Jomon Incense Burner

Jomon Incense Burner

Jomon Incense Burner - History

We spend some time on listener comments and correspondence, reading them and responding in kind. Kyle then reads some fascinating news stories about ancient CMEs, and advanced mathematics describing why hipsters are the first to be annoying, anywhere.

After that, we read excerpts from Graham Hancock's book Underworld about the mysterious Jomon people of ancient Japan, whose culture survived for at least 12,000 years. Jomon pottery is by far the oldest pottery ever discovered, by many thousands of years, and they had some oldest known organized planned settlements in the world.

Dragon Aurora

More sky dragons

Definitely a dragon

Drip painting on canvas by Nathan J Taylor, artist's impression of Ezekiel's Wheel

Another artist's impression of Ezekiel's wheel
Jomon site of Sannai-Muryama, reconstructed

Interior of reconstructed Jomon longhouse at Sannai-Muryama
Kuromata Yama in the distance, a sculpted 'pyramid' mountain

Kuromata Yama
Very ancient Jomon stone circles

Jomon circle

Jomon stone circle
Very ancient Jomon pottery, with "rope" impressions

Examples of Jomon pottery

Jomon "incense burner"

Jomon pottery vessel

Ancient fragment of Jomon pottery, with cord marks

Very ancient Jomon pottery

Highly stylized Jomon vessel

Jomon pottery

Jomon maze pattern vase
Tiny birdpoint arrowhead we found, with a dime for relative size
Jomon "Dogu" figurine


Another example of strange Dogu figures

Dogu with characteristic giant slit eyes

Dogu figure

Very old dogu figurine


Showing the relative size of the average Dogu figurine

1 comment:

There is mounting evidence that the Jomon were caucasian. For example, many Jomon skulls show tooth ablation which is not known to occur outside the caucasian race. I have been to many museums in Japan where they try their best to obfuscate the inevitable conclusion. They even claim that the Jomon were genetically identical with modern Japanese people and that they just pulled their teeth out intentionally! Hard to believe since there is strong evidence in the mandibles that the teeth were never there! All mockups of Jomon are shown using Yamato peoples as stand-ins for the politically uncomfortable white Jomon. Edgar Cayce has some very interesting things to say on the subject of Mu related to ancient Japan. Mitochondrial DNA evidence has confirmed absolutely everything he said regarding the movements of ancient peoples.

A Brief History of Jōmon Pottery

Jomon pottery bowl. Sold for £2,250 via Bonhams (November 2014).

As prehistoric works of art, Jōmon pottery vessels are some of the oldest in the world. The name given to this craft was first applied by American scholar Edward S. Morse, who used the term in his book Shell Mounds of Omori (1879) to describe the distinctive decoration on the pottery shards he found. Since the pottery wheel wasn’t invented until the Yayoi period that followed, all vessels created during this time were manual and handworked. Their creation was based on necessity as they were vital tools for boiling water and cooking a vital development for communities located along riverbanks.

Because the Jōmon period comprises an extended period of time and is so culturally diverse, historians and archaeologists often divide it into four key phases, which are outlined below.

Incipient Jōmon (10,500–8000 B.C.)

The earliest phases of the Jōmon period marks the transition from a Paleolithic lifestyle—a more primitive life where humans depended heavily on the environment and climate for survival—to that of the Neolithic, where the discovery of agriculture and animal husbandry allowed them to settle in one area.

Findings from archaeological dig sites indicate that people of the time lived in simple surface dwellings and fed themselves by means of hunting and gathering. Examples of pottery typical of the era included deep, urn-like vessels with tapered, bullet-shaped vases with rudimentary cord markings. They were primarily used for outdoor cooking.

Bowls from the Incipient Period. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Initial Jōmon (8000–5000 B.C.)

Around 10,000 B.C., a gradual climatic warming resulted in raised sea levels, which ultimately separated the islands of Shikoku and Kyūshū from the main island of Honshu. The rise in temperatures inadvertently expanded the food supply as well which most prominently came from the sea. People of the era used stone tools such as grinding rocks, knives, and axes to acquire food and other necessities. Pottery remained similar to that produced in the earlier Incipient period, with a deep center and tapered, bullet-shaped vase.

Early Jōmon (5000–2500 B.C.)

Pottery continued to develop, and vessels of eastern Japan became roughly cylindrical in shape, had flat bottoms, and the walls contained a mixture of vegetable fibre. Pottery was still rather plain in markings, aside from the cord patterns. There is also evidence of trade between the Japanese island and Korean peninsula during this time, which is indicated by a similarity in daily-use goods produced discovered from both regions.

Middle Jōmon (2500–1500 B.C.)

The Middle Jōmon phase marks a high point of Jōmon culture, both in increased population and production of crafts as well as in pottery techniques. Pottery created in the central mountain areas are considered to be the finest of the entire era. Motifs and ornamentation became markedly more extravagant as surfaces were covered with complex patterns of raised lines versus the plain markings seen in earlier periods. There was also an increased production of female figurines, suggesting a rise in ritual practices.

Late Jōmon (1500–1000 B.C.)

As the climate began to cool, a migration began from mountain regions to the coast, where a greater reliance on seafood led to innovations in fishing tools. Motifs and ornamentation reflected this change in landscape, with many pieces from this period depicting animals and snake-like shapes. Pottery became more intricate and elaborate as time went on, and potters became more skilled craftsmen.

Final Jōmon (1000–300 B.C.)

