“I walked past a couple of doors and stopped dead as I heard a chair scrape in the grate of one of the rooms ahead of me. Instinctively I reached for my gun. The pity was, it was still in my car.”

— Phillip Kerr in March Violets (1989)




These ritual censers, or incensarios, are artifacts of the pre-Columbian Teotihuacan culture of Mexico. Typically, they consist of a pottery bowl to hold incense, topped by an inverted bowl with a chimney, faced by a structure decked with decorative pottery plaques and a human mask.

I cannot do them justice. For a truly dazzling discussion, read “Teotihuacan Incensarios: The ‘V’ Manta and Its Message” by James Langley. To learn more about Teotihuacan, its history and culture, click here.


Incense, 113 B.C.


A “fairy mountain” incense burner, bronze inlaid with gold, from the tomb of Liu Sheng (d. 113 B.C.), today in the collection of the Hebei Provincial Museum, Shijiazhuang, China.

Boshanlu, or “magic mountains,” were incense burners in the form of island mountain peaks rising over ocean waves, symbolizing the homes of the gods. The islands themselves were said to dissolve into the mist as travelers approached. These incense burners simulated the mist with their curling smoke.

To learn more about these fascinating censers and see more examples, visit the Boshanlu page of Robert J. Baran’s “The Big Picture: A Summary of the History of Magical Miniature Landscapes.”

On Telling a Story

“For the story-teller, besides his indescribable zest for facts, must tell his story craftily, without undue stress or excitement, or we shall swallow it whole and jumble the parts together; he must let us stop, give us time to think and look about us, yet always be persuading us to move on.”

— Virginia Woolf in “The Pastons and Chaucer” from The Common Reader (1925)