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Incense

Incense (Lat., incendere, ‘to burn’). Substances which produce a sweet scent when burned, and are thus used in worship. Among many such substances are aloe, sandalwood, myrrh, frank-incense, balsam, cedar, and juniper. In China, incense (hsiang) was used to enhance appreciation and thus (especially in Taoism) to assist in the realization of the Tao—though incense was also used to ward off evil spirits or disease. In India, incense is used as an act of homage to the divine manifestation, especially in a temple. In early Judaism, incense may have been associated with the smoke of sacrifice: the Heb. ketoret is derived from √ktr, ‘cause to smoke’, which may be the smoke from a sacrifice (1 Samuel 2. 15). In Christianity, incense first appears in Christian worship c.500.

Incense is an important part of Hindu offerings, both in the home and in the temple. It forms a part of the daily ritual in invoking the presence of God in preparation for worship. In Buddhism, this ritual was transferred to the representations of the Buddha (or bodhisattvas) as a part of dāna.

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incense

in·cense1 • n. / ˈinˌsens/ a gum, spice, or other substance that is burned for the sweet smell it produces. ∎  the smoke or perfume of such a substance. • v. / inˈsens/ [tr.] perfume with incense or a similar fragrance: the aroma of cannabis incensed the air. DERIVATIVES: in·cen·sa·tion / ˌinsenˈsāshən/ n. ORIGIN: Middle English (originally as encense): from Old French encens (noun), encenser (verb), from ecclesiastical Latin incensum ‘something burned, incense,’ neuter past participle of incendere ‘set fire to,’ from in- ‘in’ + the base of candere ‘to glow.’ in·cense2 / inˈsens/ • v. [tr.] (usu. be incensed) make very angry: she was incensed by the accusations.

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Incense

INCENSE

Aromatic gum resins.

Frankincense and myrrh are taken from trees that grow in Dhufar, Oman, and in Hadramawt, Yemen. Recent archaeological discoveries confirm their export from about 3000 b.c.e. through an extensive commercial network. The trade, reaching as far as Rome and India, helped create considerable prosperity and interstate rivalry in southwest Arabia. Exports and prosperity declined when Rome made Christianity its official religion and the use of incense at funerals largely ceased.

See also dhufar; hadramawt.


Bibliography

Allen, Calvin H., Jr. Oman: The Modernization of the Sultanate. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1987.

malcolm c. peck

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incense

incense, perfume diffused by the burning of aromatic gums or spices. Incense was used in ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome and is mentioned in the Old and the New Testaments. It is also found in the major religions of Asia. The Babylonians used it while praying in the 6th and 5th cent. BC and the Greeks used it as protection against demons during the 8th cent. BC The earliest clear record of its use in public worship in the Roman Catholic Church is c.500.

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incense

incense1 aromatic gum burnt to produce a sweet smell XIII; smoke of this XIV. ME. ansens, encens — (O)F. encens — ecclL. incensum, sb. use of n. of incensus, pp. of incendere set fire to, f. IN-1 + *candere cause to glow (candēre glow).
Hence vb. XIV.

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incense

incense2 †set on fire; inflame with wrath. XV. — OF. incenser, f. L. incens-, pp. stem of incendere (see prec.).

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Incense

INCENSE

Material that, when burned, produces a fragrant smoke. The term is applied also to the fragrant smoke. Various substances, such as aromatic wood, bark, seed, etc., but especially certain resins and gum resins, were used as incense in ancient times.

In the Bible. In the East the burning of incense as perfume was an ancient practice. From its use for secular purposes it was introduced into the religious worship of both the pagans and the Israelites, since it was a natural and beautiful symbol of prayer and sacrifice. But there was a difference between ordinary "profane" incense (Ex 30.9) and "sacred" incense that was used solely in Israelite worship. The latter was a finely ground powder (Lv 16.12) made up of a special blend, half frankincense (lebōnâ ) and half storax (nātāp ), onycha (šeelet ), and galbanum (elbenâ ), to which salt was added as a preservative (Ex 30.3438). When these resinous materials were burned they produced "fragrant smoke," which is the original meaning of the Hebrew word qeōret. However, the word came to be used much more often of the resins themselves.

