(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.