Hoodoo in Theory and Practice by catherine yronwode
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THE BIBLE SAYS, "BURN INCENSE!" Since ancient times, Incense has been burned as an offering to God. You can read in the Bible in Exodus 30:1, "Thou shalt make an Altar to burn Incense on." History tells us that Incense has been used as a Sacrifice to the Deity, as a Demonifuge to Drive Away Evil Spirits, and because people believe that it will bring GOOD LUCK and enable them to gain their Desires in Love and Money Matters. Many of our customers like to burn Incense and offer Prayer at the same time. Those who believe in the efficacy of the Recital of the Psalms may like to burn Incense and read Psalms for various conditions. We make no claims that Prayer, Recital of Psalms or burning of Incense will produce supernatural results, but sell these fine Self-Lighting Incense Powders as a spiritual curio only.
-- The Lucky Mojo Curio Co. catalogue
Incense has been a part of hoodoo practice for a very long time. It is likely that its use combines African religious traditions, Native American plant lore, and information derived from medieval European herbals and "books of wonders" such as those attributed to Albertus Magnus.
In addition, the ancient use of natural resin incense in Jewish and Christian religious services led to their incorporation in hoodoo rituals, and, in the 20th century, the widespread popularity of "Hindu" and "Oriental" style incenses was easily appropriated by African-American root doctors and conjurers.
The basis for these Hoodoo incense compounds is typically an anointing or dressing oil. Root doctors traditionally name their oils after the conditions they are believed to cause or to cure. Thus, by extension, Reconciliation Incense, like Reconciliation Oil, is said to heal rifts between estranged lovers and Money Drawing Incense, like Money Drawing Oil, is believed to attract wealth to the user.
In hoodoo terminology, performing a ritual or spell is often called "doing a job." The simplest jobs may involve anointing oneself or dressing an amulet, a candle, or mojo bags and its contents with a "condition" oil. More complex jobs take on the characteristics of elaborate magical rituals, involving all of the above elements, plus the burning of incense.
The practice of burning incense to accompany invocations or prayers is particularly favoured by Christian root workers who follow the Kabbalist-inspired practice of reciting certain Psalms for magical effect.
In addition, if a job of work involves a person far away, incense may be burned to "carry" the wish or desire to him or her. If a person you wsh to affect is of a known zodiac sign, inscense associated with that sign may be nurned on the altar while doing other spell-work to affect them.
On a more practical level, many people like to "smoke" their charms and mojo bags in incense after dressing them with oil.
Also, in a pinch, loose powdered incense can be sprinkled on the ground after the manner of sachet powders.
Incense comes in many forms. Some are more popular in one culture than another, but all are old, authentic, and traditional in various branches of magic. The most popular forms are
Natural incenses may also be blended, and some of these mixtures are very well known and have been used for centuries. For instance, "Three Kings" is a traditional blend containing Frankincense, Myrrh, and other resins. Another well known blend is Myrrh, Dragon's Blood, and Black Copal.
Compounds, on the other hand, are usually made with a relatively scentless or pleasantly aromatic base to which has been added symbolically significant blends pf scents selected from among the natural resins, natural essential oils, and, in some cases, artificial fragrance oils.
Typical compounds incude a Wood-chip base sented with Vetiver and Patchouli, or a sent compounded of Calamus Essential Oil, Rose Fragrance Oil, and Spikenard Essential Oil in a base of wood fiber.
The oldest and most original incenses used by mankind have been tree resins and herbs or woods that burn with a fragrant smoke.
Typical herbal incenses include Sage and Tobacco, much favoured by North American Indians and those who follow their traditions. Sage is typically utilized in the form of wrapped and tied smudge sticks, while Tobacco is burned in a ceremonial pipe.
The best-known wood chip incense is the rare and expensive Sandalwood, which is made of finely shaved chips of the tree of the same name.
Resin incenses, which are granular lumps of dried tree sap, include the Biblical Frankincense and Myrrh as well as Benzoin and Copal, the latter a holy incense of the Mayan Indians of Central America.
Resins are often burned in mixtures, the light scent of golden Frankincense combining beautifully with richly musky Myrrh and sharply aromatic Benzoin. Another favourite mixture is cleansing Camphor and purifying Pine Resin
The package shown at left is Lucky Mojo brand Pine Resin, which is favoured by many for purifying the home. At right is a trio of Lucky Mojo brand White Sage Smudge Bundles.
Compounded incenses are those in which fragrances -- usually the essential oils of herbs and flowers -- are blended into a base of very finely shaved wood. Hoodoo incense makers use the same herbal and floral essenses that go into their condition oils, and they often add colouring as well, usually according to the same sort of colour-symbolism by which offertory candles are coloured. A small amount of saltpeter is then added to improve ease of lighting and even burning.
Once an incense has been compounded, it can be sold in a number of forms, including:
Special forms of incense -- sticks, logs, cones, and coils -- are traditional and well loved in most of Asia. There are many famous old brands and recipes for their manufacture. Over the years they have also become popular in America and can be found in some stores catering to the occult trade.
The Indian name for incense sticks that have been hand-rolled onto slivers of
bamboo is agarbatti, sometimes spelled agarbathi. These sticks, often called
joss sticks 'or stick incense, come in many stiles, most of them sold in
\tubes or long flat boxes. The brand shown here is Pink Roses.
When the incense
is formed into cones or logs, it is called dhoop. Dhoop incenses are usually burned on a holder of
some sort, and many of them are notable for their long burn-times and gentle frangrances. The brand shown here
is Vinason's Chandan Cones
In Vietnam and China, incense compounds are often formed into long coils which are suspended from a hanger and will burn for many hours. Called coil incenses, they come in many varieties and are especially favured for burning in temples. The brand shown here is Peacock coil incense.
