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(New and Expanded)
By Carl F. Neal
My copy is an uncorrected proof, provided by the publisher through Netgalley.
This book is about making incense for personal use with all natural ingredients, rather than the commercial 'dipped' incense. It starts out by telling us about how scents can trigger memories and are directly wired to the brain.
The use of incense in meditation and to send messages to the gods is covered, as well as how to use it to cleanse space for magical ritual. The perspective of the book is for practitioners of magic and new age methods, though the practical information is very thorough and would be very useful for anyone who wanted to make their own incense. There is a List of figures, so I expect the finished book will have illustrations.
The author gives us good reasons for why we would want to make our own incense rather than just buying commercial as well as some history of how incense is made and the changes in manufacturing methods over time. He expresses some concerns about commercial incense and the chemicals that are included in it, especially saltpeter, which is used in self-lighting charcoals. Reasons for making your own include total control of what goes into it and making magical connections during the process, plus the issue of ethical concerns that some people might have about some of the ingredients, such as using animal products or allergens.
The book is written very much from a practicing Pagan point of view, but it is primarily a practical book and the author invites readers to challenge or dismiss his philosophies while gaining the benefit of the hands-on practical information.
We are given the difference between whole herb incense vs incense that contains essential oils and also the difference between dry mix and wet mix. The book favors dry mix methods. We are told how to make powder for incense trails, though the book is mostly focused on "formed" incense - sticks and cones. We are given the relative advantages of masala sticks, joss sticks and cones as well as incense disks which you can wear as a necklace, then toss into a bonfire. It's a form I hadn't come across before. We are also told about the process for making Kyphi, which involves cooking ingredients in wine.
The author occasionally diverges into the Pagan aspects, telling us about the feeling of ritual pageantry that goes with tossing loose incense over hot coals etc. Throughout the tone gives me the feeling that he is speaking to me like an ordinary person, almost as if he was giving personal instruction rather than writing a formal instruction book. I rather liked this aspect of his approach.
He goes on to explain the different kinds of aromatics - resins, plants & woods, then forms of binders and fixatives. We learn a little of the Physics of making it burn and how it is affected by shape, about avoiding dangerous material and about getting artistic with shapes as well as how to empower your incense with Magick.
Different types of burners and what shape incense is suitable for them is covered as well as safety precautions in an easy and sometimes entertaining narrative. There is some repetition, but mainly on things it is essential to learn so the extra emphasis is justifiable. My only real complaint is that there are a few too many plugs for the author's other book which begins to reek of salesmanship.
There are sections on growing your own ingredients and considering the needs of the plants when collecting in the wild, proper methods for drying and some advice on buying ingredients as well as proper storage. Tools & workspace as well as ritual tools are very thoroughly covered including consideration of children and pets.
Blending and adding liquid is explained along with troubleshooting and there are several basic recipes included to get the novice incense maker started.
The appendices include an ingredient chart, a section on ingredients that can be obtained through any grocery store, suggested ritual uses and a rather interesting section called "Listening to incense" which is about the Japanese art of Koh-do.
Overall, from a practical point of view it is a wonderful book. I expect that I will try some of the recipes and may take enough interest to expand into concocting my own incense blends, knowing that everything I need to know is here. The more philosophical aspects of the book are subjective and will appeal to some people more than others, but it does add an interesting angle to the information to see how incense is used in both modern Western Pagan practices as well as the Japanese Koh-do tradition.
Thanks to NetGalley and to Penguin Random House UK, Ebury Publishing for providing me with an ARC copy of this book that I voluntarily chose to read and review.
I don’t read many inspirational books so I cannot share a deep analysis of how original the book might be or where it sits in regards to the topic. The book covers a variety of subjects, and it is classed under psychology and health, philosophy and self-help, and I agree it does touch on all those.
I’m a psychiatrist and I must admit I have never studied Positive Psychology as part of my degree but this book doesn’t require an in-depth knowledge of any of the disciplines to benefit from it.
The author opens the book by introducing herself, her background, and questioning the current focus on happiness. Is happiness sufficient to lead a satisfying life? She goes on to discuss many of the studies that show that having a sense of meaning can make a big difference to the outcomes of people at a time of crisis, be it a life-threatening illness or students going through exams, and grounds the readers in the subject. She uses one of the pillars she identifies as important to creating meaning, story-telling, to hook the readers into the topic of the book. If somebody came to you and asked you to give him (her) a reason not to kill him/herself, what would you say? That’s what happened to Will Durant and what set him off asking his colleagues and trying to understand what brings meaning to people’s lives. From there, and using positive psychology, Emily Esfahani Smith, defines the four pillars that bring meaning to people’s lives: belonging, purpose, story-telling and transcendence. The author illustrates each one of these topics with individual stories that help make the points more accessible. We have a young man who was only interested in money, became a drug dealer, and when he went to prison discovered his lifestyle was literally killing him. There he changed his habits and ended up not only becoming fit but also helping others to become healthier. We have a woman who loves animals and finds her purpose in looking after the animals in the zoo, ensuring their lives can be interesting there too. I learned about dream directors who help young people find purpose and meaning; I read about projects that help people in the final stages of life to find a purpose, other projects that help individuals tell their stories and record their experiences, groups that bring people who’ve lost somebody together… The author achieves this and more, all the while providing sources for her findings and reminders of how the issues discussed relate to philosophers and historical figures past and current. We might discover belonging by joining a society that enacts battles or find transcendence walking in nature or attending a special service at church. Ultimately, this is not a prescriptive book, and the process of discovery of meaning is an individual one.
I loved the stories, which go from individual experiences to projects that have grown and become important to many people, and the theoretical reflections that underpin the concepts, which are clearly explained and will also encourage readers new to the topic to explore further. The author succeeds in preserving the unique voices of the people whose experiences she shares and her own writing is seamlessly and beautifully achieved. The book made me think and rethink life and its priorities and I suspect it will have a similar effect on many people.
A book on an important topic, written in an easily-accessible manner, illuminating and inspiring. Although I read it quickly for the review, this is a book that can be savoured and returned to as needed, and it will provide new discoveries and insights with every new reading.
A final note: Although the book appears quite long, the notes at the end occupy a 33% of the e-book (although they are easily accessible) and it does not feel like a long read.
|I received a copy of this book through Bookstr/The Reading Room in exchange for an honest review.
This is a beautifully written book. Uplifting and inspirational, Smith focuses on how meaning is derived from four pillars and how a person can gain a sense of purpose in his or her life.
I really enjoyed that Smith uses anecdotes as well as scientific research studies to demonstrate the four pillars. It makes the reading interesting as well as informative. She also draws upon other sources such as philosophy, literature, and religion to give a brief history of how meaning has been perceived by humans throughout time.
This is a wonderful book and a fascinating read. There is a great deal of information regarding how to make life more meaningful and develop a purpose in life.