The Definitive Guide To The Best Incenses For Meditation And Ritual Practices

December 18, 2018
December 18, 2018 Aaron J. Cunningham

Welcome to part two of our The Definitive Guide to Incenses For Meditation And Ritual Practices

In this section of our guide, we take a closer look at 34 different varieties of incense. We look at how each has been historically used in meditation and ritual practices. We also give you some anecdotal evidence from our team on how we found the various incenses affected our meditations and ritual practices.

For more on How to Use Incense for Meditation and Ritual Practices please visit part one of our Guide.

How We Conducted Our Study

We are using the term study, very loosely here. Basically, we got as many great incenses as we could find and tried them all out. We handed them out to our team and asked each person to try each one for a few days in their meditative and ritual practices.

Each participant on our team was asked to take notes in their journal, and then we got together to compile our notes into this guide.

We are really fascinated with the vast array of incenses used in various spiritual practices, as well as the many benefits they can bring to the meditative and mystical practices. We hope our guide is of benefit to you.

Our List of the Top Incenses for Meditation and Mystical Practices

Abramelin

Abramelin is the incense described in the book The Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage and used for magickal work to contact one’s Holy Guardian Angel, the Higher Self.

The exact formula is highly debated as there are two translations of the book, which reference two different recipes. The most commonly used recipe is 1 part Frankincense, 1/2 part storax, and 1/4 part aloeswood, however, another version which suggests equal parts balsam, galbanum, and frankincense.

We tried the first version and found Abremelin to have a very profound effect on our meditations. We found that the scent inspired in us a strong desire to “do the work,” the Great Work often associated with the pursuit of spiritual attainment.

Agarwood (Lign-aloes)

Agarwood is traditionally used for meditations which are intended to unlock subconscious memories and past life experiences.

Agarwood is associated with Sagittarius.

Although Agarwood is touted to have many excellent meditative properties we decided not to conduct any experiments using it, due to the fact that it is a potentially threatened species. If you decide to use Agarwood please make sure you find an ethical source.

Amber

Amber’s components include myrrh, frankincense, styrax, benzoin, sal tree, labdanum, and other aromatic compounds, although the exact recipe is very guarded by its producers.

Amber has a very temple-like smell, which is likely because its components have all been used in temple settings for millennia.

It is great for producing clarity and often associated with truth-seeking. 

We found it helped produce a higher level of focus during our meditations. The sharp and pleasant smells helped us to shut out the stresses of the outside world and enter into a more mystical mindset.

Ambergris

Ambergris is perhaps one of the most interesting and highly sought after incense on our list. It is produced in the digestive tract of sperm whales and expelled along with their other bodily functions.

When new it smells exactly how you would imagine something that’s been inside a whale’s digestive tract would smell, but over time it loses its pungent smell and reveals a softer and distinctly pleasant scent.

The heavenly scent is why this scent is often associated with Kether on the tree of life. It is considered to be a powerful aphrodisiac. It is used to increase psychic abilities, specifically divination in dreams.

Although Ambergris is not collecting by killing whales, some countries do prohibit the sale of Ambergris as part of a general ban on the sale of whale products, please do your own research and make sure it is legal for you to possess.

We found Ambergris to be absolutely heavenly, it was great for general meditation. We particularly found it useful for enhancing the feeling of a connection to the divine and thought it would be perfect for bhakti yoga or any other form of devotional practices.

Assafoetida

Assafoetida is the English name of the dried product created from the roots of the Ferula plant, native to Afghanistan and Iran. It is known for it’s pungent, unpleasant smell, which is said to keep away negative spirits.

Assafoetida is associated with Saturn. It was traditionally burnt to help alleviate physical and mental stress. 

We found the incense to live up to its reputation, the smell to some may be too unpleasant to work with. Some on our team found it somewhat nice and thought it set a nice mood, particularly if one was working with any Saturnian energies.

Benzoin

Benzoin is used in traditional Chinese medicine as a “yang” sedative and is claimed to be an effective remedy for congestion, improving circulation, and clearing away stagnation.