As food became less abundant with a dramatically cooling climate, the population greatly decreased. Regional differences inevitably became more emphasized, as increased contact with the Korean Peninsula eventually led to various Korean-type settlements in western Japan. Nearing the end of the period, two distinct groups of vessels had emerged: plain, rough wares, which had very little decoration, and fine ware with more varied motifs. The simple, more functional type of pottery production increased steadily in preparation for the Yayoi style, which was characterized by clean, functional shapes.

Jomon Incense Burner - History

Cold cold cold. Tokyo is dripping in bleak rain today, and my spirits (and an incessant hangover) have yet to be lifted.

This week's column is called Jomon Ceramics Now. The title, in itself, might sound like a bumbling oxymoron. Jomon pottery is the oldest recorded earthenware in the history of man, dating back approximately 12,000 years from today. That's a long time ago. And to coin a "now" next to Jomon will probably make you shrug your shoulders and wonder why.  

I find in Jomon a primitive, primordial energy that fascinates beyond compare. Not only is it the genesis of Japanese ceramics, but it is one of the first instances of man's flirtations with science, industry, and art. And personally, I find in Jomon the limitations of our so-called humanity. We believe that science is the new religion, and that it can help explain much of the mysteries of the world.

Yet the strength of our science can hardly unravel the history of clay pots from a civilization that, to me, appears much more advanced than how history depicts it to be.

A single glance at the elaborately decorated artifacts on this page sends a deep and probing, enigmatic calling. I believe we are looking at the work of a civilization that cannot be simply pigeonholed as Japanese. Who were our ancestors, and what moved them to physically create such bizarre and curious, brilliant and imaginative representations of some deity or life form not recorded in history?

I write of Jomon Ceramics Now, as the mysteries of Jomon have hardly been tapped to this day. We search for clues, but are left clueless.

Little is known about Jomon pottery. Many will be surprised to find that Jomon was first excavated by the American Edward S. Morse in 1877, 9 years after the Meiji Restoration. It was Morse who discovered earthenware that appeared to date from the Stone Age, along with human remains and stone tools. The advent of stratigraphic dating in later years, or the analyzing of rock and sedimentary strata, evidenced that the geographic layer in which the earthenware was found was considerably older than any sedimentary layer found in the early civilizations of the world, including Egypt and China.

Skeptics could hardly shut their mouths, as the Japanese archipelago was hardly a nestling ground for great civilizations. I too am skeptical, but for different reasons.

I find it hard to believe that Japan saw a flourishing of technological and artistic advances from 10,000 BC to 300 BC, for from 300 BC to 300 AD (the Yayoi period) we see not an upward advancement, but rather, a degradation of the techniques and crafts from the previous age. Yayoi pottery is hardly as elaborate or decorative, and not a single dogu , or clay figurine, is found in the Yayoi.

If these dogu were made as religious symbols, a previously important religion must have died out along with it. Or, as I speculate, the Yayoi man neither had the artistry, technology, nor the religion of the Jomon man. In other words, they seem to be two different races, with two completely different levels of culture. The Jomon man almost seems to have had a far superior culture than the Yayoi man who was born after him.

To call Japanese civilization or culture a homogenic one that had sprung from a single strand of man (as the Meiji government wanted us to believe) is somewhat dubious. (Wahei's note: Fate has me bouncing into more and more like-minded people who doubt the common perceptions of Japanese history, and not surprising is the fact that most of these "comrades" work in art-related fields.)

Of course, I am neither an archeologist nor historian, and I do not purport to exclaim an utter and invariable truth. This observation, or rather, the questioning of our history, comes more from a gut feeling that I receive when looking at the excellence of Jomon pottery. Jomon pottery reaches a zenith of artistic beauty in the middle Jomon, and its legacy mysteriously vanishes as we enter the Yayoi.

It is not until the advent of Hajiki and Sueki wares from Korea in the 5 to 6th centuries AD that we see a new progression in Japanese pottery, especially with the arrival of the potter's wheel and high-temperature kiln firing (which were both techniques from the continent see Timeline for more). Unlike the earthenware of China and Korea, Jomon pottery was made through clay coiling, decorated by imprinting rope patterns on the clay body (hence the name Jomon), and were fired in ditches at temperatures of only 500 to 700 degrees Celsius. These techniques are considerably older and more primitive techniques, but were indigenous and original techniques developed well before the emergence of pottery in other continents.

Were the early Japanese so advanced, even when we think of them as simple-minded, nomadic hunter/gatherers?

The ability to collect, preserve, and cook food with earthenware was surely a huge step for civilization. But if Jomon culture were a primitive look at early man, why would they need to decorate their pottery? It seems as if aesthetics was a large factor in the way they made their pots. And moreover, utility was hardly the focus for such sculptural works as the dogu, or wares such as incense burners. These were undoubtedly religious or talismanic objects, but are made with an extreme and compelling eye for detail and craftsmanship.

Could a primitive culture have made, or rather, even dreamed of such artistically advanced earthenware?

The shako dogu, for example, appears to be wearing some sort of armor or clothing that is unlike anything seen throughout history. What sort of mind could have imagined such a thing, especially if the culture had no conception of clothing aside from the hides of beasts? And even if such a primitive mind could dream of such a decorative figure, isn't it incredible to think that the early mind of Jomon man could actually materialize the internal image into a clay figurine?

And this is not simply one person's doing. A handful of dogu that look extremely similar to the shako dogu has been excavated in numerous locales throughout northern Japan. In other words, a single clan or group did not concoct a singular image in his head. It seems, rather, that the image was readily accepted by all clans that lived in Japan at the time. The figure might have been, in other words, common knowledge. The same goes for the heart-shaped head dogu, as similar figures have been excavated as well.

