The pot of incense plays an important role in the third degree lecture, where it is explained that it is an emblem of a pure heart - but why is it?
Incense is often used to purify the air. In many religious ceremonies this is taken a step further, whereby incense purifies the people attending the religious ceremony (for example the incensing of the priest and congregation in a Catholic High Mass). When the Israelites wandered the wilderness for forty years, they built a Tabernacle, a tent sanctuary used by the Israelites during the Exodus, and which they were able to put together and disassemble quickly as occasion required. Hence the furnishings were simple but deeply symbolic. On the altar, offerings of fruit and other items were made, put next to a pot of incense, so that the proof of one’s gratitude through prayers would rise with the smoke to Him.
Hence, the pot of incense is also a central symbol in the 23rd degree (Chief of the Tabernacle) and is also present in the 24th degree (Prince of the Tabernacle). The idea of smoke rising to Heaven is also extensively used in many religions and cultures, especially with funerals (like India). In Central American cultures, the association of smoke to clouds meant that incenses were often used to invoke rain. It is also interesting to note that a lesser known Egyptian God, Dedun (a.k.a. Tatunen) is the Egyptian God of wealth and incense, and is always portrayed with a censer on his head (symbol of purity and pure thought).
The ashes from burnt incense was sometimes consumed to ward off diseases.
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