As an incense, it has a rejuvenating effect which is great for purification. The scent is mild earthy scent with undertones of vanilla. It is a commonly used church incense.

Benzoin is associated with Venus and Netzach on the tree of life.

We found it to be very refreshing and rejuvenating. A good choice for meditation that is intended as a restoration.

Bog Myrtle

Bog Myrtle, or Myrica Gale, is a plant common to northern Europe and North America. It is traditionally used in Europe as a flavoring for beer. Native Americans used the herb as medicine for aiding digestion and fever.

The incense, when burned, has a clove-like aroma, which is reminiscent of Christmas. Myrtle is associated with Venus.

We found the scent to have a very feminine air to it, which would lend itself well to meditations or rituals were one was working with feminine energies.

Cassia

Cassia is very closely related to cinnamon, both come from the bark of their respective trees. The two are similar and as an incense can have a similar effect.

It is worth noting that Cassia contains a substance called coumarin, which in high doses can be toxic. We assume this would only have a toxic effect if one consumed a lot of Cassia, but we can not comment on the toxicity of burnt Cassia. We, therefore, ask you to do your own research and proceed with caution.

We did use Cassia in our little experiment and generally found it to be pleasant and very similar to ‘True Cinnamon.’

Cedar

Cedar incense has deep roots in the history of humanity. It was used by the ancient Syrians, Mesopotamians, and Egyptians, to name just a few.

It is said to have a calming effect, that is perfect for times when one needs to increase their composure. It is said to ease tension, anxiety, depression, and aggression.

Cedar is associated with Jupiter.

We agree with these claims and felt that when burned before or during meditation it enhanced our sense of calmness. It would be a good choice for those who are pursuing meditation to help fight against anxiety or depression.

Cinnamon

The use of cinnamon incense in religious rites goes back many millennia. Cinnamon is very easy to find which also led to its widespread use as both an incense and a spice.

Cinnamon has fiery energy which is associated with sexuality, drive, and lust. Cinnamon incense is commonly used today as a way to increase energy in oneself or a ritual.

We found the incense lived up to its reputation and was great when burned in conjunction with restorative meditations and yoga, as well as tantric practices.

Please note: most cinnamon sold in the West is actually Cassia, a close cousin to cinnamon, which is used as a substitute for cinnamon because it is much cheaper to produce. Therefore it is important to research your incense before assuming it is real cinnamon.

Copal

Copal is collected from the sap of the Protium Copal Tree which is native to Mexico and Central America.

It is said to be great for spiritual cleansing and removing negative energy. It is praised in Mexico for its ability to connect the user to the spirit world. It is also often burnt as a sacred offering to the Gods.

Copal has a crisp, clear, sharp scent. We found it to be great for purifying your energy and space around you. It is an excellent incense to burn before meditation or ritual to prepare the space and participants.

Cypress

The woody scent of cypress is said to help with stability. The incense can be burned to purify a space. It is also often burnt to honor loved ones.

We found the earthy scent to have a nice calming and comforting fragrance.

Dittany of Crete

Origanum Dictamnus (Dittany of Crete) is a tender perennial plant that grows 20-30 cm high. It is a healing, therapeutic, and aromatic plant that only grows on the hills of the Greek island of Crete, where it has a long history of being used for flavoring food and medicinal purposes.

The plant is associated with Earth and has a very grounding effect. Historically it has also been used to aid in astral projection and scrying. 

On a more practical level, we found the incense to have a very grounding effect, which allowed one to feel very present for their meditations. Intrusive thoughts of one’s day to day life were lessened when the incense was burned during meditation.

Please note, Dittany of Crete is considered a vulnerable species and it is important for you to make sure your incense has been ethically sourced.

Dragon’s Blood

Dragon’s Blood is a resin obtained from the Dracaena Cinnabari, also known as the Socotra Dragon Tree or Dragon Blood Tree. The tree is found in Yemen, located near the Arabian Sea. It is called the Dragon Blood Tree because of the red, blood-like,  sap the tree produces.

The raw sap has many uses, a stimulant, a cure-all folk medicine, a red dye, and even as a lipstick.