Is this evidence of a common religion, or does this underlie a culture that might have had far greater advancements and artistic/aesthetic intentions than previously thought?

This week's column is intended to perplex, rather than to explain. For this, I take full responsibility. It is a brain tease more than anything else. Words may not explain much of the enigma (and stigma) that surrounds Jomon wares. But explanations can often be dull. And so, for now, I will let the pottery speak for itself.

History of Fine Ceramics

Fine Ceramics (also known as "advanced ceramics") are used to make components that require high levels of performance and reliability, such as advanced semiconductor packages and automotive engine parts. In fact, Fine Ceramics support the latest technologies in diverse applications throughout modern society. Do you know the history of Fine Ceramics? They share common origins with the conventional ceramics that we use every day, like tableware, vases, pottery and other household items.
The history of ceramics begins with earthenware. Thousands of years ago, humans learned how to make earthenware vessels by kneading, forming and firing clay. Prior to this discovery, the only other man-made items were stone tools made by chipping rocks. In this sense, earthenware could be called “the root of all industrial products.” After the Stone Age, countless advancements were made over the millennia before Fine Ceramics appeared as we know them today.

History of Pottery in Japan

The history of pottery in Japan dates back over 10,000 years ago to the Jomon period (14,000 – 400 B.C.). The Jomon people, a society of hunters, were among the first in the world to create pottery vessels. Their earthenware is characterized by a distinctive rope-like pattern. Japan’s subsequent Yayoi period (500 B.C. – 300 A.D.) brought the advent of rice cultivation, along with "Yayoi ware" pottery in various shapes. The Yayoi fired clay vessels surrounded by piled wood at temperatures ranging from 600 to 800℃ (1,112 – 1,472℉). This method is called Noyaki, or "open-firing."
About 1,500 years ago, a new firing method using a tunneled, sloping kiln (Anagama) was introduced from Korea. In this method, clay shaped on a potter’s wheel was fired at temperatures of over 1,000℃ (1,832℉) for extended periods. Vessels made using this method are called "Sue ware."
With the introduction of the potter's wheel and Anagama, ceramic technology in Japan was drastically improved. Because of these advancements, hard, well-shaped ceramics became producible in large volumes. In later years, Anagama was further developed into Noborigama, a climbing kiln, which was able to fire many items at the same time.
In the Nara period (710 – 794), people started to use glaze made from vitreous powders. The glazing and firing of biscuit ceramics resulted in bright and soft-colored vessels that also prevented water leakage.
Porcelain was introduced from Korea during the Azuchi Momoyama period (1568 – 1603). Porcelain is a dense ceramic made by firing combinations of clay and feldspar.

Jomon Ware Deep Bowl
(Middle Period)

Sue Ware Pot with Handles

Kyoto Ware Incense Burner with Multicolored Overglaze Paintings
(Edo Period)

Ceramics in the Era of Electrical Technology

Moving forward several centuries, Japanese pottery culture began to experience a period of rapid development.
In the 19th century, with the invention of the electric light by Thomas Alva Edison and the telephone by Alexander Graham Bell, a new era which could be referred to as the "era of electricity" began. Ceramics, previously used only as vessels, started to play entirely new roles suited to this new era.
In general, ceramics do not conduct electricity. Compared to other insulators, such as paper and wood, ceramics are less affected by environmental factors such as temperature and humidity, giving ceramic components higher reliability. Through the history of ceramics going back more than 10,000 years, we have learned modeling technology to produce ceramic products in a myriad of shapes. Ceramics have thus come into widespread use as insulators or as insulating materials in areas ranging from power lines to household products, and have become important materials that allow people to use electricity easily.

The Era of Electro-Ceramics

The 20th century brought the advent of electronics, with the start of radio and television broadcasts and the invention of the transistor. This era was facilitated by ceramics from the beginning, when large vacuum tubes of the early 20th century relied on ceramic materials. Within wireless equipment, only ceramics possessed the properties necessary to provide high signal output even over high frequency ranges. Ceramics could not be replaced with other materials.
Ceramics have benefited from significant advances in material composition as well. In addition to natural raw materials, artificially synthesized raw materials are now commonplace. Metallization and other technologies to permit stronger ceramic-to-metal bonding were developed. During this period, ceramics rapidly grew closer to today's Fine Ceramics.
Semiconductors, the core component of the electronics era, have also been supported by ceramics. Transistors and integrated circuits (ICs) were developed in U.S. laboratories shortly after the Second World War. However, because they were extremely sensitive to external moisture and strong light, these early transistors and ICs were not immediately available for practical use. Fortunately, ceramic packages were able to shut out external moisture and light while maintaining the electrical performance of transistors and ICs. It is no exaggeration to say that the semiconductor revolution was launched in these packages.
In addition, ceramics have helped to reduce the size of capacitors and inductors in electronics. Since the middle of the 20th century, ceramics have undergone a continual evolution, and now possess excellent dielectric and magnetic properties. As a result, electronic components were miniaturized and made highly functional. Ceramics thus made a significant contribution to the downsizing of electronic equipment. If capacitors had not been made of ceramics, the portable electronic devices we depend on every day, such as pocket-sized smartphones and laptop computers, would never have appeared. In fact, a modern smartphone uses more than 600 ceramic capacitors. Fine Ceramics were born in this era as highly precise industrial materials made through tightly controlled processes from refined or synthetic raw powders, thus differentiating them from all conventionally fired products.

