plain truths about using herbal incense is that it doesn’t always smell as sweet as store-bought stick incense. Adding resin in an equal amount to your herbal blend will not only improve the incense’s burn rate, but will also provide a more agreeable base note to your burning incense. Resins have been used for centuries in various cultures as sweet-smelling offerings to the gods. They carry various magical associations just as herbs do.
Before adding one or more resins to an herbal blend, however, drop a single grain of the resin or a tiny pinch of powder onto a charcoal briquette to acquaint yourself with the scent of the resin on its own. Make notes in your journal as to the scent of the resin as it melts on the charcoal, the density of smoke it produces, the energy it gives off, and how it makes you feel. (See instructions on how to use charcoal briquettes later on in this chapter.)
While the release of certain energies is the primary goal of green witch magic, aesthetics are also important. To that end, I advise using one or more of the following resins as a base for your herbal incense (remember that the amount of resin should equal the total amount of herbal matter).
This resin comes in various shades of white, gold, and black, and the scent is slightly different for each kind. Golden copal is most common, and if you pick up a packet marked simply “copal,” that’s what it’s likely to be. Copal is the petrified sap of the Bursera odorata and has an appealing sweet scent that makes an excellent base for floral or lighter herbal incense blends. Copal carries an energy that is particularly good for love, house blessings, dedications, meditation, protection, celebration, solar energy, and creating sacred space.
One of the most popular resins, the golden-toned frankincense is the solidified sap of the Boswellia carterii tree, sometimes called the olibanum. It has a slightly spicy-sweet scent and makes an excellent all-purpose base for just about any herbal incense. Frankincense is traditionally associated with sanctity, purification, meditation, protection, joy, celebration, solar energy, and consecration.
Another common resin, myrrh is brownish and has a darker, slightly bittersweet scent. It comes from the Commiphora myrrha, or gum myrrh tree, and carries the magical associations of sanctity, honoring the dead and the spirit world, purification, and healing. Myrrh adds a bit of extra power to any herbal incense; adding just a grain or two will do the job.
This grayish resin is usually found in powdered form. It comes from the Styrax benzoin tree and has a light, clean, slightly sweet scent. It is excellent for purifying, healing, prosperity, and attraction in general.
Sometimes spelled storax, this black resin is a softer, earthier resin than those previously listed. It comes from the Liquidambar styraciflua tree. It is excellent for healing and grounding.
This red resin is the petrified sap of the palm tree known as Daemonorops draco, or the dragon’s blood palm. It is one of the key ingredients in violin stain. It is remarkably sticky and will cling to your fingers and tools. Dragon’s blood is frequently used for protection, purification, and as a general addition to your spells as an all-purpose power boost.
Often blended into herbal incenses or used as a base, sandalwood isn’t technically a resin, but a powdered or shredded wood. Available both in red (Adenanthera pavonina) and white (Santalum album), sandalwood is generally associated with spirituality, purification, meditation, peace, healing, and protection.
Resins are usually sold by weight in packets of rough grains or chips. Generally, it is best to powder your resin before blending it with your herbal matter. This will entail a bit of grinding on your part with a stone mortar and pestle (wood is unsuitable for grinding resins) or using a small coffee grinder reserved only for grinding herbs and resins. The powdered resin will blend better with the dried herbs and yield a smoother burn.
BLENDING HERBAL INCENSE
When you create a recipe for herbal incense, look at the purpose for which you are creating it and select a combination of herbs and resins that will support that goal with their energies. For example, a prosperity incense may include one part benzoin as the resin base, with one part herbal blend of mint, basil, and cinnamon, all of which are associated with prosperity. Like other witches, green witches often like to work in multiples of three on top of their base ingredient. Three is a number associated with the Goddess. You may also like to work with a multiple of four to honor the four elements. There’s no firm rule, however, as to how many or how few resins or herbs to use in an incense; use what you feel drawn to using. But remember that more is not necessarily better.
The basic steps to blending herbal incense are simple. If necessary, gently grind the resin until the pieces are in small granules. Be careful not to overgrind them, or the heat produced by the mortar and pestle or coffee grinder will make the resin sticky. Crumble or powder the dried herbs and place them in the jar with the resin. Cap it and shake until the ingredients are well blended. Don’t forget to write the final recipe in your journal, along with the magical purpose and the date on which you blended it, and label the container.
To further enhance your herbal incense, you may add up to three drops of essential oil to the mixture before you cap and shake it. Again, consider your magical goal and choose an appropriate essential oil. You may use the oil of an herb or resin that is already a part of your blend to strengthen that particular scent or another oil to add a different energy to the blend. Do not use more than three drops, or the incense will be too wet to burn.
Once your herbal incense is blended, you may use it right away or leave it to sit and allow the energies to blend for a week or so before using it.
EMPOWERING HERBAL INCENSE
You can use the incense as it is. However, like any other magical craft or preparation, empowering the incense will weave the energies together better and focus them specifically upon your magical goal.
There are two ways to empower your herbal incense. Most green witches employ them both. The first is to visualize your magical goal as you grind and blend each herb and resin. This method allows you to program each component separately. The second method is as follows:
1. Hold the jar of finished incense in your hands. Take three deep breaths to focus. Think of your magical goal.
2. Visualize a sparkling light forming around the jar in your hands. This sparkling light is the energy that empowers the incense, the energy associated with your magical goal.
