A candle is wax or tallow surrounding a central wick that is burned for illumination. Candles have many uses in magical work and there are many options available to the magick user or ritualist.
Using Candles for Ritual
Candles are used extensively for ritual and ceremonial purposes in many spiritual traditions around the world. Candles provide mood lighting and set the stage for many important rituals. The lighting and snuffing of candles and their movement from one place to another often have symbolic purpose in ritual and the way they burn may offer divinatory insight to the observer.
The ritual lighting of candles often marks the start of a ceremony and its snuffing marks the end. For example: The Catholic church and some of its offshoots employ acolytes or altar boys to light the candles before the start of service and snuff them again at the end, marking the official beginning and end of the sacred period of worship. Likewise, many spells and Pagan rituals involve lighting a candle to begin the work, and snuffing it at the end.
A candle procession is a ceremonial act by a group that serves to raise focus and engagement of the group. The beauty and drama of the procession provides a subtle raising of energy. Depending on the occasion, the procession may symbolize something specific, such as the return of Light or treading the path of the enlightened.
Candles are often lit to honor an individual or God, the candle itself serving as a sympathetic representation of the being. For example; burning a candle while praying for healing for an individual, placing a candle in the place of a deceased loved one at a family gathering or placing a candle on an altar to represent “the Goddess”.
Or a candle may be burned for the person or God as an energetic offering to let them know they are being thought of, or to get their attention. For example: Lighting a candle for a specific person at a ceremony of remembrance for the dead or burning candles for Saints when they are propitiated.
Candles are also used in ceremonies to encourage or symbolize togetherness and the strength of the group by sharing the flame. This is particularly popular in Christian congregations during Christmastime; the congregation is given unlit candles and the leader passes the flame to their neighbor, who passes it on to the next person until everyone is holding a lit candle. Then they generally sing and raise energy together. This is also seen in the Samhain tradition of bringing home the flame from the balefire; though this was probably a bit of ember in the past, many people now light a candle from the balefire to bring home. Another example of the ritual of passing or sharing the flame is the Unity candle ceremony that is popular at many weddings. The bride and the groom light a larger candle together, each holding their own smaller candle; their two small flames join together to make a larger, brighter flame.
The common ceremonial uses for candles listed above are used for magickal purposes as well as religious and purely symbolic. There are additional ways candles are used in magick as well.
Candles may be used to “energize” or “activate” a spell; once the spell ingredients are gathered, a candle may be lit among them or over them to bring energy to the spell and send it out into the world. Sometimes this candle is left to burn for a long period of time, or till it burns out. Sometimes it is relit several times over the course of a multi-day spell.
Candles are also used for sympathetic magick; the candle may be decorated and charged to represent the target of the spell or the goal of the spell. Symbolic actions may be taken upon the candle as part of the spell and then it is burned as the main focus of the spell. Often, the color of the candle is important in these sorts of spells.
See also candle magick and color magick
Preparing a Candle for Spellwork
Many people like to cleanse their candles as well as the rest of their tools before beginning spellwork. Candles are more delicate than some other tools, so your method should be chosen carefully to prevent damage. Fumigation can be used, provided they are kept distant from the heat source and cleansing by water can also be done with care. Some skip this step with candles, especially if they are brand new, out of the box.
Many spells will call for your candle to be anointed or dressed before your spellwork begins. This works best with a taper candle, but it does not have to be particularly large. To dress your taper, you will carefully coat the candle with oil. The type of oil used varies by tradition and individual. Olive oil is a popular choice but many people prefer to use an oil with less scent to it, like grapeseed or sunflower oil. Essential oils that correspond to the intent of the spell may be added to the seed carrier oil if it suits (See Fragrance Correspondences. There are pre-made spell dressing oils available for purchase in specialty shops as well.
The actual method of coating the candle with oil also varies by tradition and individual. Most often I see the advise to begin by coating the candle from the top to the middle, and then from the bottom to the middle, I have also seen the reverse and I’ve seen the advice to go from the middle to the top and the middle to the bottom. You will have to go with what works best for you or what the spell you are reading or your mentor advises.
In addition to dressing with oil, you may be advised to dress your candle with herbs. This is done by crushing the herbs into a fine powder and then rolling the oiled candle in the crushed herbs so that the herbs stick to the oil and coat the candle.
