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Incense cones are simply conical shaped masses of hardened incense. Like stick incense, incense cones come in numerous varieties based on the diverse combination of ingredients. Incense cones emit a somewhat different smell than the stick variety because there is no stick burning alongside the actual raw ingredients. While incense cones may be somewhat less popular that incense sticks, they still possess a loyal following. Incense cones are generally used less in Western areas, but have very strong followings in locales like India.
Incense cones are burned to release the fragrance of the botanical, aromatic material from which they are composed. They burn fairly rapidly after being lit, and emit more smoke and fragrance as the point dwindles down and the ember reaches the base. Incense aficionados have created a cornucopia of incense cones with different scent profiles. The adventurous will find incense cones alluring for their purity and creative inspiration. Incense cones are selected and burned for relaxation and to create a pleasing and inviting environment in the home or office. Incense cones are also often incorporated in Hindu and Buddhist ceremonies, and elsewhere for its therapeutic benefits.
Incense is said to have originated many thousands of years ago. Over time, the practice of burning incense spread to the sprawling metropolises of the great civilizations. There are countless assortments of incense (including stick incense, resins, and powders); incense cones were popularized by the Japanese and were first introduced at the World’s Fair in the late 1800's. Some common incense scents used for incense cones come from essential oils, resins, roots, flowers, leaves, seeds, fruits, and gums. Inexpensive, artificial scents can also be formed through man-made, chemical processes but are decidedly less popular and effective.
Incense cones have become increasingly popular as more and more people have come to realize their benefits and nuanced differences from stick incense. While still relatively difficult to procure, incense cones have made significant headway in accessibility in recent years as interest in holistic practices and aromatherapy continues to build. Incense cones are attractive to the senses and are pleasing to the eyes and nose. Depending on their composition, incense cones emit either intense or soft aromatic fragrances used to enhance the scent of a room in general or as a sensory accompaniment to meditation yoga or religious practice. It is generally preferred to use all natural incense cones when engaging in these practices versus any that are synthetic or man-made.
How to Burn Incense Cones
There is a bit of an art to using incense cones. It is not quite as straightforward as lighting the wick of a candle and letting it burn. The process of burning incense cones encompasses a few additional steps and a bit of knowledge is vital to achieving the best results. Unlike cored incense sticks, incense cones bun all the way down. Because of that, it is important to select a safe incense burner or holder which can handle having the embers of the burning incense cone pressed against it. Brass burners accommodate incense cones well and are available in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. It is absolutely important that the burner have ample room to place the cone inside while leaving room to capture the residue and ash from the cone. Many types of incense burners exist which would be sufficient for burning incense cones from everything to porcelain to soapstone. It is very important to remember that incense cones burn all the way down into nothingness. As a result, the embers of the cone will have contact with the base of the holder as the cone burns down. If the base material cannot tolerate the embers, it will very likely become mangled in the effort. Many people use stop-gap measures for lack of a proper incense holder. A quarter or metal disc can provide a flat surface for a burning incense cone, but it important to remain attentive to the burning object and put safety above else.
While not always necessary, it is a common practice to place a small amount of sand, rice, or grain into the bottom of the incense burner to improve the safety of the process. The sand, rice or grain should be evenly smoothed so that the base of the cone rests flat on top of the granules. The particles at the base help improve the airflow in the burner and reduce heat conduction throughout the surface or base of the incense burner. This reduces the risk of the container cracking due to the extensive heat generated in the process.
After lighting the incense cone’s point using a match or lighter, it is important to allow 5 to 20 seconds to pass before snuffing out the flame. The flame must be allowed to catch in order to light the embers in the cone. Once it is blown out, a wafting spiral of smoke emanating from the tip of the incense cone signals the embers have caught and the cone is beginning to burn. The cone should be carefully secured within the burner and if the burner has a lid, should be covered up as necessary. The incense cone should be allowed to burn for as long as you want, usually until its aroma has thoroughly pervaded the room. Always exercise caution and take special care to reduce the risk of fire. Do not burn incense cones near easily combustible items and remove any loose items that could potentially be flammable.
Foundation for Incense Cones
Makko powder is a very popular ingredient to use as a base for making an incense cone. Among its prized characteristics are its combustibility, adhesiveness, and water solubility. It burns evenly and is almost odorless. Makko was first used as an alternative to Sandalwood powder in Chinese temples where it served as an effective insect repellant. Another name for Makko is Tabu no ki. Tabu no ki is derived from the bark of the Machilus Thunbergii tree, an evergreen indigenous to Southeast Asia. In its homeland it, the tree can grow up to an impressive 100 feet tall.
There are four different grades of Makko. Higher grades are more valuable because they emit fewer odors than lower grades. Being nearly scentless means it won’t compromise the aroma of the precious essential oils, resins, or botanicals used in an incense cone.
Another wonderful and organic base for crafting an incense cone is Gum Arabic. Gum Arabic is a type of gum that is found in everything from inks and textiles to food stabilizers. It is derived from the viscous sap of the Acacia Senegal and the Acacia Seyal trees. Gum arabic's combination of polysaccharides and glycoproteins gives it the characteristics of an effective glue and binder.
How to Make an Incense Cone
Using makko as a base:
Makko, along with water, can service as a base for making incense cones when added to the rest of the incense blend which would include the normal botanical, aromatic ingredients commonly found in incense. Makko is water soluble and most be moderated according to the humidity and the amounts of other ingredients in the incense mixture.
