Thursday, October 09, 2014

Compounded Incense Resins

The journey continues.

I've read for years that beeswax was used in the making of those lovely super fragrant 'amber resins' but I just couldn't get my head around it -- beeswax? Turns out not really quite beeswax. It's actually a bit of beeswax and significant amount of propolis resin. Bees produce propolis resin when they take plant resins from leaves and buds and maybe even trees, and mix it with some beeswax, maybe a little honey, and then use it to stabilize their hives. Like hive glue. The dirtier the propolis in terms of refinement, the better for incense purposes. So basically another resin but somewhat processed by the bee.

I'm two compounded incense resins in, and I'm already learning the dos and don'ts. Texture is my thing. I'm using beeswax, propolis resin, and lots of cappings, honey, and mad amounts of super fine powdered resins. Once all that's done, I add by drops rare or special essences, like an organic Uttar Pradesh distilled rose oil, and rose floral wax. Just by playing with this stuff, I'm learning about ratios, much the same way I learned with traditionally compounded Kyphi incense, and the kupar-like incense I made sans fruit paste -- it's all about experimenting and toying with the ingredients. I'm finding myself more deeply connected to the raw materials in Kyphi and compounded incense making than I ever did with perfumery, however closely related the two are. There's just something magical about it -- something happens during the grind when resins or woods are being turned to dust, as if the spirit of the plant rises up and fills the room. When I think of this -- when I ponder the emotion that feel, I am reminded of that moment of clarity I felt while beating senseless a small batch of 50-year-old orris root when I kind of went into a trance and snapped out of it in an instant when the scent of orris filled the room. It was sublime. Beautiful. A lesson. It never ceases to amaze me how after combining all these elements, even the ones that aren't so beautiful and sublime (camphor, camphor bark, poopy pine resin, thyme), that in the end, the incense created is so utterly gorgeous and works! Seriously works.

The current project includes finding appropriate prayers and songs to be sung to the incense while it's being created. I'm reading Awakening Osiris: The Egyptian Book of the Dead by Normandi Ellis -- great book, by the way -- and it's turning up some really beautiful stuff that can be incorporated into the process. Well, I read the book when my Nook isn't being highjacked by a three-year-old intent on feeding her Pou. 

Watch this space for more on compounded incense resins, Kyphi, kupar, and other beautiful amalgamations of scent.


  1. Anonymous3:39 PM

    I thought of your work creating kyphi when I read a reference to kyphi in Lyall Watson's book "Jacobson's Organ".
    He says Cleopatra's barge had huge burners "piled high with kyphi - a concoction of cinnamon, pistacia, juniper, cyprus, honey, frankincense and myrrh". (I think he meant cypress but no wonder, as he says, "Mark Antony didn't stand a chance.")
    cheerio, Anna in Edinburgh

    1. Imagine the scent of those burners! Piled high! It boggles the mind. Marc Antony must have thought a goddess was bearing down on him. You're right, he didn't have a chance :)

  2. Anonymous4:23 PM

    It gets better: the barge's sails were soaked in rose water and Cleopatra herself was "steeped in jasmine, sandalwood and olive oil, decorated with henna and kohl. ... 'Even the winds,' said Plutarch, 'were love-sick.'" That's how to make an impression!

    1. Love sick winds, now that's a worthy goal! Perhaps a Cleopatra's Sails Kyphi for Valentine's is in order?



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