Incense Smoke Meaning: The Benefits, Uses, and Risks

The burning of incense has a spiritual and symbolic meaning in several cultures. Some use it as a way to dissipate negative energy.

Others use it in conjunction with spells and invocations to achieve something they desire.

Whether a prayer or spell, people will burn the incense in hopes that their desires will reach whatever god or divine entity they believe will hear and consider their request.

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This is a common way to use incense, however, it has several meanings and uses. From Christianity and catholicism to witchcraft and dark magic.

Incense can be seen almost anywhere, with some using it all possible times.

What Does Burning Incense Symbolize?

The symbolic meaning of the burning of incense will differ from culture to culture and even from religion to religion most times.

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The basic idea is generally the same, but the purpose and intent will be different depending on who is using it and why they’re using it.


In Christianity, the burning of incense can be related to things of worship, like confessions, prayers, and adorations.

Often times, incense would be burned with spices. These represent truth and faith, with the good and pleasing aromas they make representing all that is acceptable.

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Incense and the practice of burning it can be found in several places in the Bible. This includes several places in Exodus, Leviticus, and even Pslams.

In Revelation, incense is depicted being held in bowls and is directly referred to as “the prayers of the holy ones.”

Throughout the Bible, incense is commonly found burning alongside a burnt offering or sacrifice of some sort. People would do this as a way to please God and pray to him.

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Catholicism sees incense and the burning of it in a similar way as Christians, largely as a symbol of prayer and petition.

However, they make it useful much more commonly in their more modern practices. Priests can often be found burning some incense during a service.

It was more common in ancient times, and it’s still somewhat unknown exactly why we’ve adopted it into modern practices and continue to use it so regularly.

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One of the biggest reasons is perhaps the smell it will make. It emits a lovely and pleasing aroma when burned, especially when additional perfumes are added to it before it’s burned.

The smoke that incense emits when it’s burned can also be symbolic of sanctification and purification, which is a huge part of the Catholic lifestyle and rituals.

Confession of sins to the priest is a regular practice and many altars and sanctuaries are incensed at the beginning of a mass.

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Much different from the more religious symbols and meanings, those involved with paganism and witchcraft use incense in spells, incantations, and other magical type practices.

In witchcraft, burning different fragrances with their incense can have different meanings and purposes. Some of these include:

  • Acacia. This can be burned with Sandalwood to stimulate and enhance one’s psychic powers.

  • Basil. This common spice can be burned to protect against evil spirits and other unwanted entities.

  • Bergamont: Burned for prosperity, wealth, joy, and an uplifting of the spirits.

  • Cardamom: This can be burned to increase and enhance focus, motivation, mental clarity, confidence, strength, and balance.

  • Chamomile: Commonly burned for feelings of calm, peace, and tranquility.

  • Coconut: This versatile ingredient has a simple purpose – it’s burned for protection.

  • Orange: This is burned to increase luck, wealth, love, and divination.

  • Sandalwood: Burned to exorcise evil spirits and ghosts while attracting good and helpful ones at the same time.

  • Violet: This one can be burned for enhanced wisdom, protection, and healing.

These are just a few examples of specific ingredients and their particular uses and purposes. The complete list is very long.

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A lot of people that practice witchcraft and related things will make their own unique and customized combinations depending on what they’re doing.

They will consider which gods or deities they’re praying to or attempting to work with.

Are Incense Sticks Toxic?

While incense is a hugely popular tool in multiple cultures, religions, and households, it doesn’t come without risks.

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While most will assure you that it is not, in fact, completely toxic, there has been some research done on the drawbacks, risks, and side effects.

According to studies that have been conducted recently, there are several distinct risks associated with the burning of incense.

These can be heightened when done indoors or in a small space where smoke is more likely to be inhaled.

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You can make incense sticks from a combination of natural and unnatural ingredients. Both of these can form small particles that are easy to inhale.

A 2009 study confirmed that some of these small particles are carcinogenic, meaning they can potentially cause cancer.

The cancers that are most likely to be caused are in the lungs and upper respiratory system. In addition to being found in the particles on the incense stick, irritating and toxic compounds were found in the smoke as well, including:

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  • polyaromatic hydrocarbons
  • benzene
  • carbonyls


While some of the inhalant particles are carcinogenic, others are also irritants. This could lead to the development of respiratory issues such as asthma.

