For thousands of years, people have used fragrant flowers, plants, and herbs as incense. Using smoke to send prayers out to the gods is one of the oldest known forms of ceremony. From the censers of the Catholic church to the Pagan bonfire rituals, incense is a powerful way to let your intent be known. You can make your own quite easily, using a blend of herbs, flowers, wood bark, resins, and berries. Most of these are items you can grow yourself, find in the
woods, or purchase inexpensively.
Incense -- and other fragrant items, such as oils and perfumes -- work on a couple
of different levels. The first is the effect on your mood -- a certain scent will
trigger a particular emotion. Aromatherapists have known for years that smells affect
different parts of the senses. Secondly, an aroma may have various associations.
You may be walking through a store, catch a whiff of Chantilly, and suddenly be reminded
of your grandmother who passed away when you were away at college. The smell of a
particular food may evoke memories of the summer you spent at camp.
Finally, we experience scents on a vibrational level. Every living being has energy, and emits its own vibration - plants are no different. When you blend them into incense, these vibrations change in accordance with your intent. This is why, in magic, incense is so popular -- in addition to making your ritual space smell nice, you are able to change the vibration in the atmosphere, effecting change in the universe.
You can buy commercially produced incense sticks and cones just about anywhere, and they're not that expensive. However, they're made with synthetic ingredients, and therefore have little to no magical value. While they're nice to burn, and certainly smell lovely, they serve little purpose in a ritual setting.
Note on Allergies
Many people suffer from allergic reactions to incense smoke. In many cases, this is caused by a reaction to synthetic materials in commercially-produced incense. Some people find that they have less of a reaction if they use incense made only from natural materials. However, if you have an allergy or some other condition that can be triggered by incense smoke or fragrance, you should consult your physician before using any incense, whether it's commercially bought or home-made and organic. You may find that the best solution for you is to just avoid the use of incense altogether.