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A censer is a vessel for burning incense.

A typical censer is a small metal or stone dish, often on small legs. In many cultures, burning incense has spiritual and religious connotations, and this influences the design and decoration of the censer. Designs vary from simple, earthenware bowls to intricately carved silver or gold vessels.

Censers in the Catholic church

In the Roman Catholic church a censer is often called a thurible, and used during important offices (benedictions, processions, important masses). A common design for a thurible is a metal container, about the size and shape of a coffee-pot, suspended on chains. The bowl contains hot coals, and the incense is placed on top of these. The thurible is then swung back and forth on its chains, spreading the fragrant smoke.

A famous thurible is the Botafumeiro, in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. Suspended from the ceiling of the cathedral, the swinging of this 5 foot high, 55 kilogram silver vessel is quite a sight, possibly only surpassed by the spectacle of a lone man hurling himself at the swinging vessel to bring it to a stop.

One of the explanations for the great size of the Botafumeiro is that in the early days it was used to freshen the air in the cathedral after being visited by droves of travel-weary pilgrims.

Censers in the Eastern Orthodox church

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, censers are similar in design to the Catholic thurible, often with the addition of small bells. They are used much more often, typically at every vespers, matins, and Divine Liturgy. If a deacon is present, he typically does much of the censing, otherwise the job falls to the priest. Unordained servers or acolytes are permitted to prepare and carry the censer, but may not swing it during prayers. Censing is the practice of swinging a censer suspended from chains towards something or someone, typically an icon or person, so that smoke from the burning incense travels in that direction. Burning incense generally represents the prayers of the people rising towards Heaven. One commonly sung psalm during the censing is "Let my prayer rise like incense before You, my hands like the evening sacrifice." Some Orthodox Christians use a standing censer on their home altars.

Censers in Asia

In Japan, usually a simple earthen ware bowl is used, but it is filled with aash and burning charcoal in a complicated way. The incense isn't put directly on the charcoal but on a mica plate. The japanese incense ceremony is even more complicated than the well-known tea ceremony. One type of japanese censer is called koro.

Censers for Magicians

For home use of granulated incense, small, concave charcoal briquettes are sold. One lights the corner of the briquette on fire, then places it in the censer and extinguishes the flame. After the glowing sparks traverse the entire briquette, it is ready to have incense placed on it. This is because the so-called self-igniting charcoal is impregnated with potassium nitrate or sodium nitrate.

Glowing coal gets very hot, so it's important that the censer is providing sufficient heat protection. Generally, censers made from stone or earthenware are safer than those made from metal. Especially silver is unsafe because it is a very good heat conductor. Expensive metal censers from reputable trades are constructed in a way that makes them safe, but small, cheap ones should be avoided. The censer should be filled with sand or ash bevore the charcoal is put in to provide further insulation. It is advisable to test a new censer thoroghly and determine how hot it will get bevore using it in an extended ritual, where the magickian may be concerned with other things.

Aside from it's practical role, a censer may or may not be treated as a magical weapon. It is up to any magickian how important he/she deems actual altar equipment. But it can never hurt to have one that looks pleasant and dignified. It may also be a good idea to make one yourself. The easiest way to do that is pottery.

Censers made for stick incense are also available; these are simply a long, thin plate of wood, metal, or ceramic, bent up and perforated at one end to hold the incense. They serve to catch the ash of the burning incense stick.

External Links

  • Incense Traditional Roman Catholic use of incense