The spiritual trap of burning sage and other incense rituals
The first time God decided to set up a physical place on earth to manifest Himself in, the Lord instructed Moses to construct a tabernacle in the wilderness. One of the things He ordered Moses to do was to burn incense at the tent of meeting, where God would appear and meet with him. In pagan and witchcraft rituals, incense is also burnt except that other powers are called upon or invoked. Such idolatrous rituals have gradually seeped into ordinary everyday life. For example, many now burn sage to “cleanse” their homes without understanding what spiritual powers they are really calling upon.
Exodus 30:34-38 ESV The Lord said to Moses, “Take sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum, sweet spices with pure frankincense (of each shall there be an equal part), and make an incense blended as by the perfumer, seasoned with salt, pure and holy. You shall beat some of it very small, and put part of it before the testimony in the tent of meeting where I shall meet with you. It shall be most holy for you. And the incense that you shall make according to its composition, you shall not make for yourselves. It shall be for you holy to the Lord. Whoever makes any like it to use as perfume shall be cut off from his people.”
God created incense for worship
God initially created incense and burnt food offerings as a means for His people to worship Him. It was a pleasing aroma that He welcomed.
Leviticus 2:1-2 ESV “When anyone brings a grain offering as an offering to the Lord, his offering shall be of fine flour. He shall pour oil on it and put frankincense on it and bring it to Aaron’s sons the priests. And he shall take from it a handful of the fine flour and oil, with all of its frankincense, and the priest shall burn this as its memorial portion on the altar, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the Lord.
The Lord’s incense was made with sweet spices, aromatic resin from plants (stacte, galbanum, and frankincense) and byproducts from shellfish (onycha). Such a recipe was reserved solely for the Lord.
The Bible shows us that:
- Burning incense was one key way in the old covenant to minister before God | 2 Chronicles 29:11 My sons, do not be negligent now, for the Lord has chosen you to stand before him and serve him, to minister before him and to burn incense.”
- It mirrored the incense that is also burnt in heaven, day in and day out, as an ongoing offering to God, along with the prayers of His people | Revelation 8:3-4 ESV And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel.
- Incense burning represents prayers and spiritual offerings | Exodus 30:8 ESV and when Aaron sets up the lamps at twilight, he shall burn it, a regular incense offering before the Lord throughout your generations.
Knowing the spiritual significance of incense burning, is it any wonder that Satan has worked to corrupt this form of worship?
The devil has craved worship even before he was cast down to earth from heaven. Through various cultures on earth, Satan has usurped the burning of herbs, spices, resins, leaves, and wood as offerings for demonic spirits.
Isaiah 14:13-15 NLT For you said to yourself, ‘I will ascend to heaven and set my throne above God’s stars. I will preside on the mountain of the gods far away in the north. I will climb to the highest heavens and be like the Most High.’ Instead, you will be brought down to the place of the dead, down to its lowest depths.
The corrupted use of incense
When the Israelites began to burn fragrant incense to idols, God was so angered that He promised that He would break their incense altars and remove His protection over His people, such that they would be slain in battle.
Ezekiel 6:13-14 NIV And they will know that I am the LORD, when their people lie slain among their idols around their altars, on every high hill and on all the mountaintops, under every spreading tree and every leafy oak—places where they offered fragrant incense to all their idols. And I will stretch out my hand against them and make the land a desolate waste from the desert to Diblah —wherever they live. Then they will know that I am the LORD.’”
Ezekiel 6:4 ESV Your altars shall become desolate, and your incense altars shall be broken, and I will cast down your slain before your idols.
Similarly, we are at risk of inciting the Lord’s great displeasure by burning things like sage or sandalwood in our search for purification, protection, peace, prosperity, and so on. When we chase after the comforts and pleasures of this world, over and above seeking God’s will and provision as our first priority, we make them our idols.
Moreover, such burnings are seeped in superstition and spiritism.
To the Native Americans, for example, the humble sage is a sacred plant that is linked to various traditional pagan rituals. They believe that every plant has a spirit, and the sage is no difference. Shilo Clifford from the Native American Lakota tribe says that using their local prairie sage is “a way of connecting with our own spirit as well as the spirit of our ancestors.” (Source: womenshealthmag.com Burning Sage Without Knowing The Indigenous Practice’s History Is Culturally Inappropriate)
To Buddhists, incense sticks made of sandalwood, agarwood, pine wood or cedar, along with spices and resins, is their way to make a burnt offering to Buddha.
Throughout history, incense made with various plants has been used in idol worship, from the temples of the ancient Egyptians and Babylonians to the temples of Buddhists, Taoists and Shintoists today. It has been used to honour emperors, worship certain gods, appease malevolent spirits, send the souls of the dead to the afterlife etc.
In witchcraft, incense made with various herbs is used in rituals for divination, cleansing, meditation, spells, spirit work, and shadow work. (Please refer to the table below)
Whether they know it or not, those who burn such incense are in reality, making sacrifices to demons, disguised as sources of good energy, dead people, spirit guides, and false gods, and invoking them to enter their lives. This is a trap that the devil sets for non-believers and believers alike.
