Since the ancient Egyptians first pioneered wicked candles around 3000 BC by rolling papyrus and dipping it in beeswax or tallow to burn, the use of controlled flame has enchanted humankind. From Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, that dates to 165 BC, to our current religious practices, candles have provided a point of spiritual focus and celebration.
In the 1970s, candle shops emerged onto the American landscape as a result of the hippie movement. Eventually, they evolved into the metaphysical or "Witchy" shops we now know and love. Now, nearly every Pagan shop includes a candle section of prepared delights for our little pyromaniacal, magical souls to enjoy.
The various materials used to create candles are porous and absorbent, making them perfect receptacles for receiving and storing magical energy for gradual release, either intermittently by lighting and extinguishing the candle repeatedly, or through a continued burn that allows for an ongoing push of energy.
In my own practice as a working Bruja, I mostly use glass-encased candles dedicated to a specific cause, and it is those types of prayer candles that I will address in this article. Often used in Mexican and Catholic workings, prayer candles (or novena candles) are arguably the safest and most versatile candles to burn for magical use.
A novena is a nine-day spell, prayer, or devotional work involving tremendous focus and energy flow focused around the use of a glass-enclosed candle. Each day, you burn the candle for an hour or longer and sit with it, focusing on the work you are doing. Many novena candles include a prayer or incantation to chant as you send energy to the candle. Ideally, you spend two or three hours per session intently infusing the candle with energy, then put it out until the next day. On the ninth day, you allow the candle to burn until it self-extinguishes.
Choosing a Candle
The candle you choose for your spell work depends on the type of work you plan to do and your preference of candle types. I prefer the glass-encased prayer candles because they are intended to burn safely for long periods of time. When using tapers, column candles, or other free-standing candles, make certain you always monitor the burn. As a hint, votive candles by design are meant to puddle, so this type of candle should always burn in their own holder, specially designed to hold votives. Never burn a votive candle free-standing.
The first consideration is the design of the candle. If you are using a prayer candle, there are often images affixed to glass as a label or through silk-screening. Choose a candle supportive of your goal.
If you do not choose a candle already dedicated to a specific goal, you want to think about the color used. Each color vibrates at its own individual frequency and each lends its unique power to a spell. There are many resources easily available to provide a quick reference of what colors support which energy. For instance, blue encourages peace, red stimulates passion and creativity, etc. Choose a candle color that supports the goal of your spell work. Interestingly, white can be used as a substitute for any color. The sum of all the colors of light on the spectrum add up to white, which means that white includes the vibration of each color.
Prepping a Candle
There are as many ways to prep a candle for magical work as there are magical practitioners. The following is how I prepare or "fix" a glass-encased candle for spell work. We refer to the work as "fixing" a candle because the magic becomes "affixed" into the wax. Bless or cleanse the candle using whatever methods are organic and comfortable to you. Use an orange stick (the same kind used for manicures) or a wooden kitchen skewer to make seven holes in the top of the candle in a circular fashion. Go down only as far as the candle will allow. (Some candles allow the holes to go deeper than others.) The pattern does not have to be a perfect circle but should encircle the wick as evenly as possible.
As you create each of the seven holes, use these visual prompts:
Hole #1: Think about the root of the issue, all that led up to it, and its foundation.
Hole #2: Connect to the emotional healing and balance, as well as the flow of the spell work.
Hole #3: Consider the mental aspects of the situation. Connect with the wisdom required for a successful outcome to your goal.
Hole #4: Feel the compassion, the love, and the connection to others the spell requires.
Hole #5: Visualize the voice the spell needs, the expression, and the communication required for a successful outcome.
Hole #6: Connect into what is mutable in the situation the spell addresses and imagine it becoming more fluid, more adaptable, and more receptive to change.
Hole #7: Reach out to the Divine, whatever you consider to be sacred, and ask for blessing and the best possible outcome.
When you are finished, you should have a ring of seven empowered holes circling the wick.
Next, you will oil the candle. Choose an oil with properties sympathetic to the goal of the spell and carefully drip the oil into each of the seven holes, again focusing on the visualization for each of the seven chakra points.
After you oil the candle, you will use herbs, loose incense, or resins to empower the candle, Again, choose products that support the goal of your spell. Carefully scatter the herbs and resins over the surface of the candle wax and the oiled holes. You do not want to use too much or too little of the herb; just enough to dust over the top.
The last addition to your candle fixing is glitter. There are many who scoff at the use of glitter use in fixed candle magic, but I appreciate it for one very practical advantage. As the candle burns, the energy within it fluctuates according to the needs of the spell. At high energy times, the glitter adheres to the side of the candle, showing me when the candle worked its hardest. This comes in handy when I read the candle glass to divine how the spell progressed after the burn is finalized. If you are uncomfortable using glitter, mica will also work. Sprinkle a light coating of glitter over the herbs, resins, and oil.
Hold the completed candle in your hands and visualize the outcome as if it is now a reality. Imagine how you or the target will feel once the spell manifests the goal. Spend a few moments with the candle in its finished state to again bless and empower it.
Lighting the Candle
I have not found candles to be picky about how the lighting occurs, so I use either matches or lighters. Interestingly, I have found that most superstitions about how to extinguish candles are likewise unfounded. I randomly snuff candles, blow them out, or pinch them out, based purely upon what is most convenient. In thirty-five years of working candle magic, I have yet to see any evidence that supports one form of lighting or extinguishing over another.
