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Ancestral Feast Incense

Ancestral Feast Incense

Ancestral Feast Incense was created originally as a Five-Copals blend. The intent behind it was to have a special incense to burn to honour our ancestors. I have first used it in summer of 2019, when my grandma was struggling with death, and I was sure I am visiting her for the last time before she enters the gate to the other side. If you've ever been near a dying person, you may not be surprised to hear that she was communing with all her beloved that passed before her - her mother, father, and grandmother, and also her late husband (my grandfather) and her soul-mate that she was able to happily spend her later years with. I burnt this incense then to soothe her soul, and also burnt this on her funeral and continue to do this whenever I want to honour my ancestors, a practice I started a few years ago, and which I fell very important especially now after her passing.

Why copal you may ask? The word comes from copalii in the Nauhatl language (an Uto-Atzecan tongue), which simply means incense!

The smoke of copal of Central and South America (which comes from several different species, which I will get into in a bit) was considered the blood of the trees and food for the Gods, and also used in rituals and ceremonies to feed the soul of the deceased, and also used as a medicine to this day during sweatlodge ceremonies, where it is placed on the hot rocks within the lodge.

In a ceremonial well in Chichén Itzá, Copal pieces painted turquoise, and sometimes embedded with jade - supposedly a reference for the jade pieces that were placed in the mouths of the dead, to nourish them on their journey to the underworld (as jade was a symbol for the maise that was the most staple food in this part of the world). Additionally, among archeological findings in Lake Chapala and Nevado de Toluca were pieces of copal resin that were shaped into cobs of corn, or wrapped in corn husks like tamales, a custom that remained intact even after the Spanish conquest.  

So what is copal, then, and which plants does it come from? Botanically speaking, many resins other than frankincense that are light in colour, often are named copal. It comes from a variety of genus, primarily Bursera, and also Pinus and Agathis. In North America, we find Mayan Copal from Pinus contorta, that grows in the USA and produces a brittle, light brown and beige resin; while White Copal (Bursera jorullense), from Mexico, which is more of a clear, light yellow and sticky resin. Bursera is related to Palo Santo (Bursera graveolens), as well as to Black, White and Gold Copal from the Philippines are all produced from the same species - Agathis Dammara. From Africa there is Angola Copal (Copaifera demusii), and Zanzibar Copal or Amber Tree (Hymenaea verrucosa), which was used for wood and picture varnish. Most of the African copal is subfossil, meaning it is found a few meters deep in the earth below the trees it originates from. Subfossil copals also come from various other species  found all over the world: New Zealand (Agathis australis), Japan, Madagascar and in South America in the Dominican Republic and Columbia. 

This new batch of incense is a little different (with sixth kind of copal added: Angola Copal), thus making it an incense blend that has resins from 4 continents: North and South America, Asia and Africa. The base is also more complex and balanced with this blend, and I'm very happy with it.

I was able to make a larger batch than my original one, and roll some into cones, and others make into incense sticks. This is the first time I'm selling my incense sticks online, after much practice and although they are far from being perfect in shape - they are handmade, authentic and beautiful. I truly hope they will bring you the healing and connection that you are seeking with your own spirit and that of your ancestors.

To burn incense cones: Place the cone on a heat-proof dish or on a surface that you won't mind scorching (for example: a coin placed on top of a ceramic plate or tile; a ceramic bowl filled with sand, etc.), and away from any flammable materials, light the tip and blow off the flame. Allow to burn off completely.

To burn the incense sticks: Place the lit stick (light the tip and then blow out the flame) on a bowl full of ash (preferably rice ash). This will enable the stick to burn without any bits left off. If you have a designated incense dish with a hole you may also use that. It will leave a tiny bit of incense unused though.

Ras El Hanout Incense, Three Ways

Ras El Hanout Incense, Three Ways
I ran out of my Ras El Hanout mixture (which I always make myself, using very peculiar spices from my overflowing spice rack). You can see some of them in the images below (how many of them can you guess?).
Ras El Hanout

Ras El Hanout

Ras El Hanout
Most of the grinding is done the old fashioned way using mortar and pestle, as it should be. I believe it is a more direct connection to the material because this way I can smell them as I crrrrrrrush them! Whatever I'm unable to grind fine enough, I will pass on to the electric grinder. I kept most of it for my cooking (nothing beats a homemade couscous topped with a homemade couscous stew spiced with my very own Ras El Hanout!). But some I just felt compelled to burn as incense.
Ras El Hanout Nerikoh Snake
My first idea was making it into nerikoh (kneaded incense, which is not actually burnt but placed on a hot micah plate). Nerikoh traditionally uses honey or plum paste. For this experiment I used a combination of dates and honey. I named these Oasis Nerikoh.
In the picture you are seeing the incense dough shaped as a spiral, and waiting to be hand-rolled into tiny balls.
Ras El Hanout Nerikoh
Ras El Hanout Nerikoh (kneaded incense balls), rolled into a mixture of ras el hanout and sandalwood powder.
Ras El Hanout Incense Sticks
My second attempt at making incense sticks! Practice will eventually make perfect I hope.
 Ras El Hanout Incense, Three Ways
The whole line up, from top to bottom: Ras El Hanout Incense cones, norikoh, incense sticks.
Ras El Hanout Incense, Three Ways
Here they are, all dried up and ready to use! The ornamental brown ceramic dish in the background is my aromatherapy diffuser, which I use to heat up nerikoh.

Incense Course Begins!

Incense Workshop
Today I began teaching my first incense course - a series of incense classes, covering the main burning styles and incense making techniques. Using natural raw materials only, such as precious resins, gums, woods, spices and herbs, we will pulverize, grind and mix together raw materials that were used in incense making since time immemorial.  I am very excited for this workshop - because it is taught to a very special group of women, and also is giving me the push to improve my incense making skills and learn new techniques!

Here's what's planned for the course:

1. Smudge Wands
Introduction to incense history and raw materials. Forage botanicals for making incense wands/smudge stick from wild and local medicinal herbs.

2. Loose Incense
Spotlight on resins and composition of a loose incense using resins, herbs and spices.

3. Kyphi
Relying on an ancient Egyptian recipe, we'll pulverize and grind various resins, herbs, precious woods and spices in a mixture of wine and raisins, and create small pellets that can be burned on a charcoal or electric incense heater or diffuser. You'll be able to pick up the Kyphi you made after a week (or get it mailed to you).

4. Incense Pastilles
Incense "candy" that is made of various type of resins, with added liquid, rolled into balls and burnt on charcoal or on aromatherapy diffuser).
Very suitable for children, as this type of incense is faster to make and does not require long drying time, and can be taken home the same day.

5. Neirkoh
Japanese incense pastilles - like soft incense caramels that are designed for warming on a hot plate rather than burning. Made from complex aromatics and aged for several months.

6. Incense Trails & Body Incense
Unique Japanese technique for incense burning, as well as perfuming the body or cleansing before entering temples for prayer and meditation. This class also serves as preparation for the most complex form of combustible incense.

7. Incense Cones
More technically advanced, this incense is hand-shaped into little cones that can stand on their base and are self burning - just like the more familiar joss-sticks, once they are ignited, they burn slowly from the tip to the bottom. Preparing them requires fine balancing of the ingredients and meticulous shaping, therefore taking much longer. You'll be able to pick up the cones you made after a week (or get them mailed to you).
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