Often a magic-user will choose to use a candle that is colored to correspond to the intention of the operation, though it is generally agreed that plain white or undyed candles are perfectly acceptable for any use. If you do not have the color you feel you need, you can tie a ribbon around the base of the candle (just watch to make sure the ribbon doesn’t catch fire) or place the candle in a colored holder. See the Colors Correspondence Table
Many who use candles for magick or spiritual ceremony will observe the candle in order to receive information about the situation or perhaps an answer to a prayer or question. This is done by observing the way the flame burns (pyromancy) and any smoke rises (capnomancy), or by observing the way the shapes the wax makes as it melts (Ceromancy)- or melting wax may be dropped into a bowl of water and read from there.
The Virgin Candle
When a spell calls for a “virgin candle”, it is referring to a fresh, new candle that has not previously been burned or charged for a specific purpose. (Not a candle made from the fat of a virgin). That is, a new candle, right out of the box. Some traditions believe that when a candle is lit, it takes on an amplifies the energy of its surroundings- this is what makes it so very useful for all sorts of magical and ceremonial purposes. But once it has been lit, even after it is put out, it retains the energy that was present at its first lighting. Thus, it is nice to light the same candle for dinner night after night, or for honoring a specific ancestor year after year, but neither of those candles would be appropriate to bring to a get-a-job spell, and using such a candle for divination might give you answers to different questions than you are currently asking. This is not a universal belief, however, and many magick users are perfectly comfortable using the same candle for different purposes.
Some also advise that you should only use candles that you purchased or made yourself, not candles that you received as a gift or hand-me-down from someone else because they may retain a connection to the original owner and that might mess with your targeting. Some will take this idea far enough to say that only a candle specifically made for spell work or ceremonial purposes should be used in spell work. And some even further to say that the candle must be made for the specific intent of the spell.
I will not go that far, but I do encourage you to patronize your local candle-maker and/or metaphysical shop; unless you’re going to make your own, of course. Do not, however, let your lack of skill in candle making or the price of bespoke candles interfere with your magical work. Use what you have or can easily get.
It is generally advised that a candle should be disposed of after a spell because the energy of the spell is so deeply infused into the candle, it can’t be used for another spell (though it could be used to repeat the same spell). But candles can be used for the same purpose with good effect. You can relight the same unity candle from your wedding on each anniversary to strengthen your marriage, or light the same candle when you do your evening devotions, or light the same candle to represent your ancestor for the Feast of the Dead.
Some practitioners take the stubs of candles that were used for Sabbat celebrations and other festive occasions and melt them into the wax to make the candles for the celebrations of the coming year.
There are many different types of candles used for different ceremonial and magical purposes and some are only useful for specific operations, while others are great for general purpose.
Dipped candles are made by dipping a wick into melted wax repeatedly to allow the layers of wax coat the wick and previous layers of wax until the desired thickness is achieved.
Molded Candles are made by pouring wax into a mold. These come in a variety of shapes; men and women, animals, body parts and other images can be found in most metaphysical shops for use in sympathetic magic spells. Some people keep candles in the shape of a man and a woman on their altar to symbolize the God and Goddess and burn them to honor them.
A chandler may choose to carve a molded or dipped candle for additional decorated effect. Dipped candles are especially striking when they are carved into swirls and curlicues because their many layers become visible. Artisans may vary the colors as the candles are dipped, or just the hue to make these layers even more obvious after they have been carved.
Jar Candles are created by placing a wick in the center of a jar and filling it with wax. This gives you a candle with its own holder and added safety feature. It can’t be dressed the way a taper or pillar candle can be dressed, but the outer surface of the glass jar that contains it can be decorated to suit the occasion. These are often decorated with photographs of people or Saints and burned to honor or propitiate them. Many spell workers will make their own jar spell candles, combining the spell ingredients with the melted wax before they pour it into the jar. These are among the easiest of candle crafts.
Taper candles are the most common candles called for in candle magick. They are long and thin and can be put into candle holders or stuck into the ground or into baked goods, if you like. They come in a variety of colors and sizes, from the tiny birthday candles, to four inch menorah candles to 10 inches or longer. They can be easily dressed and symbols can be cut into the wax and the candle can be manipulated in a variety of ways- stuck with pins, for example. Most taper candles are made via dipping, but sometimes they are molded.