1 Corinthians 10:20 NIV No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons.
2 Timothy 2:26 ESV and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.
The genuine believer’s incense is prayer
Believers today do not need to go to a physical temple to burn incense to offer our prayers to God, because our physical bodies have become the designated Temple of the Holy Spirit. Our sincere prayers are counted as our incense offerings to God.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 ESV Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
Psalm 141:2 ESV Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice!
We do need to be aware, however, that Satan will tempt us to burn incense or mis-use the plants that God created for idolatrous rituals, knowing that our temple of God has no agreement with idols. The more Satan can lure us into idolatry, the more we give evil spirits legitimate footholds to come into our bodies.
2 Corinthians 6:16 ESV What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
Other mis-use of plants that God created
The table below shows some other plants that witches use in their rituals to call upon spirits.
Plants used in witchcraft rituals
Allspice, Basil leaf, Blue Flag root, Cinnamon sticks, Dill seed, Fenugreek, Irish Moss, Nutmeg, Parsley leaf, Peppermint, Spearmint, Sunflower
For romantic relationships
Arnica flowers, Basil leaf, Cinnamon sticks, Cloves, Coriander seed, Cornflower, Dill seed, Goldenrod herb, Juniper berry, Lavender flower, Linden leaf and flower, Orris root, Orange peel, Raspberry leaf, Red Clover, Rose buds, Savory (Summer), Valerian, Violet leaf, Yarrow leaf and flowers
For good luck and popularity
Borage, Meadowsweet flower, Nutmeg, Orange peel, Spiraea
For body purification
Arnica Flowers, Bay leaf, Butchers Broom, Calamus root
Cedar Berries, Cedar Leaf, Cloves, Copal Resin, Dragons Blood, Resin, Hyssop, Juniper Berry, Lavender Flower, Lemon Balm, Marshmallow Root, Mistletoe Herb, Mugwort, Myrrh Gum, Nettle Leaf, Peppermint, Red Sandalwood, Sage, Spearmint, St. John’s Wort, Valerian, Vervain herb, Yarrow Leaf and Flowers, White Sage, Wood Betony
In some western cultures, certain plants, such as blackberries, garlic, oregano, and stinging nettles, are believed to ward off evil instead. An old Chinese cleansing ritual involves pomelo-leaf water baths or showers, which is believed to wash away bad luck or malevolent spirits. Such myths and superstitious beliefs are often perpetuated from one generation to the next.
1 Timothy 4:7 ESV Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness;
Plants in themselves have no power. Whenever we assign spiritual meaning to the plants God has created, we exchange the truth about God for a lie; that these things can help us when only God can help us.
Romans 1:25 NIV They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.
Everything we ever need in this life is found in God Himself.
- Love | John 15:13 ESV Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.
- Cleansing and purification | Titus 3:5 ESV He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,
- Provision | Matthew 7:11 ESV If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
- Health | Proverbs 3:7-8 ESV Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.
- Peace | Romans 14:17 ESVFor the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
- Security | Proverbs 3:26 NLT for the LORD is your security. He will keep your foot from being caught in a trap.
A closing prayer of repentance
The Lord is gracious to forgive us when we confess and repent of our sin of using incense for idolatrous purposes.
1 John 1:9 ESV If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Below is one such prayer. May our lives be a fragrant Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. Let us turn away from burning any man-made incense that cannot save, and may our lives become the living fragrant offerings that God welcomes.
2 corinthians 2:14-15 NLT But thank God! He has made us his captives and continues to lead us along in Christ’s triumphal procession. Now he uses us to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere, like a sweet perfume. Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing.
Romans 12:1-2 ESV I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
“Dear Heavenly Father,
I confess I have previously burnt sage and/or used other incense for idolatrous purposes, with the hope of (please confess the desires that tempted you to do so.) Only with You will all my desires be fulfilled.
James 1:15 ESV Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
I commit to seeking Your Kingdom above all else, to living righteously, and to relying on You to give me everything I need!
Matthew 6:33 ESV Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.
Today, I destroy all the incense and items used for pagan rituals, witchcraft, and idol worship in my possession. I count their value as nothing, compared to the cost of my soul and my relationship with my Lord and Saviour.
Matthew 16:26 NIV What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?
Please forgive me for all the times I have used herbs, flowers, resin, leaves, wood etc. to (name the rituals e.g. burn, wave, cleanse, bath with etc.) for (name the idols, spirits, or purposes). I made offerings and invoked the presence of evil spirits. By doing so, I have defiled my body, the temple of the Holy Spirit, and have given demons access to my life.
Deuteronomy 32:16-17 ESV They stirred him to jealousy with strange gods; with abominations they provoked him to anger. They sacrificed to demons that were no gods, to gods they had never known, to new gods that had come recently, whom your fathers had never dreaded.
In the name of Jesus, I command all unclean spirits related to these items, actions, and places of worship to leave me and to never come back. I renounce all rituals I have done for (idols, spirits, or purposes). I dedicate my body as a holy temple for the Holy Spirit to dwell in.
2 Corinthians 7:1 ESV Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.
Thank you, Heavenly Father, for Your patience, grace, and mercy. Thank you that You won’t hold this against me after I repent and that You will blot out my transgressions and not remember them anymore.
Isaiah 43:25 ESV “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.
In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.”
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