Fine Ceramics as the New Material "Standard-Bearer"

Fine Ceramics can be made to possess a wide variety of unique characteristics through variations in raw materials, synthesizing methods and production processes. Consequently, they have become the standard for new materials in countless fields of advanced technology. Because of their light weight, rigidity, physical stability and chemical resistance, large ceramic components several meters in size are now used in equipment for manufacturing semiconductors and liquid crystal displays. In addition, their high reliability and successful integration with metals allows them to be used in a growing range of automotive components.
With their dielectric and piezoelectric properties, Fine Ceramics serve as base materials for many essential electronic components, including compact, highly efficient capacitors, filters, and resonators. They perform key roles in various other industries as well. For example, their chemical inertness is very useful in the heavy chemical industry, while their abrasion resistance is valued in textile manufacturing. Beyond industrial applications, Fine Ceramics are increasingly used in the everyday goods we depend on, such as knives, pens, jewelry, decorative items and even medical and dental implants — all of which make use of the unique material characteristics of Fine Ceramics.

The term "Fine Ceramics" is interchangeable with "advanced ceramics," "technical ceramics" and "engineered ceramics." Use varies by region and industry.

Jomon Incense Burner - History

A Qing Dynasty three-foot censer with lotus patterns [Shanghai Daily]  

The fragrance of burning incense permeates Chinese history and prehistory. It was burned to honor ancestors, treat ailments and perfume the air, writes Wang Jie.

In a harmonious scene from ancient times, a nobleman plucks a traditional Chinese guqin instrument while his wife lights pieces of incense (xunxiang) in the burner beside him. The scene pleases and calms the mind.

"Ancient Chinese people loved burning incense for different occasions," says Qian Handong, a collector of ancient incense burners. "They burned it in rituals to show respect to ancestors, to purify the air" and for other purposes.

Different incense burners and censers (xianglu) were used in different periods, though there was little detailed research until recently.

Qian, also an established journalist, fills in the blanks through his book, "The Glorious Glimmer of Ceramic Censers." Of course, not all were ceramic. They came in different shapes, sizes and materials.

He has devoted a decade to collection and study.

Use of censers goes back to the New Stone Age, he says. The shapes were derived from the shapes of the ancient bronze vessel or ding, usually a three-legged cooking vessel with two fixed handles on the rim.

Today, many excavated censers have three legs, some short, some long, while others have round or flat bottoms, he says. Handles can be long, fixed upright, or they can be rings some incense burners have no handles.

The function of a burner determines its shape, Qian says. Some were swinging burners, held on chains by people who walked through a room to spread the fragrance.

Incense pieces or blocks required an open censor. Incense could be burned directly on the bottom. Long sticks of incense required different shapes to hold them, or they were stuck in sand. Some shapes were elaborate. A lid with an open filigree, or filigreed vessel, could disperse a heavy and powerful scent.

Ancient Chinese believed that incense ashes could cure or prevent disease, so they kept ashes in the censer.

The popularity and intricacy of censors was linked with economic development during the Warring States Period (476-221 BC).

At that time, people began to burn sandalwood to spread fragrance throughout a room, Qian says.

Censors were made of many materials, bronze and other metals, stone, jade, pottery, ceramics and wood. They were carved, inlaid, painted and otherwise decorated.

Craftsmanship reached its height during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties.

"Gold, silver or reddish copper were sometimes used in the casting," says Qian. "Brilliantly hued censer were popular."

Prices of antique censers, like all antiques, depends on history, quality, materials, workmanship, preservation and age.

Prices have increased dramatically in recent years. A censer that once cost several hundred yuan could fetch thousands of yuan, or dollars, today.

"Still, a charming old incense burner doesn't have to cost a fortune. We're not all looking for museum pieces," Qian says.

For big-time collectors like Qian, the value depends on three factors: history, rarity and shape.

"Of course, a censer with a clear provenance is also a plus, like those precious ones long kept in the royal palace," he says.

Distinctive decorative patterns and characters represent different periods. Qing Dynasty blue-and-white porcelain featured landscapes and flowers, while Song Dynasty (960-1279) burners bore shapes evocative of traditional papercuts.

Thus, censers and incense pleased the eye and sense of smell.

"Sometimes by burning incense one can experience serenity while reading or thinking," says Qian.

The History of Incense

The history of incense dates back to as early as the ancient times. People held incense with great value, and it was used as gifts during special occasions. The word “incense” is derived from the Latin word “incendere” meaning “to burn”. Incense plays several different roles in various religions including Buddhism and Catholicism. The Old Testament in the Bible speaks of God asking for the burning of the incense as a form of worship to Him.

History Of Incense

The burning of the incense is believed to originate as a result of the different types of materials that were chosen by people for cooking and heat. When certain types of woods and roots were burned by the people, it created a beautiful and favorable waft of aroma from the fire, giving birth to the earliest types of incense for the first time in their lives. Frankincense was of high value in the Middle East and the Far East and was valued even more than the precious metal gold in certain cases.

It is also believed that the gifts of the biblical Magi also included frankincense and gold to the new born Jesus Christ. For over hundreds of years, people of different cultures and regions traded myrrh and frankincense. During the ancient times, the Egyptians worship their gods by using incense, and they also burned it all the time in their holy temples. Specific incense types were assigned to the worship of specific god types. Till date, it is also recorded that incense remnants were also found in many tombs belonging to the Egyptian pharaohs buried during the ancient times.

Use Of Incense In Rituals

The study of the history of Incense will show several practices of burning incense to trigger the olfactory sensations in a powerful way because the strong smell of a scent has the capacity to fill an entire room. The rituals involve the burning of incense in order to achieve certain purposes. Smudging and smoking ceremonies are common to the Native Americans, and it is similar to incense burning. Till date, people still burn different types of incense to assist them in their meditation and achieve focus and calm.