For someone who already has asthma, it could trigger a reaction or make it worse. A study was done on a series of 3000 people, testing for an association between the burning of incense and asthma or asthma-like symptoms.

The study did reveal a correlation between the incense burning and the appearance of asthma-like symptoms such as wheezing. It showed a need for increased asthma medication in some of the people.

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There are several studies that suggest the burning of incense can trigger some inflammation in the body.

One study revealed that the most common places for this inflammation are the lungs and the liver. The inflammation was caused when the body took particulate matter and processed it into metabolites. This also caused some oxidative stress.


Studies on the metabolism and incense have been extremely limited. However, there is some evidence to suggest that the inhalation of incense smoke can have an adverse effect on metabolism and weight.

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One study was done on rats and it showed an undesirable amount of weight loss and significantly lowered cholesterol levels.

These studies are in the beginning stages and more needs to be done to see if this will happen in humans as well. However, it’s something to consider if you’re burning incense on a regular basis and/or in an enclosed space.

Heart Health

Lastly, the inhalation of incense smoke has also been related to the risk of heart disease.

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One study was done on more than 60,000 people. It revealed that long-term exposure to the burning of incense within the home was linked to a number of cardiovascular issues.

Researchers in this study believed that these issues were linked to the metabolic issues that can also be caused by too much inhalation of the smoke.

Testing is Still Early

While it’s important to consider the risks and be aware of your own health, it’s also important to note that much of these tests and studies are in the early stages.

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Much of it has been done on animals and/or smaller groups of humans. There are also a limited number of studies that have even been done in general.

At the end of the day, it’s up to you to inform yourself of the risks and decide if you still wish to take the chance. Plenty of people feel like they reap great rewards and benefits by burning incense on a regular basis despite the risks.

What is Incense Made of?

Incense is generally made of material and ingredients that are aromatic. Among the uses, benefits, and purposes, incense is meant to release a positive and uplifting aroma into the air. This is the sole reason some burn it.

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For this reason, you’ll find fragrant and aromatic ingredients in any given stick of incense.

These ingredients include things like:

  • Frankincense
  • Must
  • Patchouli
  • Sandalwood
  • Cinnamon
  • Myrrh

In addition to the fragrance compounds, incense will include some binding and combustible material. This is something that allows it to burn and subsequently produce smoke when you light it up.

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These materials can vary and are not as important to the fragrance as the other elements. Combustible materials can include charcoal and wood powders.

When put together, these two elements can come in several different forms. These include coils, powders, sticks, and cones. In order to burn a stick of incense, you must first light it.

One lit, a stick can burn for anywhere between 50 and 90 minutes. Other forms of incense will burn for various lengths of time.

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Lastly, it’s important to remember that incense is flammable and therefore is a fire hazard. Of course, burning it is the whole purpose, but always ensure you’re practicing caution and being careful where and how you burn it.

What Does Sage Smoke Mean?

Burning sage is somewhat similar to the idea of burning incense. The practice of burning sage is most commonly known as “smudging.”

It has deep roots in the ancient history of cultures around the world, though it’s perhaps most well-known as a Native American tribal ritual.

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That being said, it’s not practiced by all groups. Some groups that do use it include the Lakota, Cahuilla, and Chumash, among several others.

The modern world has these groups to thank for the continuation of the practice of smudging and its ability to translate into other cultures.

Today, several cultures share similar practices surrounding smudging. In addition to the spiritual meanings, it can come with health benefits.

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Spiritual Meaning of Sage Smoke

Those that practice smudging on a regular basis tend to believe that the smoke can promote healing, lift mood, and be used to purify and sanctify. It will effectively “clean out” the energy in the space where the smoke is burned.

This is said to relieve a home or space of bad or evil spirits and energy while promoting positivity and good energy.


In spiritual terms, the burning of sage can be used for healing purposes. Most believe that a healing state can be achieved. Or at the very least, it can help you reflect upon any spiritual dilemma you may be facing.

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While the idea of healing is a highly spiritual belief, there is some science to back it up.

Reduces Negative Energy

Smudging has long-since been believed to help cleanse both yourself and your home of negative energy and presences.

This can include the effects of things like trauma, bad experiences, and negative energies left behind by someone else.

