Say the word "incense" to just about anyone, and the chances are that the first thing they will think of is the smell of the stuff. And rightly so, because the primary use of incense is to produce a pleasant fragrance. But incense is much more than a different kind of air freshener, something that doesn't come in a can and smell like the bathroom products many of us grew up with. Even though the main association that most people have with it is for making an area smell good, incense has a long history and a well-developed and time-tested catalog of uses and effects that go way beyond an appeal to the olfactory sense.
The origins of incense are lost in the mists of time, simply because it has been around for as long as human culture has been here and probably before. Imagine pre-historical humans gathered around a communal fire. Someone throws on a bunch of grasses and dried plants that they gathered earlier in the day. The scent from these items is very pleasing, and it becomes a custom that gets handed down for generations, and also gets standardized and ritualized. But the same people soon discovered that there are other effects of the good-smelling smoke.
It seems to have a cleansing characteristic for one thing, both on the air and the creatures that breathe it. One of the main uses of incense and related products like smudge sticks and bundles is as a way to clear negative energies from a dwelling or area. This is not a recent new-age phenomenon, but a practice that extends eons into the past. An understanding of the basic elements of the universe led ancient man to an understanding of how to use these things to have a better life and a positive experience.
Another use for incense is to enhance spiritual efforts such as meditation, yoga, and visualization techniques. Clearly the basis for the connection to these practices is through the sense of smell, but there is a broad knowledge base that details the use of certain substances for specific effects. Lavender, for example, is said to be a soothing, calming plant and is well suited to making incense used for meditation.
But perhaps the most interesting and ancient use of incense is in the area of healing and medication. This knowledge comes primarily from India, where Ayurvedic healers have for thousands of years prescribed certain scents for certain maladies. And these are not just spiritually or mentally beneficial ingredients. The act of inhaling smoke from certain types of plants, herbs and resins has definite positive effects on the physical body. Respiratory ailments, circulatory system complaints, and common illness all have been shown to be ameliorated by fragrances applied by someone who knows their effects.
In today's marketplace those interested in fine incense have it better than ever. It is easy to find the best incense on the planet, made from the finest ingredients by master artisans whose skills and knowledge have been passed down for generations. And it is wonderful to be able to experience the many effects of these products, while of course enjoying the main one - they really smell great.
Breathe Peace & Be Kind!