Uses Of Incense For Spiritual Purposes

The history of Incense has a very close connection with the realm of spirituality. People burn incense during a mass along with preparation of a congregation during prayer sessions. Incense is used as an offering and devotion to God by the Catholics.

Uses Of Incense For Healing

The history of Incense is also closely connected with healing. Different blends of incense can make a positive impact on those people who are suffering from suicidal tendencies, anxiety and depression. Frankincense is also thought to bring about feelings of relaxation and peace.

Burning Of Incense

There are different incense burning methods depending on the type that is used. Incense cones and sticks are very popularly used these days. Ground resins are also found in the form of loose incense or incense powders that can be burnt in certain containers. Popularly used loose incense include cinnamon, cloves, sandalwood, etc. Burning is not required for incense oils.

About the Author:

Bradley is an incense fanatic who wanted to contribute an article to our website to add to his writing portfolio.


The earliest vessels identified as censers date to the mid-fifth to late fourth centuries BCE during the Warring States period. The modern Chinese term for "censer," xianglu (香爐, "incense burner"), is a compound of xiang ("incense, aromatics") and lu (爐, "brazier stove furnace"). Another common term is xunlu (熏爐, "a brazier for fumigating and perfuming"). Early Chinese censer designs, often crafted as a round, single-footed stemmed basin, are believed to have derived from earlier ritual bronzes, such as the dou 豆 sacrificial chalice.

Among the most celebrated early incense burner designs is the hill censer (boshanlu 博山爐), a form that became popular during the reign of Emperor Wu of Han (r. 141–87 BCE). Some scholars believe hill censers depict a sacred mountain, such as Mount Kunlun or Mount Penglai. These elaborate vessels were designed with apertures that made rising incense smoke appear like clouds or mist swirling around a mountain peak. [5]

Other popular designs include censers shaped to look like birds or animals, small "scenting globes" (xiangqiu 香球), and hand-held censers (shoulu 手爐). Very large censers, sometimes made to resemble ancient ritual bronze vessels, are often placed in the courtyards of Buddhist and Daoist temples.

Medicine Edit

Similar ingredients and processing techniques are involved in production of both incense and Traditional Chinese medicines. For example, take jiu ( 灸 "moxibustion"). Incense is believed to have physiological and psychological benefits. For instance, according to the Bencao Gangmu pharmacopoeia, "camphor cured evil vapors in heart and belly, and was especially recommended for eye troubles, including cataract." [6]

Time-keeping Edit

Along with the introduction of Buddhism in China came calibrated incense sticks and incense clocks (xiangzhong 香鐘 "incense clock" or xiangyin 香印 "incense seal"). [7] The poet Yu Jianwu ( 庾肩吾 , 487–551) first recorded them: "By burning incense we know the o'clock of the night, With graduated candles we confirm the tally of the watches." [8] The use of these incense timekeeping devices spread from Buddhist monasteries into secular society.

Religion Edit

Xiangbang ( 香棒 , with "stick club") means "incense stick joss stick". Two "incense" synonyms specifying religious offerings to ancestors or deities are gāoxiāng ( 高香 , "high incense") and gōngxiāng ( 供香 , "offering incense").

The Sunni Muslim Hui Gedimu and the Yihewani burned incense during worship. This was viewed as Daoist or Buddhist influence. [9] [10] The Hui, also known as "White-capped HuiHui", used incense during worship, while the Salar, also known as "black-capped HuiHui" considered this to be a heathen ritual and denounced it. [11]

As an art form Edit

The Chinese developed a sophisticated art form with incense burning like with tea and calligraphy called xiangdao ( 香道 ). It involves various paraphernalia and utensils in various ceramic containers utilised to burn incense. Examples include tongs, spatulas, special moulds to create ideograms with incense powder, etc. all placed on a special small table. It is most often used as an enhancement to a personal space to accompany other arts such as tea drinking and guqin playing.

Bamboo processing Edit

Bamboo species with good burning characteristics are harvested and dried. The most common type of bamboo used for producing the sticks is Phyllostachys heterocycla cv. pubescens ( 茅竹,江南竹 ) since this species produces thick wood and easily burns to ashes in the incense stick. Other types of bamboos such as Phyllostachys edulis ( 毛竹 ) may be used, however due to their fiberous surfaces or relatively thin wood producing good bamboo sticks is more difficult. Longer incense stick are produced using cao bamboo( 草竹 ). [12]

The dried bamboo poles of around 10 cm in diameter are first manually trimmed to length, soak, peeled, and then continuously split in halves until thin sticks of bamboo with square cross sections of less than 3mm width have been produced. [13] [14] This process has largely been replaced by machines in modern incense production.

Incense materials Edit

Chinese incense is made from diverse ingredients with much overlap into the traditional Chinese herbal pharmacopoeia. Of all the incense ingredients some of the most commonly used include:

  • Chenxiang ( 沈香 , "Agarwood, aloeswood")
  • Tanxiang ( 檀香 "Sandalwood")
  • Anxixiang ( 安息香 "Benzoin resin and wood, gum guggul")
  • Cuibai ( 翠柏 "Calocedrus macrolepis, Chinese incense-cedar")
  • Zhangnao ( 樟腦 "Camphor").
  • Ruxiang ( 乳香 , "Frankincense")
  • Dingxiang ( 丁香 , "Cloves")
  • Bajiao ( 八角 , "Star anise")
  • Guipi ( 桂皮 , "Cinnamomum cassia")
  • Dahuixiang ( 大回香 , "Foeniculum vulgare")
  • Dahuang ( 大黃 , "Rheum officinale")
  • Hupo ( 琥珀 , Fossil Amber)
  • Gansong ( 甘松 Spikenard)
  • Chuanxiong ( 川芎 Ligusticum wallichii)
  • Wujia ( 五加 Eleutherococcus senticosus (Acanthopanax senticosus))
  • Beijiaxiang ( 貝甲香 East African marine snails) [1]
  • Jiangzhenxiang ( 降真香 ) also known as zitengxiang ( 紫藤香 ), Lakawood[15][16]

The dried powdered bark of Persea nanmu( 楠木皮 ) is used extensively for its mucilaginous qualities, which helps to bind the other powdered ingredients together.