Tea Light Candles are handy for mood lighting and for lighting as an honor or offering. They can easily be placed in a dish or on the ground, on any flat surface, really, without the need for a special holder, though appropriate caution needs to be taken. Tea light candles often come with their own little plastic or metal holder which also serves as the mold in which the wax was formed. Tea lights are generally used as a warming candle under a dish of tea or scent, but we can improvise with them.
Votive Candles are small, molded candles with a flat bottom that can be placed on any surface. They are generally used either for mood lighting or as votive offerings or remembrance candles and are often classified according to the length of time they are expected to burn. A spell may specify a votive candle based on its burn time and/or its color. They are also available in a variety of fragrances.
Pillar Candles are molded candles with a wide base. They can be quite tall or squat and sometimes have multiple wicks. A triple-wicked pillar candle is popular for honoring the Triple Goddess or other triads. Like a votive or tealight candle, a pillar candle doesn’t need a special holder and can be placed on any flat surface, but its large surface area makes it easier to dress and carve symbols and words into, so it has some of the advantages of a taper candle as well. The outer surface of a pillar candle can also be pasted with pictures sealed on with wax, flowers and herbs to further enhance and refine your spellwork.
Candles can be made of a variety of materials. Some witches are very particular about their materials while others are not. Some considerations when choosing your candle materials include scent, burning time, whether the material tends to burn clean or is drippy, safety and ethics.
Microcrystalline Wax Candles are made from a waste product of the petroleum refining process. These are high quality, long burning candles. The wax is extremely flexible and can take many shapes and holds its shape and color well. It can be used to make pillars and tapers and because it is nice and hard, it can be carved into lovely fancy candles too.
Paraffin Wax Candles are derived from petroleum, coal or shale. Before it is dyed or scented, it is odorless and blue-white in color. It takes color and fragrance well. Paraffin is a softer, more melty wax than microcrystalline wax and sometimes the two are combined to make a superior candle .
Beeswax Candles are very high quality candles that are preferred by some magic-users but also offer challenges. They are a good, hard candle with a nice burn, but they have a characteristic scent that may clash with scents you are trying to bring into your magick. They are also naturally yellow, which can be a problem when you want to use colored candles, though beeswax can be bleached to white and dyed afterward.
Gel Candles are all jar candles because the gel will not stand up on its own. They are made with mineral oil and a polymer and have a liquid-like appearance. They take scent and color very well but the gel is semi-transparent. Some magic users like to mix herbs into the gel of their candles so that they are scattered throughout and visible through the jar.
Tallow candles are an ancient form of lighting. Tallow is rendered animal fat. It can be used to make a jar candle or you can dip something stiff and flammable into it to make a taper. Ancient tallow tapers were made using reeds and there is some tradition of coating mullein stalks in tallow to make a “witches taper”. Tallow doesn’t take color as well as wax and it has a decidedly beefy odor.
Vegetable Wax Candles are a good choice for practitioners who observe a vegan lifestyle or simply want a natural alternative to beeswax. Unfortunately, it is rather difficult to find a good taper that isn’t either made out of petroleum or animal products.
Soy candles are the most readily available and cost effective and take color and fragrance well, but soy can’t get as hard as beeswax, so you can’t really do a taper with soy unless you add some other things to it. It also has a low melting temperature so they burn up fast, but again, additives are often used to slow down their burn, so you’ll when shopping for soy candles, you’ll want to ask about additives to make sure there isn’t anything extra in there you don’t agree with.
Carnauba wax is the hardest of the vegetable waxes and highly prized but it comes from a palm that only grows in Brazil, so it can be expensive and because it is so hard and has such a high melting point, it doesn’t make a great candle by itself and needs to be combined with something else, like coconut oil.
Bayberry candles are lovely and make good votives, but they have their own unique color and smell as well as their own magical symbolism, they are burned on Christmas eve and New Year’s Eve to bring good luck for the year.
Palm candles are also available, but many are avoiding palm as it is linked to serious habitat loss for orangutans and other beloved species.