Sense of smell is the oldest sense and is directly tied with the part of the brain which in comparison with other brain cells is evolutionarily older, therefore one shouldn't be surprised by the fact that manufacturing and burning of incense sticks goes back into history of human beings and that it is considered to be the oldest common practice. Beginning of the usage of incense ingredients historically can be observed from the Stone Age and even earlier. But, what is better known is that the old Babylonians and Egyptians attributed an important role to incenses and used them abundantly in temples, prayers or prophecies.
Numerous precious perfumes, fragrant ingredients and sticks, as well as spices were imported into Greece over the Arabian peninsula, and from there across the entire Mediterranean all the way to the interior and most remote parts of the European continent. Refined and prone to advancement the ancient Greeks valued extremely plant sources of noble smells such as the turpentine, myrrh, frankincense and cinnamon and spent huge sums of money for importation of exotic spice herbs and fragrances. In Greece, just like in India, one cherished the offering of a fragrant gift or offering sacrifice on the divine altar, in the desire to ensure protection and ensuring man's health and wellbeing.
In ancient Rome incense were a necessary element of public and private, religious and other observance, and they were specifically used on the occasion of celebrating the merit and conquest of the Roman Emperor.
This cultural trend didn't bypass Bosnia where traditionally attention was paid to incenses which is today testified by numerous magical-religious segments. Peel of an orange or apple was in the past always placed on the surface of the oven or cooker, in order to "feed" the large celestial bird with their smell, in some parts of Bosnia it is called Haramka, since she committed a great sin defying Allah. Feeding Haramka with the smell of the peel of the fruit our elderly believed that they're helping their soul free itself of sin.
The smell of Halvah is characteristic for the beginning of the month of fasting and the function of it is to attract positive energy into the house, primarily wellbeing and peace, in order to have Ramadan pass easily. A similar effect can be achieved by mixing ground coffee and sugar, which when sprinkled on the cooker in small doses can bring harmony and unison among marital couples and the entire family. Coffee has special value in the tradition of Bosnian people and is a classic symbol of luck, which is demonstrated by the statement which can be heard once a guest accidently arrives when the inhabitants of a household are drinking coffee. Usually he is told that he comes with luck, not neglecting to offer the guest to join them.
Use of certain aromatic plants such as basil (Ocimum basilicum) or ćabarska (rue) herb are widely known in rituals of cleansing a room from negative energy, whether we're performing the ritual of fumigation with additional ingredients or the plant itself individually. With a dry bouquet of basil villagers would often fumigate a bee hive, cellar that holds animals and even the house, believing that this smell will chase away all potential effects of spellbound eyes or black magic. If the cow's milk would often burn on the stove it was suspected that it happened because of spellbound eyes and the housewife would place a few branches of dry basil and rue on the stove, also she would sprinkle some sugar on them. Because of the smoke created by the plants and sugar on the hot stove all negative effects from the cow and milk would be neutralised.
Rue (Ruta graveolens) is also a valued herb with miraculous capabilities. It is present in the cult of the dead, since it is planted in graveyards, but also rituals which protect from evil. Dry leaves of this plant are placed as ingredients of an amulet or the leaves are burnt together with the amulet and that smoke is used to fumigate the diseased. Incense has its place in the cult of the dead because of the belief of Bosnian people that they possess the capability of chasing away all evil spirits which attack the body of the deceased before it is buried. In Bosnian tradition on the chest of the deceased or next to him one would mandatorily place a stem of rue, danewort (Sambucus ebulus) or carnation (Dianthus caryophyllus).
Balsam herb (Tanacetum balsamita) with its specific smell found a replacement in chasing away insomnia and ensuring a good night's sleep and over generations the practice of placing it inside pillows has been nurtured. Because of such idyllic properties it has been called the plant of Prophet Muhammad.
Root of the plant Elecampane (Inula helenium), plucked from the earth before the first cuckoo sounds itself, has according to folk belief, great power against negative energy. Namely, if a dry piece of root is mixed with burning coal and the house is fumigated with that smoke, especially the bathroom, the following 40 days a barrier has been placed which won't allow evil to enter into that home.
Smell from the Kaaba
The power of dream visions is received in a mysterious ways according to Bosnian belief, this is called the smell from Kaaba or Ćaba smell. According to belief, appearance of a mysterious but intoxicating smell, will appear to a person only on Tuesdays, when the person goes to bed at night. We should mention that this unusual appearance is not dependant on the fact whether the person is religious or not, apparently the supernatural selection is done by other criteria. Usually before the chosen person falls asleep, the person starts to feel an intense but pleasant smell, which no one but that person can smell. The source of the smell cannot be discerned and the person believes that it is coming from the pillow, bed or some part of the room. The smell lingers around for half an hour and then suddenly disappears. An identical situation repeats itself the following five Tuesdays and in the meantime the person develops the power of visions of future events through dreams. As Bosnian stravarke warn, if the chosen person is scared of what is happening and starts talking to other people of the supernatural gift of foretelling future, the it will irreversibly disappear.
Asija from Tuzla was chosen by unseen forces to receive this gift. -"One night lying in bed I felt a strong smell from the pillow as if someone poured a whole bottle of perfume over it. Though the smell was pleasant it chocked me with its intensity. Confused by the event I woke my husband and asked him if he felt the smell to which he looked at me quizzically, proclaiming that I'm mad and that there is no smell?!"
After half an hour the smell disappeared completely and Asja fell asleep. Nothing happened the following nights, until the following Tuesday. She felt the same smell and again after half an hour it disappeared. This repeated itself for five Tuesdays and stopped after that, that's when the dreams started. Everything that she dreamt of and saw in her dreams happened in real life which terrified Asja and caused panic. Not knowing what to do she sought help from a local stravarka which told her that during those five Tuesdays she felt the smell of Kaaba and that she shouldn't speak to anyone about it or else she will lose the gift of seeing truthful dreams. This made Asja happy since she realised that she can save herself from the unwanted gift of unseen forces. She spoke to everyone about what had happened to her and her power of dreaming truthful dreams disappeared.