I make my own incense to use in Buddhist rituals. I am always looking for ways to improve - better techniques, recipes, ingredients. I bought four books on incense, two about Japanese incense and two about Western incense. The two Western books take a "Magick" approach. I had never heard of it before. I did not know what to expect. Scott Cunningham's book, 'The Complete Book of Incense, Oils, and Brews', was the first to arrive. It was very poor quality - suggesting the routine use of toxic substances. (See my review for details.) My heart sank - are all Magick books this bad? I was aware I had bought a second Magick book and awaited its arrival with trepidation. Well, it arrived today, second of the four, and I am very pleased to report that it is miles better than Cunningham's book and gives me some respect for Magick.
Thinking only in terms of technicalities, Carl Neal pays due attention to health and safety, explains basic techniques, gives non-harmful recipes, offers contact information for suppliers of ingredients. I would have thought this a good starter book for anyone beginning to make incense. I picked up a couple of useful tips too, mainly about suppliers of ethically sourced third world materials but I would have liked a lot more on this aspect of incense making.
We have to also consider the spirituality of Magick in reviewing this book since it is interwoven with the technical discussion of incense-making and use. I have asked friends about Magick and now realise it is part of the New Age, Wiccan, Pagan family of spiritualities. As a Buddhist I have no objection to spiritualities which promote wisdom and compassion. I found Cunningham's Magick superficial, self-indulgent, foolish, amateurish in the bad sense, and potentially harmful. By contrast, I found Neal's Magick well-intentioned, compassionate, and ethical - an amateur leaning towards professional standards. I could not recommend Cunningham's book but I can recommend Neal's book - even to my Christian friends (who might be a bit wary of anything labelled "Magick").
If you are considering a book on incense but a bit put off by the "Magick" theme, don't be. Considered objectively, there is little about Neal's version of it that could offend anyone and much to commend. In any case, when I was reading his book, every time he mentioned adding a Magick ritual I thought to myself that if it was me I'd make a Buddhist ritual. I guess you could do your own religious rituals, say your own prayers, or skip all religious content and make 'secular incense'. In other words, the Magick does not get in the way of this being a useful book for anyone interested in making incense. That was not true of Cunningham's book.
This is a superb practical book that will genuinely allow you to make incense that works (i.e. holds shape and burns!). I couldn't have got started without it. It contains some very good points on issues such as charcoal disks (yes, they do stink when lit, and then create a stink when your loose incense is burned to a crisp). It has a lot of decent recipes and some truly great practical tips (i.e. fridge / freeze your resins before grinding them to avoid gumming up your grinder). These are just not mentioned in other books and really help. Other books have more on incense ingredients (for example, the history and provenance of frankincense, dragon's blood) and more about magical correspondences. But you're always going to want more than one incense-making book, and I'm relieved I started with this one, Thanks, Carl!
If your into Magick, incense and rituals as well as meditation then this book is a must, its well writen full of incense recipies as well as details of rituals and meditation oh yes its a damb good read as well