As an incense, it is said to be great for fortifying and banishing. Dragon’s Blood is associated with Aries.

We found it to have a very sturdy scent, that invoked a sense of strength and power.

Please Note: The Dragon Blood Tree is on the conservation list and is in need of protection. Please do your best to find an ethical source of this incense. Lastly, the situation has led to a lot of fake Dragon’s Blood Incense so be cautious when buying.

Frankincense (Olibanum)

If we had to choose one best incense we decided it would make the most sense to choose Frankincense, sometimes called Olibanum, because it has been scientifically proven to have a positive calming effect on the brain.

Burning Frankincense immediately transports you into a sacred space. Its use in religious and mystical ritual is well documented throughout written history.

Frankincense is harvested by collecting the sap of the Boswellia sacra tree, which is native to Northern Africa. The Resin has been traded for over 5000 years. It is mentioned several times in the Jewish Talmud and Christian Bible, and it was one of the gifts of the Three Magi (Mages). It also has even older roots far back into Persia, Babylonia, Egypt, Greece, and Rome.

Frankincense is associated with the sun. It is often used to prepare a sacred space prior to any meditation or ritual work.

We found that Frankincense lived up to the hype and had a very calming, sacred scent, which immediately prepared us mentally for meditation. We also noted it would be a great accompaniment to any ritual practices, specifically ones pertaining to the sun.

Galbanum

Galbanum is made by collecting the resin of Persian plants from the genus Ferula.

The plant has a long history of being used as an incense. It is referenced in the Book of Exodus as one of the incense combined to make Ketoret, an incense used to prepare temple spaces.

The incense is associated with the Libra. It is used for preparing a space for meditation or ritual.

We found the incense created in us a deep sense of the connection to the spiritual pursuits of our ancestors.

Ginseng

Ginseng is perhaps better known for its use in traditional Chinese medicine, where it is prized as a general tonic and stimulant.

As an incense Ginseng is associated with the moon. Folklore also associates Ginseng with breaking spells and warding off evil spirits.

We found the incense to help induce an alert sense of calmness, which enhanced our ability to concentrate. It was particularly good for meditation which involved a mantra or visualization work.

Jasmine

Jasmine is a group of over 200 shrubs and vines in the Olive family, which are cultivated for the characteristic fragrance of their flowers.

Jasmine flowers at night, which is probably why folklore has always closely associated it with prophetic dreams, as well as the moon. Jasmine is also closely associated with beauty,  love, and devotion.

We found the incense to be very embracing, relaxing, and calming. It would be perfect for unwinding after a stressful day so that you can have a deep sleep.

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Jerusalem

Jerusalem is a blend of Frankincense and Myrrh, sometimes with other incense blended in as well. The Jerusalem is derived from the biblical reference to Frankincense and Myrrh, which were two of the three gifts presented to Jesus when he was born in Jerusalem.

Jerusalem incense is known to clear away negative energies and is traditionally used in religious rites.

For some on our team of testers the heavy link to Christianity and the “churchy” aroma was a turn-off, however, most of our team found the scent to be literally divine. We found it to be great for preparing a space for any ceremony or meditation.

Ketoret

Ketoret is a blend of various incenses, which dates back to biblical times. The incense was created to aid in the preparation of a temple. The exact recipe was closely guarded by its creators who were fearful that if the recipe were discovered it would be employed in the worship of foreign gods.

Take sweet spices, rosin, and onycha, and galbanum, sweet spices with pure frankincense, each spice pounded separately; and you shall make it a blend of incense, even a confection after the art of the apothecary, seasoned with salt, pure and holy.” ~ Book Of Exodus

The exact recipe is lost in the annals of time, however, by closely studying ancient Hebrew texts modern historians believe they have been able to create a close approximation to the original formula.

Mastic, Operculum, Galbanum, Frankincense, Myrrh, Cassia, Spikenard, Agarwood, Saffron, Costus, Cinnamon, and Jordan Amber were all combined to make this ancient incense, however, the exact formula and recipe are highly debated and seemingly lost forever.

