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At each of the eight major Celtic celebrations in the year, I like to bring in traditions and rituals that celebrate the three realms of Celtic cosmology: Land, Sea and Sky.

Incense and sacred smoke (some know this as “smudging” or “saining” ) connect us to the realm of Sky, and carry our intentions and prayers through the Air  to our personal deities. Bealtaine is strongly associated with fires and sacred smoke, so each year I make a new Bealtaine incense, or adapt an old favourite. This year I am returning to an old favourite, and may adapt it slightly by adding in some hawthorn flowers or leaves. After all, the hawthorn is known as the Queen of the May, and is strongly associated with Bealtaine.

For me sacred smoke is meaningful and cleansing in so many ways, and I use my blends for each season (Samhain, Winter Solstice, Imbolg, Spring Equinox, etc) throughout the season, not just on the day.

I love how Ojibway writer Richard Wagamese wrote about sacred smoke, and what it means to him, in his book Embers, One Ojibway’s Meditations:

FOR YOU TODAY, my friends,
I raise sacred smoke.
For you who are troubled, confused, doubtful, lonely, afraid, addicted, unwell, bothered or
I raise sacred smoke.
For those of you in sorrow, grief or pain,
I raise sacred smoke.
For those who work for people, for change, for spiritual evolution, for the upward and outward growth of our common humanity and the
well-being of our planet,
I raise sacred smoke.
For those of you in joy, in the glow of small
or great triumphs, who live in love, faith, courage and respect,
I raise sacred smoke.
And, in the act of all of this,
I raise it also for myself.

Considerations for creating sacred smoke

We can create that sacred smoke in many ways.  By simply burning a candle. By lighting a bonfire or piece of wood (some use palo santo, for instance, but I prefer to use non-endangered local indigenous trees). By creating an incense using herbs with magical, healing or spiritual properties.

I love working with loose incense — which typically refers to an incense without its own firestarter, and is added to a charcoal disk or fire to create smoke — as it can be easily made and also be adapted for many purposes. You can burn it on your altar during rituals. You can use it to for smoke medicine (aka smudging). You can throw handfuls into the Bealtaine fire. You can use it in healing, or even just to add fragrance to your Sacred Space. That being said, not all incense has a wonderful aroma as it is a working tool  rather than a fragrance blend, of herbs and other botanicals.

Prepare your Incense Ingredients

When you are making loose incense, first gather all your ingredients and prepare them individually (grind, chop, sift, etc) so that each is finely chopped or powdered, making it easier to measure. If you have made too much for your current project, store in a tightly sealed jar, well-labelled with the ingredient and date prepared. This preparation is important if you want a consistent outcome from the same recipe or formulation each time, as it’s easier to measure when everything has the same texture or consistency. 

I sometimes crush/grind in a mortar and pestle, as in the image above, but you could also use a dedicated electric grinder (I bought a coffee/spice grinder just for this). Please note, however, that the electric grinder is not always ideal for resins, as they can “gum up” the works. I have tried freezing the resin first, and grind in very small batches, so that the heat of the grinder doesn’t work on the resin. It may be simpler to buy powdered resins, rather that chunks.

The recipe shared below is in “parts”,  so you can make any quantity you like — just determine what a “part” is for you, such as by weight (e.g. grams or ounces)  or quantity (e.g. teaspoon or tablespoon). The key thing, for me, about measuring in parts is (yes, I’ll say it again!)  to have everything roughly the same consistency by chopping or crushing with a mortar and pestle. This will make measuring easier, and produce a consistent blend with each batch.

Declare your Intention(s) while preparing

As you work with your ingredients, declare your intention, i.e.  why you are using it or the energies you are calling on from the plants.  It can be as simple as:

  • “I call on the Spirit of Rose to bring love to my life.” 
  • “I call on Mugwort to guide my dreams.”

Add your ingredients to your mixing bowl one at a time. Measure carefully, and if the leaves or blossoms need to be crushed even more, use your mortar and pestle to do so. As you blend the herbs together, state your intention, to charge the loose incense with your energies and what you wish to manifest. 

Recipes / Formulations

Unless otherwise noted, each item mentioned in the recipe below is for a herb, spice or resin. That being said, if you have only essential oils, consider using the parts as drops and make an EO blend for your diffuser or for making room sprays or blessing sprays.

You could also craft your own loose incense using local herbal or floral ingredients that emerge at Bealtaine for you such as woodruff, flowers from the rose family of trees and shrubs, pine needles, berries, spring herbs, etc.

My favourite Bealtaine incense

This recipe is my favourite Bealtaine loose incense, and I make a new batch every spring. I also use it throughout the year just because! I’ve been using it for so long that I can no longer remember the original source, but thank you to whoever created it!

For each “part”, I used 3 grams by weight (roughly just under a teaspoon), so the net yield is 25 grams (just under one ounce imperial weight). You could also measure as one part equaling one teaspoon or one tablespoon, etc. 

  • 3 parts Frankincense resin, Boswellia sacra (I have both chunks and powder, so used the powder)
  • 2 parts Sandalwood,  Santalum spicatum  (I used a ground powdered form)
  • 1 part Cinnamon bark chips,  Cinnamomum verum  (I chopped Into tiny pieces, or you can also use the powdered form)
  • 1 part Rose petals, Rosa damascena. I have also used hawthorn flowers in this, also part of the Rose family.
  • 1 part dried Orange peel, Citrus sinensis

Follow the process noted above in the “Declare your intentions” section.

Once blended, use in your rituals for cleansing and creating sacred space.

Addendum: How to burn loose incense

There are several ways to burn loose incense, including simply tossing onto a bonfire, but most will be burning the loose incense at home. For that, you will need a fireproof heat-safe vessel of some sort, a lighter, and some charcoal tablets. I also like to place a bed of sand or ash on the bottom of the vessel, and a pair of tongs to hold the tablet while igniting it. I have a few items used to burn loose incense, including my cast iron cauldron, an abalone shell, and a metal incense burner (also called a censer).  

Not all charcoal is created alike, so be sure to purchase good quality charcoal tablets (I prefer bamboo charcoal) with no toxins. Some charcoal will be shaped like a round disc, while others might look like a small rectangular tablet (as in the video below).

Be sure to practice fire safety at all times. Do not leave your burning incense unattended. When the charcoal has fully turned to ash, no longer add any loose incense. Instead, let things fully cool. You can then disburse the ashes amongst the existing sand or ash with your tongs or with a spoon. I actually sieve mine to remove any chunks that have remained unburned.

  • Place an inch of more of sand or ash at the bottom of your heat-safe fireproof vessel
  • Pick up a small charcoal tablet with your tongs and ignite the outside edge. You may hear some popping and crackling sounds as it ignites. You may also ignite the opposite edge.
  • Place your tablet centrally in the vessel, atop the sand or ash and let it start to slowly burn. Just as on a barbecue, the charcoal will slowly start to turn a pale grey colour.
  • Once the grey is more widespread, you can start adding a pinch or two of your loose incense to the top of the charcoal tablet.
  • The smouldering tablet will start to burn the loose incense and create smoke. Be careful not to overload the tablet with the loose incense, just a pinch. Add more incense as it slowly burns.

Here is a great video from the Aromahead Institute showing how to burn your loose incense.

From the Aromahead Institute YouTube channel

Bealtaine Blessings!

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