Incense is broadly defined as aromatic biotic materials that release a fragrant smoke when burned. Typically, incense will be made up of different aromatic plant materials. To enhance the scents, aromatic oils are often added to the plant materials. Today, incense is available in a variety of forms and fragrances, and widely used in many nations and communities around the world.
From Where Did Incense Originate?
It is not known exactly when incense was introduced but it is believed that the origins of incense come from the Babylonian, Egyptian and Sumerian cultures during biblical times. Pharaohs and emperors used incense to mask unpleasant odors and for religious ceremonies. In the Bible, references are made to the use of incense in the book of Exodus. Incense was often used as part of ceremonies of worship and sacrifice to gods and to ward off evil spirits. It is believed that the early forms of incense were aromatic oils that released their fragrance when heated over a flame.
From the Middle East, the use of incense spread to Greece and throughout the Roman Empire. Incense has traditionally been used in the Indian and Chinese cultures for many centuries. It is possible that incense sticks were first introduced by these nations. Early records reflect that in the sixth century, Korean Buddhist monks first brought incense to Japan. Through the centuries, it became increasingly popular with Japanese nobles. In later centuries, Japanese warriors placed incense in their helmets to give themselves an aura of being invincible.
Early Uses of Incense
Throughout civilization, incense has been primarily used in religious ceremonies. Ancient priests would use incense as part of their incantations to their gods. Incense would be burned as part of sacrifice ceremonies and as means of worshipping gods. Incense was also sometimes believed to have the power to ward off evil spirits and impending doom. Monks and other religious leaders often used incense as part of their purification ceremonies. Among nobles, incense was sometimes burned in homes to create pleasant aromas in a room before a festival or special celebration. Incense was sometimes believed to have mystical powers that could strengthen, either mentally or physically, the people exposed to the incense.
Modern Uses of Incense
In eastern religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, and Taoism, incense is widely used in worship ceremonies, as part of special rituals and for meditation. The increase in popularity of eastern religions into the western world has led to incense being widely used for a range of applications. Followers of eastern religions may use incense when meditating or performing yoga or martial arts. Some people don’t have any religious reasons for using incense. They may simply enjoy the aromas that it gives off and like to burn it in their homes. Mosquito coils that are widely used around the world work on the same principle of incense. The coils release a fragrance that is believed to ward off mosquitoes. Common fragrances used in coils are sandalwood and citronella.
Different Types of Incense
Most people are familiar with incense sticks or aromatic oils. You can also get incense cones which are made from a wood and charcoal base and then scented with aromatic oils. The primary difference in the composition of incense is whether the incense is made of combustible or non-combustible materials. Different cultures around the world also have different ways of creating and using incense. Incense sticks are widely used in Indian, Tibetan, Japanese and Chinese cultures. The types of sticks range from small, thin sticks that would be burned in an incense holder to larger rods that can be placed in the ground and burn for extended periods of time. Typically, incense sticks are made of combustible materials that physically burn when lit. This is generally plant matter such as wood, bark or gum. It could also be created from, or combined with, charcoal.
Aromatic oils on the other hand are generally not combustible. In order to release the aromas, oils need to be placed in a special burner which has a heat source such as a candle underneath it. The heat from the flame then releases the aroma from the oil. Oils can be used on their own. Common fragrances used in aromatic oils include jasmine, rose, patchouli, cedar, sandalwood or ylang-ylang. They are also commonly added to incense sticks to create a wider variety of aromas.
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