per wikipedia: Religious use of incense has its origins in antiquity. Burned incense may be intended as a symbolic or sacrificial offering to various deities or spirits, or to serve as an aid in prayer.
The first recorded use of incense was by the Egyptians during the Fifth Dynasty, 2345-2494 BC.
The God of Incense
Nefertum (Nefertem) is the Egyptian God of perfume and sweet aromas. Nefertum was born from the bud of the blue lotus flower at the dawn of creation and was originally an aspect of Atum. His name means “Beautiful Atum”. He was later considered his own deity and became associated with sweet-smelling flowers. He is associated with rebirth and transformation through his link to the sun god and flowers. In Egyptian medicine he was called upon for healing aromas to cure disease and associated with incense.
below: King Ramses III burning incense
Incense use in religious ritual was either further or simultaneously developed in China, and eventually transmitted to Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines It is reputed to be a method of purifying the surroundings, bringing forth an assembly of buddhas, bodhisattvas, gods, demons, and the like.
from nipponkodo.com, where I have purchased all of my incense for 20 or more years:
In Egypt, aromatic trees were imported from Arabia to be used in religious ceremonies. Ganjin, a Buddhist priest from Tang China, reached Japan in 754 AD. This venerable priest, well known for introducing Buddhist precepts into Japan, should also be remembered for his accomplishment in the history of incense. Through medical incense and the skill of nerikoh (blended incense balls), Ganjin introduced a thriving incense culture from Tang dynasty China into Japan. Takimono, a kind of nerikoh, is made of powdered incense for medical use, together with binding substances such as nectar and treacle. There was no fragrance incense before nerikoh in Japan, and people used to burn medical incense to generate fragrances. As nerikoh is a mixture of ingredients, different mixtures created subtly different fragrances. As a result, people made their own favorite fragrances from original concoctions. In this context, incense was no longer used as a religious offering, but as a tasteful pleasure called soradakimono designed for the enjoyment of graceful aromas. This was the start of the esthetic and artistic world of graceful incense-burning in Japan. Court nobles in the Heian period (8th to 12th centuries) concocted original takimono in search of graceful and sophisticated fragrances for personal use. Different blends were used for different times, occasions or seasons, according to the mood of the moment. To impregnate their clothes or suffuse their rooms for guests, court people burnt their favorite blend of incense. “Takimonoawase”, an incense game where participants competed to produce better fragrances, also started in this period. Not quite satisfied with the simple fragrances of flowers and fruits in nature, court nobles created fragrances for their pleasure, thus establishing the foundation of a peculiar incense culture that was firmly attached to a keen awareness of the seasons. This is how the essential quality of Koh-Do (“the Way of Incense”) was formed.
Christian Incense Burning
Incense has been employed in worship by Christians since antiquity, particularly in the Eastern Christian churches, the Roman Catholic Church/Eastern Catholic, Old Catholic/Liberal Catholic Churches and some Anglican and Lutheran Churches. Incense is being increasingly used among some other Christian groups as well, for example, the Book of Worship of The United Methodist Church calls for incense in the Evening Praise and Prayer service. The smoke of burning incense is interpreted by both the Western Catholic and Eastern Christian churches as a symbol of the prayer of the faithful rising to heaven. This symbolism is seen in Psalm 141 (140), verse 2: “Let my prayer be directed as incense in thy sight: the lifting up of my hands, as evening sacrifice.” Incense is often used as part of a purification ritual. In the Latin rite of the Roman Catholic Church, whenever the thurible is swung to incense people or objects, it is always done in groups of three swings (to represent the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity, God the Father, God the Son Jesus Christ, and God the Holy Spirit; the precise number depends on the level of sanctity of the object being reverenced, if a person being reverenced is alive or dead, and whether they are a cleric or a layperson, and if a cleric, their rank within the hierarchy).
Hindu Incense Burning
The use of incense is a traditional and ubiquitous practice in almost all pujas, prayers, and other forms of worship. As part of the daily ritual worship within the Hindu tradition, incense is offered to God (usually by rotating the sticks thrice in a clockwise direction) in His deity forms, such as Krishna and Rama. This practice is still commonplace throughout modern-day India and Hindus all around the world. It is said in the Bhagavad-Gita that, “Krishna accepts the offering made to Him with love”, and it is on this principle that articles are offered each day by temple priests or by those with an altar in their homes and Businesses.
Islamic Incense Burning
Islam Incense is used in several events such as the Tahfidh graduation ceremony, Ka’bah’s purification / cleansing event, and so on. It is to radiate the air and enjoy the soul of the pilgrims. Because according to one of the hadiths of the Prophet, the angels love fragrant scents and hate the foul smells.
Judaic Incense Burning
The ‘ketoret’ is the incense described in the Bible for use in the Temple. Its composition and usage is described in greater detail in midrash, the Talmud and subsequent rabbinic literature. Although it was not produced following the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, some Jews study the composition of the ancient Temple incense for future use in a restored Temple as part of daily Jewish services. Contemporary Judaism still uses aromatic spices in one ritual, the havdala ceremony ending the Sabbath. In addition, there is a blessing for pleasant smells.
Pagan Incense Burning
Incense is also often used in Pagan rituals to represent the element of air, although more modern approaches to incense magic demonstrate that incense actually represents all of the elements. This is attributed to the fact that incense smoke wafts through the air, is created through the use of fire, the incense materials are grown from the earth, and combustible incense is formed using water. It is also believed to release natural energy. Incenses of a wide range of fragrances are also used in spell and ritual for different purposes.
From the website where the above photo was taken:
Most of us weren’t aware of that it has been scientifically proven that smudging – medicinal smoke – reduces airborne bacteria! This is fantastic news because we now know that smudging may be one of the most powerful antiseptic technologies ever discovered. And it is completely natural and harm free. This remarkable study “Medicinal smoke reduces airborne bacteria,” was published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology and has definitely had a very positive impact on how the modern world perceives smudging.
The Ten Virtues of Koh (incense)
lifted directly from nippon kodo website
The “Ten Virtues of Koh” is a list of the benefits derived from the use of incense. These Ten Virtues have been passed down from the fifteenth century (the Japan’s Muromachi Era) and are still cited today as uniquely capturing the spirit of Koh.
It brings communication with the transcendent.
It purifies mind and body.
It removes uncleanliness.
It keeps one alert.
It can be a companion in the midst of solitude.
In the midst of busy affairs, it brings a moment of peace.
When it is plentiful, one never tires of it.
When there is little, still one is satisfied.
Age does not change its efficacy.
Used everyday, it does no harm.
I hope you have enjoyed reading today’s A2Z entry on incense as much as I have enjoyed compiling the information. I burn incense a minimum of once a day and do believe in its healing, calming, and cleansing properties. I would encourage you to click on any of the links to learn more information.