A Brief History of Incense

Incense is hardly a new invention. Some believe that it was first discovered in the ancient world, during caveman times, to keep a fire lit, adding leaves, twigs, bark, wood, and other burnable items to help keep bodies warm through cold months and nights. Realizing during those times that different material created various aromatic scents, the use of nature to cultivate scent was born. Value of plant over time was distinguished with certain abilities such as cleansing and purifying air, easing a worried mind, or calming our spirit when feeling overwhelmed.

Over the eras and centuries incense made its way across continents from Africa to India and China and Europe via spice roads to the ancient Roman Empire, as well as Greece & the Middle East. In China, it was found that incense was not necessarily only used for divine blessings but used as well for healing powers, exotic flavorings, and general vanity – to smell nice for the opposite sex.

Miranda Yen notes a quote by the late Chinese historian Edward H. Schaefer:

“… In the medieval world of the Far East there was little clear-cut distinction among drugs, spices, perfumes, and incense – that is, among substances which nourish the body and those which nourish the spirit, those which attract a lover and those which attract a divinity.”

Incense has been found used by every inhabited continent by cultures that use fragrant smoke to speak to the powers of their own spiritual beliefs. In many cultures today as well as during past centuries, incense plays a huge role as a sacred bridge between visual life and spiritual life. Sending messages to the gods and goddesses through incense is a tradition carried out over many religions. The smoke sends messages of words, thoughts and wishes to realms beyond our living limitations. For this reason alone, incense demonstrates a huge significance to those who use it.

But there are other reasons to use incense. The power that natural ingredients inherently hold is released when burned. When incense is burned, we have the choice to use the energy and ground ourselves during those few minutes and as you see fit to potentially offer a few words to those who have moved beyond mortality.

For us mortals, another way to look at incense is from the aromatic perspective. In aromatherapy, we learn that the sense of smell is largely employed to bring odors directly to the brain via the Limbic System – smell the only sense that has a direct connection to the brain. For example, bad odors warn us of danger which we normally move away from. The Limbic system also plays a huge role with our moods. Scientific research has gone on for years between scent and the brain. Unsurprisingly, scent has a huge effect on mood. Findings have concluded that scent plays a huge part in relieving stress, elevating mood, easing depression, and even transporting us back in time to places and events when a familiar smell crosses our path.

The Japanese in the 1800's were the first to create the cone style of incense. They even had schools specifically dedicated to making incense (called Koh-do translated as “incense way”). There, incense cones are traditionally used in a large room, such as a family room or entrance foyer and the incense expresses your hospitality to guests. The Vietnamese tradition is to burn incense in odd numbers (1,3,5,7,9). The Hindu religion was the first to offer incense for spiritual & religious purposes.

Today, you can find incense cones almost anywhere but there is a huge difference between plant-based, handcrafted incense cones and those that are premade and then "dipped". Dipped cones are generally made by machines into what are called blanks. Blanks come in many colors (dyes) and usually contain the burning material that has been bonded together. Black cones are made of charcoal. Others can be made of cedarwood (better) or even a type of glue that burns. They are then dipped into a manufactured perfume. This is what I like to consider incense that is overly scented. It’s the type of incense that many refer to when they say they do not like incense. And in this capacity, I have to agree. I do not like it either. The case for Kon incense is that we handcraft it in the old traditional way with pure plant-based magic. We promise it won’t offend you.


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