Last year, my birthday fell during what was an incredibly dark time. (I could just say “it was 2018” and leave it at that; most of you would get my meaning.) While I was wrapped up in a personal crisis that seemed enormous at the time but now seems completely inconsequential — as the best crises do — my sister reached out for guidelines on a suitable present.
My request for “something witchy that will fix me” steered her toward an item I’ve begun to call “life-changing” with only a slight hint of exaggeration. She sent a bundle of what looked like fatter and more fragile sticks of incense; they were coated in layers of a sticky, dark substance and a thin dusting of wood chips. (I’d later learn later those were bits of Palo Santo, one of the many variations of Breu resin available. Another popular style is White Sage.) They came wrapped in brown twine and dark tissue paper, which helped impede their tendency to crumble and leave dusty, dark residue everywhere.
“From the Almaciga tree of the Amazon rainforest, sacred Breu resin (Breuzinho) is used in ceremonies and healing rituals, to ward off evil spirits, and to create good energy,” read the card from Lucca, the small Ballard, Seattle shop where she’d purchased the incense. “It also possess a property that causes regression experiences and conscious dreams after ritualistic use,” the card continued, listing its properties as a medicinal incense, “possessing anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, anti-depressant and sedative properties.” And, like Palo Santo, but unlike many other incense sticks, Breu resin is fairly innocuous until actually lit: “It does not exude a strong fragrance until it is burned, but it has a very fragrant smoke.”
Annoyed by the unfamiliar and not ready for any regressive hallucinations, I put the crumbling, fat incense sticks in a drawer for a couple months before lighting even one. But when I finally did, I was immediately struck by how comforting it was. Palo Santo clears energy, but Breu resin seems to emanate waves of bright, sweet feeling, as implied by the plumes of smoke that immediately twirl themselves into curlicues. Because it’s a tree resin, the smell evokes sharp, pungent familiarity of pine or spruce. For Catholics, it might also evoke memories of mass; apparently the church is one of the biggest modern patrons of resin because it’s used in their mass ceremonies. (Luckily, I dodged that association, even if religion isn’t something I’m all the way at peace with.)
I found that whenever I had writers block, the Breu resin helped. I also loved burning it before bed to calm my mind and ease my spirit — it had the effect of an olfactory prayer. I never had visions, but I (literally) burned through the small bundle in a week, then immediately went trolling all over the internet to find more. Though much harder to locate than the omnipresent Palo Santo, it’s out there. And like Palo Santo, the Breu itself comes from many sources, so check carefully if you’re looking for it online.
Shaman’s Market on Amazon sells packs for around $25 in plain Breu resin, Palo Santo, or White Sage. Nine sticks come in a little cardboard box whose aesthetic would immediately qualify as “artisanal,” but the box does a better job of protecting the very breakable sticks than the twine and tissue paper that mine arrived in.
“Burning herbs and resins (aromatic tree sap) is one of the oldest form of incense,” the Shaman Market site’s description explains. “Long before there were sticks and cones, people would add fragrant botanicals to fire to create beautiful smelling smoke to entice their deities or to please themselves. It is believed this is one of the most powerful means of working with herbs to imbue a space, an object or a person with holy qualities.”
While holiness may be the desired effect for some, another retailer, Incasua, has instead elevated the resin to a thing of beauty. Their four-pack of varietals — Pure Breu, Palo Santo, White Sage, and Chacrona & Jaguba — comes in at just under $90 (less than $25 per bundle, for comparison sake) in an elegantly wrapped package using “traditional Nepalese Lokta paper.”
Since I first received my introduction to the uplifting properties as a gift, I can safely recommend it as such — but if you’re in the mood to care for yourself, this bit of under-the-radar old magic is great for clearing and claiming new spaces. I won’t say it fixed me, but I will say it made me more interested in healing than I was in the wound.