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Incense is a perfect reflection of one of our keener senses - the sense of smell.  Imagine primitive man spellbound by the intoxicating aroma of a fresh spring field or a lush forest, and you will understand the origins of incense!  It is no wonder that people sought a way to incorporate these aromas in a tangible form for use in their medical practice and spiritual traditions. 

One interesting fact to note is that many of the ingredients used in incense don't have any smell unless they are burned.  Somehow, people figured out how to capture these natural essences in a form they could transport and use at will.  Experts believe that the burning of fragrant woods such as cedar, pine and cypress, and aromatic resins, roots, berries and other natural materials gave us our first incense.  

Archeologists have found evidence of ancient incense in many forms and in nearly every culture.  Incense seems to have been used extensively in the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia, Phoenicia, Arabia, Egypt, India, Greece and Rome.  Historians have also found references to incense in ancient texts such as the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh and even in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible!  Remember that one of the gifts that the three wise men from the east brought to honor the baby Jesus was...you guessed it...incense! 

We know that incense was first brought to China by a monk around 200 CE and that by the Tang dynasty (618 - 607), incense was in common use and no longer restricted to religious or medical practice.  Stick incense was developed in China during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644).  Around this time, the art of making incense became highly developed in Japan where it became so popular that entire schools were devoted to the art, or Koh-Do, 'the way of incense'.  Among their other incense accomplishments, the Japanese invented the cone form of incense popular today and introduced this form at the World's Fair in Chicago in the late 1800s.  

The principle of making incense combines aromatic ingredients and a flame or heat source.  Typically, the ingredients are ground into a powder and then ignited to release the aroma.  Some herbal incense is not powder fine, and more closely resembles loose-leaf tea.  Powdered ingredients may be bound together by a neutral material in order to form sticks or other shapes.  In addition to making the incense easier to handle, the binding agent allows the incense to burn more slowly and evenly. 

Modern fans of incense use it for many purposes, including some of the ancient ones.  Incense has played a large part in the resurgence of aromatherapy and proponents of this alternative healing modality believe that certain aromas have beneficial effects on body and mind.  Lavender for example is associated with a calming effect. 

There is a scientific basis for this.  When we smell something, we trigger our olfactory neurons.  Molecules of the substance we are smelling travel through the nose and the mucous membranes right to these neurons.  From here, nerve impulses travel to the brain and from there to our central nervous system.  Therefore, it is possible that certain smells do trigger certain physical events.  This is an active field of study for scientists and researchers. 

Why not take a break from your routine and try relaxing with some incense?  As we mentioned, lavender incense is reputed to have a balancing and calming effect.  You might also like the aroma of sandalwood, famous for its mild yet exotic fragrance.  These are known as single note, which is a pure substance is used to make the incense.  There are also blended notes made from more than one substance, which gives you something to explore!


 

The Great Wall of China The Forbidden City
The Terracotta Army Along the Silk Road
 
Kodo - Incense Book
Morningstar Incense
Incense Sets
Brass Burners
Ceramic Burners
 
 

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