Monday, May 27, 2019


Handmade incense burner.
The air in the desert is sweet and when it rains is laden with the heady scent of creosote and burro bush. And yet we burn incense regularly. It becomes a thread of scent that runs through our days, marking time, and providing consistency.

For convenience we burn stick incense, but twice a week I compound my own incense, burning resinous frankinsence and myrhh, and the leaves of althaea and cat's claw, and occasionally a little loose tobacco, over a charcoal disk. This is an offering to the Spirit.

"And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hand." -- Revelation 8:4 King James Version (KJV)

Cat's claw, or Acacia greggii.
Cat's claw, or Acacia greggii, is a type of acacia native to this part of the Mojave Desert. It is in the same family as  Acacia seyal, the Shittah wood referenced in the Bible, from which the ark of the covenant was made. Cat's claw is one of the last plants to leaf in the spring, but does so with a deep, exuberant green. Cream-colored flowers follow. The harsh heat of June often strips the plant bare. The smoke from cat's claw is a warm, toasty, and welcoming scent. It is traditionally burned to memorialize the dead, and promote psychic abilities.

Althaea, or Malva parviflora.
Althaea, or Malva parviflora, is marsh mallow, a common weed. In my studies I was required to identify, collect, and dry an herb from a list of traditional plants used in folk magic -- mostly from the southern or eastern United States. Because I lived in the desert I was allowed to purchase my plant material at a grocer's or florist's but refused. In the spring I found a large stand of Althaea and with permission cut some down for my sample. The smoke from Althaea is also warm and toasty, but greener, and blends well with cat's claw. It an also be used for a spirit offering, and promotes psychic abilities.

Incense may be compounded for an individual or for a specific circumstance. Scent is strongly linked with memory and certain scents take us back in time, and put us in mind of happy circumstances. Just remember the scent of a pumpkin pie baking in the oven!

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