The Direct Help Foundation/Meditation (Nag Champa, Ebionite); Magic Works (Myrrlin the Magician, Amberlin the Alchimist); Bim Lama/Green Champa

The Direct Help Foundation are not only an incense making machine, but they’re also a worthwhile charity organization. At Essence of Ages you can find an unprecedented amount of documentation about their organization and their incense making process, including slide shows, for what is a very informative presentation on the art of making Tibetan incenses.

However if there is a difficulty in reviewing the TDHF line, it’s that they release limited edition containers of incense that are actually more than the sum of their parts. For one thing, most of their incense is sold in beautiful hand painted boxes that are some of the most striking and amazing in the industry. These boxes come in single, double and triple sizes and it’s very difficult not to make the purchase based on the art rather than incense, after all they’re quite reusable given each incense bundle also comes wrapped in cellophane and for the most part the natural ingredients don’t bleed into the boxes. If you cherish spiritual art like I do, these will undoubtedly become treasures; despite the fact that the art has to be done fairly quickly to duplicate 100s of boxes, there seem to be very few errors or rough spots. So quite simply no matter what you think of their incense, one will likely feel they got their money’s worth already just based on the box. That’s a very special and unique thing to do.

Incensewise, things get a bit more confusing. The cellophane wrapped incenses not only come in the single boxes, but there are certain incenses that can only be bought in the doubles and triples. Sometimes these scents crossover so you may find Himalayan Jhakri or the Kumary House blends in several different boxes. But this generally doesn’t make them easy to find and if you fall in love with a particular blend, you may find them, at least temporarily, unable to purchase. With the ongoing 30% blowout sale at Essence of the Ages, many of the organization’s incenses, including both of those in the Magic Works set included for review here, appear to be gone for now, which is a shame as they’re among the best in the entire line. The Meditation box is also gone, however, both Ebionite and Nag Champa can be bought separately in single boxes.

Essence of the Ages is one of the few companies that does a Tibetan style Nag Champa incense and if you’ve encountered any of the others, you’ll know they’re nothing at all like their famous Indian counterparts, except for a faint suggestion of aroma. Without halmaddi, Nag Champa loses much of its appeal, leaving behind only the slight floral hints. In fact this might have been a more succesful incense without the connection to the durbar. With so much wood in the base, there is more of a dry quality than a rich one with the sweet floral nature and slight spice adding aromatic qualities that are fairly mild, especially when compared to the impact of the Indian variety. It’s certainly a pleasant and accessible incense, but it’s dragged down by the connection a little, reaching for something the style isn’t really tailor made for.

Ebionite is an incense based on a simple Biblical formula, in this case a combination of aloeswood and myrrh. Like  most Tibetan incenses, the aloeswood never has the same sort of character and potency that it does in Japanese sticks and thus the myrrh and binder take the lion’s share of the aroma. Like many Tibetan sticks with a high myrrh content, Ebionite is nearly a low smoke incense, at times it only gives the most faintest of scents. The results are actually fairly musky, similar to amber’s presence in many Tibetans and the overall scent is not far from what myrrh might be like on a heater. As with several other TDHF sticks, the binder aroma isn’t quite perfect here, but as an example of one of the more subtler Tibetan incenses, you really can’t complain too much as the incense is very mellow and mild.

If Nag Champa and Ebionite are relatively one or two note incenses, the two formulas in the Magic Works box are quite a bit more complex and vigorous. The full names of the incenses are basically Myrrlin the Magician and Amberlin the Alchimist, and the motifs are almost a tribute to the Western magic and mystery traditions, with some interesting sigil-like drawings on the cellophane wrapper inserts. Both incenses have in common the strong ingredients of cinnamon and galangal, and although only Myrrlin lists juniper, I would guess there’s a signicant content of it in Amberlin as well. Both of these incenses are powerful, rich, spicy and very pleasant, among the best TDHF has to offer.

