Use for purification and protection (against the evil eye and the demons of disease), and also for healing, for love and for divination.
Copal trees are now quite rare and their yield is fairly low, so that true copal is often substituted with commercial grade copal. True copal (a sticky white derivative from protium copal) was and is the most important incense used by the Maya, and the Aztec and Inca cultures both used it as their main offering to the gods. This particular commercial copal gum comes from various bursera tree from Central and South America, and it is related to Frankincense and Myrrh.
Incense (from the Latin incendere, to burn) is composed of aromatic, organic materials, often combined with essential or fragrant oils, which give off fragrant smoke when burned. It has been used for thousands of years in ritual and religious ceremonies, and in many ancient cultures to the present day.
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.
For thousands of years (and still today) Native Americans have been burning herbal mixtures in their healing and cleansing rituals. In their culture this process was called smudging, and herbs such as Sage, Cedar and Sweetgrass were tied in bundles or braided, lit to create an ember, and then the smoke fanned wherever the need to cleanse, heal or bless. In fact, many groups still use incense in its many forms. From pagan groups through to organised religious groups, the burning of incense is a way of purifying, of arousing a spirit of focus and devotion.
Today, as in ancient times, we continue to use the fragrant smoke from incense in all its forms to fragrance and cleanse our living spaces, to relax and reduce stress, to stimulate, to help us sleep, to prepare for prayer or meditation, and to help the healing process.