Dear Alabaster: “My room-mate is scent-sensitive. What can I use instead of incense?”
Alabaster Says: There are lots of alternatives to incense depending on what you are using the incense for, and why you need a substitute. Usually, people are looking for a replacement because they can’t have an open flame, their apartment’s smoke-detector is too sensitive, or they have a condition like asthma. In this case, you’ve got a room-mate with either allergies or a serious sensitivity to the incense smoke and you need to avoid the stereotypical roiling vapors wafting all so Shakespearean-wise off of your incense-burner. (We love The Scottish Play.) Not a problem.
First off, does this need to be done in this shared space and at this time? Can you relocate outside or to another venue? Can it wait until your room-mate’s out of town?
If venue change isn’t an option, you need to consider what role incense plays in whatever it is that you’re doing. Is it being used as a fumigant and you need something to duplicate its purifying effect? Are you using it as a sacrificial sort of thing, an offering perhaps? Or are you looking for something to fulfill the role of heavy clouds of incense in a classical Evocation to visible appearance kind of thing? It makes a difference.
Fumigation & Purification
Filling a space with heavy clouds of fragrant smoke is a time honored and very effective technique used in many, many traditions for driving away unwanted influences, clearing a space, etc. Magicians, witches, and shamen all burn resinous (and other kinds of) incense to both cleanse and to prepare a space for rituals and worship. When you have to skip the incense, like a heavy metal band deprived of its fog machines and smoke-pots, you need to improvise. Depending on the specifics of your practice, you could consider and experiment with asperging-tying together a bundle of herbs such as hyssop, and using this to spatter holy water (however you make, acquire or bless water) all over the place, each other, yourself, etc. It can even be used to chastise cats. Asperging is ancient, Biblical even. Back in medieval times they used to use special holy water sprinklers…no, not the spiked club/mace…and if you look into theological supply houses, you can still buy a small, shiny brass thing that resembles a baby’s rattle that will do the trick nicely. Though we prefer to just wrap a bunch of herbs in thread and give everyone a good, soggy whack. It works just fine. Unless you’re a cat.
Another thing to consider, at least in terms of personal purification, is to prepare a good bath. Epsom salts work really well for this. A decent salt bath will ground you, clear the yuck off of body and aura both, and is an established part of many traditions from Santeria to high ceremonial hoo-ha.
Evocation. Well, to tell you the truth, the best alternatives to incense for evocational purposes are best handled in an entirely other, separate column on its own. You can get decent results using bowls of oil, a vaporizer, or even a simple garden-variety misting bottle…but it’s just not the same as filling the room with a thick, heavy lingering cloud of pungent smoke. Ah, I can smell the frankincense and myrrh even now…
Sacrifice, sacrament and offering. Replacing incense in this respect is far easier than the other two uses by far. Instead of burning dead, dried out plants and hardened sap, you can instead use a vase of cut flowers, fill a sachet with herbs, use a hot oil diffuser, blow bubbles, try out some aromatherapy, or just simply cook a good meal using parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme-the essential, timeless, can’t miss classics of Western herbalism-and don’t forget to compost afterwards. Believe it or not, composting is not only a form of recycling, it’s also a technique that modern, apartment-dwelling urbanites can use as a creative form of sacrifice, offering, and spell-craft. Where you might have burned incense as an offering to the Divinities, however you relate to or label them, you can just as easily lay out a nice meal and after sharing it with them, compost their share. You can also look at the old practice of libation as another way to get around the no incense conundrum. Essentially, in libating, one pours a measure of some liquid out on the ground as an offering to the Gods, ancestors, spirits, etc. Whether you pour half a liter of Glenlivet into a hole in the ground, dump a can of Guinness over your compost heap, or spill a pitcher of home-made lemonade into your drain-these can all be considered sacrifices…especially the Scotch…and if you approach things with a suitable attitude, in respect and reverence, honestly and not like some corner-cutting lazy weasel, it ought to serve just fine and dandy. Most forms of sacrifice are more important in their having been done than in waiting until someday when everything lines up perfectly in order to do it. Don’t make excuses, don’t stint, and don’t procrastinate. Give freely, give something of meaning to you personally, and don’t be stingy…especially if you’re expecting anything in return. The more that you give, the more the universe has to work with on your behalf. Even in magick, especially in magick, you can’t get something for nothing. Except more nothing.
One way to tie all of these ideas together into a nice, neat bundle would be to consider using a stock pot full of mulled cider or wine. You can treat it like a cauldron if you like the Celtic stuff, and dump in various herbs, spices, fruits and/or whatever…find a recipe first…and voila-instant sacrificial pot, offering, and aromatic replacement for incense all in one convenient package. Plus, as a bonus, you now get something to drink for your troubles after all the bad poetry that gets most often recited at these sorts of events. Can’t miss. Unless someone trips over the cat while carrying the pot.
Lastly, you can substitute teas or tisanes for incense, in some cases. A good, strong sage tea will blast away bad stuff just as effectively as a smudge-stick, and will warm your belly while fighting off a cold as well.
The trick with overcoming an apparent obstacle such as not being able to use incense in your rites and rituals isn’t to treat it like a reason not to do stuff, but rather to tap your innate creativity and imagination-what the old grimoires would refer to as ‘ingenium’-and find your own solution. Hope that helps. Good luck.
Dear Alabaster: I’ve been invited to another group’s ritual. They practice skyclad. I come from a tradition that works robed and I’m not sure about the protocol. Help!
The short answer: Don’t ever be afraid to say “no, thank you” as long as you do it politely and respectfully. Otherwise, if you intend to go it’s YOUR responsibility to ask questions and get yourself sorted out as to what their expectations and ground rules are. Don’t assume anything! Also, make sure you understand what your motivations and expectations are in accepting their invitation, should you choose to go.
Dear Alabaster: What’s the point of a magickal name? Do I need one?
Alabaster Says: A magickal name is a lot like a mask that you wear in the course of doing your magickal work, similar in many respects to a writer’s pseudonym or an actor’s stage name. It allows you to establish an identity that’s suited to and focused on that work. It gives you a factor of separation between your day-to-day self and your persona in circle. You don’t need one any more than you feel you do. However, there are traditions that insist on it, much like certain restaurants insist on a coat and tie. Some people take a magickal motto, some sonorous and officious sounding phrase in Latin, Greek, Enochian, etc. But in the end, it has to be a reflection of your identity and it has to be meaningful to you. Or else it’s a waste of time.
One good rule of thumb: Never pick a name that you can’t say with a straight face. Also, I wouldn’t recommend deciding on a magickal name at a LokiBlot…but then again, you could do worse, and many have.
For ideas please look at the Magickal Name Generator.