Whether you use incense for religious or spiritual purposes, or simply to enhance the atmosphere of your home, it’s important that you do so safely. Here are some tips and best practices from experts in the field.
A suitable incense holder and burner is essential to avoid accidents or messy ash.
Burning Incense Sticks
Smell is one of our most powerful senses. It has the power to change moods and feelings in seconds. That’s why so many people use incense to create a peaceful and relaxing environment.
Incense sticks are the easiest form of incense to burn. They are usually made of bamboo with aromatic substances adhered to them. Then they are pressed into a small stick shape so that they can be burned upright.
When using incense sticks you should place them on a heat-proof holder to catch the ash that will fall off as it burns. The holder can be anything from a small Japanese Hasami porcelain plate to a simple ceramic dish.
Be sure to keep the holder out of reach of children and pets and away from any flammable materials. Also make sure that the holder is in a well ventilated area. The incense will produce smoke, which can be harmful if inhaled. Instead, enjoy the fragrance that rises from the smoldering tip of the incense.
Burning Incense Cones
For incense cones, you will need a container that is large enough to hold your cone and is heat resistant. Then place the cone in it with its pointed end facing upwards, and light the tip. Once lit, it will smoulder gently to produce the scent.
You will also need a small metal tray within the burner to catch ash from your cone as it burns. Be sure to remove the ash carefully as it is still hot and may damage surfaces.
You will want to apply the flame for a little longer this time to ensure that your cone is properly lit. Be careful not to let the flame consume the whole cone, but instead only focus on the tip that is coated in incense. Once the tip begins to glow orange, blow out the flame. You can now enjoy the incense aroma that will fill your space. This scent is uplifting with notes of tamarind and mineral.
Burning Loose Incense
Many people use loose incense to create a relaxing or uplifting atmosphere. It is usually a blend of resins, herbs and other aromatic materials. It is uncut and untainted by fillers and other combustible substances. It is also often used for spiritual purposes, such as smudging (bundles of white sage smoked to cleanse and protect).
To burn loose incense, find a heat-resistant bowl or a piece of tinfoil and set it on top of a burner. Add a charcoal disk meant for incense burning, and apply flame to one side only for about 20 seconds. Once the charcoal glows, slowly set it on top of the tray or tinfoil cup.
Then sprinkle your incense ingredients on the hot charcoal, and allow it to smolder. If you wish, you can use a lighter to hold the incense and inhale the smoke. Be careful, however, as inhaling the smoke may trigger coughing. When you are done, gently blow out the flame and leave it to smolder.
Whether you’re burning sticks, cones or loose incense, the safety precautions are the same. Remember that a hot incense burner can burn skin and ruin your favorite clothing items, and ash can discolor wooden surfaces and glass table tops.
You should also use caution when touching your burning incense. The tips of some cones can glow, and even a gentle touch could cause burns to the hands or clothes.
Many religious services (known as liturgies) feature the use of censers, especially in the Catholic Church. A priest or deacon will wield a thurible during these services, and another server (called a boat bearer) will carry a small container of grain to add to the burning censer at certain points during the service. The Eastern Orthodox Church uses censers, too. These are shaped like an elephant, lotus flower, or bowl and contain a slot to hold the incense stick. They are typically made of ceramic or metal.