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Incense has a long history throughout almost all regions of the world. Despite being a relatively new religion, Wiccans also use incense in their everyday lives, rituals, and especially when practicing air magick (since incense represents the element of air). But how do Wiccans respectfully put out incense once they’ve finished burning it?
Here’s how to respectfully put out incense:
- Use water to douse the embers.
- Cut off the burning end with metal scissors.
- Use a pestle to put out the burning embers.
- Allow it to burn out on its own.
- Dispose of the ashes respectfully.
This article details several ways to respectfully put out incense — including methods for different types of incense — and a few creative and respectful ways to dispose of the ashes so as not to harm the environment, per the Wiccan Rede. Additionally, we’ll cover divination with ashes and leave you with a few words of caution to help keep you safe during your rituals or spellcasting. Read on to learn more.
Putting Out Different Kinds of Incense (The Respectful Way)
There are many different types of incense. Sticks, cones, and loose incense are the most commonly used, in that order.
While many Wiccans use incense in their rituals, sometimes we don’t need to burn an entire stick, cone, or dusting of loose incense in one sitting.
Perhaps you’ve ended your spell, or you only want to use the incense for a ten-minute chant. Either way, you can put out incense halfway through burning and keep what remains for your next session — but it’s important to do so respectfully. So, how can you put incense out while remaining respectful to theLord and Lady or other deities?
That’s what we’ll discuss in this section — but first, let’s dive into the three most popular types of incense:
- Incense sticks – These are the most common type of incense used among Wiccan practitioners. It’s readily available and very affordable, costing around $2 for a 10-pack. Incense sticks are best for soft, even smells while performing a ritual, filling in your Book of Shadows, or meditating. The smell of incense sticks is lighter than cones and loose incense and may last half an hour or longer.
- Incense cones – Often referred to as “backflow incense,” incense cones are also quite popular. The smoke moves differently than that of incense sticks. Instead of floating up and into the air, the smoke from an incense cone moves down through the hollow center and out through the bottom. They’re ideal for rituals or meditation that require visual focus. The right holder for the cone can recreate the look of a flowing river or foggy mountainscape.
- Loose incense – Not as common as sticks or cones, loose incense is still the option of choice for many Wiccans. It’s made from a blend of crushed herbal leaves, flowers, tree bark, and resins. A constant heat source is required to burn loose incense — charcoal discs are the best choice. It’s difficult to save loose incense for later use, so it’s important to only use as much as you need. You may be able to salvage some, but it’s challenging.
Now that we’ve discussed the different types of incense let’s dive into how you can put incense out in a respectful manner.
1. Use Water to Douse the Embers
Water is the most common respectful method for putting out incense. The element of water is a life-sustaining element, and by using it to put out your incense, you can essentially purify it in the process.
It’s best to use consecrated water to put out the incense. Seawater is considered the purest, but many don’t have regular access to salty ocean water.
If you don’t have any consecrated water readily available, you may consecrate regular tap water or spring water by mixing a teaspoon of sea salt (about 6 grams or 0.56 ounces) with 16 ounces (0.5 liters) of water. Mix it thoroughly, and then pass it over the four elements on your altar. Alternatively, you may omit the salt and leave the water in the full moonlight overnight (this water is also known as moon water).
See our in-depth article on moon water to get specific instructions on how to create your own.
How To Respectfully Put Out Incense Sticks With Water
- Fill a cup with clean, consecrated water. As mentioned above, you may consecrate water with sea salt, use seawater, or leave regular water in the full moonlight.
- Take the incense stick out of its holder. If the incense has a center stick, hold it at the stick end and not the lit end— you don’t want to accidentally burn yourself.
- Dip the burning ember into the consecrated water. Only dip the smoldering tip. Don’t douse the entire stick in the water, or else you may ruin the incense and its fragrance.
- Place the incense stick back into its holder. Allow it to dry for at least an hour or two.
Once the incense stick is completely dry, you may set it aside for use in another spell or ritual.
How To Respectfully Put Out Incense Cones With Water
Backflow incense cones are a bit more difficult to put out for later use when compared with incense sticks. This is due to their small size and conical shape.
- Fill a small glass with consecrated water. A shot glass works perfectly for small incense cones.
