On the process of soaking incense, “Shaman” and “Evocation” incense blends
The process of maceration of some ingredients such as dates, raisins, resins, in wine is definitely one of the most ancient way to create incense for sacred purposes. It was in use since Ancient Egypt, where the kyphi was the sacred templar blend, obtained from the maceration of raisins, olibanum, myrrh, juniper, calamus, and other ingredients in wine and honey, and then boiled, as reported by Plutarch in De Iside et Osiride. Honey, wine, beer and other alcoholic beverages have always played a sacred role in the Tradition, being one of the main offers to the Gods or a vehicle through which obtain an higher knowledge or divine inspiration (like the sacred mead of Norse Tradition). Furthermore, alcoholic beverages and honey are natural antiseptics: by sterilising the raw materials they prevent the formation of bacteria, favouring at the same time the conservation even in non-optimal conditions.
The choice of herbs and resins to macerate is even more relevant than the choice of the sacred beverage, because each one has its own Spirit, function, attitudes and powers. From the Shamanic prospective, every plant could be an ally that grants power to enter the supernatural dimension, conjures ultramundane forces, awakens other Spirits and opens the gateways for the (shamanic) journey. Of course, the plant must be correctly handled and consecrated, its Spirit must be awakened and, even more important, it’s essential to make an alliance with it, based on respect and veneration. It is really important to understand the true voice and power of every Spirit, since each one is different from the other: even from one plant to another of the same species something may change, and this is particularly true for those anthropomorphic roots such as Mandragora.
The most difficult passage is the choice of the blend of herbs, since it defines the character and power of the final product. In order to make the best choice one should know as well as possible the characteristics and powers of the Spirits and the natural properties of every plant, with particular attention to those venefic ingredients so relevant for witchcraft, but also so dangerous. Furthermore, what happens to the poisonous chemicals when in contact with other substances should be a matter of careful study – after all, witchcraft and in particular the art of incense is halfway between magic, alchemy and chemistry, and none of these subjects is less relevant than the others. The chemical composition of a plant is interesting for multiple reasons: first of all, it defines which substances are released into the environment when the incense is burned and, undoubtedly, part of its magical properties depends on it. In the second measure, it is necessary to define the toxicity: sometimes a non-toxic herb for ingestion, infusion or contact, could turn out to be poisonous if burned (such as Ruta graveolens that is slightly poisonous and for the most without any consequence, or Hydrangea macrophylla that is rather poisonous and potentially mortal).
It is really important to keep in mind that maceration is basically a process of dissolution of the inner Spirits of the raw materials into the liquid in which they are soaked. This process, that “transfers” the Spirit from the solid to the liquid form must be well mastered, because it corrupts easily. In fact, when water is used decomposition may occur meanwhile when alcoholics or sugary liquids are used, fermentation is just round the corner – and both of them represent a degeneration of the correct process. Every liquid and herb has its own time, as well as every purpose, and they must be perfectly complied.
For the liquid form is more rarefied than the solid form, whenever a Spirit is released from its material vessel, it is more powerful (in the strict sense) and for this reason it is more free to act, facilitated to manifest its power easily and in a more complete and deep way. This allows to create more powerful blends, but they are more dangerous as well, because every force is exalted and wild, to the point that its manifestation may come forth with the complete submersion of the adept.
Finally, unlike the tincturing process, that use the spirit (aqua vitae) for the soaking, the process for the creation of macerated incense uses non distilled alcoholics, as for example wine or beer that are only fermented ones. For this reason, they already have got their own character and a sort of embryonic Spirit or vitality that makes them perfect both as an offer or as a “womb” in which incubate a complex blend of herbs. Working an incense this way means to gather all powers, all characteristics and attitudes of every Spirit associated with herbs, resins and other substances, and synthesize them in a transcendent form and force, giving birth to the unique Spirit of the blend.
Starting from all these ideas, on the Spring Equinox night we began the maceration in beer and honey of nine herbs traditionally considered shamanic in our territory (Shaman Incense). Of course, the shamanic elements may vary from one land to another, according to the culture, the flora and fauna. In the north of Italy, near the Alps, where we collected the most part of our ingredients, the local folklore about herbs received the influence from the Roman culture, but most of all from the Gaelic and German tribes. For this reason, many traits of our local tradition (that of the Lake Como) are really close to Germanic elements, and we can easily find a lot of correspondences with Norse tradition too, in a continuity that brings back to Scandinavian shamanism. So it should not be surprising, if our work often refers to other continental traditions.
To create a complete blend with a strong Spirit for every shamanic work (such as shamanic journey, healing, protection, fetiche awakening, connection with the territory), we selected nine herbs with peculiar powers and well evident characteristics. Among them, there are four ingredients particularly dear to us.
The first one is hawthorn, omnipresent in our territory and dominant over the rest of the flora in one of our harvesting place. In fact, along the river Ticino, famous for various legends and supernatural manifestations, the Spirit of the Hawthorn is our guide – he was the first Spirit who observed our work, first protecting some areas and then showing us the safe ways to travel in his reign. It is a deep rooted Spirit here, fiery and with a warrior character, with a tendency to a veneration based on blood offerings, as its martial nature exacts.
The second is St. John’s worth, whose solar nature is perfectly represented by its yellow flowers. As per Tradition, it has been harvested during the Summer Solstice and Saint John’s Night, thanks to a special friend that always trades it with us. For us, St. John’s wort is a symbol of cooperation and brightness, both spiritual and intellectual. Hypericum is a sacred herb and the power of the Sun is completely manifested in it, related to all its positive qualities such as healing, protection and purification. It is important to keep in mind that beyond the positive attributes, the influence of the Sun is also considered negative, responsible for the process of blackness, that is the complete dehydration of matter through heat, until the complete carbonisation. This malevolent aspect of the Sun is particularly related to the nature of the Black Sun and symbolised by the raven. Furthermore, St. John’s worth is traditionally used for the evocation of the most beneficial and celestial Spirits, and its smoke represents a powerful vehicle to connect the spiritual words, similar for power, but different in nature, to the tobacco.
In the end, there are rue and mistletoe. Both of them are slightly poisonous while burned, but the attitude of their Spirits is different. While the rue is active and brings vitality (both as healing and protection, and frenzy because its martial nature) warding from every negativity, mistletoe is passive and related to the circulation of the (astral) fluids in the body, as it was used to treat high blood pressure. Traditionally, mistletoe is related to dream magic: there are a plenty of legends that consider it as a green passage for more ethereal dimensions.
In the end, there are five other herbs in the blend: one for power, one for love, one for wealth, one for curse and one for death; plus beer and honey.
One year ago, in August, during the Dog Days, we begun the preparation of another macerated incense (Evocation Incense) dedicated to the conjuring of Spirits. Differently from Shaman Incense, this is a more generic blend obtained following step by step the process used in Ancient Egypt for the making of kyphi.
The most part of the ingredients are the classical ones (raisins, dates, juniper, myrrh, olibanum, wine, honey). Plus we added some herbs traditionally related to evocation. Among them, the most interesting is for sure dittany of Crete, specific of Western ceremonial magic.
In modern times, Origanum dictamus became related to Hekate and Saturn, but in ancient times it was considered for the most a Venusian plant connected to love magic. There are several legends in Ancient Greece that describe how woman harvested this plant when in bloom to conquest their lovers or attract a husband.
In the Aegean region dittany was used for the most as an healing herb because its antiseptic properties, and to relieve the pain of the childbirth. Probably these two quality made it a herb related to the Mother Goddess, responsible for the healing of his children and patron of pregnant woman.