Trying Handmade Incense

The Incense Dragon’s Blend 29 burning in front of the Earth Mother.

This weekend, I finally braved up enough to try some of the incense I acquired during Pantheacon.  And I say “braved up” because my own explorations with handmade incense via Roderick were borderline disastrous.  I have painful memories of billowing clouds of acrid campfire smoke, setting off my smoke detector (which was wired into the house and required the fire department to fix), and making all my clothes and bed linens smell like I aired them while a neighbor was burning leaves.

I was being an idiot.  Everything was more than fine.

I first tried a blend I bought from Carl, Blend 29 for Deepest Meditation.  It is a combination of Australian sandalwood, Omani frankincense, Sumatran aloeswood, Siamese benzoin, a natural gum binder (likely xantham or guar gum), and Willamette River water.  The box pictured above contained three hand-formed cones, each wrapped in a strip of blue tissue paper.  Frankly, the whole packaging gave me great hopes of someday providing gifts of my own incense cones to loved ones for Sabbats and the like.  Lighting the cone had a small learning curve.  I was expecting it to light rather like the heavily oil-saturated cones I burnt as a teen.  For those, you just need a tiny smoldering cherry tip, and they burn right along.  For this, I eventually found I needed to encourage a fairly large burning tip for the rest to autoignite, but eventually it caught and burnt without issue.

At first, I wasn’t too fussed about the blend.  It was lovely, but fairly similar to many blends I buy–largely because I favor sandalwood and frankincense.  The addition of aloeswood was very nice and did instantly snap me into a ritual mindset, as it is an ingredient my coven uses in important incense blends.  I shook it off, though, and went about my mundane business as I noted how the scent developed.  Curiously, I did notice that after about a half an hour had passed, I noticed that my mind was quite a bit calmer than it typically is.  It did not put me into a meditative trance, but it did leave me feeling rather similar to how I feel after a meditation.  That feeling carried over for a couple of hours.  I was calm, focused, and surprisingly productive with my reading and editing I’d planned for that time.  It was definitely a lesson in how incense can leave a biological effect.

A chunk of my neri-koh insulated by a square of foil on top of a 3 King's charcoal.

A chunk of my neri-koh insulated by a square of foil on top of a 3 King’s charcoal.

I also tried the neri-koh I had made during the workshop.  Traditionally, these are formed into pea-sized pellets while still fairly moist, but I molded mine into a log on the grounds that would be less squishable in transport back to my home.  In theory, I could have started burning it after about a week, but it definitely cured to a state almost like it is now after about two weeks.  When I went to burn it, I broke a few chunks off the end of the log.  It broke right away, to my surprise, and had hardened very well.  I sincerely doubt I could shape it into balls at this point, so the incense has definitely cured.

I experimented a bit with how to burn this type of incense.  When I tried popping it directly onto the coal, the smell was too much like burning sugar to me.  I tried lightly burying the coal and setting the neri-koh on top of the sand, but that put out the coal.  Finally, I tried a little square of tin foil on top of the coal, and that worked out surprisingly well.  I eventually hit on a decent size:  long enough to hit the rims of the charcoal, but small enough to leave surface area open.  In this way, the incense smoldered while the coal continued to burn.  The only way I could tell it was done burning was that smoke stopped issuing from the lump.  They completely carbonized without changing shape or form, and that actually made changing out the pellets really easy:  just snag one with some tweezers and pop another onto the foil.

I freaking loved this incense.  I struggled to identify what it smelled like, and the best smell association I could come up with was “warm spices” rather like when you make a spice cake.  My housemates came home from their weekend away around this time and exclaimed, “Gosh, it smells great in here!” But they struggled to say what it smelled like, too.  C. said it smelled like cinnamon, but more than cinnamon.  K. said it smelled like Christmas to her: cinnamon and spice in the air and drinking cocoa by the fire.  To me, the strongest associations I had when burning the incense were more synesthetic.  It had this dark, sexy, slow, undulating quality to it, a little bit like what I feel whenever I hear Godsmack’s song “Voodoo” or watch a really amazing belly dancer.  I could definitely see burning it while practicing Kundalini Yoga or Meditation, or for a more movement-focused ritual.  Or just to enjoy; it certainly is fragrant.

The recipe used for the neri-koh is below.  I’d say it would make enough for about a week’s worth of burning if you burned a little once a day.  The only real tricks to making it are to thoroughly mix all the powders together into a uniform mixture before adding any honey and to add the honey to the powder slowly; perhaps a quarter teaspoon to start with, and then adding it drop by drop from there.  Once the mixture kneads into a uniform, stiff dough texture, shape it into balls or whatever, pop them in a plastic bag, and forget about them for at least a week or two.

Carl Neal’s Introduction to Neri-koh

  • 1 1/4 teaspoon sandalwood powder (red or yellow)
  • 1 teaspoon ground clove
  • 1/2 teaspoon bamboo charcoal powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground anise
  • 1/4 teaspoon benzoin powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon aloeswood powder (optional, though I used it here)
  • Honey as needed

Carl recommends Mermade Magickal Arts for incense and incense making ingredients.  If you order through them, tell them he sent you!

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