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This is the reason that smudging became such a traditional ritual as well as a common element of meditation.

Cleansing and Empowering Objects

Most of the time, smudging is done to cleanse and purify yourself. Smudging is also a cleansing practice to clear negative energy and prepare a space for spiritual work.

However, it can be used in a similar way to cleanse a single object. While this can be done on any item you desire, it’s a good practice for items that are given second hand, given as a gift, or purchased from another.

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This can help rid the new and foreign object of poor history and any negative energy that may be attached to it. This can offer you peace of mind.

Additionally, it will help you find the perfect intention for the item in question without worrying about it having a negative effect on you.

Health Benefits of Smudging

In addition to the spiritual meaning and the effects some believe it to have, there are practical, physical benefits of burning sage:

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In addition to a spiritually purifying effect, it can also literally purify the air of the area where it’s being burned.

The most common forms of sage are known to contain antimicrobial properties. This can keep fungus, bacteria, and viruses at bay. There are also some forms of sage, such as White Prarie Sage, that also have antibacterial properties.

The belief that smudging can purify both spiritual and physical impurities is the foundation of burning sage.

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Symptom Relief

In addition to general cleansing and purification, the burning of sage may also release negative ions. This releases positive ions.

Some of these positive ions include allergens such as pet dander, mold, dust, and pollution. The sage may be able to relieve the symptoms and effects of these allergens on the body.

It is has been known to help those with asthma and bronchitis as well as allergy symptoms. It’ important to note that these conditions can actually be worsened by inhaling the smoke itself.

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Therefore, it’s best to wait until after the smoke has cleared to enter a room or home where smudging has taken place.

Improves Mood

A study was done in 2014 that suggests smudging is able to physically lift the spirits and reduce negativity. The study was done using white prairie sage.

This is traditionally able to treat mood disorders, anxiety, and depression in several cultures.

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Reduces Stress

Lifting the mood often comes with the reduction of stress, which is another thing burning sage might be able to do for you. This notion is also backed by some research.

The study that was done found that white sage contains a high amount of compounds that can activate receptors in the brain.

The activated receptors are those that are responsible for stress, mood levels, and even pain. If the sage can affect these parts of the brain, then pain and stress will naturally go away.

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Improves Sleep

smudging is often used to combat negativity, specifically that which can impede your ability to sleep well. There is some research to suggest that there are compounds in sage that are able to combat the effects of insomnia.

One of the most common types of sage used to fight sleep issues is known as classic garden sage. This is used in very similar ways to white sage.

Improves Cognition

In addition to improving mood and helping you sleep, the burning of sage has also been known to improve focus and memory as well as strengthen intuition.

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This was discovered during a review of several studies in 2016. These found evidence for many promising cognitive enhancements when sage is being burned.

Some of the more significant suggestions are that it may be able to help treat Alzheimer’s and dementia.

More research is needed to confirm and solidify such ideas, but the beginning stages of the research is extremely promising and exciting.

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Anything that can be done to treat, maintain, or even reverse the effects of dementia and Alzheimers is cause for celebration.

Boosts Energy

Burning sage can effectively rid your home or space of negative energies, thus increasing your mood and even cognitive functions. In doing so, you may be able to boost your energy as well.

The sage makes way for positive energies in the air, which can energize you and help combat fatigue,

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White prairie sage and other variations like it are most able to achieve energy-boosting results. Many of them have antifatigue properties and uses that have been properly documented.

Uplifting Fragrance

While mood, cognition, energy, sleep, and cleansing are all practical, useful, and exciting benefits of sage, some still burn it mostly for the fragrance.

This is because burning sage can give off a truly wonderful fragrance which is something most will find desirable on a regular basis.

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Those who burn it regularly for fragrance or air-freshening purposes may just see other benefits within themselves and their bodies. This will happen naturally because the sage is in the room, even if it’s just for the aroma.

Sage and Incense Allow You to Enjoy Many Benefits

Sage and incense are used in similar ways, and while different, they do have similarities in their purposes as well. Both of them are ancient practices with both spiritual and physical implications.

Overall, burning either of them will enhance your life both within yourself and on the outside.

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It’s important to keep in mind the risks associated with each, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy them.

As long as you’re aware and practicing caution, you’ll be just fine. You might even find you feel even better once you begin the practice of either.

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