- Ensure that you have a tight grip on the cone. You don’t want to accidentally drop the entire cone into the water.
- Dip the burning tip of the cone into the water. It should immediately go out.
- Remove the tip of the incense cone from the water. Allow it to dry thoroughly before attempting to use it again.
You may then save the cone for your next ritual or spell.
How To Respectfully Put Out Incense With Your Fingers
While many people may lick the tips of their fingers to douse an incense “flame,” it’s not exactly the most respectful way to put out incense, considering the germs we have on our hands. Instead, use clean or consecrated water and then use your fingers.
Here’s how to put out an incense stick with your fingers:
- Remove the incense stick from the holder. Hold the end that’s not lit and carefully pull it out, being sure not to spill the ashes.
- Place two fingers into a cup of fresh, clean, or consecrated water. Ensure that they’re wet and not just slightly damp, otherwise, you’ll burn yourself.
- Use those two wet fingers to “pinch” the ember on the tip of the burning incense stick. Remove your fingers and wash your hands.
- Store the incense stick back in the holder until it dries. You may reuse this incense stick later for a follow-up of the ritual or spell you were performing.
This isn’t as effective on incense cones as it is for sticks, due to their thickness.
2. Cut Off the Burning End With Metal Scissors
If you’re unable to use consecrated water, then you may respectfully put out incense by snipping off the burning tip with a pair of metal scissors. This is gentle and effective and doesn’t involve suffocating the ember.
Here’s how to put out an incense stick by cutting off the tip:
- Ensure that the incense stick is secure. If the holder is wobbly or unstable, remove it from the holder and hold it in your hand on the non-burning side.
- Place a non-flammable surface beneath the burning ember. A ceramic bowl, plate, or metal tray is ideal.
- Use sharp scissors to cut off the lit end of the incense stick. Only cut the lit end — you don’t need to cut off more than that. Ensure that it falls onto the heat-resistant surface placed beneath it.
- Allow it to completely burn out before cleaning up. Set the ashes aside once the ember is cool (we’ll discuss ash disposal later in this guide). If any ashes fall onto your altar, clean the area with consecrated water.
- Use the stick again in a follow-up ritual. Unlike using water, you don’t need to let the stick dry before using again.
You cannot really cut the tip off of incense cones, as they’re significantly thicker than sticks.
3. Use a Pestle To Put Out the Burning Embers
Putting out loose incense or herbal incense isn’t as straightforward as dousing the embers of an incense stick or cone. In this case, the best method is to use a heat-resistant mortar and pestle. This method isn’t recommended for incense sticks or cones.
- Drop the loose burning incense into a non-flammable, heat-resistant mortar. Ceramic or stone is best.
- Put the embers out by gently pressing down on them with the pestle. If there’s any leftover, unburnt incense, you may separate it from the ashes using a small spoon or knife and save them for later use.
- Dump the ashes into a separate container. We’ll discuss how to properly and respectfully dispose of incense ashes in step five.
4. Allow the Incense To Burn Out on Its Own
If you’re not interested in storing the incense for later use, consider allowing the incense to burn out on its own.
Incense sticks may burn for 20 to 40 minutes, depending on the thickness, length, and quality of the material. Cones typically burn for about half an hour, and loose incense may burn for up to an hour if you’re using a charcoal disc.
Only allow incense to burn out on its own if you’re able to stay nearby. Incense should never be left unattended — we’ll discuss more safety tips for incense burning later in this article.
5. Dispose of the Ashes Respectfully
To respectfully dispose of burnt incense ashes, wait for the incense to fully cool down. Gently tip the incense holder over into a small bowl or plate. Collect the ashes for later use.
Here are some respectful (and creative) uses for incense ashes:
- Discard the ashes in a flower garden. Ashes make an excellent addition to garden soil, especially when you only use all-natural incense. Use the ashes on plants that aren’t sensitive to pH, as ashes may alter the pH levels in the soil.
- Bury the ashes. Instead of tossing the ashes in the garbage, toilet, or in a river, bury them outdoors. Not only will the ashes add nutrients to the soil, but you’re not contributing to pollution by dumping it into sewers or waterways.