Processes Edit

Incense powder is formed into the final product through various methods. [12]

Lin-xiang Edit

Incense powder is tossed over wet sticks

Nuo-xiang Edit

Incense paste is kneaded around sticks.

Sculpting Edit

For large incense pillars, incense paste is piled around a single bamboo stick and sculpted to shape

Incense burner

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Incense burner, container, generally of bronze or pottery and fitted with a perforated lid, in which incense is burned. Although incense burners have been used in Europe, they have been far more widespread in the East.

In China during the Han dynasty (206 bce –220 ce ), a type of vessel known as a hill censer was used. It consisted of a shallow circular pan, in the centre of which was an incense container with a pierced lid constructed as a three-dimensional representation of the Daoist Isles of the Blest. Incense burners of the Ming dynasty (1368–1644) were made in two basic forms: a square vessel on four feet, fitted with two handles and a pierced lid, and a circular tripod vessel, also fitted with a perforated lid. If the original lids were lost, it was customary to replace them with wooden lids carved in imitation of the original metal piercing. In Japan in the 19th century a number of large bronze incense burners were made for export. Their decorative designs, often incorporating dragons, are distinguished by high relief, and the vessels were usually given artificial patinas. See also thurible.

This article was most recently revised and updated by Virginia Gorlinski, Associate Editor.


For direct-burning incense, pieces of the incense are burned by placing them directly on top of a heat source or on a hot metal plate in a censer or thurible. [3]

Indirect-burning incense, also called "non-combustible incense", [4] is a combination of aromatic ingredients that are not prepared in any particular way or encouraged into any particular form, leaving it mostly unsuitable for direct combustion. The use of this class of incense requires a separate heat source since it does not generally kindle a fire capable of burning itself and may not ignite at all under normal conditions. This incense can vary in the duration of its burning with the texture of the material. Finer ingredients tend to burn more rapidly, while coarsely ground or whole chunks may be consumed very gradually as they have less total surface area. The heat is traditionally provided by charcoal or glowing embers.

For home use of granulated incense, small, concave charcoal briquettes are sold. One lights the corner of the briquette on fire, then places it in the censer and extinguishes the flame. After the glowing sparks traverse the entire briquette, it is ready to have incense placed on it.

For direct-burning incense, the tip or end of the incense is ignited with a flame or other heat source until the incense begins to turn into ash at the burning end. Flames on the incense are then fanned or blown out, with the incense continuing to burn without a flame on its own.

Censers made for stick incense are also available these are simply a long, thin plate of wood, metal, or ceramic, bent up and perforated at one end to hold the incense. They serve to catch the ash of the burning incense stick.

In Taoist and Buddhist temples, the inner spaces are scented with thick coiled incense, which are either hung from the ceiling or on special stands. Worshipers at the temples light and burn sticks of incense. Individual sticks of incense are then vertically placed into individual censers.

The earliest vessels identified as censers date to the mid-fifth to late fourth centuries BCE during the Warring States period. The modern Chinese term for "censer," xianglu (香爐, "incense burner"), is a compound of xiang ("incense, aromatics") and lu (爐, "brazier stove furnace"). Another common term is xunlu (熏爐, "a brazier for fumigating and perfuming"). Early Chinese censer designs, often crafted as a round, single-footed stemmed basin, are believed to have derived from earlier ritual bronzes, such as the dou 豆 sacrificial chalice.

Among the most celebrated early incense burner designs is the hill censer (boshanlu 博山爐), a form that became popular during the reign of Emperor Wu of Han (r. 141–87 BCE). Some scholars believe hill censers depict a sacred mountain, such as Mount Kunlun or Mount Penglai. These elaborate vessels were designed with apertures that made rising incense smoke appear like clouds or mist swirling around a mountain peak. [5] The Han Dynasty scholar Liu Xiang (77–6 BCE) composed an inscription describing a hill censer:

I value this perfect utensil, lofty and steep as a mountain! Its top is like Hua Shan in yet its foot is a bronze plate. It contains rare perfumes, red flames and green smoke densely ornamented are its sides, and its summit joins azure heaven. A myriad animals are depicted on it. Ah, from it sides I can see ever further than Li Lou [who had legendary eyesight]. [6]

Another popular design was the small "scenting globe" (xiangqiu 香球), a device similar to a pomander, but used for burning incense. The famed inventor and craftsmen, Ding Huan (1st c. BCE), is believed to have made these with gimbal supports so the censer could easily be used to fumigate or scent garments. This is described by Edward H. Schafer:

"Censing baskets" were globes of hollow metal, pierced with intricate floral or animal designs within the globe, an iron cup, suspended on gimbals, contained the burning incense. They were used to perfume garments and bedclothes, and even to kill insects. [7]

Other Chinese censers are shaped like birds or animals, sometimes designed so that the incense smoke would issue from the mouth. During the medieval period when censers were more commonly used in Buddhist and Daoist rituals, hand-held censers (shoulu 手爐) fashioned with long handles were developed.