We tried Ketoret bought in a Hebrew store, as well as making our own. We found both to create a very holy atmosphere, which would be great for any kind of devotional practices like deep prayer or bhakti yoga, it also had a nice calming effect on our meditations.

Lavender

Lavender is a common form of garden perennial. The sun-loving plant grows in a shrub-like shape.

Lavender is commonly used as a scent in soap and perfume. It also is said to have a healing effect and is frequently uses for headache relief and as a sleep aid.

When burned as incense it is said to possess the same healing properties.

We found it to have a pleasant calming effect, that promoted a sense of happiness, however, some on our team found it to be too familiar of a scent to really create a sacred space for meditation.

Mastic (Arabic Gum)

Mastic is prepared by collecting the resin of the Pistacia Lentiscus Tree. The sap is collected and then dried in the sun.

When burned it has a slightly balsamic scent, with hints of honey and lemon. It is a very gentle scent. Mastic is more often used to combine with other incense, like Frankincense, rather than to be burned on its own.

Mastic is associated with Mercury.

We found mastic to have a very pleasant and mild aroma, which many on our team found great for meditation.

Musk

Musk is collected from the glandular secretions of mammal reproductive organs. The glands are used to attract a mate or mark one’s territory. It is often used as the base note in men’s cologne.

Musk has very Saturnian energy and is also associated with Capricorn. It is associated with virility, strength, and passion.

We found it not to be very beneficial to meditation. We could see why it may be helpful to burn during a Saturnian rite or Tantric practice, however, due to its use in cologne, many musk incenses also smell a lot like an old man’s cheap cologne, which we found a little distracting and not conducive to deep meditative work.

Myrrh

Myrrh is one of the most well-known incenses in the world, largely due to the biblical reference of it being presented at Jesus’ birth, along with Gold and Frankincense, by the 3 wise men, or Magi. It is important to note that Magi, from the Latin Magus, and is the root for the modern day words “Magic” and “Magician.”

Myrrh resin was well known in the ancient worlds for not only its use as incense but also its healing properties. It was also one of the components which were used in Egyptian Mummification.

As an incense it has been believed for millennia that Myrrh helps to maintain a state of enlightenment, clear away negative energy, as well as removing illusions which stan in the way or truth. Myrrh is associated with Saturn.

We found Myrrh to possess a very lofty scent, which immediately imbibes one with a sense of a connection to the divine. That being said the scent is quite strong and we found that it was often put to better use when paired with other scents to create hybrid incense like Amber and Jerusalem.

Nag champa

Nag Champa was first blended in India. Nag Champa is arguably the most popular incense fragrance in the world, which means you should have no trouble finding it.

Its Heavenly blend of florals and Sandalwood are said to stimulate spiritual awareness, while also helping one to stay grounded. Because of this, it is often used as a general aid to meditation and ritual work.

We found the claims to be true, the familiar scent worked great as a general scent to prepare oneself for meditation or to prepare a room for ritual work.

Opoponax (sweet myrrh)

Opoponax is a close cousin to Myrrh that when burned has a warm-balsamic and sweet, honey-like aroma. The Commiphora Tree is native to Africa.

It is associated with Scorpio. In folklore, it is believed to have a strong protective element.

We found the incense to be great for meditation. It created a very enveloping, protective, almost womb-like atmosphere which lent itself well to deep meditation.

Palo Santo

Palo Santo is a tree native to Mexico and Central America, which is closely related to Frankincense. The smoke from the wood has become a staple for traditional rituals in this area of the world, where they believe it has powerful healing properties.

The wood is now imported all across the world and has been adopted by many as a great way to cleanse oneself or a space before and after ritual or meditation.

We love Palo Santo and use it all of the time in meditation and ritual.

Patchouli

Patchouli often gets a bad reputation because of its association with ‘dirty hippies,’ because of its ability to mask the scent of body odor and cannabis smoke, however, the patchouli plant has a long history of use for spiritual matters as well.

The incense is associated with love and prosperity. It is commonly used to bring the mind to far off places.

We found it to have a very calming effect on our meditations, but some of the team could not get over their association with friends or exes who had used it mask body odor. They found this negative association to be distracting.

