Author: Carl F. Neal
Trade Paperback, 240 pages
Publication date: September 2003
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Incense is an important part of many religious and magickal rituals, as well as having many mundane uses such as covering the smell of a burnt culinary disaster. Many people have questions about how the most common type of commercial stick incenses are made and might like to try their hand at making their own, more traditional, incenses if only they knew how. Carl Neal's Incense: Crafting & Use of Magickal Scents provides that knowledge is a relatively understandable format.
In his introduction, Neal explains the history of incense and why he believes one might want to make one's own. For example, if you are allergic to incense, you might actually be allergic to some of the chemicals that sometimes end up in commercial incenses and might be able to burn more homemade incense -- where you control the ingredients -- with fewer problems. The first chapter discusses the various forms incense can come in -- and the advantages and disadvantages of each. The second chapter talks about the many types of aromatics, bases, and binders that can be used in making incense. The third charter explains how to use the various forms of incense and the various types of "incense burners" available.
After this introduction to incense, Neal devotes the rest of the book to making incense. There are chapters on selecting and buying raw materials, the tools and work areas needed, the actual process of making incense, and a large selection of incense recipes (as well as information on experimenting to develop your own recipes). The final chapter is on troubleshooting. It's arranged like those charts in the back of many owner's manuals for electronic productions where the symptoms of the problem are listed in one column and advice for correcting the problem in another. This small section alone is probably worth the price of the book for the beginning incense maker.
A number of appendixes round out the book. In addition to the expected one on ingredients and locating materials, there are appendixes on the ritual use or incense, and possible philosophical/ethical issues in incense making. The final appendix on the Japanese art of listening to incense was the most interesting to me. The book concludes with a glossary, short bibliography, and an index.
Incense: Crafting & Use of Magickal Scents is an impressive book on an subject that has not been done to death in other books. While Neal will not win any awards for writing, the information in the book is relatively clear and fairly easy to follow despite not being arranged to best effect in some chapters. If you are interesting in making your own incense, or just what to know more about incense and how it is made, you'll want a copy of this book. Despite a few rough edges in the writing department, this book has the "smell" of a how-to classic.
Reviewed by Randall Sapphire