COPAL: An Introduction

COPAL: An Introduction

Nowadays, most of us are aware of the diversity of gifts that mother nature provides for healing and cure of a variety of discomforts and diseases. An abundance of plants, flowers, herbs, fruits, tree barks, resins, etc. Widely used by alternative medicine and that has its roots in ancient civilizations, those who already discovered the value of these gifts and began to apply them on different medical treatments for physical and spiritual discomfort and rituals of all kinds. Either in oils or incense (which are its most frequent use) or burning it, allowing through the release of its aroma to awaken on us their properties. It´s demonstrated e.g., that only the sense of smell, and in fact, it does, awakens particular emotions, memories, or facilitates our relaxation or some other smoother feelings.

Depending on which part of the world, various incenses were used, such as sandalwood, Palo Santo, Sage, Myrrh, Tobacco, among the best known today and in particular in Mesoamerica, the area where COPAL is born, one of the main aromas that we begin to perceive frequently in many places (especially on areas such as Riviera Maya, Michoacan, Oaxaca, Chiapas). Our sense of smell is captivated for this powerful white smoke almost immediately, awakening that desire to inhale deeply automatically. 

COPAL ( is derived from the Nahuatl language word Copalli, meaning “incense” or “resin”) is a tree of the Burseraceae family, considered sacred, from which they use the aromatic resins that they produce. They are endemic to México and other areas of Central America and more than 100 varieties are known. From pre-Hispanic times the Mexicas and Aztecs burned the resin and used the white smoke as an offering and food to the different deities and as therapy for different physical and spiritual ills, rituals that are still common today in indigenous medicinal traditions.

In its religious use, it was considered the “White God” and it was used in the magic of protection spells and celebrations related to the symbolism of fertility, water, rain, abundance, and cleanliness. It was burned in incense burners (today is known as copaleras) and in combinations with other medicinal plants or herbs. It was used to treat physical ailments such as headaches, stomach pain, molars, burns, respiratory problems, among others. But above all in cultural diseases that were part of the beliefs of the Mesoamerican indigenous people, such as bad air, fright, witchcraft or to drive away harmful spirits and whose cure implied the use of burnt copal in incense burners passed by the body of the patient as a cleansing of those energies. 

A Mayan legend tells that the origin of Copal is the result of a love story between Prince Ztayul, the rebel son of King Iztayul, who had fallen in love with a Calahuit Pon maiden with “pale skin and perfumed meat” with whom he shared beautiful walks through the forest enjoying contact with nature. His father, furious at this relationship, decides to go after them to kill the maiden and remove the eyes spellbound with love for his son as punishment for his rebellion. During the persecution, the lovers begin to flee when they are stopped by a tree, they are cornered. Wielding an obsidian dagger, the King approached them, death was almost imminent, Prince Ztayul shuddered implored: -Oh Gods, save your daughter! and the foliage of the tree began to shake strongly, to the amazement of all, the thick trunk that had prevented the flight, opened and by its hollow the pale maiden Calahuit Pon disappeared, saving her from death. They all froze. The miracle was understood, king and vassals prostrated themselves before the mysterious tree, which from that night resin is wept. This is the legend of Copal, a sad story of a love of which the maiden Calahuit Pon is said to, through the centuries, still offers her scented soul in love, who incenses temples and altars. (Mexican and Mayan Legends, Otilia Meza).

Just as from its origins, the powerful "White God" copal continues today as an instrument of cleanliness, gratitude, and offers. At present it is frequently used in ceremonies such as the Temazcales (sweat lodge), where, in addition to using it to clean and call the spirits to accompany the ceremony, each person is energetically cleaned with smoke before entering, hot stones are touched with the copal raising intentions or prayers and as an offering on the altars. Thus reinforcing through the steam its healing powers when inhaling it. Its use is common in all kinds of healing classes or circles, dance ceremonies, or simply to set a space creating a feeling of harmony and purification.

The power of nature is indisputable and it is a blessing to be able to continue counting on its gifts to allow us through different uses to connect with our heart and the heart of our mother earth and thus harmoniously use the elements of nature to heal us physically, spiritually or emotionally. Beyond our beliefs, today we know that all these elements allow us to relax and come into contact with our contemplative being. Whether it is having a copalera at home or simply using its aroma in oils or incense sticks, the fact of being able to use it already elaborates in our neural connections a change in predisposition that allows us to enter states of relaxation or suggest ourselves with the possibility of cleansing and healing, having broad emotional and psychological effects.

If you have had the fortune to visit Mexico or attend ceremonies where the smoke of the "White God" is used, you will surely never forget its aroma. And with its memory, we can recall a sensation of purification, relaxation, healing, and love.