When the legitimate worship of Yahweh is described in the OT and the verb hiqîr [to burn up (something) into fragrant smoke] is employed, the object of the verb is not necessarily incense. In fact, the common use of incense in the sacred rites was to burn it together with sacrificial victims, such as holocausts (Ex 29.18), the fat of other offerings (Ex 29.13), cereal offerings (Lv 6.8), and token offerings (Nm 5.26). It thus served as a secondary offering to Yahweh.

At times, however, incense was burned by itself as an independent offering in divine worship. In these cases it was consumed in the fire on a special altar, the altar of incense (Ex 30.110) or golden altar (Nm 4.11), or in a censer. (see altar, 2.) Although this practice was carried on already in preexilic times, the references to it are mostly in postexilic documents, e.g., the so-called priestly code, which restricts this offering to the Aaronic priests (Nm 17.15).

In the NT the only reference to the burning of incense in the Temple worship is in Lk 1.812, where the Evangelist recounts the story of Zachary offering incense in the Temple and seeing the angel Gabriel at the right hand of the altar of incense. But in the heavenly liturgy of the Apocalypse "the golden bowls full of incense" symbolize "the prayers of the saints" (Rv 5.8; see also8.34). In Ap 18.13 fragrant resins used as incense (θυμιάματα) are listed among the luxury imports of 1st-century Rome.

Bibliography: Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, tr. and adap. by l. hartman (New York 1963). 105657. r. de vaux Ancient Israel, It's Life and Institutions, tr. j. mchugh (New York 1961). 423, 430432. b. kÖtting, Die Religion in Greschichte und Gegenwart, 7 v. (3d ed. Tübingen 195765). 6:1571.

[j. j. mcgarraghy]

In Christian Liturgy. Incense was used copiously in pagan cult, and without it sacrifice was considered hardly complete. The emperor himself was often honored as a deity by means of incense. During persecutions Christians were frequently required to offer incense before an image of the emperor or a god as a test of their loyalty; those who did so were regarded as apostates by their fellow Christians. Although the use of incense was retained at funerals, since it had become a normal civil ceremony, protective in origin, Christianity rejected it as a form of worship because of antipathy toward paganism.

Once paganism had been vanquished, the Church slowly began to introduce the use of incense. The earliest witness in the East seems to have been Pseudo-Dionysius (Eccl. hierarchia 3.2; Quasten MonE 294), who reported that the bishop began the celebration of Mass with an incensation of altar and sanctuary. In the West, incense was first used by carrying it before the pope (Andrieu OR 2:82; cf. 88), for the pope was considered on a par with civil rulers who were so honored. An incensation of the oblation at Mass was first recorded in the 11th century (Bernold, Micrologus 9; PL 151:983). In time incense came to be used also in the Roman rite during Lauds and Vespers (8th century) and as a mark of respect for the altar, the ministers, and the faithful. In the 13th century, Innocent III saw an exorcistic significance in its use (De sacro altaris mysterio 2.17; PL 217:808). This notion can still be found in some blessings (e.g., when incense is blessed for use in the erection of a new cross: Rituale Romanum 9.9.14).

During the 17th and 18th centuries the natural materials burned as incense were replaced with substances borrowed from the perfume industry. But the fragrant resins prescribed for incense in Ex 30.3435 (see above) are still the most satisfactory ingredients for liturgical use because the odor given off when they are burned is in no way reminiscent of the secular perfume industry. The resulting smoke is visible without excessive clouding.

Bibliography: e. g. atchley, A History of the Use of Incense in Divine Worship (New York 1909). e. fehrenbach, Dictionnaire d'archéologie Chrétienne et de liturgie, ed. f. cabrol, h. leclercq, and h. i. marrou, 15 v. (Paris 190753). 5.1:221. j. h. miller, Fundamentals of the Liturgy (Notre Dame, Ind. 1960). 203204. p. morrisroe, The Catholic Encyclopedia, ed. c. g. herbermann et al, 16 v. (New York 190714). 7:716717. o. bÖcher, Die Religion in Greschichte und Gegenwart, 7 v. (3d ed. Tübingen 195765). 6:1571. k. hofmann, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. m. buchberger, 10 v. (Freiburg 193038). 10:783785.