It generally advisable to let the blend to sit for several hours so that ingredients may harmonize and blend together, creating a uniform medium that will enhance the quality of the incense cones. After fully blending the mixture together, makko can be introduced to form incense cones either by hand or using a mold to achieve uniformity. It is important to test the processes in small quantities first before committing to huge batches. Incense recipes are generally very exact and it is important to create detailed, replicable processes.
Water should be added (and mixed) into the mixture very methodically such that the mixture stays gummy and flexible but solid enough to be molded into conical shapes. The cones should be dried over several days or even a couple weeks depending on humidity levels. During the course of drying the incense cones should be kept in a neutral environment outside of direct sunlight. It is important to peruse the entire incense cone to make sure that it is completely dried. Leaving extra time for drying is advisable to make sure that all the moisture has been removed from the incense cone. Testing the incense cones for aroma is important and the key to refining any good recipe. If certain ingredients need to be added to the cones after testing, the incense cones can be ground down and then the missing pieces can be reintroduced. After adjusting proportions the incense cones can be reformed once again and sent through the process.
Using gum arabic as a base:
After grinding all the dry ingredients into a fine powder using a mortar and pestle or coffee grinder, the gum arabic should be dissolved in water and allowed to soak until it forms a viscous liquid. The gum arabic-based liquid should then be mixed with the incense powder until it is moldable to be shaped into small incense cones. Allow the incense cones to dry in a warm place.
Incense Cones and Meditation
Incense cones are used in meditation practices around the world. Its pure incense form, free from an extraneous core, emits a more homogeneous aroma that has several uses depending on the meditation practice. Incense cones are commonly used to purify a space prior the commencement of a meditation session. Incense cones can burn through the normal olfactory cues from a room and provide a sanctifying sensation through its smoky cleansing. The deep earthiness associated with incense is lightened somewhat in its cone form and provides an other worldly quality to the aroma. Sanctifying a room with incense cones before meditation can provide important psychological cues that help the practice. If the meditator begins to associate the smell of an incense cone burning with the meditation practice, it provides an important mental notice to the person that meditation will soon be beginning. By strengthening the individual's psychological resolve to focus on the meditation, he or she will be able to better focus during the session.
Some forms of meditation involve burning incense cones during the actual meditation session itself. Again, the incense cone acts as a purifying agent that calms the senses and assists with focus. If the individual has gotten used to burning incense cones during the meditation, he or she can use it as an important psychological cue to focus on the session and leave their previous patterns of thinking behind. Eastern countries and religion have used incense with meditation and similar type practices for many many years.
Incense Cones in Religion and Spirituality
Incense cones play important part in many religious and spiritual practices. Incense cones are frequently placed on an altar in Hindu, Buddhist or other spiritual practice. The conical shape provides more three dimensional structure to the smoke as it passes through the air versus the more straight forward drip of an incense stick. Incense cones are smaller than incense sticks and are easily placed with statues or pictures of deities without obscuring the view. Furthermore, as previously discussed, incense cones have a purer constitution than incense sticks which can be preferable in spiritual and religious practice. Many people burn incense while reciting mantras or prayers or going through other important rituals. Incense cones that have been part of a prayer process may be taken to other areas and rooms in order to spread the positive merit that had been created through the spiritual practice. As such, incense cones can play an important part in sanctifying the entire home space within the spiritual ritual context. Like in meditation, the fragrance from the incense cone primes the practitioner's mind that it is time for devotion and spiritual practice. Incense cones can have an important impact on the mind's openness and readiness for the religious or spiritual pursuit.
Incense Cones and the Home
Incense cones are heavily used as perfuming and sanctifying agents within the home. Many people burn incense cones in holders which they carry around their home to make sure the aroma infuses into each area of the living space. Because incense cones burn a greater surface area of incense (versus incense sticks), the incense aroma is emitted at a faster pace which can save time in perfuming the house. The smokiness of incense is known to attack odors while the unique scent of each offering infuses the air with an essence amiable to the olfactory senses. Knowing how much incense to use requires some guess and check work. It might be prudent to begin by burning small amounts in each room before moving to the next. It takes some time for the aroma to settle so even waiting an hour to see how the aroma turns out makes a lot of sense. Sometimes it can even be helpful to leave the house after burning the incense and then coming back later to take stock of the situation with an undisturbed nasal palette.
Other people prefer burning their incense cones in one place within the house and letting the smell waft to other areas of the house. This will create an aroma epicenter within the room that the incense is burning which becomes weaker the further away you go. Incense perfumes through smoke so it is important not to under estimate its ability to sneak through nooks and crannies and get into other rooms and areas. Again, a trial and error system is necessary to figure out the strength and sneakiness of the incense cones and their aroma.
If you are living with someone that is sensitive to the smell of incense, it is important to carefully modulate how much incense you are burning to prevent undue exposure to the housemate. Incense sneaks under doors, up stairs and absorbs into fabrics so it can easily move in a way that you do not realize. In fact, the furnishings of a house have a big impact on how the incense aroma settles down. If your house has few upholstered pieces and fabrics around, the incense smell will take on a different quality and tends to linger a little more strongly. Couches, rugs, drapes and the sort tend to absorb smokiness and dull the impact of the aroma on the senses.