original image taken with a pentax k-30
edited in PS elements 7
model Jessica Hooper
Mankind has used incense, in its earliest forms, since the dawn of human history. With the discovery of fire, our ancestors would have realized that most materials give off a unique and sometimes powerful aroma when burnt. The difference between the smell of a handful of Parsley and that of a Pine tree branch is greatly emphasized when each is burnt. Then as now, the air is quickly filled with intoxicating aromas simply by throwing some dried leaves, spices or twigs into a fire.
There is historic evidence in most cultures that our ancestors used incense burning for sacred and healing purposes. From ancient times people recognized that aromas produced by burning materials could heighten the senses, both sight and smell. When early man gathered around his fire, the smell of aromatic woods, herbs and leaves carried by heaven-wards spirals of smoke was a rare sensory pleasure. From this discovery it was no doubt a short step to dedicating fragrant products to the Gods, by adding them to a fire, which would also carry the good wishes and prayers of men upwards on the heat of the flames. Other benefits ascribed to the burning of incense included the purification of an area, to change a mood (to facilitate meditation or religious practices) and to cleanse and disinfect living spaces, especially after pollution caused by, for instance, death or illness.
The Rise of Incense and The “Frankincense Trail”
Several thousands of years before the advent of Christianity, the plants, herbs and spices that produced the best incense were traded as highly desirable commodities. For many years Frankincense from the Arabian peninsula was actually a more valuable currency than gold or silver. In almost every religion, aromatic oils, leaves and powders were considered a gift from the Gods, symbolic of divine grace. Frankincense was used in vast quantities by the ancient Egyptians, Persians and Assyrians, and via them, by the Romans, who would have learned of its use when coming into contact with eastern nations.
The significance of the belief that the three wise men brought Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh to the infant Jesus was both the princely nature of the gifts and their symbolic significance. Frankincense was a costly gift literally “fit for a king,” while Bitter Myrrh referred to the bittersweet fate awaiting the messiah.
The trade in Frankincense flourished for centuries, particularly in the Arabian peninsula area of Oman, and its use can be traced back to the reign of the Queen of Sheba, who reigned over the Hadramut Kingdom which included Oman. The Frankincense trade flourished for fifteen hundred years, peaking at the height of the Roman Empire. The trade only declined due to reduced demand after the fall of the Roman Empire and also because of the exorbitant taxes levied along the strictly controlled trade routes.