VietnamCulture and HistoryHow to Make Incense

How to Make Incense

Incense has been invented and used for a very long time, about 6,000 years ago, yet the types of incense have varied widely since then and the process of making it remains very simple.

Incense Alterations

There are many ways to categorize incense, based on its smells, shapes, or ingredients. In this article, incense will be divided into two main types according to the making process and usage: combustible incense and non-combustible incense.

Combustible incense (cone, stick, and coil incense): this type has a glue material and a combustible material that is mixed together to make the incense. This makes combustible incense burn slower and is easy to use. There are two forms of combustible incense, the straight stick and the spiral one. They are usually used for religious purposes; therefore, you can easily see them while getting around churches or temples in Vietnam.

Incense stick

Stick incense

Incense coil

Coil incense

Incense cone

Cone incense

Non-combustible incense (commonly known as loose incense): this one is less popular in Vietnam than the first one because of its more complex use.

Incense 1

Loose incense is a mixture of many herbs

How to Make Incense

Both kinds of incense are extremely easy to make. Moreover, the making process does not require much equipment. First of all, you need to determine what kinds of incense you want to make, combustible incense or non-combustible incense. Below are the tutorials for both of them.

How to make incense that is combustible

Ingredients: 

  • bamboo
  • bark powder from the O Duoc tree (a species that is similar to the Cinnamon tree). It is a tree growing in the southern provinces of Vietnam. The bark of this tree has aromatic oil and is able to stick firmly like glue.
  • wood powder that contains fragrances like Agarwood, Blackbutt, and Cinnamon

Firstly, split the incense sticks, which are usually made from bamboo. The bamboo should not be too young and not too old. These bamboo trees are cut into small stripes, then soaked in water and dried in the sun. This step will make the incense stick burn easier. After that, these bamboo sticks are dyed red underneath to make them more eye-catching.

Incense 2

Dying the sticks of incense in an incense-making village in Northern Vietnam

In the following step, grind the powder and wood powder to make sure they are smooth. This mixture will coat the outside of the bamboo sticks.

And the last step in the production process is drying. This type of incense will be dried in the sun or air dried to reduce the amount of water vapor in them, ensuring they can be burnt easily.

Incense 3

Drying incense

How to make non-combustible incense (commonly called pellets or loose ingredients)

This one is simply a mixture of ingredients which can be herbs like lavender or wood powders. You can combine anything depending on your reference to bring out the smell that suits you the most.

How to Use the Incense In Vietnam

If you use cone incense or stick incense, you just need to light one end of the cone or stick, fan out the flame and allow it to burn slowly. That is why this kind of incense is popular in Vietnam in religious rituals.

incense 4

Light the stick incense

In case you use loose incense, you will need to use specialized charcoal (not the type of charcoal used in BBQ) and a dish or bowl. Firstly, hold one end of the charcoal carefully (you can use a utensil instead) and burn it on the other side, you will see the charcoal spark, and the flame keep moving around the charcoal. Slowly set it in the center of the bowl or dish. After that, sprinkle the incense mixture directly on top of the charcoal, which will heat the materials and release its fragrance into the air. This type of incense was common in the past in Vietnam to create a scent in the room, but because the way to use it is complicated, it is no longer popular.

incense 8

Heat the loose incense

Meaning of Using the Incense in Vietnam

According to archaeological documents, the liturgy, involving burning incense for the ancestors and gods appeared nearly 6,000 years ago.

In terms of religion, Vietnamese believe that lighting incense is the bridge connecting the visible world to the invisible world. Therefore, on the full moon day, death memorial, funeral, or Ghost Month, Vietnamese usually burn incense to remember and show respect for their ancestors while praying good things for their families. This is a cultural heritage, contributing to the preservation of values and national identity.

Moreover, at the funeral, when burning incense for the dead, there is a difference compared to burning incense for ancestors. According to Vietnam folklore, the new mortal should be offered only 2 incense sticks since the soul still remains in our world. Thus, three days after death, 3 incense sticks are inscribed with the meaning that the soul of the dead has left as well.

In fact, each number of incense sticks has a certain meaning such as:

  • 1 incense stick: symbolize the heart, often use when praying for peace or good business.
  • 2 incense sticks: praying for the salvation of the dead; used in the mourning period, until the funeral ends.
  • 3 incense compressions: there are many ritual meanings, especially in Buddhism, which explains why there are usually three big censers placed in the temple yard.
  • 5 incense stickers: symbolize Kim-Moc-Thuy-Hoa-Tho. 5 elements of the Earth.
  • 7 and 9 incense: praying for good things to happen.

However, 9 or 1 incense sticks have the same meaning, which is sincerity. It also means impermanence, an extremely important lesson in Buddha. Everything in life is temporary; the time of one life is as short as the time the incense is burnt out.

incense 9

Incense offering

The Use and Benefits Of Using Incense

Besides its spiritual use in ancestor worships, incense is also used in daily life in order to purify the air, keep your spirit up, chase away insects, ease your mind in physical training (yoga), and practice meditation.

Additionally, the aroma of incense might have positive effects on our health such as easing headaches, and relieving eye strain because of its soothing fragrance.

incense 5

Fragrance incense

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Summary of How to Make Incense

Incense has been used commonly not only in religious sites such as churches or temples because of its spiritual meaning which is deeply rooted in Vietnamese culture and Vietnamese superstitions. However, nowadays, incense is also used in healing therapies thanks to its invigorating aroma and its inexpensive cost.

Since its sophisticated smell, some people think the process of how to make incense might be complex; however, it is easy to use and extremely simple to make. There are several types of incense packaging and incense scent for you out there to choose.

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