Incense in Ancient Egypt was seen as something containing the properties of life which could evoke belief and stabilise faith. It was thought by the ancients that incense brings about reverence as well as the manifestation of the Netjer it is being offered to. The Ancient Egyptians even had a god of incense – Nefertum, the lion headed son of Sekhmet who in the creation myth was the lotus rising from the primordial waters. Nefertum’s connection to scent and healing makes him the perfect patron of incense, especially since his symbol – the lotus, dawns every morning like incense smoke wafting towards the rays of the sun.
Incense has been a highly valued and used in Egypt all through its history. This was made evident by its worth and the lengths the Ancient Egyptians would go to, to source it. Incense had a major role in the magickal and spiritual practices of Kemet and many expeditions were sent down to the Land of Punt (modern day Ethiopia or Sudan but scholars are yet to determine its exact location) to source rare and expensive resins used in incense blends. Many pharaohs, noblemen and priests of Ancient Egypt would cultivate and propagate trees to keep up with the demand needed by the temples, tombs and residences of the time.
Various ceremonies in antiquity revolved around fumigation practices and in Ancient Egypt this has been evident in many reliefs and papyri describing these in detail, which has highlighted what a vital function it played. The most common type of fumigation using incense in Ancient Egypt was used in a devotional act before representations of Netjer as well as for the Akhu at ancestor shrines or tombs.
The ancients believed that Netjer embodied the smoke of burning incense, as a romantic manifestation in the omissions of the lit incense they were offered by the priests and populace alike. Like “God” the smoke from incense can permeate all, at times even without being visibly detected. Priests therefore would offer incense as one of the ways to animate and reinvigorate Nejter’s manifest representation on earth, in the form of a ritual called “Opening of the Mouth”. A way the priests could do this was by blowing through the censor containing the lit incense which activated the Heka through the breath whilst directing it. Using incense to fumigate not only cleaned the temple and its possessions but it bestowed Heka through to the priests themselves as the scent activates communion with Netjer through an altered state which is induced.
It’s surprising to know that many recipes and processes for making incense was shrouded in secrecy but it was very well known that they contained specific instructions on how to create them with specific allocated time, ingredients with symbolic connections and Heka. The priests who were responsible for creating incense for their Netjer’s did so with complete respect and devotion as if they were tending to the physical manifestation of the gods themselves – which they were in part, since making incense was seen as creating the body of the Gods. Frankincense and myrrh resin gathered was referred to as “sweat” or “tears” of the Nejters and as such the Ancient Egyptians treated their frankincense and myrrh as emblems of their Gods bodies. The trees themselves were seen as fruitful goddesses who’s resin was divine menstrual blood. So as you can see this emphasizes what great importance incense was to the daily rites of the Ancient Egyptians from their homes, workplaces, palaces and temples.
Today Egypt’s love of incense survives through the perfumery industry, the fragrant filled swinging censer of Coptic orthodox priests as well as the burning braziers found in the common people’s home shrines. Many practicing Kemetics like myself make their own incense blends and one which is used as a staple go to for all Netjers and Heka is a compounded incense called Kyphi. Here is a recipe I’d like to share with you which you can easily make yourself:
3/4 (of a part) Honey
3 (parts) Raisins
1/4 (of a part) Copal
1/4 (of a part) Myrrh
1/4 (of a part) Orris Root Powder
1 (part) Sandalwood
1/4 (of a part) Storax
1/2 (of a part) Frankincense
1/2 (of a part) Cinnamon Powder
1/2 (of a part) Finely Ground Benzoin
Wine (enough to moisten entire mixture)
- Thoroughly grind all ingredients separately, and then mix together all the ingredients except for the benzoin.
- Add the wine to moisten, then form the mixture into small marble sized balls and roll them in the benzoin.
- Place and cure (dry) on baking paper until firm (a moon phase is the best time frame from experience.)
(c) T. Georgitsis 2015