By Jennifer Heise
Presented to Whispering Trees, Lehigh Pagan Society, April 1997
Candles have been used as aids to spiritual devotions as long as they have existed. Before candles were in use, lamps, such as the lamps in the tabernacle in the Jewish story of Chanukah, were used for the same purposes. Candles were used to provide illumination, of course, but they also have spiritual purposes for all those religions that use them.
The lighting of candles in religious/magickal practices:
Neopagans also may use candle-lighting as part of prayer, in a very similar way, making an offering to their deities (or to fate). The use of candles in Wiccan rituals (such as Drawing down the Moon rituals, and Esbats) is often seen as being purely symbolic and/or offeratory. An example of this would be the use of massed candles in the altar decorations for Imbolc.
However, this practice blends into the magickal practices involving candle lighting, where the intent is to cause something to occur (usually with the assistance of the worshiper's chosen deity. There is a blurry line between such magick and prayer, but remember that this line exists in the mind of the worshiper or magician. (I.e., it's not polite to tell Catholics they do candle magick.)
Modern candles are generally made of paraffin wax (a petroleum byproduct), with 'self-trimming' wicks made from specially twisted cord. However, candles were originally made of bees-wax, the substance bees build their combs out of, with string wicks that had to be trimmed by hand. Other waxy substances, such as the 'wax' produced by boiling bayberries, are used for candles, and other wicks, such as rushes, have been used in the past.
Candles can be made several ways: by rolling sheets of wax around a wick, by using a mold, or by dipping. You can make your own candles, and/or recycle old candle wax, using materials from the craft store. Instructions for candle-making can be found in many craft books and some Craft books. You'll need a block of paraffin, wicks, a heat source, something to heat the wax in, and a pot of water to heat the wax-heating container in. If you are molding the candles, you'll also need molds: they can be as elaborate as old-fashioned tin candle molds, or as simple as a hole dug in a container of sand. (I recommend molding candles: dipping is maddeningly slow.)
You can add scented oils, colors, and other substances to your candle to produce a desired effect. Many people embed small stones or crystals, botanicals and herbs, and other trinkets in molded 'pillar' candles, to reinforce the intent and be discovered as the candle burns. Stay away from burnable objects in small candles; press botanicals on the outside of the candle to avoid flare-ups.
Candles can be used burnt to symbolize fire, or to carry an intention. They can be anointed with oils, or rolled in incense or scented, to carry the specific intention. They can also be used as 'prayer wheels' to continue spirtual or magickal intention over time. Candles are also added to other elements in a spell or prayer offering to 'activate' them.
Colors of candles are often important in their use. There are a number of 'standard' candle associations, though any color association should be guided by one's personal feelings. For example:
You can combine scent with flame by anointing your candles with scented oil, rolling them in incense powder, or using scented candles. As a general rule, store-bought scented candles tend to smell very artificial, since artificial agents are used to scent them. (Real bayberry candles, which are made with bayberry wax and often used at Yule and New Year's, are an exception.) Use a scent or herb related to your purpose. Reminder: when you use oils or powders, your candle is MORE flammable. Be sure to watch for sparks and keep your candle on a fireproof stand.
You can use shaped or carved candles for specific intentions. For instance, occult shops sell shaped candles for attracting love; or you may want to use one of the Hallmark-type candles for a specific intention. For instance, if you want to find a new home, try meditating on a candle in the shape of a house or in a house-shaped holder. In addition, many spells require the carving of your intention on the candle (make it short and pithy!); a nail or awl is the best tool for carving on a candle surface.
When you're done with your candles, there are a few schools of thought about what to do. First of all, many witches and pagans say that candles should never be blown out; instead, you should use a snuffer or pinch them out, since blowing them out negates the intention. Janet Thompson says otherwise, that one should blow them out, conveying one's intent with one's breath into the air. Either way, you will often want to let the candle burn down to the last bits-- watch it carefully and/or set it in the sink or bathtub, but don't leave it alone! Use the drippings in amulets or dispose of them properly (running water is usually suggested, but don't litter!). Candles from meditations and celebratory rituals can be blown out and re-used and their drippings used to make new candles.
When using candles for ritual, worship, or magick, observe the same common sense precautions you would when lighting candles for a romantic evening. NEVER leave a candle unattended. DON'T place it where flammable material can fall or be blown into it. Watch sleeves, hair, necklaces, and other dangly things around candles-- flaming hair or clothes or singed body parts are no fun. Also, keep unlit candles away from small children: they'll eat the wax! Of course, keep lit candles away from kids, animals, and the competence challenged (drunk roomates, chemically challenged passerby, people having reality problems such as Alzeheimers').
Use flameproof holders-- one author suggests placing your candle and/or candleholder on a clay flowerpot saucer to catch the drips, and it's a great idea. Wooden holders, sold in craft stores, look nice, but don't let the candle burn down to less than two inches above the holder, or you'll have a flaming holder. Use votive (the short, stubby ones) candles in a holder wheneer you can't keep an eye on the candle EVERY single minute. Remember that candle wax (paraffin) drips, and can drip in very unexpected ways-- I had a candle burn all the way down on ONE SIDE ONLY during a ritual, so use saucers or other holder. Don't let the flame of the candle get too close to glass or china, though, because it may crack or break.
Be aware that candlewax can burn the skin and that it can STAIN!!! (I ruined a good skirt that way.) To remove wax from textiles and other porous materials, lay brown paper over the spot andiron with a warm iron, moving the paper to absorb the melted wax. (Candlewax in the carpet generally never comes out right.) Don't put lit candles under an overhanging shelf unless you want soot marks un the underside! Remember that dorm rooms, hotel rooms, and some parks have rules against candles-- respect them. Also, don't burn candles in tents or in dry brushy areas ouside.
I use red, cinnamon scented candles and invoke kitchen and house deities in the kitchen and to help me clean. The job somehow seems to go better.
Scott Cunningham's Encyclopedia of Crystals, Gem and Metal Magic gives a meditation for spiritual purposes: ring a white candle with nine (9) amethyst points, light the candle, and meditate on its flame.
For comfort and emotional security in my house, I light a three-wick pink dish candle given to me by my grandmother. The candle scent is "Salt Mist Rose", and I have refilled it with votives more than once.
To let go of an old relationship peacefully: Start with a lighted red candle and an unlit blue-gray one. Play a letting go kind of music ("Set them free" by Sting, or "Leave it Low", or "One less set of footsteps" by Jim Croce, for example.) During the song, mime letting the person/relationship go, and light the blue-gray candle from the red one, mentally transferring the relationship from the heated red to the cooler serener blue-grey. Blow out the red one and/or immerse it in cool water to extinguish. Burn the blue-grey candle for a while longer, then pinch it out. Save the blue-grey candle and relight whenever your detachment needs a boost.
Dunwich, Gerina. The Magick of Candle Burning. (Carol Publishing Group, 1989) ISBN: 0806511419.
Ravenwolf, Silver. "Color, Candle and Sympathetic Magick," To Ride a Silver Broomstick. (St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn, 1994) p 189-204. ISBN: 0-875 42-791-X.
Telesco, Patricia. "Colors," Folkways. (St. Paul, MN: Ll ewellyn, 1995) p 79-86. ISBN: 0-87542-787-1.
Telesco, Patricia. Spinning Spells, Weaving Wonders. (Freedom, CA: Crossing Press). ISBN: 0-89594-803-6.
Thompson, Janet. Magical Hearth: Home for the Modern Pagan. (York Beach, ME: Samuel Weiser, 1995). ISBN: 0-87728-824-0.
Copyright (©) Jennifer Heise, April 1997