The Catholics do it. Other spiritual practices too. Burning incense is an ancient practice, but why?
Incense is used for cleansing purposes and supposedly Moses was given specific instructions on how make it. When waved over parishioners, it is supposed to spiritually cleanse and the rising smoke also is said to represent the flight of the prayers to above.
You want to use some for a cleansing of your home? You can find the type you are likely to encounter in churches at Holy Rood Guild.
Saging is a popular practice and some consider rather new-age or pagan, but the burning of sage leaves has been used back in Ancient America by the very spiritual practitioners among Native Americans.
This is perhaps the most common "cleansing" substance folks use when they suspect their home is either haunted, they have just moved in and want to rid it of past energy, or are having conflicts that they believe might be caused by unseen forces.
Most suggest you use an abalone shell to hold the sage while burning so that it doesn't cause troubles with overheating a container. For $6.99 you can find one here. Here's a package of 8 sage bundles for $12.95.
Directions for cleaning your home: To cleanse and bless your house or apartment, again use the entire bundle to light. Open your front door. Go to the back of the house, and cover as much of the room as you can reach. Be sure to hold the bundle as high as you can. Don't forget the corners of the rooms. Work from the back toward the open door at the front. Go into every room, including bathrooms, closets, utility rooms, kitchen...everywhere. When you get to the front door, say "Anything not here for the highest and best good of those who live here, be gone. You are not wanted, and you are not welcome. This home has been cleansed and blessed." Then walk out the door, close it, and sage around the door and door frame. Leave the bundle outside to burn itself out. Make sure you put it on dirt, or on something that will not burn.
The very practical and logical side of me says, "why would spirits have olfactory senses?" But, the part of me that has witnessed people sage their homes and who has saged them too, finds that the ritual alone seems to produce an intense feeling in the home and the occupants, creating a kind of "feel good" ring of protection.
Perhaps the best way to explain it is intentions. I talk about intentions a lot, from the feeling of eyes upon you in a crowded store, you turn and stare down the culprit. How did you know that person was watching you? How did you feel his eyes upon you? How does Bigfoot know to hide when we hunt for him? How do ghosts seem to disappear when we try to converse? Intent.
To put it more simply--what you focus on, you become. If you are scared of a haunting, it has more power over you. If you don't believe it, you don't witness evidence of it, and if you usher bad things from your home on a cloud of smoke, you have placed your intentions towards a deed and proof of it will follow.
We know that running water and salt lamps create negative ions which weigh down particulates such as dust and debris, which cause good feelings for people. The burning of incense is said to promote good energy and drive away bad by producing negative ions which not only make the living feel good, but seem to make the esoteric powerless. Looking at it in terms of what negative ions do, they remove things from the air, weighing them down so they are driven to the earth, in essence, a natural air cleanser.
Source: Burning frankincense (resin from the Boswellia plant) activates poorly understood ion channels in the brain to alleviate anxiety or depression. This suggests that an entirely new class of depression and anxiety drugs might be right under our noses.
I often refer on the blog to native legends and how they were trying to report real events in extraordinary ways in order to ensure the legends were part of the storytelling of the clans/tribes and therefore continued for generations. Well, the ancient practice of using sage and incense was because it worked, but they did no understand the more scientific reasons why. This is like giving someone mint for stomach problems, trial and error taught over the generations that it worked. Today, we can understand the components in mint that makes it a good tummy soother.
Oh, and don't be surprised if you sage your home and your spouse comes home to ask if, well, you've been hanging with Cheech and Chong. The scent is pretty, well, er, earthy.
For those who want their homes to be secure and positive-feeling and protected, there are some simple things that can make a difference: