Incense has been a part of the meditative and spiritual experience for thousands of years in almost every culture. It comes in many different forms, scents and styles. This class is about how to find an incense that can work for you and how you can use it to further your own meditation experience. We will be sampling many different incense’s from Japan, India and the Americas. There will be guided meditations with the class. This is a two session class starting this coming Saturday, from 11am to 1pm in Berkeley, CA. I will be teaching the class and supplying incense from my collection. Call 1-800-642-WELL for more information. _
Runcato is a small Peruvian company who provide ethnic/multicultural arts and crafts, essential oils and a couple of incenses from the Amazonian rainforest and the Andean highlands of Peru. The company radiates with the spirit of ecological sustainability and the holistic earth-based spirituality that gave birth to it. In the United States this tends to be represented under shamanism and sold by companies with such an affinity, in fact you can not only purchase these incenses through Runcato’s main site, but also through sellers in the Amazon marketplace.
The Copal and Palo Santo incenses come in two forms, sticks and cones, these reviews are for the stick versions that the company provided samples of. These could be considered premium incenses of a sort, they’re created with a clean and natural mix of ingredients, with very thick sticks that burn for quite a while. Runcato’s Copal is actually one of the few stick Copal incenses you will find on the market. Copal varies widely in scent and style, so it must be stated that the copal in this incense is from the Amazonian rain forest and will differ slightly in scent from copal found in different geographic regions. Those who have sampled Fred Soll’s Copal incenses will know that there can be problems with using this resin in stick form, as the sheer stickiness of the resin can cause it to stick fast to its packaging. Runcato have sidestepped this problem by grounding the resin in a wood base, a style similar to a particular Shroff line (such as their Patchouli) where the main ingredient is mixed with a wood scent similar to the aftermath in a wood shop. The balance between base and the resin is nicely achieved, although obviously this will not be the same thing as copal resin on charcoal. The mix of the two main scents creates a cooling scent that isn’t overtly complex, but the combination does have a slight creamy note, not to mention a strong forest scent with a clarity and power that would make this good for clearing space. If you love the resin, this incense is well worth checking out.
The Palo Santo incense is similarly constructed, however this time the main ingredient is a wood itself rather than a resin and as such the combination of the two pushes this over into a much drier space. The wood base seems to be very similar to the one grounding the copal incense, with a wood powder scent that reminds me of a woodshop after a saw has been active for a while. Given that the Palo Santo is so much closer to the scent of the base, the individuality of the wood’s scent is a little more buried, but having sampled Palo Santo in other incenses, the main scent, which is unique and spicy in a way that’s difficult to capture in words, can definitely be sensed with little difficulty, which tells me that the main ingredient hasn’t been overdiluted by the base. And really if you’ve never tried Palo Santo at all, it’s worth checking out as it has a character and uniqueness that can’t really be compared to anything else.
Given that so much world incense comes from very familiar corners of the world, it’s good to have a couple entries from South America that bring forth the aura and sense of place in a way that is so respectful of its indigenous cultures and I can imagine anyone trying both of these will find them to come with a strong sense of personality and clarity.
Nijo on first impressions is a heavily perfumed sandalwood stick, on first light I get a strong floral top note of jasmine and wisteria, with a mid note of fruit (maybe apricot or green grapes?) and a slight hint of vanilla amber and talcum.
Shirakawa is a stick with a rich, full bodied scent of vanilla and amber, with a hint of floral and dry sandalwood in the background. There is also a tiny base note of talc hiding out in the burn.
Genroku is quite diffrent from the first two, in that it has no overt perfumes or oils that I can tell, and insteads seems to be composed of a blend of aloeswood, with a top note of cambodian or vietnamese aloeswood and a base note of sweet agarwood.
Muromachi seemed to have a sweet spiced scent to it, with a blend of agar and dry sandal at the base.
Tenpyo is straight vietnamese agarwood, with the rich resiny aroma associated with such.
Apothecary’s Garden is in Canada and has a number of interesting and “off the beaten track” incense materials, as well as tinctures at his Etsy store. The owner does much of the materials collecting all over the world , which you can read about in his blog.