Archeologists have excavated several censers from Han era tombs that contained aromatics or ashen remains. Some of these aromatic plants have been identified as maoxiang (茅香 "Imperata cylindrica, thatch grass"), gaoliangjiang (高良薑 "Galangal"), xinyi (辛夷 "Magnolia liliiflora, Mulan magnolia), and gaoben (藁本"Ligusticum sinense, Chinese lovage"). Scholars speculate burning these grasses "may have facilitated communication with spirits" during funeral ceremonies. [8]

According to the Sinologist and historian Joseph Needham, some early Daoists adapted censers for the religious and spiritual use of cannabis. The Daoist encyclopedia Wushang Biyao (無上秘要 "Supreme Secret Essentials", ca. 570 CE), recorded adding cannabis into ritual censers. [9] The Shangqing School of Daoism provides a good example. The Shangqing scriptures were written by Yang Xi (330– c. 386 CE) during alleged visitations by Daoist "immortals", and Needham believed Yang was "aided almost certainly by cannabis". [10] Tao Hongjing (456-536 CE), who edited the official Shangqing canon, also compiled the Mingyi bielu (名醫別錄 "Supplementary Records of Famous Physicians"). It noted that mabo (麻勃 "cannabis flowers"), "are very little used in medicine, but the magician-technicians ([shujia] 術家) say that if one consumes them with ginseng it will give one preternatural knowledge of events in the future." [10] Needham concluded,

Thus all in all there is much reason for thinking that the ancient Taoists experimented systematically with hallucinogenic smokes, using techniques which arose directly out of liturgical observance. … At all events the incense-burner remained the centre of changes and transformations associated with worship, sacrifice, ascending perfume of sweet savour, fire, combustion, disintegration, transformation, vision, communication with spiritual beings, and assurances of immortality. Wai tan and nei tan met around the incense-burner. Might one not indeed think of it as their point of origin? [11]

These Waidan (外丹 "outer alchemy") and neidan (內丹 "inner alchemy") are the primary divisions of Chinese alchemy.

During the T’ang period, incense was used by upper class people for personal hygiene, romantic rendezvous, and deodorizing the interior of edifices. These included places of worship, dwellings, and work-spaces. Dating back to the seventh century AD, the kuanhuo(changing of fire) ceremony took place, where people would cleanse their homes with incense. However, in some parts of East Asia, incense burners were used as a way to tell time

In the Far East, incense was used as a way to tell time because it was a simple mechanism and generally not a fire hazard. Time increments were marked off on each incense stick to show how much time had passed, then placed in a ritual tripod vessel known as a ting. During imperial coronations, incense sticks would be used to tell how long the ceremony was. Other variations of incense is the spiral incense coil. The spiral incense coil was used to measure time for longer durations. One spiral equated to one night. This type of incense was mainly used by the five ‘night watches’ of the community. The length of their shifts and breaks were determined by the time increments marked off on the spirals. [12]

Incense burners (miqtarah in Arabic) were used in both religious and secular contexts, but were more widely utilized in palaces and houses. The earliest known examples of dish-shaped incense burners with zoomorphic designs were excavated in Ghanza, [13] [14] while the earliest examples of zoomorphic incense burners are from 11th-century Tajikistan. [15] It is most likely that this practice was inspired by Hellenistic style incense burners [14] as well as the frankincense trade present in the Arabian peninsula since the 8th century BCE. [16]

A wide variety of designs were used at different times and in different areas. Pottery and stone incense burners were the most common while those made of metals were reserved for the wealthy. Artisans created these incense burners with moulds or the lost-wax method. Openwork zoomorphic incense burners with lynx or lion designs were popular in the Islamic world bronze or brass examples are found from the 11th-century until the Mongol conquests of the 13th-century. [15] These were especially popular during the Seljuq period. [17] The extensive use of lynx shape incense burners was due to the animals popularity as a hunting animal and as pet in Muslim courts. [15] The complexity of the piece would also make it fit into a palatial setting. This style of incense burners could measure about 22 cm others like an example in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York measures 85 cm. [17] The surface of the object would be decorated with bands of Arabic calligraphy which would imitate a tiraz. This bands of text could include the name of the artist and the patron as well as prayers and good wishes for the owner. To insert coals and incense the head would be removed the openwork geometric design would then allow the scented smoke to escape. [18] Depending on the size, the incense burner could be either carried on a tray or carried by using the tail as a handle.

In mosques, incense burners do not have a liturgical use or a specific design denoted for religious context. [19] However, they are still an important part of rituals and weddings. Other religious groups in Middle East such as the Copts do have ceremonial uses for incense burners.

Koro (Japanese: 香炉, kōro), also a Chinese term, is a Japanese censer often used in Japanese tea ceremonies.

Examples are usually of globular form with three feet, made in pottery, Imari porcelain, Kutani ware, Kakiemon, Satsuma, enamel or bronze. In Japan a similar censer called a egōro ( 柄香炉 ) is used by several Buddhist sects. The egōro is usually made of brass with a long handle and no chain. Instead of charcoal, makkō powder is poured into a depression made in a bed of ash. The makkō is lit and the incense mixture is burned on top. This method is known as Sonae-kō (Religious Burning). [20]

Used domestically and ceremonially in Mesoamerica, particularly in the large Central-Mexican city of Teotihuacan (100–600 AD) and in the many kingdoms belonging to the Maya civilization, were ceramic incense burners. The most common materials for construction were Adobe, plumbate, [21] and earthenware. These materials can be dried by the sun and were locally sourced, making them the perfect material for a Mayan craftsman. Censers vary in decoration. Some are painted using a fresco style technique or decorated with adornos, [22] or small ceramic ornaments. These decorations usually depicted shells, beads, butterflies, flowers, and other symbols with religious significance that could to increase rainfall, agricultural abundance, fertility, wealth, good fortune or ease the transition of souls into the underworld. [23] To identify precious materials such as jadeite and quetzal feathers, important visual markers of status, [24] artists used colorful paints.