3. Imagine the sparkling light being absorbed into the blend of resins and herbs. The herbal incense has now been energized with your magical goal. It is empowered for that use.
BURNING HERBAL INCENSE
Herbal incense is burned on small, round charcoal briquettes that are available at New Age and religious supply shops. To burn herbal incense, you will require the following three things:
1. A small, round briquette of self-igniting charcoal (this is NOT barbecue charcoal)
2. A heatproof censer with a layer of sand or earth in it
3. A lighter or long-stemmed matches
Self-igniting charcoal briquettes come in various sizes. I don’t recommend the 1/2-inch size, as they are easy to smother with a spoonful of incense and prone to falling apart or exploding if not handled correctly. I recommend buying the 1-inch briquettes and using half a briquette at a time (you really don’t need a whole briquette for a single spoonful of herbal incense). A briquette will burn for forty-five minutes to an hour, and burning a spoonful of herbal incense doesn’t take long at all.
Caution: Never, ever use outdoor barbecue charcoal, as it releases dangerous fumes that can be fatal when used indoors or in a poorly ventilated space.
A single spoonful of incense is usually all you’ll need to release its energy into your space. A scant teaspoonful sprinkled on a glowing charcoal will release a cloud of smoke. Unlike stick incense, herbal incense burns all at once until it is gone, and thus releases more smoke and scent over a shorter period of time. The energy and scent linger in the space, however, so there’s no need to keep piling on the incense blend to produce a steady supply of smoke. If you try to burn too much incense, the room will become too smoky and it’s likely to set off your smoke detector. With herbal incense, a little goes a long way. When you use herbal incense, you’re actually smoldering it, not burning it—there’s no flame involved. The bits of resin melt and the herbal matter turns black and crackles away.
If you choose to use matches to light the charcoal, long-stemmed matches are preferable because short safety matches burn down too quickly. A long-handled barbecue lighter is ideal for lighting charcoal briquettes. Although there are a few brave souls who hold the charcoal with fingers while they light it, I don’t recommend this for obvious safety reasons. The best way to light charcoal is to hold it in one hand with a pair of tweezers or a small pair of tongs while you apply the flame to the charcoal with your other hand. Hold the flame to the edge of the briquette, and as it catches fire it will begin to sparkle. If your charcoal is particularly quick, those sparkles will begin to move across the surface of the briquette, firing the rest of the surface. If your charcoal is very densely made or slightly damp because of humidity in the environment, you may have to hold the flame to different areas to light as many as possible before they combine to ignite the rest of the briquette. Remember that your tweezers or tongs are metal and will conduct the heat of the charcoal briquette once it begins to ignite.
When the briquette has fully ignited, lay it down carefully on the layer of sand or earth in your censer. You can use almost any heatproof dish as a censer, as long as it has a layer of material to absorb the heat of the charcoal. To be on the safe side, you can put a trivet or heatproof coaster under your censer to protect your table or altar from heat damage.
Wait until the sparkles have finished coursing across the surface of the briquette and the surface has begun to glow faintly red. At this point, your charcoal is ready to receive a teaspoonful of herbal incense or a pinch of resin. Some people prefer to wait until there is a thin layer of gray ash on top of the briquette before sprinkling incense on it.
Don’t just pile a heaping spoonful of the herbal incense on the charcoal briquette. Sprinkle it gently, visualizing the goal for which you’ve created the blend. A solid chunk of incense can smother the charcoal briquette.
When the incense has finished burning, you can wait fifteen or twenty minutes for the smoke to dissipate a bit, then sprinkle another half-teaspoon of incense on the charcoal. When this has burned away, leave the charcoal to burn out on its own. It will turn to gray ash. Allow this ash to cool, then stir it gently into the sand or earth in your censer.
Keeping a small bottle of water or a second bowl of earth or sand nearby to smother the charcoal and incense should it somehow get out of control is always an intelligent precaution.
STORING HERBAL INCENSE
When you make your first trial batch of herbal incense, make it in a small quantity so that if you don’t like it you won’t be stuck with a whole bottle of the stuff. Mark down the proportions of the recipe so that if you like it, you can increase it easily.
I keep my herbal incense in small spice jars in a dark cupboard. I also use 4-ounce (125-ml) canning jars. Baby food jars are also ideal, so if you have a child or know someone who does, ask for empty jars, wash them well, and make sure they’re completely dry before you use them. Always make sure to clearly label the jar. Write the name of the incense and the date on the cap with a grease pencil or on a self-stick label. No matter how firmly you believe that you’ll remember exactly what the blend is for by the scent or the look of the incense, I guarantee that you won’t. The date is important because you will be able to look at your green witch journal and see what else was going on when you blended that incense (and perhaps exactly what inspired the blend in the first place). Three to five years from now, you’ll know that you have to make up a fresh batch for magical use and throw the old one out (or use the old one for perfume properties only).
Suggested recipes for the seven central energies of the green witch:
✵ Happiness: frankincense, lemon, orange
✵ Harmony: lavender, white sandalwood powder, jasmine
✵ Health: myrrh, benzoin, hyssop, eucalyptus
✵ Love: copal, rose, jasmine, cinnamon
✵ Peace: frankincense, lavender, violet
✵ Prosperity: frankincense, pine, basil, mint, cinnamon
✵ Protection: dragon’s blood, rosemary, clove