I have tried the Frankincense Rivae, Papyrifera and Neglecta which are nice a a bit different then Omani Greens or the Somalia. I am experimenting with some of the wild collected sap’s for new blends. Nice Etsy shop and a very informative blog. I will add the links onto the left hand side of our blog under suppliers and blogs. -Ross
When I first started getting into blended incense, I was fascinated with church and forest blends, in fact over the years I’ve gathered more of them than I know what to do with. Many who have spent some time in Catholic churches know the basic scent of frankincense and some of these blends could be quite fine, having that amazing citrus scent as a base. The forest blends often went deeper than this and I’ve run across several whose fruitiness tends towards the scent of green apple mixed with pine, spruce, fir and other evergreen scents. In fact while around here we talk a lot about the wonders of aloeswood and sandalwood, I’ve always really prized the much cheaper and easily accessible forest blends, they’re a great way to scent your space.
Katlyn Breen is turning out to be a master of the art of earthy, foresty scents, in fact I’d probably have to do a bit of research to create a list of all the wonderful blends that have come out of Mermade over the last decade in this vein. And these blends are in many ways much more carefully crafter and deep than the average forest resin blend and many of them go in all sorts of neat and interesting directions. Gaia Tree is one of her newest, listing black frankincense, storax benzoin, arbor vitae, green cedar tips, black spruce, green myrtle, fir, and benzoin and tolu balsam essential oils as ingredients. This is a very rich and powerful forest scent, starting with the citrus of the frankincense base, moving towards the evergreen and apple mix I mentioned earlier, adding a touch of spice that is reminiscent of Mermade’s amazing Mahjoun incense, an almost confectionary level of sweetness and a really strong touch of amber that comes from the essential oils, in fact it’s one of the most wonderful amber notes I’ve experienced in an incense. This is all well rounded with a distinct greenness that comes from the spruce and fir tips, highlighting the name of the incense itself. While so many forest blends tend to scent fairly clean, there is a rich, creaminess to this one that gives it a wonderfully decadent note.
As always if you haven’t made your way over to Mermade, it should be one of your top incense stops. The Golden Lotus incense heater is an absolute must for blended incense and Gaia Tree couldn’t work more beautifully on it.
Where to start. A note on the name, Shihou in Japanese means ‘all directions’. I put some prep time in before I lit this coil to take notes on it, cleansing my olfactory senses with coffee beans and ensuring the room was free from other scents, etc etc.
This coil is all wood. It immediately hits you with concentrated, pure aloes wood scent, with a rich turpentine backed up by a light rosy cedar sweetness, mixed with a hint of ozone. This is by no means a 100-paces style incense, even though it comes in a coil. You will definitely want to sit down and listen to this one on a personal level.
Justine Crane is a perfumer of the old school, using natural essences and materials to produce luxury perfumes, body products and incense. I have tried two of her Kyphi blends and was impressed by both.
The Red Kyphi has all the deep qualities one might expect from a Kyphi blend, there are also many other layers in here, lots of study time and a good choice as a meditative scent. Overall, to my nose, there is an herbal scent as well as a resinated feel to it mixed in with a sort of animal note. Not in the sense of actual animal materials as much as a feeling or vibration. Think Primal scent. This is not the type of incense that is going to fill up a room if used on an electric heater (which is what I am using). It is more along the lines of wearing a very close perfume or cologne that is for your benefit(or someone you are close to).
The Pink Lotus Kyphi is stronger the Red and also has a very interesting progression of scents. The pink lotus aspect jumps right out, mixed in with some resins. Then it all settles down into what I can only describe as sultry, sumptuous, and very seductive. Just the thing for a romantic evening, maybe not so much for meditation :o .
I notice at her Esty store that there is also a Lavender Kyphi and if you go onto her blog you can read about the process, which is fascinating and quit informative. Kyphi is not something that one casually knocks out in a day or so; it is a long-term process with many steps and a lot of expensive ingredients. Making it takes passion, using it is a joy. Have fun. -Ross
April 30, 2014 at 5:33 am (Mike)
All sets from the previous sale have been sold (thanks everyone), but I managed to dig up a few more things. Like the last sale, these are broken down from larger bulk boxes which aren’t sold otherwise.
I have ONE set of three Kyukyodo floral incenses: Hikari/Jasmine, Mayumi/Violet, and Mizuho/Rose. Each tube has 50 sticks. These are very nice traditional floral blends, maybe among the best of their style. The set is $25 + $5 shipping.
