How the Chinese used herbs and incense for healing and worship - Sirius Herbal

How the Chinese used herbs and incense for healing and worship

by | Nov 15, 2021 | Herbs, Incense, News

Chinese culture spans back thousands of years and rituals to worship the heavenly bodies as well as the earth were common. This goes back to the Zhou Dynasty from 1047 BC and lasted until the end of the Qing dynasty in 1912. Alongside the worship of heavenly bodies, was the worship of the emperor of the time, considered divine and the earthly embodiment of the creator of the universe. 

The earth was also worshipped at the Summer Solstice through rituals to celebrate Mother Earth.

Also important in ancient Chinese culture was Ancestor Worship, which dates back to the Neolithic period. According to, “the ancestors of the royal family were thought to reside in heaven within the feudal hierarchy of other spirit-gods. These ancestors, it was believed, could be contacted via a shaman” and they had their own temples.

Bodies were buried with what they would require for the afterlife and regular offerings were made to ensure they stayed at peace. Remembering the dead and maintaining their name through shrines, offerings and poetry all kept their memories and spirits alive. Offerings to these ancestors included food, drinks, gifts and burning incense.

Incense in China

Incense has been used in China since Neolithic times to serve a number of functions, including being a fundamental part of religious ceremonies, worshipping ancestors and traditional medicine. There was local incense, as well as imported incense and during the Song dynasty there were dedicated rooms where incense ceremonies took place.

It was used alongside traditional Chinese medicine and was burned to treat illness. You can also see incense burned in Chinese temples and at shrines, at home during worship as offerings and to connect with the spirit world. Ingredients in Chinese incense include sandalwood, camphor, frankincense and herbs and spices such as cloves, star anise and Cinnamomum.

Herbs in Chinese Medicine

Chinese medicine looks to balance the body through yin and yang and allow the Qi (energy) to flow in order to promote health. A Chinese healer aims to identify what is out of balance and tries to restore harmony. Many Chinese remedies are herbal formulas and these are grouped into four main categories which serve different functions.

Herbalists have shops where they will prepare bespoke blends for your particular ailment, or you can buy pre-prepared formulas for common illnesses. Important medicinal herbs include ginger, liquorice and ginseng. Acupuncture, exercises such as Tai Chi and Qigong, and food and lifestyle changes are often prescribed alongside herbal remedies.

Herbal teas are often drunk for health benefits, which combine herbs, leaves, flowers seeds and more. Familiar teas include mint tea for refreshing the mind and aiding digestion, and ginseng tea which is said to improve the immune system and delay aging as well as boost energy.

Vegetables such as spring onions and ginger are also used together to cure and prevent colds and flowers such as chrysanthemums are also used to reduce inflammation and improve eyesight.

Chinese Shamanism

Shamanism in China is closely linked with Chinese folk religion and is connected to Neolithic cultures in the country. Otherwise known as Wuism, it can be linked to Taoism today and is focused around the quest for long life.

Shamans in Chinese culture were believed to be able to connect with the spirits or Gods and were also referred to as wizards or sorcerers. In the Shang period the shamans connected with divine ancestors and the heavenly bodies through dances and trances.

In Ming China they were spirit mediums, fortune-tellers, healers and exorcists. Unlike with shamans in South and Latin America, the trances do not seem to be connected with sacred herbs to achieve spirit connections, although many other practices were used to welcome spirits, heal and commune with the heavens.

There were temples dedicated to shamanism in the Qing dynasty and spirit poles were erected to present sacrifices to heaven through large quantities of sacrificial foods. The Manchus used shamans to treat illness and the shamanic culture was so important that a Shamanic Code was drawn up in 1741 to explain shamanic instruments and incantations.

In Ming China they used dancing, singing and music to invite spirits into their bodies so they could communicate with the dead. They would also perform rain rituals during droughts or famine.

Shamanistic rituals include providing paper houses, suitcases and paper money for the dead to make their onward journey to heaven. Shamans then burn these during ceremonies to release them to the spirit world. As the items burn, there is chanting to instruct spirits to take the supplies to the dead or to send prayers and wishes to the Gods. Burning incense is also a key part of all these ceremonies, in homes and temples, as the smoke connects us with the heavens.

After persecution during the Cultural Revolution, these practices are once again increasing in popularity, especially in rural areas. Spirit mediums and shamans are becoming important once more to bring luck, prosperity and cure illnesses.

However, the trances, so-called “soul flight”, transformations and sorcery do not seem to be present in modern shamanism, and it is now more focused on ancestor worship and possessing spirits.

Sacred herbs and incense today

Around the world sacred herbs are used in shamanic ceremonies, while incense is still associated with many important religious ceremonies. At home it is used to create peace and remove negative energy from a place, while sacred herbs make wonderful natural dyes.

We have a wonderful selection of sacred herbs, incense and kratom available to buy online. Browse the shop, or contact us for advice and guidance on the best products to choose.

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