|An offering of spicy tea for Brighid in lieu of incense. Photo by Grey Catsidhe 2012.|
Alcohol, caffeine, sushi, unpasteurized cheese… Just a few things pregnant women are told to avoid or limit. Changing your lifestyle is part of expecting. I already find it’s impacting my spiritual practices, but not in a way that is terribly annoying or negative.
One such change has been incense. Upon learning of my pregnancy, I started to look into it out of curiosity. There’s smoke involved, and everyone knows pregnant women shouldn’t be smoking. There are some studies floating around about the negative correlations between incense smoke and health problems, including cancer. People who burn it every day in an unventilated space should be especially concerned. Incense, like some other burning matter, releases polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, a pollutant. Some studies link exposure to these during pregnancy to possible behavioral problems.
I used to burn incense a few times each week as offerings, so that probably puts me somewhere between a casual and heavy incense user. I’ve sometimes thought about the smoke, especially as the weather cools and our windows close. Although there is arguably room for more studies on the impact of incense on health and, in particular, pregnancy, I don’t feel like taking any chances. The only time I currently feel comfortable with it is during outside ritual.
Earlier this year, I explored tea as an alternative to incense. Just as with the fragrant sticks and cones, herbs are combined with heat. The scent wafts upward with the steam. Utilizing fire and water seems particularly magical, although it’s admittedly not as potent as incense. Don’t expect it to mask pet odors.
If your desire is to create a fragrant smelling atmosphere, a trick my mum taught me may please you – especially during the colder months. Before visitors come, my mum likes to bake an apple (cut in half) covered with some cinnamon. She bakes it in the oven for 15-20 minutes on a low setting – until the apple becomes soft. The scent is strong and far more pleasant than any artificially scented candle! In the spring and summer, why not opt for locally grown flowers placed on a central altar?
Oil diffusers could be another possibility, but pregnant women must be so careful about which oils they handle. Several sites I’ve looked at all suggest that lavender is safe. Given it’s calming properties, it seems like a good choice for those expecting. I’m especially drawn to simple terra cotta ornaments that don’t require any flame. (Check out this adorable diffuser pendant from napotterystudio on Etsy! Perfect for a Brighid shrine!) Should you decide to try a candle diffuser, definitely choose to use organic soy or beeswax candles as paraffin wax has shown to be more dangerous.
I definitely intend to keep digging into this matter as it’s one that is close to many Pagans. We (generally) love to make offerings, use candles, and burn incense. Yet, as a mother-to-be, I want to err on the side of caution. Wouldn’t you?
Please share your ideas or any information you find!