Following the symbolism of the herbs and flowers used to scent traditional Asian, they have many uses in American folk-magic. For instance, agarbatti joss sticks or dhoop cone incenses made with Rose fragrance tend to be used for love spells, those scented with Jasmine are used for psychic and spiritual work, and those that bear a Musk aroma are favoured in rites of sex magic or sacred sexuality.
In the African-American tradition, loose powder incense has always been the norm. The reason for this is that many root workers like to blend appropriate herbs, minerals, or root chips into the finished product.
To use self-lighting incense powders, you take a small scrap of paper and twirl it into a little cone about an inch or two tall. Pack it very tightly with powdered incense, unroll the paper and carefully set the cone upright on a non-flammable surface. This sounds much more difficult than it really is. You can also scatter incense powders on burning charcoal, but this is not necessary, because they are, after all, self-lighting. You can see pictures of how to make incense powder cones and light them at our Herb Magic sister-site.
Finally, a word of CAUTION. Although all the hoodoo formulas for incense connected with luck, love, money, and personal power are pleasant smelling and can be used to perfume a room, two of the formulas -- specifically used to do "tricks" or evil work -- contain ingredients which should not be inhaled. Hot Foot Incense, which contains capsicum and sulphur, and Crossing Incense, which also contains sulphur, MUST be burned outdoors. Since Crossing Incense is reputed to mess up folks' lives and Hot Foot Incense is alleged to drive unwanted people from a neighborhood, the usual way to use these powerful materials is to ignite an entire package in the enemy's front yard at once and quickly leave the area.
Resins, especially the gummy ones, do not always light and burn well on their own, and even herbs and self-lighting incense powders will burn more evenly if given a start, so when burning natural incenses, it is customary to place them on smouldering charcoal. Special charcoal disks made for this purpose are sold by most outlets that carry resin incenses. They are lighted and put into a brazier and the incense is then placed upon them.
Using kitchen tongs, hold the charcoal disk over the stove and set it alight, then blow out the flame. Place the disk in a metal or stone incense burner or brazier, with the glowing side up, and drop grains of resin incense, herbs, oils, and/or self-lighting incense powders onto it.
Incense may be burned in any non-flammable container, but most people prefer to place their charcoal disks and resin or powder incense in a specially made incense brazier or incense burner that stands on legs, so that the heat of the burning charcoal will not mar their altar or table surface.
One old-fashioned name for this common altar tool is a thurible, and during rituals, the person who tends to the incense, especially when it is kept in a hanging thurible and waved about during the services, is called the thurifer.
For home use, a standing incense brazier is generally
preferred, and it should be large enough to hold a charcoal
disk and incense. Fill it halfway full of clean sand to
keep the metal legs from heating up and charring your
altar cloth or table top.
There are a number of traditional spiritual uses for remnant ash in hoodoo, including incense ash and other ashes.
It is a well-known and often practiced way of working to triple-refine a name or "concentrate" it by burning it, folding the ash into a second name paper, burning that, and folding the ash into a third name paper. This is used when no personal concerns can be had, as a way of concentrating the name.
It is common to fold Quassia Bark chips into the name-papers when burning them, that is, to burn the Quassia Bark with the name-paper each time and to mix the name-paper ash and Quassia Bark ash. Quassia Bark is the only herb i know that is routinely used in this way.
Back in the day when people wrote with fountain pens, sprinkling the ash of a name-paper on the second and third written iterations was also practiced because the ash actually stuck to the liquid ink as it dried.
Burning a name or prayer-paper on incense means that the name or prayer becomes part of the incense, and the ash from that contains the prayers and the name.
Such ash can be mixed with local dirt, graveyard dirt, sachet powders, powdered herbs, or sand as the case requires. Depending upon what the ash was mixed with and what you are working on, the resulting ash mixture can be
If you provide your altar with a brass bowl, especially one with a cover or lid (you can use an extra incense burner if you like), you can use the container to collect ash during the course of many days of work on the same general goal.
For instance, you may be working for money in the house with a weekly ceremony, and catching all the ash from that work for one year.
Or you may be working three times a week on a love job and catching all the ash on that for as long as you perform the work.
Or, if you are a professional root doctor with separate working altars for various client conditions, you may catch the ash from each altar separately until your container is filled.
However you catch the ash, whether by specific timing (one year), by job (until the work is finished) or by the container (until the vessel is filled),
when the time is right, you can then dispose of the ash in a ritually appropriate manner (interment, scattering, sprinkling, etc.),
according to the kind of work the ash came from and the goals that are held in mind for that work -- for which directions,
please read my
"Hoodoo in Theory and Practice" web page
"Laying Tricks and Disposing of Ritual Remains."
Over the years, as urbanization has driven people farther from the sources of natural magic in their lives, manufacturers of hoodoo products have slowly begun to leave the roots and herbs out of the old root doctors' formulas. Today, few companies sell incense made with actual botanical or mineral ingredients. In my opinion, self-lighting incense powders, if they are made the old, traditional Southern way, should consist of more than just time-honoured names on packages of coloured wood dust. They should contain -- they MUST contain -- real herbs, roots, minerals, and condition oils.
I realize that this is an advertisement for my own company, but the incenses shown at the top of this page were made by me, and like the rest of the Lucky Mojo line, they contain genuine reputed lucky and magical herbs, minerals, and herbal essential oils. I am not going to list all the ingredients, but Psychic Vision contains flax seeds, Van Van Incense is made with Lemongrass, and Come To Me Incense contains Patchouli and Saffron. End of advertisement.
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