I also have one 75 stick tubes of Hakubaiko. This is $20 including shipping. I will also sell the floral set and this together for $45 including shipping.
Please contact me at sigil23 [AT] comcast.net to make arrangements. All shipping costs are for the US only, if you’re outside the US feel free to write me to set up shipping costs.
All of these have been reviewed some time ago here at ORS but there are a lot of changes going on in the incense world (things like a scarcity of materials as well as huge prices increases in the raw ingredients) so I thought it would be interesting to not so much compare them to the old ones as much as just take a present time look at where some of my favorites are now. I think, in general, that the biggest difference is in the woods and how they are used by many manufactures. But since there is not a lot we can do about that it is a good time to get sample sizes and see what moves you.
Jinko Kojurin: Sort of the start of the agarwoods blends for Gyokushodo it has a somewhat musky base mixed with a light perfume scent. All this floats above the woodnotes. This might be a good place to start if you were very used to Indian style incenses. There is a somewhat sharp or tangy character in the overall scent profile which many will find agreeable.
Jinko Hoen: The classic Japanese incense smell, Agarwood, Sandalwood, Camphor, Cinnamon, Clove. I am sure there are quite a few more things in here but it is so well done that I cannot tell what they are. Just opening the box is a treat in itself. When lit the different materials blend into a very harmonious whole that is much greater than the single parts. This is not a strongly scented stick and I have been known to burn two at once but this seems to be a trait of many of Gyokushodo’s offerings. I think this is a real winner as well as a good buy.
Jinko Yozei: This is beautiful. Woody, smooth and on the somewhat “sweet” side of agarwood’s scent profiles. Like many of the incenses from this company it is also mild, although a friend(who is Japanese) finds it just right. If you are looking for woody type incense, without too many other additions this would be right up your ally. For sure this and the Jinko Hoen should be in the Hall of Fame, they really are treasures.
In the late 90s, I bought my first Kyphi incense from Mermade Magickal Arts, after seeing the recipe for it in Scott Cunninghams’s book The Complete Book of Incenses, Oils and Brews. Kyphi recipes are probably the most elaborate incense recipes available. They usually include raisins, wine, honey and multiple resins and spices and the incense takes multiple steps to complete including some aging and maturing. The recipes come from old Egyptian payprus records and vary in ingredients and steps depending on the recipe.
When I bought my first Mermade kyphi, it was loose and stored in a wonderfully designed glass tube like all of the incenses of the time. It was rich, indulgent and quite arresting, but in a way it was a mere shadow of what Mermade are now doing 15-20 years later. In recent years, Mermade has been creating yearly vintages of this fantastic, legendary incense and the years of experimentation and collaboration (I believe Katlyn Breene and Nathaniel Musselman have both been involved with the evolution of this style over the years) are paying off more and more as each new vintage reaches the market. Kyphi 2014 is absolutely not to be missed if you’re even remotely interested in incense, it is one of the finest scents that has ever reached this nose. And it’s not a loose powder in a glass tube anymore, but small cakes that are sold in both .5 and 1 oz sizes.
This kyphi could almost be a polyincense in that over the period of heating it actually shifts and morphs as the more volatile elements release. The base scent is a fine wine-like, berry-prune-raisin mix that grounds a kaleidoscopic range of subscents and spice notes. While most previous kyphi mixes have evinced the qualities of fine woods, I’m not sure any of them have been as perfect as the woods note in this one which mixes in nicely with some leather and turpentine hints. As the incense heats, it changes and shift, alternatively fruity, creamy, rich, delicate, intense, teasing, fruity and spicy. The complexity of it would be bewildering in different hands but here there is no obfuscation at all in the delivery; at all times you can sense both the separation and mingling of the fine ingredients involved.
This is truly the work of people who are deeply passionate about fine incense, a work that shows a level of professionalism and commitment that could be unmatched in this country. And better yet, there should be a Deep Earth 2014 to be released soon that is something of an offshoot of the kyphi, an incense no less impressive and complex. To this day, I’d be hard pressed to even think of a Mermade incense that isn’t at the apex of its craft, so to see the company continue to raise the bar on fine incense is something to be celebrated.