Witch’s guide to Frankincense

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Green Hojari (frankincense) burning in an ancient Etruscan incense bowl

Frankincense is an aromatic resin that is obtained from various species of the Boswellia tree species. It is widely used in the West both in the world of the occult and Christianity.

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Frankincense (Boswellia) tree

The name ‘frankincense’ is from the French: ‘franc encense’ meaning incense of high quality. There are many types of frankincense some of which are poor quality. The finest frankincense comes from Oman.

The very finest frankincense is ‘Green Sultan Hojari’ and is very expensive and sometimes impossible to obtain outside the Middle East – occasionally it can be obtained from specialist suppliers lucky enough to have contacts in Oman who have access to this precious commodity.

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‘tear drops’ of Green Sultan Hojari, just 10g costs around £25

Royal Green Hojari is undoubtedly the next best – it is expensive, but nowhere near as expensive as ‘Green Sultan’.

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Royal Green Hojari – price around £20 for 25g

There is also a Silver Hojari or ‘White’, but Green is superior in aroma. Silver is a good general quality grade.

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Silver Frankincense granules

Most commonly sold is the lower grade frankincense. The aroma is nothing like the finest grades, but for general use is far more economical. This grade is also ideal for use as a ‘base’ for incense blends; of course, you could use Green Sultan, but it would be like mixing the finest French wine with Pepsi …..somewhat of a waste!

Red Frankincense is seldom seen, but its aroma is unlike most frankincense varieties almost like musk.

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Red Frankincense ‘teardrops’

Black Frankincense is generally greyish in colour rather than black, the scent is good, but does not compare to the highest grades. It is usually exported – the Arabs buy green.

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Black Frankincense granules.

So, to sum up: VERY occasionally treat yourself to Royal Sultan Hojari if you can find and afford it, use Royal Green Hojari when you need to smell very high-quality frankincense or maybe for that special ritual. Use Red or Black when you want something different from your frankincense collection and the general quality for everyday rituals, esbats and blending.

….and finally, I suppose I should say something about how to burn it. You can use incense charcoal disks for all grades of frankincense, but maybe with Sultan and Royal Green, you may wish to treat it with the utmost respect by burning it the Japanese way with odourless charcoal covered with rice stalk ash and with a mica place resting on the ash upon which to place a small amount of this green treasure. This is the best way to burn incense if you wish to go to the trouble – many incense lovers in Arab countries use electric incense burners, but for me, this just lacks some ancient and special quality – a bit like the difference between the light of a full moon and an electric street lamp, although to be fair, it works just as well as the Japanese method and is easier.

Check out our supplier lists here!

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Roman lady with child making an offering of incense to the Gods

The Dymock Curse

Dymock is a small village in the Forest of Dean district of Gloucestershire,  four miles south of Ledbury, with a population of approx. 300 people.  In 1892 a 17th century curse was discovered hidden in a cupboard at Wilton Place.  It is now housed in the Gloucester Museum.

At the top is the name for whom the curse was laid: ‘Sarah Ellis‘ – written backwards, as was the case with some Roman curses.  Below are the names and symbols associated with the moon and most of you will recognise that they are derived from the Kamea of the Moon along with the spirit Hasmodai (Chasmodai).

Beneath, after an invocation of seven more spirit names, comes the curse itself:

make this person to Banish away from this place and countery amen to my desier amen

The curse inscribed on a lead plate:

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Our initiates ( I can think of one or two exceptions!!!!) will be capable of creating a similar curse – although hopefully more accurately and correctly engraved than the original!

It is clear that the information used by the 17th century creator of the curse is derived from Agrippa’s Fourth Book which appeared in an English Language edition translated by Robert Turner in 1655.

The Dymock curse follows a long history of curses inscribed on lead which go back into antiquity. Many of you will be familiar with the numerous curses inscribed on lead, rolled up and thrown into the sacred spring in the city of Bath during the Roman period.

It should also be noted that even though the Dymock Curse relies on Spirits relating to the Moon for its efficacy, lead – a saturnine material – has been used, this is an acceptable practice as lead is the material par-excellence for curses even if it is not a metal related to the Moon.

A great number of curses written on paper or parchment are known and are preserved in museum collections – the Dymock Curse is however, as far as I know, almost unique being inscribed as it is on lead – only the lead curses of antiquity have been found in some profusion at various ancient and sacred sites.  – why might this be?  I would suggest that the reason may be that lead curses of later periods were buried within houses, beneath hearths, or the thresholds to doors and have either deteriorated as lead in certain conditions will or simply remain to be discovered.  But I said ‘almost’ unique – I own a lead curse tablet that dates to around the very early 19th century and follows the illustrations in Francis Barrett’s ‘The Magus’ published in 1801 in that the magic square is rectangular rather than square as are the engravings in ‘The Magus’.  In reality, rectangular ‘magic squares’ will distort the sigils and seals if drawn from them, but if copied straight out of a book, the engraver might not be aware of that.

To create a lead curse like the Dymock Curse required both literacy and access to the secret and occult knowledge contained in the great grimoires – this was a preserve of the literate.  I would also suggest that at least from the 17th century the main method by which aggressive /counterspells were created was by the use of the ‘witch bottle’ – primarily the Bellarmine Jugs which were imported from Germany at that time in vast numbers and are frequently found buried within old houses – see the other article in this Newsletter which includes photos of a Bellarmine Jug (well, the top of two anyway!) and contents in the Pitt Rivers Museum. Initiates will be aware of the document we hold regarding the history and creation of witch bottles.

When I have time, I will re-produce the Dymock Curse ( that is not to imply I made the first one back in the 17th century!…even if I did !), but will make it with the sigils and lunar seals drawn correctly (unlike the original) – in fact I might make two and present one as a gift  to the Gloucester Museum as a thank you for providing the illustrations of the curse.