Ashes remain after incense burns. It’s what we called “incense ash”. Generally, incenses are burnt in temples, Taoist forums, ancestral temples and in front of tombs. Since incenses are used to worship gods, Buddhists and ghosts, incense ashes also become “mysterious” and are given several functions including “ensuring safety” and “treating diseases”.
The “mysterious power” of incense ashes
When people smear their blood as a sign of oath in the ancient times, they usually drink wines in which incense ashes are mixed. This is probably because people believe that incense ashes have some mysterious powers, which could facilitate success or replace gods and Buddhists to have binding effect in the secular society.
For example, on the eighteenth day of the tenth year of the thirty-second year during the reign of Emperor Qianlong, Lu Mao, head of the Zhangpu branch of the Heaven and Earth Society, invited his partners He Zhe and other 9 people to “establish an alliance in front of gods”. They “all drank wines in which incense ashes are mixed”.
Another example happened in 1947. A village in Rui’an Zhejiang planned to have a fight with another village with weapons. Around 1,000 people from 15 years old to 50 years old were summoned and each drank wines mixed with incense ash before the departure.
Due to their belief in gods and Buddhists and the “mysterious power” of incense ashes, some people also believe that incense ashes can cure diseases, especially those “blessed” by temples or Buddhist masters.
Tricks of charlatans
There is a folk custom to ask for incense ashes from temples. Often when they have diseases which doctors can’t cure, people would turn to gods and Buddhists and ask for some incense ashes.
But that’s also why some charlatans can take advantage. When they treat an illness with the so-called “magic skills”, they give incense ashes as a cure-all to patients.
To cheat for money and fool people, some people filter incense ashes and classify them into 3 kinds: they put some sugar in the first kind, put salts in the second kind and nothing in the third kind. Patients who have a good draw are given the first kind, which tastes sweet; patients who have a average draw are given the second kind, which states salty; those who have a bad draw are given the third kind, which tastes bitter.
Not knowing the truth, superstitious people tend to think that there are different kinds of incense ashes and insist that they are meant to take a certain kind of incense ashes. This behavior is even more harmful.
In fact, incenses burnt to “worship gods” are made up of bits and leaves bits of cypress, willows or cedars and power grinded from elm barks, plus a small amount of sandalwood, ruta powder, artificial essence, rose Bengal and yellow golden spice. Ashes that remain after the burning of these things mainly consist of potassium, like common plant ash, can’t be used to cure diseases. What’s more, if one take a large amount of things full of potassium, he will suffer from heart failure and toxic gastroenteritis.
If a disease is not serious, it will be gone without any treatment; having incense ashes will not have a big impact; usually people will recover in several days. But there are some who would communicate the positive role of ashes in the recovery and patients would testify to amplify the impact.
If someone is seriously ill, after taking the ashes, he will end up with treatment delay or other infections, which worsen his condition or even create death. At this moment, liars would remove the responsibility to patients, declaring that they are “not devout enough”.
In addition, what is worth attention is that the artificial essence consists of a chemical substance called benzoic aldehyde; if incenses are not fully burnt, this substance stays in the ashes; if someone take a large amount of such ashes, he will be poisoned. Therefore ashes are really not something to eat.
Is it true that incenses ashes can stop bleeding?
People not only drink incenses ashes to treat diseases, they also use them to stop bleeding.
Lu Xun wrote in his Blessing: “She slammed onto the corner of the incense burner table. A big hole appeared on the head and started to bleed freely. She grabbed two hands of incense ashes and covered them over the wound with two pieces of red cloth: but the blood does not stop!”
There are similar scenes in Female Doctor: A Legend of Ming Fei, a TV series about Chinese traditional medicine in 2016: the leading character heard about that many people came to the temple to ask for incense ashes to stop bleeding and cure illness when she went to pray.
▲Photo from the TV series Female Doctor: A Legend of Ming Fei
So, can incense ashes stop bleeding?
Incense ashes are products of burning. They are full of calcium ion. When the wound is bleeding, if it is covered with incense ashes, calcium ion in the form of carbonate will be released from blood plasma to join in the clotting mechanism of the wound to accelerate recovery. Therefore, in theory, incense ashes are of some use in blood clotting.
However, there are also abundant of bacteria in incense ashes. In reality, when covering wound with incense ashes, bacteria may be brought into the wound and cause wound infection!
Therefore, when you can use just a band-aid to stop bleeding today, using incense ashes is really not smart and not recommended.
In addition, charlatans also like playing a trick of “manifesting characters with incense ashes”. They use a piece of thin yellow paper and some incense ashes. Spread the ashes on the paper and then discard the ashes. Characters will manifest instantly. It seems amazing.
But in fact, such “amazing” magical skills are operational at home: use an eraser to write on the thin paper and blow away the residuals. Spread ashes. Characters with the residuals are stained with ashes and manifest. Surprise?
Consequences of taking incense ashes
It is a pity that in the 21st century, there are still people who believe in the functions of incense ashes: instead of going to hospitals and taking medicine when they are ill, they turn to gods and Buddhists and drinking incense ashes.
What are the consequences of these people?
According to a report in 2003, to cure the mental disease for their daughter Xiao Fang, a couple let a “Old Buddhist Master” who claims being able to cure all kinds of diseases clown about. Start with incense burning to expel ghosts and evils and continue taking “incense ashes” for as long as half a year. In the end, poor Xiao Fang died from bronchopneumonia due to her weak immunity at the age of only 24 years old.
According to another report in 2014, in order to cure the disease of her daughter, a superstitious mother invite a “half an immortal” to cast spells at home and forced her daughter to eat incense ashes and drink waters mixed with burnt spell papers. Already ill, the young girl was terrified and called the police. Luckily, she was saved by the police in the end.
The French writer Voltaire once said that “the superstition was the result of a fool who met a liar”.
“Being a fool” is not necessarily physically ill, normal people could become “a fool” due to lack to common sense or temporary confusion. “Drinking incense ashes” is a typical example.