January 27, 2022 5 min read

A Brief Introduction to Incense

Spiritual cleansing. 

Space clearing. 

Protection from negative energy — banishing it to the far ends of the ether. 

Healing emotional wounds. 

Relieving stress and soothing anxiety… 

These are just some of the reasons one might use incense, and using incense for these reasons (and more) is an age-old practice.

Incense has been used for thousands of years and by countless cultures all over the world. In Western cultures, its use has ebbed and flowed as attitudes toward spirituality have evolved. Incense has undergone a long journey: from being a tool of shamans and mystics in close knit cultures, to adoption by the dominant Abrahamic religions, to being ridiculed by modern capitalist cultures as a way for “hippies” to cover the smell of cannabis, to being (once again) respected and valued by more spiritually savvy folks. 

Even people who aren’t aware that you can use incense for spiritual and ritual cleansing inherently understand the restorative and calming properties it provides. In fact, as you’re probably aware, recently there’s been a spiritual and mystical “revolution” and reawakening in modern Western cultures. More people than ever are reaching back to witchcraft and traditional practices of Indigenous peoples in an effort to recognize the meaning in life that can be so easily lost.

Outside its connection to the spirit realm, incense also has powerful effects on our mind, allowing us to more easily attune to and access the mystical plane. Let’s talk about a few of the spiritual benefits of burning incense.

Why Burn Incense?

One reason to burn incense is to cleanse your space of negative energy. Whether it’s your home, office, studio, or perhaps even an outdoor space where you enjoy sunrise yoga — incense can calm and center you. This spiritual peace opens the door to clarity and openness, allowing you to focus on additional healing practices. Incense can cleanse both the spaces you inhabit and the space withinyou.

Another reason you might want to burn incense is because of its profound effect on the physical and mental Self. Incense can act like a bridge that connects our spirit, mind, and body, making it one of those rare instances where spirituality and science converge harmoniously. 

(For more science-y goodness, check out our post, The Celestial Woman's Guide to Coping with Anxiety!") 

Our pre-scientific ancestors clearly knew something intuitively. (Something that, let’s be honest, has taken usfar too long to understand and embrace here in the 21st century.)

While all incense can be used for cleansing and calming purposes, specific blends of herbs and fragrances can result in different effects. Let’s look into a few types of incense for spiritual and ritual cleansing, and discuss how each may be used.

Different Types of Incense & Their Benefits

White Sage

White sage is known as salvia apiana, bee sage, or sacred sage, and it’s perhaps the most popular cleansing tool. Its well known fragrance has been used for centuries and helps to purify the air and rid your home of unwanted spirits and energy.

It comes in two main forms: whole-dried bundles or blended sticks of incense. In its traditional form (whole-dried bundles of sage shrubs), sage is typically burnt and then smudged, which is a different process from simply lighting sage-based incense. Smudging sage is an ancient practice and one that must be done respectfully. Fortunately, we’ve got a great resource for you!

Debra Courchene is a renowned Anishinaabe knowledge-keeper. She offers excellent tutorials on how to respectfully and authentically smudge sage. We recommend you spend a bit of time watching her short videos before fully immersing yourself in the various cultures she preserves. Debra is a wonderful example of the light and love that can come from traditional practices.

Debra Courchene smudging sage and the best incense for spiritual and ritual cleansing.

A brief word of warning: the key is to find authentic white sage. Like palo santo, there are a number of fake sage products out there. Do your research and make sure you’re shopping from a reputable provider.

(Pssst – we’re one of those reputable providers.)

Palo Santo

Speaking of palo santo… This ancient spiritual and mystical tool has been used for centuries by the various indigenous peoples of the regions now called Central and South America. 

Palo santo’s scientific name is bursera graveolens, and it’s a wild tree that grows in Mexico, Peru, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Galápagos Islands, and mainland Ecuador. It comes from the same family (Burseraceae) as frankincense and myrrh. 

Spanish conquistadors took note of the dried tree’s use by shamans and, in turn, gave the dried and cured sticks of bursera graveolens the name “palo santo”, which simply means “holy wood” in Spanish.

Much like sage, palo santo is a whole and natural element you can burn and smudge. It’s not a blended and manufactured product. It’s typical to hold the sticks in your hand and intentionally and reverently spread the smoke throughout your space. 

Woman meditating with the best incense for spiritual and ritual cleansing.

Palo santo has been and is used for cleansing and calming purposes. Like sage, you should always do your research with palo santo. Not only is there a lot of fake stuff out there, but it’s notoriously harmful to the environment if not harvested correctly. What’s more, it's commonly mistaken for a completely different (and endangered!) species: bulnesia sarmientoi, which is, confusingly, also called “palo santo”. That palo santo is a dark and mahogany-like wood that’s used for its essential oils and making products, like furniture.

Eucalyptus Incense

Eucalyptus is another traditional shrub that’s been used as whole-plant medicine for centuries. Eucalyptus has been used as a natural insect repellent, antioxidant, pain remedy, anti-inflammatory, and even a topical burn treatment — and it’s still used in these ways today! 

(Snaps to Western capitalist cultures actually recognizing the true value of plants as medicine – for a change – in the case of eucalyptus!)

When used in the form of incense for spiritual and ritual cleansing, eucalyptus is a perfect complement to any number of practices. Specifically, can augment and enhance yoga, meditation, reiki, and crystal work.

Jasmine Incense

Jasmine is another shrub that’s been used as actual medicine! It possesses  curative and restorative properties plus – heads up to the lovers out there – jasmine is also known as a traditional aphrodisiac. (waggles eyebrows)

Even its fragrance is known to be a pain reliever and soother of stress, and as a result can be a powerful incense for spiritual and ritual cleansing. Its sweet scent helps users to relax and focus, leaving your mind at ease and better able to tap into your higher self. Jasmine incense is also a common sleep-aid used by those who suffer from restless nights.

The best incense for spiritual and ritual cleansing burning on a windowsill.

We’ve Only Just Begun

This lil’ post is really just a primer–a brief introduction to the various types of incense used for spiritual and ritual cleansing! There are so many more traditional shrubs, trees, and flowers out there also used for therapeutic and spiritual purposes. 

The fact is: Burning incense and using fragrant plants as medicine is as old as human civilization. It is a practice that knows no bounds. Using incense for spiritual and ritual cleansing crosses cultural divides; it’s something that unites us all.

Watch this space for more info to help you tune into the spiritual and mystical realms, armed with a couple of ruli sticks. Yeah thas’ right – we don’t just provide carefully crafted incense for spiritual and ritual cleansing — we want to explore the facts and history behind it, too. Stay tuned for more!