Since the times of Ancient Egypt, incense has proven to be a popular tool. Nowadays, it is burned primarily because people simply like the scent. However, it was originally used for more spiritual reasons. Not only was incense burned as religious offerings, but it has also been found in burial tombs in Ancient Egypt.
Why do people burn incense? In this article we are going to discuss the various reasons people have used incense throughout history and why people still burn incense today.
Although incense has many uses, traditionally it was primarily as a religious or spiritual offering. For thousands of years, people in India have been burning incense as religious offerings (pujas) in tribute to their many deities.
There is also mention of incense within the Holy Bible.
And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. – Revelation 8:3-4
One of the more interesting uses for incense was in China, where incense was used not only as a primitive form of alarm clock, but as a time-telling device for use in the midst of war. Back in ancient times, it was very difficult to decipher what time it was, and even more difficult to keep track of time in an active battle. In most situations, all the people had to go by was the setting of the sun. By crafting incense to a strict standard, they were able to create incense which reliably burned for a set amount of time. This allowed them to accurately judge how much time has taken place.
Japanese Kodo Ceremonies
Kodo (香道, “Way of Fragrance”) is a Japanese incense ceremony involving many elements. It begins with sniffing traditional agarwood, and incorporating those elements and opinions into a variety of games and storytelling. The practice of Kodo began in the 14th century and is somewhat similar to the more well-known Japanese tea ceremony.
Later on in the 15th century, the Ten Virtues of Koh were transcribed by Buddhist monks. This famous document describes the qualities of incense as perceived by an older generation.
Meditation is a spiritual practice which originated from India. There are many ways to meditate, but some of the more common methods include focusing on the breath, repeating mantras, or image visualization. Burning incense during meditation is thought to create a focal point, where the practitioner may focus his or her attention, similar to how people focus on the breath.
Yoga is an authentic Indian practice which has it’s roots in Hinduism. Not only was yoga a great way for ancient Indians to stay in shape, but it was a key part of their spiritual practice. In a similar way as meditation, yoga is thought to allow one to transcend the mind and reach ethereal states of mind.
Ancient civilizations may have lacked modern medicine, but they had alternative methods to take care of their health. Historically, incense was made from natural plants and materials, many of which are considered medicinal. In places such as India and Tibet, it was thought that burning these medicinal herbs allowed one to literally inhale their benefits.
Probably the most modern reasons one might burn incense is it’s use as a deodorizer. Whether your house smells like animals, burnt food, or just about anything, incense can help eliminate that odor and make it much more tolerable to endure.
Keep Bugs at Bay
One easily forgotten benefit of incense is that it keeps bugs away from your surrounding atmosphere. Insects usually don’t like harsh, smokey environments and will often try to stay away from incense smoke. The strong fragrances of incense are also disliked by insects, although some scents do a better job of this, such as citronella or lavender.
So, why do people burn incense? There are many, many reasons and I’m sure everybody has their own, but the reasons mentioned above are a piece of history and should be remembered.
Well, I hope you found this list fun to read,
Thomas Reed of Reed’s Handmade Incense
Main Photo by Sergio Souza on Unsplash.