Working with loose incense:
Loose incenses have been used for centuries as a way to cleanse space, honor deity and even bring about mystic states and visions. They general come in 3 forms:
Dry herbs are just as they sound, herbs that have either been dried by you, or one’s you purchase. Keep in mind that some herbs don’t do well used as incense, or at least need special consideration. For example, coriander seeds tend to pop and explode when burned. Cloves smoke like crazy, so you want to be mindful to make sure you have adequate ventilation. Damiana and Mugwort can be hallucinogenic if you use large quantities in a closed in space. Do the research or use a tiny bit if you are unsure of the effects.
Resins are usually found in rock or gum forms, and tend to have a slightly damp, sticky consistency. Dragon’s blood and different forms of copal often come as resins. They burn a bit smoother than other incense, though they can be a little messier as they tend to leave behind less ash and more of a tar like substance.
Powders are just as they sound. Sandalwood, Frankincense, Myrrh and Asphodel are good examples of powder incense. These powdered incense are very dry and tend to burn quite quickly. You also need to be mindful that the powder you buy is not the synthetic crap that is very harmful to be around.
One of the best ways to utilize loose incense is to combine all three. The herbs bring a nice magical property, as do some of the powders, and the resins bind them together and slow down the burning. Mixing the three types, you can really experiment with different blends. I usually do this with a mortar and pestle to get a thorough mix.
To burn loose incense:
You will need something to burn your incense on. While there are numerous loose incense holders, censors and burners, I prefer a small cauldron as it does not heat up as the metal ones do, which can be a pain if you have to move things around while you are working. I do still set the cauldron on a trivet or stone so that if it does heat up, it doesn’t ruin whatever it is sitting on.
You will also need a charcoal tablet, easily purchased from most metaphysical shops, some fairs and a number of Christian shops. I prefer the ones made out of bamboo. They do cost a bit more, but they don’t smell as weird as the charcoal ones, and are less toxic. The ones made from charcoal contain salt peter, which not only makes them light and burn faster, but make them slightly toxic as well. The bamboo ones are more organic and less toxic. You will also need some sand to place in the bottom of your incense holder. This will keep the charcoal from damaging the bottom of the container, and keep any fire that may ensue from getting out of hand. Place the charcoal tab on top of the sand and light. Let it burn for a minute and then blow it out. Then, feed the loose incense onto it a little bit at a time, no more than an eighth of a teaspoon. Be mindful that some loose blends smoke more than others so you are always better off using a little bit at a time.
Loose incense will often smoke more and burn longer than a stick or a cone, so you want to experiment, and be able to ventilate a space if things get out of hand. But, if you take the time and patience to get to know and become comfortable with using loose incense.