Since the beginning of time, incense has been used by all great civilizations across the globe. From the Sumerian and Babylonian cultures, who used resins of aromatic trees in their religious ceremonies, to the great Pharaohs, who burned incense to drive away demons and gratify the presence of the gods, and all the way to the Japanese samurai warriors, who would perfume their armors and helmets with incense smoke to achieve the aura of invincibility, the raw scents of aromatic plants and resins were regarded with a sense of great respect and spirituality.
Even today, in Japan, there is a strong relationship between nature, incense, poetry, and the human spirit.
But what exactly is incense? How exactly does the beautiful alchemy of extracting the sweet aromas from the plants work? Well, incense is composed of aromatic plant materials – tree resins, tree bark, leaves, stems, roots, or even seeds. These are often combined with essential oils, also extracted from various plants (please read the page on essential oils for more information).
The form in which the incense is used is different according to culture, purpose (religious or not), geography, but also time frame, as the advances in technology have brought upon changes in the way incense was used.
The two most important categories are “direct burning” and “indirect burning” incense. Indirect burning incense is not capable of burning on its own, as it needs a separate heat source. In contact with the heat source, the incense releases its fragrance. Today, this type of incense is mostly used in religious ceremonies throughout the Christian world, but also in oriental religions like Buddhism.
Direct burning incense, on the other hand, is lit up by a flame and then fanned out, leaving a glowing ember that releases the fragrance along with the smoke. This kind of incense comes in several forms, including incense sticks, cones, and pyramids.
It is composed of natural solid aromatics and a combustible base that enables it to burn with a self-sustained ember, which propagates slowly and evenly through an entire piece of incense with such regularity that it can be used to mark time.
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