Pinyon Pine

Pinyon Pine is sacred to the Native Americans who use it for healing.

The scent when burned is rich and pungent, and an excellent choice to clear a space for meditation or ritual use. It is also used traditionally to clear ones energetic fields, invoke clairvoyance, and strength.

We found that the earthy, forest-like scents where a great way to invoke a sense of grounding and stability. We would recommend using this one when you need a bit of strength, perhaps when you are facing something painful or hard. Pinion Pine may help to give you the strength you need to overcome obstacles and grow.

Rose

Rose is a classic incense associated with Venus. A true scent for lovers. The rose oil collected to make rose incense and perfumes is collect from the Damascus Rose.

The scent also has a strong connection to the heart chakra and is said to increase devotion, spiritual attainment, and security.

We found the fragrance to be very pleasant and dreamy, and that it would be perfect for Bhakti Yoga, or any other forms of spiritual devotion.

Sage

Sage is harvested from the Sage plant (duh), which takes a variety of forms. It is similar to sweetgrass, in that it has a strong connection to the customs of Native North Americans.

It is typically used for smudging, cleansing one’s energies, and preparing a space during ceremonies or rituals. It also has roots in Celtic ceremonies.

We found the scent and its strong connection to traditions still practiced today really helped to set a nice environment for meditation.

Sandalwood

Sandalwood is one of the oldest and most common forms of incense, which has been used in Hindu rituals for thousands of years. It is harvested from trees in the Santalum genus, which is native to India.

Traditionally it was used to cleanse a space or as an offering to various Hindu Deities. It was also adopted by Buddhist practitioners who burnt it as a way to transform human desires and promote mindfulness.

Sandalwood is associated with Venus.

Our experiments with Sandalwood found that the ancient traditions were right, as they usually are. Sandalwood produced in us a sense of clarity, a heightened ability to deeply meditate, as well as a connection to the past.

Scammony

Scammony is a vine which grows wildly in North America. Its large root grows up to six feet in length.

Traditionally it was used as a purgative. Many modern hermeticists associate the incense with Saturn.

We found the incense to be very empowering, perhaps a great incense to use on days when one feels the need to recharge after a stressful day

Styrax (Storax)

Styrax is made by harvesting the balsam and bark of the Liquidambar Orientalis Tree, which is native to Asia.

The styrene note mellows over time and if used in small amounts in an incense blend it will not overpower the blend and yet still add a depth of sweet balsamic, flowery notes to the mixture.

It is known for relaxing, strengthening, love, and helping with sleep. Styrax is associated with Taurus.

We found that the scent was both strengthening and relaxing dependant on the intention of the users. We also found that it’s relaxing properties helped to induce a deep sleep.

Sweetgrass

Sweetgrass is harvest by collecting the Hierochloe odorata or Anthoxanthum nitens, an aromatic herb native to Eurasia and North America. Sweetgrass is widely used by Native North American, as well as some European cultures.

Typically sweetgrass is braided and dried, it is then lit and burnt. The smoke is often used to cleanse oneself in a ceremony known as smudging. It is also typically used to cleanse a room of negative energy.

We found it to be great for meditation. Its strong association with Native people makes it perfect for anyone exploring their Native heritage or interested in Native Spirituality and Customs.

Wormwood

Wormwood is famously known for being the psychoactive ingredient in Absinthe.

Perhaps this association is why many believe it to be a great incense to burn to enhance prophecy and divination.

We found the incense helped set a dreamy ton to our meditations. One member of our team reported having lucid dreams.

Many of the incense associations are from Liber 777.

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Comments (12)

  1. Smaug

    Do you guys have any interest in sharing brands you used? It can be difficult to find some of these, like wormwood, except in super cheap looking sticks of questionable provenance

    • admin

      Thanks for your feedback, we did not want to come across like we were advertising or selling something. However you are right it is hard to choose a good brand, perhaps we will do a follow up with some of our favorite brands. 🙂

  2. I have been absent for some time, but now I remember why I used to love this web site. Thanks , I will try and check back more often. How frequently you update your website?

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