How We Started Making Incense June 29 2018

      The Apprenticeship Part I        

By Jessica Ring


Every Tuesday since winter stepped forward, I have been gifted a full day with my two apprentices, Hannah Hulett and Alexi Hedlund.  Together we are healers with heart compasses aligned along the same arrow of intention: to make beautiful fragrant medicine from plants, filling the basket of our collective mind with as much aromatic knowledge as we can hold.



I woke up one rainy morning last Fall and the first, loudest thought on my mind was that it was time to find apprentices to start passing down the trade to.  There was a distinct sense that this process would open a doorway into a huge room of revelation. I put out a call for interns who would be willing to trade their time bottling, labeling, harvesting, and planting in return for a year of aromatic education on perfume construction, medicinal applications, farming, distillation, and fragrance extraction. I knew that whoever came through would become family, since there is no other way with this heart-centric work.
Two of my former students stepped forward, with their sweet baltic energy and well-anchored hearts.  Already friends, already in love with aromatics, I knew they were as curious as I was.
So now, together, we have formed one of those rare triangular alliances that functions in perfect harmony.
We share our stories as we work. Offer advice, and whole genres of laughter and kindness. But what has been most surprising is the intense creativity that has arisen from our collective energy. The sheer volume of aromatics that have passed through our hands is staggering……bales of sweetgrass, lbs of cocoa and kilos of frankincense. Five gallon buckets of oil and alcohol. Baskets of herbs harvested and dried for medicine and incense. Orange pansies and honeysuckle blossoms layered into solid perfumes of golden poplar and river-bottom beeswax.


Bowls of resin ground in stone, drummed in wooden tubs, cracked into clouds of amber perfume chiming up from copper bowls. Thousands of bottles filled and labeled. This is perfume clockwork. This is rare sequined snow. Distillations. Initiations of copper still burns, and stainless steel bites, scars from broken beakers, and rashes from garage sale perfumes.



A whole new ecosystem of incense. Layers of Sage and Rockrose tar, melted sap over pinecone and rose. Frozen pitch shattered and dusted over needles and bark, ground down seeds, stories pouring over the matrix.
Questions. “How do we heal?”
“What will we transform?”
“How long do we let this burn?”



Jasmine and rose are drawn with cool oil. White sage is dipped in perfume of Black Poplar. Western Red Cedar is married to Lavender and Patchouli, and then ground down to dust.  
Silent work while tea is steeping. While the city takes a bath in fog. Quiet rainbow-filled space beneath the stairs where bottles are chosen and notes are taken.



One day it is Green Coriander from the garden, a crush of perfume to thrill the pollinators……the next it is Oakmoss on your nose, goat musk on your face, a sick sick head full of too much Ylang, or the wicked- wooden-spoon reality-smack-check of Western Juniper. Nothing is excluded from the possible apothecary of choices. We welcome the acrid. The black. The sour and the degraded. We bow to the old and the pained. Judgements are placed into solutions with all the other things we think we know. We watch our beliefs dissolve….new ideas forming crystals that slowly settle out into questions with faceted eyes.



We experience the grief of failure. The failure of ego. The ego of thinking you know a thing, or a person, or a perfume, when you don’t.
What do we know?
We know we love this. That the work feeds our souls. That the bridges between us have now turned to perennial streams. Bonds like spider-silk rope. Nets of narcissus and Beltane perfume, full moon medicine and dragon’s blood dreams. The medicine of summer we make in winter.  Candle-gold remedies jarred in summer. Dark for light and light for dark. Honey bitters, and black-thorn rose. Together we know that there are very few types of sadness that can't be left behind in a cloud of perfume, or pared down to lightness in a field of pink lavender.



                      Over and over the basket expands and we have not yet come close to capacity.
We’ve no idea where this is taking us, but it feels like just the beginning. There is no choice really, we are part of it now.
*To explore some of the essences and incenses shared in this story: