What To Do When You Can’t Burn Incense

Recently, a student in my Dedicant witchcraft class asked how to substitute incense for magickal purposes, and I realized many of us have found ourselves in a similar situation. There may be many reasons why burning incense is not an option for you.  Like the questioner, the smoke can pose a health concern, or you may be in an environment where burning is not an option. Whatever the reason, it is possible to create a workaround , and the alternative is going to depend on what you are trying to accomplish with the botanical.

Incense is burned for many reasons in spiritual practice.  The burning of botanicals has long been used to carry prayers and offerings to the gods, spirits, and ancestors. We use the smoke to represent the Element of Air on our altars.  We create herbal blends to access the Elemental and Planetary correspondences associated with the plants for our spells and rituals.  We may be seeking to alter the energetic vibrations of our environment, or we may be seeking physiological effects the herb has on the body, for example assisting one in achieving a trance state.

To choose an effective alternative to burning incense, you must determine what you are trying to accomplish and what method will help you achieve the same results. 

  • Use essential oils in a diffuser as an alternative to burning incense to improve the energetic vibrations of a room or space.
  • Burn candles to petition the gods, spirits, or ancestors, or substitute food as an offering.
  • The use of feathers, colors, music produced by wind instruments, etc. can substitute for smoke as a representation of Air in ritual.  By fulling studying and understanding Elemental correspondences you will realize the choices are endless.
  • To still work with the botanicals directly, you can choose a different method such as making a sachet, poppet, or witch’s bottle.
  • If you are seeking the physical effects of the botanical on the body, you could make a brew/tea, an herbal bath, or tincture.

Here is a suggestion on how to convert an altar incense recipe to an essential oil blend. 

Altar Incense

3 parts Frankincense resin

3 parts Myrrh resin

1 part Red Sandalwood

The herbs need to be ground finely using a mortar and pestle or an electric grinder. Burn over charcoal.

Altar Oil

To convert to an oil blend, choose a clean, 10 ml glass vial to blend your oil. Choose a base oil for your blend. Common base oils are grapeseed, sunflower, olive oil, and sunflower. However, I prefer jojoba oil because it has a significantly higher shelf life and does not go rancid like the vegetable oils may.  Fill you glass vial 2/3 full.  Using a dropper, begin adding the other oils in the blend.

3 drops Frankincense oil

3 drops Myrrh oil

1 drop Sandalwood oil

Place the lid on the vial and begin slowly swirling the bottle to blend.  Label and store out of sunlight.  

There are myriad ways to use botanicals that do not require them to be burned. Think about what you are trying to accomplish and decide what the best method will be for that purpose.  Get creative! And remember trial and error is half the fun of witchcraft.

Jennifer Bower is a witch, healer, and teacher in Charlotte, NC.  Her background combines education and experience in psychology and social work, training and extensive work in energy healing, and research and scholarship in neopagan theology and philosophy. Jennifer is the owner of Liminal Spaces and Liminal Spaces Mystery School where she also teaches several classes and is active in the local spiritual community.  She leads a local coven in the Ignis Spirae Tradition.

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