As mentioned with the Ebionite, the myrrh content of Myrrlin takes the smoke down a significant notch, although it’s not quite as mellow as Ebionite itself, after all the heavy galangal, cinnamon and juniper do more to balance that out. Also as previously mentioned, the myrrh gives the incense a very musky sort of feel to it. Myrrlin is an incredibly elegant incense for the usually rough and ready Tibetan feel with an uncommon smoothness and some great coutouring with the spices. The galangal gives the overall scent a nip and while I’ve seen the root not be particularly successful in incense, it’s almost picture perfect here.

Amberlin is a bit less musky than Myrrh, with that typical breadth and touch of richness common to most amber incenses and it’s this quality that makes the difference between what are basically two similar incenses. It has a stranger finish than the Myrrlin and is essentially rather earthy with a lot of dampness and hints of clay. One can indeed get the impression of distillations and essences from this incense akin to the alchemists of old, as its finish is quite mysterious and unusual. One would hope that further TDHF editions will return to such an interesting package, as the organization’s exploration of other religious and spiritual tenets makes for some really fun and unique sets.

I’ve saved the last incense for after the jump as it’s one of the few examples of an incense that was unpleasant enough to find it difficult to find an audience for. Bhim Lama is one of the Foundation’s incense creators who has a subline of his own and he presents one incense here, Green Champa, that is one of the only Tibetan styles incenses I’ve tried with a distinct perfume oil having been added. Unfortunately in this case it doesn’t work at all and is something of a train wreck, with both the bitter aspects of the wood base and perfume bitter and clashing. I was reminded of smells like mosquito repellant or cleaning soap on this one and two sticks were literally all I could take. It may be just the poor oil being used but this is a floral that doesn’t work on any level, with an astringency more painful than charcoal incense. I’d hope that the rest of the line doesn’t suffer from these qualities and would make a guess that this is probably true based on the diversity of the TDHF line itself. And unfortunately the Bhim Lama line doesn’t have the box artwork to make you overlook a poor incense.

But with all said and done, artwork and incense aside, the profits go to charity and support the community that creates these treasures, a worthy cause indeed and thus, even if you don’t find Magic Works, it’s worth checking out some of their other incenses. They do different in quality, amazingly so at times, but when they hit it dead on (such as The Druid) they’re some of the most impressive Tibetan style incenses for the prices. And for the most part the quality of ingredients is fresh and lively, often more so than other companies.

2 Comments

  1. Claire said,

    February 15, 2009 at 7:26 am

    Ebonite (Tibetan Incense) – The Direct Help Foundation

    Given that Mike’s more highly tuned nose reports that the aloeswood must be a minor proportion in this incense, I have to assume that the bulk of the aroma is from the myrrh and other (unnamed ingredients).

    Myrrh can actually be quite a tricky resin to work with and often comes out smelling quite rough. Not here though. This blend is extremely mellow and smooth. It is sweet, earthy and musky and reminds me very much of the sort of cigars smoked at Christmas.

    I agree with Mike’s description of this being a subtle incense but I think you might be surprised at how the aroma gradually builds up, especially given the low level of smoke that it produces. To me it’s a very relaxing, sleepy blend and would be ideal for meditation.

    This was the very first incense that I purchased from Essence of the Ages and I still like it very much – perhaps I was lucky and picked one of the best in the range. It tempted me enough to try other Tibetan incenses but given my lower budget, the majority of those I have tried have disappointed me. There are a few low cost gems out there though, such as:

    • the Shanti dhoops (Stupa),
    • Tibetan Monastery (Mandala Trading),
    • Nirvana Incense B (Himalayan Herbal Centre)
    • “Tibetan Incense” (Khachoe Ghakyil Ling Nunnery).

  2. January 22, 2009 at 11:51 am

    […] January 22, 2009 at 11:51 am (Direct Help Foundation, Incense, Nepal) A previous TDHF review, including an introduction. […]


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