[m. mccance]

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Incense

INCENSE

INCENSE . The term incense (from Latin incendere, to burn or kindle) has the same meaning as the word perfume, i.e., the aroma given off with the smoke (per fumar ) of an odoriferous substance when burned. Incense may then be associated with the perfume arising from the burning of substances that produce a pleasant odor. Aloe, camphor, cloves, sandalwood, myrrh, frankincense, cedar, juniper, balsam, galbanum, and turpentine have been used as incense. Since ancient times incense has been an important part of religious rites and practices in various regions of the world. Incense has been used to appease the gods, sanctify a place or an object, display reverence and respect, honor commitments, tie bonds, and seal promises and friendships. Valued as a precious commodity, it was offered as a gift to honored personages: Frankincense and myrrh were two of the gifts the wise men of the East brought to the infant Jesus.

In association with concepts of purity and pollution, incense plays a major role in purification rites and customs. Incense smoke is used for these purposes because of the transforming powers of fire, as well as the seemingly purificatory powers of sweet smells. Because its fragrance is thought to be pleasing to the gods, incense has played an important role in worship and is used in ceremonies of offering, prayer, intercession, or purification. It is used to attract the attention of, or establish a connection with, a deity and is also used to exorcise evil or harmful forces.

The Far East and India

In Chinese, the word xiang can mean both "aromatic" and "incense." In China incense was sometimes burned in conjunction with aesthetic enjoyments like reading, writing compositions, or performing music; in Japan it was an important part of the tea ceremony. In Chinese Daoism, incense was used to disperse evil and to appease the gods; it was also employed in rituals for the cure of disease. Considered a punishment for evil deeds committed by the sufferer himself or by an ancestor, illness was regarded as a punishment by the San Guan (Three Officials), the judges and officials of the dead. During the rituals for curing sickness, a formal appeal was made to mitigate and revoke the officials' judicial severity. Using the rising flame and smoke from the incense burner in the center of the oratory to transmit a message borne by spirits exteriorized from within his own body, the Daoist libationer submitted petitions (zhang ) to the appropriate bureau of the Three Heavens (San Tian), where officials pronounced judgment on the appeal and marshaled celestial forces against the offending demons responsible for the illness. Incense played a major role in another Daoist ritual for fending off disease, the Mud and Soot Retreat or Retreat of Misery. The ritual was usually performed outdoors at a specially delimited sacred area, or altar (tan ). It was a ceremony of collective contrition where the combined effects of clouds of incense, the light of many lamps, and the sound of the chanted liturgy produced a cathartic experience in the participants.

Incense is also central to the Daoist Jiao liturgy, which renews the community through communication with the gods. Jiao rites may be held for the ordination of priests or the birthdays of gods or may be held to ward off calamities. For the Jiao ritual, a village feast is held outside the temple, and an esoteric liturgy is performed inside the closed temple. In the temple ritual the main incense burner, the central object in the temple, is the focus of the rite. A symbolic incense burner is "lighted" inside the body of the main priest, whose meditation transforms him into a mediator with the divine and makes possible the efficacy of the rite. Incense is employed for the ecstatic symbolic journey to heaven performed inside a sacred area demarcated by five buckets of rice. Together with the burning incense, a document is burned ("sent off to heaven") as a "memorial to the throne" (zhang ), which announces to Heaven the performance of the liturgy.

Incense also forms an important part of the Buddhist ritual ceremonies in Korea. When taking the vows of Buddhist priesthood, young initiates undergo a rite called Pul-tatta, or "receiving the fire." In this ceremony a moxa, or cone of burning incense, is laid upon the arm of the novice after the hair has been shaved off; the ignited cone is then allowed to burn slowly and painfully into the flesh. The remaining scar is considered a mark of dedication and holiness and commemorates the ceremony of initiation. Incense is used in ancestor worship as well; tablets containing the names of the departed written in gilt and black characters are placed on every household altar, where sacrifices are offered and incense burned.