- Make black salt. Perhaps the most useful way to “dispose” of incense ashes is to use them to make black salt. Black salt is used for protection in Wiccan spells and rituals and is made with two parts sea salt and one part black ash.
- Create a “paint” for sigils. Mix incense ashes, seawater (or moon water), and sea salt to create a paste-like consistency. Use this paste to paint sigils for your Wiccan spells.
Smoke Cleansing With Herbal Bundles
Bundles of herbs are often referred to as incense and used in a similar way. White sage is the most commonly used herb in herbal bundles, but commercial harvesting of white sage has led to concern among many Native Americans.
Instead of using white sage, consider growing and harvesting your own herbs, such as lavender or rosemary. If you must purchase herbal bundles, go with cedar or bay. Each of these herbs has healing, protection, and purification properties.
With that said, it’s always wise to research any plants thoroughly before using them in your home. Remember, “all-natural” doesn’t mean safe. Ensure that there are no harmful effects that could hurt you, anyone else, or any animals or children in your home.
How To Respectfully Put Out an Herbal Bundle
It’s quite unlikely that you’ll use a full herbal bundle during a single ritual or spell. Because of this, it’s important that you know how to respectfully put out the burning bundle to save what’s left for your next session.
Once you’ve cleansed your space, wrapped up your ritual, or finished casting your spell, put out the herbal bundle by gently pressing it into an abalone shell, glass bowl, or natural clay dish.
Save the ashes and consider using the “disposal” methods mentioned in step five.
Divination With Incense Ashes
Many Wiccans use incense smoke as a form of divination. The smoke may rise, fall, speed up, slow down, swirl, fork, or create waves or other patterns. Depending on the movement of the smoke, the practitioner interprets a meaning.
In addition to smoke reading, some Wiccans “read” ashes once burning has ceased. They may look for shapes, symbols, letters, numbers, or other signs in the ashes — it’s quite similar to reading tea leaves in the bottom of a mug.
Try your hand at reading incense ashes. Keep a clear question in mind while the incense is burning. Once it burns out (or you put it out using one of the above methods), examine the ashes for any signs. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t notice a message straight away — it’s not always clear what the symbols mean, especially for a beginner.
The more you practice, the better you’ll get. You’ll find that you become more in tune with your intuition, which also means that there’s more clarity when observing the ash for symbols and signs.
A Few Words of Caution When Burning Incense
When working with flames or any burning objects, take care to avoid injuring yourself, others, or causing a fire.
- Never use incense on or near a flammable surface or material. Keep it away from curtains, clothes, towels, books, magazines, chemicals, or other combustible materials.
- Invest in a quality incense burner. Burners are designed to prevent ashes and embers from falling anywhere other than the burner itself.
- Always keep the incense out of reach of children and pets. Cats, especially, are known to climb on counters and tables. So even if you place your burning incense on a high surface, it may not be enough. Instead, burn the incense in a room that your pet cannot access until it’s burned out.
- Never leave incense unattended. If you must leave the area, go to sleep, or even step outside for a few minutes, put the incense out.
- Don’t touch the ashes, embers, or remnants of incense immediately after it’s finished burning. If you have a metal incense burner, it’s likely to be hot as well. Allow at least five to ten minutes for the incense and burner to cool down.
- Never dump incense into a trash can immediately after burning. It could still be hot. Plus there are better ways to dispose of incense ash respectfully. Instead, use one of the methods in this article to put out the incense before reusing or disposing of the ashes.
- Thoroughly research where your incense comes from. Choose a seller that believes in sustainability and one that works closely with farmers to ensure that the process is ethical.
See our disclaimers page for further information.
Final Thoughts on How to Respectfully Put Out Incense
Burning incense is an excellent way to feel more in tune during spellcasting or rituals, as well as while you’re meditating. It’s also great to work with the Air element. However, it’s important that you’re respectful and sustainable when putting it out. Instead of snuffing it out like a cigarette, try one of the following methods:
- Try using water to douse the burning ember.
- Cut off the lit end to stop the incense from burning.
- Use a pestle to put out the embers.
- Let the incense burn out naturally.
Show your respect for the Wiccan Rede by disposing of the ashes respectfully so as to harm none (including wildlife).