Used to communicate with the gods, these censers functioned for acts of religious purification. Incense would be presented to the divine being. In fact, some people were appointed the position of fire priest. Fire priests dealt with most tasks related to incense burning. Some rituals involved a feast, which would be followed by the fire priest igniting a sacred brazier in the temples. It was given to the divine beings and deities as offerings on a daily basis. The practice would end at the sound of a trumpet made from a conch shell. Another function of incense was to heal the sick. Once recuperated, the diseased would present some incense to the appropriate gods to repay them for being cured. [25] Made up of copal (tree resin), rubber, pine, herbs, myrrh, and chewing gum, the incense produced what was described as "the odor of the center of heaven." [26]

The shape of incense burners in the Maya southern lowlands reflected religious and cultural changes over time. Some censers were used in funerals and funerary rituals, such as those depicting the Underworld Jaguar or the Night Sun God. When a king would die, ‘termination rituals’ were practiced. During these rituals, incensarios would be smashed and older temples were replaced with new ones. [27] Mayan censers, which had a reservoir for incense on top of a vertical shaft were highly elaborate during the Classic period (600–900 AD), particularly in the kingdom of Palenque, and usually show the head of a Mayan deity. In Post-Classic Yucatán, particularly in the capital of the kingdom of Mayapan, censers were found in great numbers, often shaped as an aged priest or deity. Craftsmen produced Mayan censers in many sizes, some just a few inches in height, others, several feet tall.

Eastern churches Edit

Chain censer Edit

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Oriental Orthodox Church, as well as the Eastern Catholic Churches, censers (Greek: thymiateria) are similar in design to the Western thurible. This fourth chain passes through a hole the hasp and slides in order to easily raise the lid. There will often be 12 small bells attached to the chains, symbolising the preaching of the Twelve Apostles, where one of the bells has been silenced to symbolize the rebel Judas. [28] In some traditions the censer with bells is normally used only by a bishop. Before a deacon begins a censing, he will take the censer to the priest (or the bishop, if he is present) for a blessing. The censers, charcoal and incense are kept in the diaconicon (sacristy) Entrance with the censer at Great Vespers.

The censer is used much more frequently in the Eastern churches: typically at every vespers, matins, and Divine Liturgy, as well as pannikhidas (memorial services), and other occasional offices. If a deacon is present, he typically does much of the censing otherwise, the priest will perform the censing. Unordained servers or acolytes are permitted to prepare and carry the censer, but may not swing it during prayers. Liturgical Censing is the practice of swinging a censer suspended from chains towards something or someone, typically an icon or person, so that smoke from the burning incense travels in that direction. Burning incense represents the prayers of the church rising towards Heaven. [28] One commonly sung psalm during the censing is "Let my prayer arise in Thy sight as incense, and let the lifting up of my hands be an evening sacrifice." [29] When a deacon or priest performs a full censing of the temple (church building), he will often say Psalm 51 quietly to himself.

Hand censer Edit

In addition to the chain censer described above, a "hand censer" (Greek: Κατσί katzi or katzion) is used on certain occasions. This device has no chains and consists of a bowl attached to a handle, often with bells attached. The lid is normally attached to the bowl with a hinge.

In Greek practice, particularly as observed on Mount Athos, during the portion of Vespers known as "Lord, I cry unto Thee" the ecclesiarch (sacristan) and his assistant will perform a full censing of the temple and people using hand censers.

Some churches have the practice of not using the chain censer during Holy Week, even by a priest or bishop, substituting for it the hand censer as a sign of humility, repentance and mourning over the Passion of Christ. They return to using the chain censer just before the Gospel reading at the Divine Liturgy on Great Saturday.

Some Orthodox Christians use a standing censer on their icon corner (home altar).

Western churches Edit

In the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church and some other groups, the censer is often called a thurible, and used during important offices (benedictions, processions, and important Masses). A common design for a thurible is a metal container, about the size and shape of a coffee-pot, suspended on chains. The bowl contains hot coals, and the incense is placed on top of these. The thurible is then swung back and forth on its chains, spreading the fragrant smoke.

A famous thurible is the Botafumeiro, in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. Suspended from the ceiling of the cathedral, the swinging of this 5-foot (1.5 m) high, 55 kilogram silver vessel is an impressive sight. [28]

One of the explanations for the great size of the Botafumeiro is that in the early days it was used to freshen the air in the cathedral after being visited by droves of travel-weary pilgrims. It was also once believed that the incense smoke guarded against contracting the many diseases that plagued the populace in past centuries. [28]

Some thuribles were based on an architectural motif, for example the Gozbert Censer from the Cathedral of Trier inspired by the Temple of Solomon. [30]

Hindus have traditionally used an earthen censer called a Dhunachi for burning incense with coal, though coconut husk is also used. The vessel has a flared shape with a curved handle and an open top. There are also brass and silver versions.

Incense burner from Assur, Iraq. Circa 2400 BC. The Pergamon Museum, Berlin

Watch the video: Japanese incense collection and review