For my practice of witchcraft, I like to create my own herbal incense recipes. I choose ingredients whose magickal correspondences are appropriate to the goal of whatever rite or spell is afoot. I like to start with a look at the astrological goings and flowings of the moment. For example, let’s make one for Lammas Sabbat, the witch’s solar celebration of High Summer, which rolls around at the midpoint of Leo, or 15º of Leo.
From there I ask which element, planetary ruler or gender corresponds to my intention? For Lammas in Leo, I’d be looking at the element of Fire. Leo is ruled by the Sun, which is literally a ball of burning plasma, so back to fire. All of these energies are generally masculine and projective, active and go get ’em, which is as summery as it gets to me! This works out just fine for my solar celebration of the Divine Masculine, anyway. Hail to the Hot Gods!
After that, I get personal with my choices. What smells invoke the feeling of the season for me? What smells do I think will work nicely together? What do I happen to have in my witchy cupboards at the moment? I also consider what may be growing near where I live, right now. What is sustainably abundant, harming none?
For example, when I think of summer, I think of the blazing hot sun. I think of the tilled earth of the garden, shaded now by the tall veggies that hang heavy with fruit and vegetables. I think of hard work, sweat, and the juicy payoff of home grown tomatoes in the end. So I might opt for earthy, sunny, fiery choices.
There are many great reference books out there for correspondences, but an old standard is Scott Cunningham’s Complete book of Incense, Oils and Brews (Llewellyn 1989), and his Encyclopedia of Magical Herbalism (Llewellyn 1985). I’m also loving Amy Blackthorn’s Botanical Magic: The Green Witch’s Guide to Essential Oils for Spellcraft, Ritual and Healing (Weiser, 2018)
Lammas Incense Blend
- 1 part Powdered Cinnamon Bark: Sun, Fire, Leo
- 1 part Powdered Oak Bark: Sun, Fire
- 3 parts Powdered Copal Resin: Leo, Fire, Sun
- 1 part Juniper Berry and/or Leaf Tips: Leo, Fire, Sun
- 1 part Rosemary Leaf: Leo, Fire, Sun
- 1 part Orange Peel: Fire, Sun, Summer fruits!
- Optional: 3 drops each of any essential oil you would like to add, Cinnamon, Rosemary, Orange are easy to find.
- 3 chips of Sunstone or Red Aventurine
- 1 tsp or more, as needed, honey to bind: Sun, earth, bees!
In this case, “1 part” might just need to be a heaping teaspoon, to make enough over-all for use in just one personal Lammas rite, with a little extra. But if you have a big event planned, and want copious smoke thrown on a bonfire, then 1 part might need to be tablespoon, or you can go up from there. Adjust amount of honey accordingly. Store your blend in glass jar that seals tightly, and preferably of a darker color, shielding the blend from sunlight. A jar opening larger than a small spoon is helpful, so you can easily scoop it out, and clean it later. I like 4 oz mason jars for my personal use.
Set the stage for your work. Dedicate a stretch of counter-space or a table top. Nothing fancy is required, just some functional place near your herb cabinet that is orderly, clean and gives you a sense of purpose. Consider using only natural materials such as wood, metal, glass or earthenware to prepare and store your herbal blends. This need not be your altar, but a candle sets the mood and opens the space for spiritual business. Use color correspondence to deepen the symbolism. For Lammas Work, I like to utilize the color red. But you make sure to select whatever means “Summer” to you.
Statement of Intent:
Ground and center yourself. Begin with a simple prayer for aid or a statement of intent:
“By wind and rain and spark and wood, guide me toward my highest good, harming none. So mote it be!”
Grinding and Blending:Into your mortar and pestle, add each ingredient by name, starting first with large or chunkier ones that need the most grinding. Do so with reverence and a touch of drama. State out loud the name and attribute, such as: “Cinnamon Bark for Life’s Fiery Zest! Copal for the Bright Sun!” Know WHY you are including each ingredient, and make sure the ingredient knows what it is there to do, too!
Focus on its intent as you grind in a circular movement. Remember, in the Northern Hemisphere, deosil (clockwise) builds and creates while widdershins (counter clockwise) tears down and banishes. I tend to add ingredients in this order: Resins, woods/roots/tough botanicals, then the leafy and soft dried botanicals.
Lastly, add the drops of essential oils and honey, stirring well and fluffing with a fork. Then in go the three stone chips. Thanks to the law of contagion it doesn’t take many, but I tend to do everything in multiples of 3, or better yet, 9.
While stirring, I put symbolism knowledge to work. Any symbol is game if it means something appropriate to the work. I might carve the alchemical symbol of fire, or the planetary glyph for the sun and Leo. I inevitably will draw an invoking pentacle into the work with my athame as I charge it. I just can’t help myself! You can be chanting your spell as you mix, rhyming adds to the power and witchyness exponentially.
Here is a ditty I just came up with:
Lammas tides are turning, turning
Sun is shining, light the Work!
Lammas rites are burning, burning
Summer peaks, Ignite the Work!
When finished, tap the spoon on the edge of the mortar with authority and state, “It is done!” Transfer the blend into the storage container, which can also be inscribed with symbols for the sun, fire, and Leo. However, leave the lid off so that the mixture can settle and dry for up to 6 hours before you burn over coals or close for long-term storage.
Charging the blend:
Breath deeply and hold the jar between your hands, shifting your consciousness into the herbs. Visualize them aligning, resonating as one like notes in a chord of “summer.” Tap your own power into the sun. See yourself glowing with red, fiery light and full of strength and courage of Leo. Build your energy from your crown down to your feet, and then release it from the palms of your hands into the incense.
The power is transferred to the jar. State aloud what you intend, “By Lord and Lady, earth and sky, I charge you as my Lammas Incense, when lit, release the joys and strengths of summer.” Or something like that. Elaborate in whatever poetic way you’d like. End with “So mote it be” and accept that the work is complete and good.
Burning your Incense:
In a charcoal incense burner, or in a heat-safe dish on a thick layer of sand, light a charcoal tab (the kind usually sold for hooka pipes), and carefully set it on the sand. After the sparks have completely passed over the tab, spoon your loose incense blend onto the coal in 1/2 teaspoon increments. With the spoon, you can kick the ash off and add more incense as you desire. How does it smell? Allow the smoke to waft over you, and pay close attention to the shifts in energies in the space. From there, adjust the blend as you see fit.
For examples of a full Lammas ritual, check this one out!
Joyous and abundant summers to you all!
**Never use synthetic fragrance oils in magickal herbalism–they are a chemical cocktail of lies, and will not elicit the aid of the plant spirit as your magick intends. Smelling nice is not the same thing as using the key of the plant DNA or essence to unlock the door to that plant realm and partner with the collective consciousness of that species.