Light-winged smoke, Icarian bird,
Melting thy pinions in thy upward flight,
Lark without song, and messenger of dawn,
Circling above the hamlets as thy nest;
Or else, departing dream, and shadowy form
Of midnight vision, gathering up thy skirts;
By night star-veiling, and by day
Darkening the light blotting out the sun;
Go thou my incense upward from this hearth,
And ask the Gods to pardon this clear flame.
~”Smoke” by H.D. Thoreau
This morning, the house is filled with summer sunlight and the fresh, balsam, lemon, and pine scent of frankincense. In Isis and Osiris, the historian Plutarch relates that Egyptian priests burned frankincense at dawn, and it’s not hard to see why. The scent of frankincense is often described as unmistakably solar. Recent research has suggested that a compound found in frankincense causes a sensation of warmth and a feeling of exaltation when inhaled and may help lower anxiety.
Frankincense (also called Olibanum) is one of the oldest documented resins used in magical and religious practice, and has historically used for blessing and devotion, and for drawing good and blessed spirits and expelling the bad. It’s been used for millennia in various religions as a temple incense. As mentioned above, it was a sacred incense in Egypt. In Hellenistic Greece, it was called for as the appropriate incense offering in a number of the Orphic Hymns. The Zoroastrians burn it for purification. Frankincense is also an ingredient in Ketoret, the sacred Jewish temple incense blend, and the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches use it to fume mass.
We use Frankincense for two main magical purposes: purification and sanctification. Whereas many practitioners like to use sage to cleanse their space and etheric bodies, we find that frankincense performs this better. (Sage is suitable for earthing or grounding forces, but in our experience doesn’t really do much to cleanse and purify.) Frankincense also is uplifting to the mind and spirit of the practitioner and helps calm anxiety. It iss useful to establish ritual space, promote an atmosphere conducive to magical work, and to aid in meditation and scrying. Frankincense is also an ingredient in a number of blessing spells and formulae.
Pro tip: To get the best fragrance from your frankincense you need to make sure it doesn’t burn too quickly or too hot. We often use a small oil burner with a tea-light beneath to gently heat higher quality tears. You need a small one where the bowl is quite close to the flame; ours is about 3″ high.