At least until the late nineteenth century, incense timekeepers were used in Japanese Buddhist temples to mark the intervals at which the priest struck the great bell to call the people to prayer. The use of incense to measure time was an idea borrowed from China, and so in Japan these sticks were called "Chinese matches." In China the first literary mention of incense being used as a time indicator appears in the sixth century, although it may have been used much earlier. It was widely used from the tenth century on. To make the timekeepers, hardened-paste incense was prepared in sticks or spiral coils and marked into hourly intervals. Depending on the season, the burning time of the sticks was usually between seven to eleven ke, one ke being equivalent to about a half an hour of modern time. Sometimes a continuous trail of powdered incense was marked off into equal lengths and burned to indicate how much time had passed. The legacy of using incense sticks as timekeepers has been transferred to Hawai'i, where many Japanese and Chinese have migrated.

In India, incense is used in both Hindu and Buddhist rituals. In Hindu rites it is offered in temples as an act of homage before the statue of the devity; in the āratī ceremony, for instance, the increase censer or stick is rotated before the image of the deity in order to make an offering and evoke blessings. Fragrant incense was also used to waft prayers to the gods and to drive off foul-smelling demons.

The Ancient Near East

In ancient Egypt, incense was frequently used in cultic rituals. According to Plutarch, the Egyptians burned incense to the sun three times a day; Herodotos recounts that incense was daily burned before an image of a cow. Sacrifices were offered to the pharaoh, and incense was burned before him in the coronation procession. The importance of offering incense is evident from the title of a courtly official, the "Chief of the House of Incense." It was also an important element of funerary practices, because the soul of the dead was considered to ascend to heaven by the smoke of the burning incense.

Incense also figures in Mesopotamian mythology. In the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh's mother Ninsuna supplicated the gods, asking them to protect and befriend her son. She burned incense and offered it to the god of creation, Shamash, to show her reverence and receive his blessings. As Gilgamesh embarked on his mission to kill the Evil One, Huwawa, he heard the words of his mother and remembered the fragrant aroma of the incense.

Judaism, Christianity, Islam

According to the Hebrew scriptures, in ancient Israel incense was considered a holy substance and was reserved for Yahveh; it was included with the bread offered to him on the Sabbath (Lv. 24:7). Incense was placed in the Tent of Meeting (Ex. 30:34) and was used in the offerings of the first fruits (Lv. 2:1516); it was offered in censers on the Day of Atonement when the high priest appeared before the mercy seat (Lv. 16:12ff.). Its use as a perfume is indicated in Song of Songs 3:6, which states that it was used to scent Solomon's couch. In Psalm 141 incense is likened to prayer.

Until the time of Constantine, incense was not used in public worship ceremonies of the Christian church. Its use as an offering was severely condemned by the early Fathers (e.g., Cyril of Alexandria and John Chrysostom) because of its association with pagan practices. Christians were identified by their refusal to burn incense before a statue of the emperor; Saturninus and Sisinnius were martyred for their refusal to do so. Those Christians who capitulated in order to escape death were known as turificati, or burners of incense. However, by the ninth century incense was used in some churches for the dedication and consecration of the altar. Incense was later incorporated into the liturgical services of both the Eastern Orthodox and Western churches.

In the Islamic tradition, incense is burned to create a pleasant aroma in places of worship, although it does not have any specific religious significance. The Muslims of India burn incense sticks on auspicious occasions such as weddings, births, or religious festivals. Incense is frequently offered at the tombs of saints, which people visit in order to obtain blessings. In the ūfī samāʿ incense is often burned as the dhikr is chanted.

Bibliography

Atchley, E. G. C. F. A History of the Use of Incense in Divine Worship. London, 1909.

Lucas, A. "Cosmetics, Perfumes and Incense in Ancient Egypt." Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 16 (May 1930): 4153.

Schoff, Wilfred H. "Aloes." Journal of the American Oriental Society 42 (1922): 171185.

Smith, G. Elliot. "Incense and Libations." Bulletin of John Rylands Library 4 (September 1917January 1918): 191262.

Van Beek, Gus W. "Frankincense and Myrrh." Biblical Archaeologist 23 (September 1960): 7095.

Habibeh Rahim (1987)

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