Traditionally, incense plays an important role in ritual purification, often referred to as "smudging". The incense smoke is used to "wash" away negative energies and emotions, thus cleansing the atmosphere. In the same way, incense can also be used to purify the hearts and minds of the participants prior to sacred ceremonies, meditations and rituals.
In its earliest form organic raw material was simply thrown on to a fire to produce aromatic smoke. Perhaps, simply by accident, it was discovered that pine twigs for instance gave off a much stronger smell when burned, and that they were very different from say parsley leaves. From this it would be a small step to realizing that different aromas produced different effects. What followed was the use of various materials to perform specific tasks – for heightening the senses, inducing sleep, cleansing spaces, and for offering up prayers to the gods. In fact, in almost all religions, aromatics were considered to be a gift from the gods.
Nowadays we can still use natural incenses, herbs and resins in the same way by following a few simple steps:
Place a charcoal disc on a fireproof surface away from anything flammable. A ceramic or metal dish containing some sand is ideal.Hold a match or a lighter to the rim of the disc, taken care as the disc may spit and spark on ignition. Also allow a good air flow around the disc so that it can burn evenly, and be aware that it may give off quite a lot of smoke.Once the disc is red hot and glowing, drop a pinch of the incense on the top.Scrape off the ashes from time to time to expose the glowing centre of the charcoal disc and add more incense as required.NEVER hold a lit disc in your hand, and dispose of spent discs carefully.