Incense On The City Bus

Photo: Jacquie Bird Day

Running into an incense connoisseur or collector is a rare occasion these days. We’re out there, but we are far and few between compared to the ages before our time. It is curious to think that in many ancient cities several hundred or thousand years ago, the majority of a population would at some point in their day, encounter the alluring scent of incense or plant smoke. In ancient times incense was commonly found burning on the street corner or heavily wafting from the doors of a temple. Geishas were keeping track of their customer’s time with their ‘incense clocks’, and people would be burning incense in their homes to accompany their prayer, as an offering, during meditation, or for medicinal purposes.

It was common, and still is quite common in many Asian and Middle Eastern countries, to gather in public places around massive incense altars to offer praise and prayer to the gods and spirits on holidays or during festivals. No matter who someone was, rich or poor, holy or agnostic, they would have experienced the precious scent of incense at some point of their day. Can you imagine crowds gathered in Central Park, at a suburban mall, or on the corner downtown offering their daily stick or cone of incense to accompany their prayer?

This was once the common scenario in many cultures and unfortunately, like many other beautiful traditions of the world, this reality has slowly faded away to make room for western culture, consumerism, technology, and the burden of busy minds. But there must have been good reason for it all. What was behind this devotional act? Was incense really seen as so healing, so nourishing to the spirit, so connecting to the divine, and so uplifting as to have been such a major part of daily life in so many parts of the world?

Incense most definitely has its community of devotees in our western culture, but a majority are lacking the understanding of major aspects of the art. In our fast track society, with businesses fighting to make deadlines, cutting corners, and desperately trying to save on costs and supplies, we are most definitely getting cheated out of the original richness and purity of incense and its untainted fragrance. Nowadays, a bulk of the commercial incense that we find throughout the west has fallen victim to the ‘corporate mind’ which usually has little concern for the highest quality production. Mass produced incense is usually made up of laboratory created fragrance oils, synthetic ingredients, and chemically treated plant material.

We have all heard from many people how they simply can’t handle the aroma of incense. Its scent is too strong or even causes certain people to have headaches. Some people are very sensitive to aromatic plants indeed, but I feel many of these people are the casualties of synthetic chemical incense who have not yet experienced the wholesome purity of traditionally crafted incense, and are potentially missing out on one of the oldest human traditions: the beneficial use of natural plant smoke.

If the mainstream incense market actually made the shift back to high quality, chemical free, organically grown ingredients, and held a strong sense of integrity around incense crafting methods, I feel we could more easily recruit people ‘back to their senses’. If we could steer the world incense market back towards purity and its traditional roots once more, this sacred craft could potentially rise again to its original stature.


Imagine a stick of burning incense always lit when you step onto a city bus or an airplane. As you walk into the county building downtown, you enter in the door and ignite a stick of incense and place it on the altar with a hundred other burning sticks. Imagine walking into a hospital and instead of pumping bacteria killing chemicals through the air duct system, the anti-microbial aroma of frankincense wafts down the hall for disinfectant and sterilization purposes, as it once was used in days of old and during times of plague throughout history. Imagine going to the county court building and instead of walking through a metal detector and a frisky pat down, a white sage stick is lit and security smudges your being with cleansing smoke.

We can fantasize about the ideal future and enjoy a little humor, but we can also change the world in profound ways by remembering and utilizing the ancient wisdom of the ones that came before us. Together we can change the course of history of the world incense market.

Article By – Evan Sylliaasen

© 2016 Evan Sylliaasen, Higher Mind Incense LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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