Incense has been used all over the world in spiritual practices for thousands of years. Incense first appeared in China during Neolithic times, just when cave men were starting to become "civilised" learning farming, domesticating animals and started using copper tools instead of stone hand axes. That would be over ten thousand years ago.
So here we go. Incense is older than the candle. Hard to say historically whether incense or the Neolithic stone oil lamp came first… But these are very old and ancient things. Almost like holding a piece of the origin of civilisation in one's hands when one uses either of these.
When you burn incense and pray, watch as the smoke rises up into the air and dissolves into the spirit world. Incense is used for purification and for scaring away evil spirits.
Over here, it's not magic, just known as "prayers" at a temple. I think the words prayer and magic is blurred here. Magic is, to make change by force of will, maybe considered an advanced form of prayer for the Gods and spirits to hear it and help.
In Taoism, magic can be done simply by using incense alone. It's akin to hoodoo, using a petition paper.
Huge spiral incense hung from ceilings is like how a vigil candle takes days to burn so does huge spiral coil incense. Some can take as long as nine days to burn, like these ones pictured here. Be careful when visiting such temples, I would not suggest looking upwards it can sting abit when the ash falls onto you.
I guess we could be considered really hardcore about incense here in the Orient. There are so many kinds here. Straight stick without a core. Stick with a thin bamboo core (joss sticks). Ready-made cones. Coil incense (small sized for home use) my personal favourite. Incense disks. In reality I have no idea what they are called in English, but they are set alight altogether much like charcoal disks, but they burn by themselves and smoke alot. (Incense that needs charcoal disks are known as "indirect incense.")
Pictured here is disk incense.
The whole thing is torched (perhaps over a stove) then placed in a heavy censer, and it smokes a great deal. It can and will burn one's table if the censer is too small or thin. These are used in temples, very seldom used by people at home. If they are used at home, it would be for a special prayer or little ceremony. For example smoking a person's body to scare off an evil spirit. Unlike small coil incense for daily use over here:
In hoodoo, incense is very effective for use in long-distance work. When the target/client/victim is far away from you or out of reach. Smoke is associated with the soul and spirits see, so it makes perfect sense, it bridges distance. So far for use with hoodoo, I hold container spells over the burning incense while praying my intent, moving my hand in a clockwise or counter clockwise motion depending on my intent.
(Clockwise is for increasing or drawing, counter clockwise is for decreasing or repelling. The symbolism of spirals is such.)
Damn I just love smoke and fire.