The Censer – Sometimes called a Thurible - is a heat proof, bowl shaped vessel that is used to contain burning incense. A censer can be made from several kinds of materials, including clay, ceramic, any metal, or shell. It may be a bowl that sits on the altar, a stand with holes to hold stick incense, a closed and vented container that is swung from a chain, or a large open-faced shell such as abalone or scallop. They all have the same purpose, to hold the burning incense that is being offered to the Gods. The censer is used in many major religions, from the Catholic Mass to the Hindu Blessing to the Wiccan Ritual.
At one time it was believed that as the smoke from the incense rose, it carried our prayers up to the Divine. So the censer, as the holder of this burning incense is considered a tool of air. Because of its distinctly feminine bowl shape, reminiscent of the womb of the mother, Wiccans also consider it to be a tool of the Goddess. In Pagan ritual the censer is used to smudge the circle, calling in the element of air to help cleanse and charge the sacred space.
The censer you choose is, like all magical tools, a highly personal decision. They come in a huge range of shapes, sizes and prices. The most important things to consider are:
Is it fire proof?
Because your censer will house burning charcoal (for resin and herb incenses) or burning cones of incense. It is vital that whatever you are using is fireproof. Wood and cardboard do not make good censers!
Because it will be housing burning coals, you may want to consider a bed of sand in the bottom of your censer. Overtime this will mix with and eventually be entirely replaced by ash from your sacred incenses.
Is it the right size?
If you have a tiny personal altar you do not want a three foot wide ornate thurible to burn incense in. Likewise, if you are regularly hosting group rituals for twenty or more, a teaspoon sized incense chimney is going to be far too small.
Most importantly, your censer should reflect your beliefs and your personality. No one but you truly knows what is right for you.