Herbs, Incense, and Oils

by Rev. Gina Pond, November 2010, updated January 2014

Learning About Herbs and Oils

There are many books out there that can teach about the uses of herbs and their essential oils. Here is a suggested list of books that I can recommend:

Certain spirits and deities will have specific recommendations, and, if you can, you can ask them for what they recommend. Some spirits and deities will actually teach you about herbs and oils for magickal purposes. With the books above for reference, and talking with the spirits, you can get a pretty thorough eduction.

There are also herb classes in most areas. For these, Google is your friend. The Bay Area has a lot of herb and oil resources, and if you have a significant call to learn, we recommend looking them up.

Always research the herb or oil you wish to use. Some herbs are fine in plant form, but can be poisonous as an essential oil. Some are poisonous when burned or ingested. Good research before use will make sure you don’t poison anyone.

Incense

The best incenses are ones that you make yourself, but using pre-made sticks or cones can work just fine. Just be aware of who is coming to your ritual: can they deal with a lot of incense on a charcoal burner, or would it be better to use an incense stick that doesn’t smoke up the room. Or, in some cases, you might not be able to use incense at all.

Commercial incenses are good if you are out of charcoal/herbs, or can’t use, or do not have a receptacle for a piece of charcoal. We recommend using incenses that you can confirm are made from natural sources. The more perfume-like incenses can be too much for some people and sometimes can have a bad after-smell when it is done burning. Natural food stores typically have the better incenses, but always read the package and use your nose. You can always research online for a good quality supplier.

Herbs burned on a charcoal work extremely well for any ritual and is pretty traditional. There are many books out there that will give recipes for incenses for particular purposes and holidays, and while most of these will work as described, they are best used as suggestions. For any incense you make, make sure you test them first (preferably with a friend)! Some herbs, while having good correspondences for the ritual, smell pretty nasty when burned. Or sometimes something that smells nice to you will stink out a circle, or even be poisonous!

Herbs burned on a charcoal work extremely well for any ritual and is pretty traditional. There are many books out there that will give recipes for incenses for particular purposes and holidays, and while most of these will work as described, they are best used as suggestions. For any incense you make, make sure you test them first (preferably with a friend)! Some herbs, while having good correspondences for the ritual, smell pretty nasty when burned. Or sometimes something that smells nice to you will stink out a circle, or even be poisonous!

The usual herbs we try and have on hand for general purpose use are:

  • Frankincense (resin)
  • Myrrh (resin)
  • Sage (dry herb)
  • Sandalwood (powder)

Frankincense, myrrh, and sage are all purification herbs, and are good for pretty much any ritual you want to run. Sandalwood powder is good for meditation, and is also an excellent base for incense mixtures. We generally try to make a fresh incense for each holiday, and we also have a special mixture for initiation. Again, asking the deities you work with, or will be working with, for a ritual about which herbs they would like generally helps (unless they want an herb you don’t have!).

Essential Oils

Essential oils have a variety of uses from household to magickal. As with fresh and dried herbs, it’s best to learn as much as you can about the use and mixing of essential oils before you use them. There are some oils that are good in anything, some oils that are only useful in small amounts, or some that are very poisonous. It is best to dilute all essential oils in a base oil such as jojoba oil, sweet almond oil, grape seed oil, olive oil, etc. Remember, with essential oils, less is more. It does not take a lot of the plant essence to make a good smelling and useful oil.

Anointing Oils: Essential oils are an easy way to make several different kinds of anointing oils, and you are only limited by your imagination (and your wallet if you tend to go for the more exotic oils). If there is a specific herb that an entity you work with particularly likes, you can make an easy anointing oil by adding few drops of the oil to a base oil. There are several oils that will have a sedative or meditative effect. These are really good for anointing oils for any type of journey work. Also, be aware that there are oils, such as clary sage, that, in small amounts can be a sedative, but in large amounts can produce hallucinations (If you want to know how I know, you can ask me). Again, research before you mix.

Incense Substitute: You cannot always bring incense to every place you will be doing magick. Hospitals, hotels, hospice, or high fire danger areas will not allow open flames or anything that could create an open flame. Essential oils will work just as well, if scent is allowed. A few drops on a cotton ball or tissue will scent a whole room very quickly. As mentioned elsewhere, know about the place you are doing your working. If there is anyone who has allergies to any scents (incense, oils, or otherwise), or you are working in a space where scents are not allowed, use something else that will represent air instead (feather, blowing air around the circle with your mouth, etc).