In this day and age, most people find themselves too busy to allow themselves the time to take a deep breath, let alone the time to connect to the divine or nourish their own spirit. Many people that do not already have a spiritual practice say they believe in a higher power of some sort, but they aren’t quite sure how to connect with that higher power or their higher selves.
I believe that whatever your faith or belief may be, incense is one of the most powerful and widespread gateways to the spiritual side of every human. Just about every culture, religion, and faith around the world has used incense in one form or another to connect with their spiritual nature.
The ancients knew of the countless ways that plants can strengthen our sacred connection to spirit and the divine. Whether to create sacred space with plumes of gentle smoke, to enhance meditation by quieting the mind and relaxing the sympathetic nervous system, to call upon spirits, deities, and gods, to induce trance-like states, or to accompany prayer, incense certainly has its place as a strong ally to each of us if we just make the time. And what better time than now to create a sacred space in your home or in nature to nourish your connection to your deeper self and to Spirit.
Creating an Incense Altar
An altar is a sacred place to conduct any kind of spiritual ritual. Sacred tools and incenses are kept upon an altar for ease of use during a ritual, rite, or ceremony. Altars are as diverse as the religions, spiritual practices, and people who use them. Millions of people around the world have a sacred altar in their home where they burn incense, speak prayers, meditate, and commune with the divine. A personal altar is a sanctuary for your spirit to be nourished and has the potential to transform your home and life in beautiful ways.
If you do not have an altar in your home, lets have you put one together. First and foremost, it is important to decide where your incense altar will be. This will be your own special space to sit and take a break from your busy day and breathe deeply. You might be meditating, pondering life or the inner workings of the universe, praying, or just relaxing and enjoying your incense. Whatever you will be doing at your altar, you will definitely want to be sure your altar space is as undisturbed by others as possible. Be sure you choose a place that is away from the active places in your home or out in nature. Perhaps in a corner of your bedroom or spare room, a quiet place under a tree in your backyard or garden, or even next to your favorite pond or creek. Choose the place that feels best to you.
Once you have found your space, you may want to cleanse the area of any negative or built up energies by using White Sage smoke or other types of plant smoke, consecrating this as your new sacred incense altar space. This act is called smudging. In Native American traditions, Sweetgrass smoke is used after burning Sage to draw in positive energies and invite in benevolent spirits. There are many different traditions around cleansing or creating sacred space and I encourage you to find the way that calls to you the most. For my article on how to Smudge a space, click here.
It is good to have your incense altar set up off of the ground a few inches up to 1 1/2 feet. This way you can sit on the ground or on a pillow in front of it and utilize the altar with ease (it is traditional to sit on the ground). If you are more comfortable in a chair, you can set up your altar on a desk or table. If you wish to sit on the floor find a small table, wooden box, or crate for the base of your altar. Anything with a flat surface will do. Next, for a nice touch, find a piece of fabric, cloth, or piece of wood to cover your base. It doesn’t need to be too fancy, just enough to cover the tabletop or box. Also, be sure to have a place to store your incense under your altar or in a box next to or on your altar.
Next you’ll decide what sacred objects will go on your altar and how you will place them. These objects are usually something of meaning to you. They can be crystals, stones, feathers, special gifts or trinkets from loved ones, or anything else that is special to you or meaningful in some way. Candles also help to create the atmosphere we are looking for. These altar pieces are to be reminders to you of the beauty in your life, of your strengths and gifts, of special memories of loved ones, or of precious experiences that have gifted you with wisdom in your life.
The next step is to find or purchase an abalone shell, a flat stone, an incense burner, or a small metal or glass dish to burn your incense in. Place this at the front and center of your incense altar.
*If you choose a space outdoors, a large stone or a wooden table will do for your altar base. You may not want to keep a piece of fabric on your altar due to weather and the elements. Be careful choosing what sacred objects you keep on your outdoor altar for this same reason. You may just want to collect and use objects that were found in nature.
Additional Altar Tools
Other sacred tools commonly used with smudging or with incense are feathers. Feathers are used to fan smoke around yourself or others to cleanse or clear negative or excessive energies gathered during your day. It is also beneficial to smudge your altar space or your home every now and then to renew your space and break up any energetic buildup.
Incense Charcoal or coal from a fireplace is often used when burning sacred tree resins such as Frankincense, Myrrh, Copal, or Palo Santo resin. The resins are crushed and sprinkled onto the hot coals. It is best to place a red-hot charcoal on a stone or metal surface. If a non-flammable surface is too thin it may become too hot and become a fire hazard. Smaller abalone shells are often times too thin to burn incense charcoal in as well. It is also good to have a pair of metal tongs to handle red-hot charcoals. Always use caution when burning any type of incense or charcoal and be sure to keep cloth, fabric, or any other flammable materials clear from a heated element.
Using your Altar
Now that everything is in place your altar is ready for you to use. It is important to minimize any distractions when using your altar. Turning off your phone or turning on silent mode and letting others know you’re desiring some quite time are usually helpful actions.
Morning time is always a great time to sit at your altar. The act of burning incense, saying a prayer, or just giving yourself some time in the morning to come back into your body after a night’s rest can help you to stay grounded and is a great way to get your day going rather than immediately jumping into the tasks that need accomplishing.
Taking the time in this way will help you accomplish more and will help you find mental clarity and allow you to navigate through your day with grace. The evening is also a great time to sit at your altar to help you unwind and release any stress or anxiousness gathered throughout your day.
Your sacred altar is priceless. Utilize it every chance you get throughout your week and you will feel the benefits of incense and the strengthening of your connection to your higher self and to Spirit.
If burning plants in this meditative manner calls out to you, or if you desire to go deeper into the wisdom beyond the smoke of incense, check out our online program at The Northwest School of Aromatic Medicine: The Listening to Incense Home Study Course.
May your incense altar bring you peace of mind, relaxation, wisdom, and inspiration.
Article By – Evan Sylliaasen
© 2016 Evan Sylliaasen, Higher Mind Incense LLC. All Rights Reserved.