Watch the candle during the first few minutes of the burn to ensure it is burning safely and well. Occasionally, the herbs may catch fire after the initial lighting. I allow them to burn out on their own unless a fire danger presents. Once the flame is well established and burning safely, I let the candle do its work unhindered. Most of my candles burn straight through until they self-extinguish. I use the novena process for high magic or otherwise intensive spell work.
Problems During the Burn
- Candle goes out: If your candle goes out, you can try relighting it. It may not yet be the right time to cast the spell or the spell may require more of your attention and assistance to be successful. If the candle repeatedly goes out on its own, stop the spell work and return to it on a different day. Sometimes, the world just needs to turn a few more times before readdressing the situation.
- Crazy flame: If your candle has an unusually high flame, multiple flames, or is burning like an oil slick across the top of the candle, humor it and allow it to continue if you can safely do so. Consider moving the candle to a safer place to burn like a fireplace, a pan, pot, or bowl of sand, or inside a wood burning stove (I call that putting the candle into "candle jail"). Put out the candle or trim the flame only if you must do so for safety.
- Low Flame: If the candle is burning at all, try not to interfere with its progress. Pour out wax only if you absolutely need to do so.
- Breakage: It is more common than you would think for a candle glass to rupture during a burn, especially in the first few minutes or last few minutes of a burn. When you infuse a candle with tremendous energy and light the wick, the energy rush is strong and that initial rush can sometimes grow beyond what the confines of the glass can contain. This can cause a shallow rupture that snaps the top of the candle. Allow the candle to continue burning if you can safely do so. This is a sign that you have invested strong energy into the candle, not necessarily that the spell should stop. Likewise, a candle may rupture as the burn ends because there was not enough wax to contain the full level of energy invested into the spell. I think of those breaks as the "grand finale" of the spell. Anytime I get a rupture at the end of the burn, I consider it a fine ending to a successful spell.
A catastrophic break, however, is one that is dangerous or prevents the burn from safely continuing. If that happens, you should extinguish the flame and end the spell immediately. This tells you that either you are dealing with a curse or crossing that is resisting the spell or that the spell you are working is not currently advisable for other reasons.
- The candle burns down one side, leaving the other side intact: This means that you need to rethink or abandon some part of your spell.
- Talking candles: If candles are crackling, snapping, popping, or hissing, a message from ancestors, spirit guides, or higher self is trying to come through to you or to the subject of the spell.
In general, minimize your interference in the candle burning process. Do not question your work, pick at the flame, mess with the liquid wax, or otherwise affect the burning process unless you must do so. Trust your ability and the competency of your work and leave the spell alone to do its work.
Reading the Candle Glass Post-Burn
The candle glass reveals a wealth of information about the spell after the burn is completed. Never read a candle before the burn self-extinguishes, no matter how eager you are to know the outcome. What you see on the glass during the burn is often completely different than how it looks when the burn is finished. Here are some of the indications you want to observe:
- White soot: Divine assistance is supporting your goal
- Black soot: Resistance from outside forces or inside issues is opposing your goal. The thicker the black, the higher the resistance. If the dark soot resolves to a clear burn before the bottom of the candle glass, the resistance was overcome. If there is only a tiny bit of clear or no clear part of the candle glass, follow up with additional candle work.
- Imprinting on glass or candle: Read as a divinatory process. You may see images from the glitter formations, wax residue, scorching, or soot that forms an image, initials, or other interesting patterns.
- Charred and unburnt herbal matter: There should be a relatively equal balance of burnt and uncharred herbal matter and wax in the bottom of the candle glass post-burn. Charred means the candle needed additional resources. Unburnt means the candle had all it needed to do its job.
- Glitter events: These track the energy bursts. When you see rings or bands of glitter on the glass, this indicates a strong energy burst. Pay attention to what day or time the glitter event occurred and track external events related to your spell that corresponded to that time.
- Remaining wick or blobs on the wick: Wick remaining unburnt in the bottom of the candle represents the client or the person for whom the spell work was done. If there is a visible wick still standing, it means the person needs to do additional internal work and contemplation for the spell to be successful. Blobs of wax on the wick mean that the work is dependent on recognizing something vital about the process that is currently unseen.
- None of the above: If you have a good, clean burn with clear glass and a reasonable amount of burnt and uncharred herbal matter in the bottom, congratulations! Your candle did its job.
Discarding the Glass Post-Burn
Now that you have burned your candle, what can you do with the glass? If your goal was positive or benign, you may repurpose or recycle the glass. If the work was aggressive or extremely personal, bury the candle glass. If you worked a banishing spell with the candle, be sure to bury the candle somewhere far away from you. You may also bash up the glass in a heavy plastic bag before burying to release the last of the energy. Some people prefer to bury their candles at a crossroads or in a graveyard. Do NOT throw your candle glasses into a moving body of water. No matter how traditional this may be, in modern parlance, it is littering.
Tapers, Votives, and Other Candles
You can dress other types of candles for spell work by oiling, carving, and herbing them similarly to the way we dress a prayer candle. Roll tapers in oil and herbs, dress the tops and sides of votives, and the tops of tealights.
Post-burn, you can read the shapes the residual wax makes, much like reading tea leaves.
Nearly all spiritual paths are enhanced by the bewitching beauty and unique versatility of candles. Their dancing flames enchant and delight the senses, enticing us into magic with their exotic and sometimes fragrant dance. How blessed we are to have such a powerful and beautiful tool so easily available! May glitter, glass, and flame empower your work and manifest your desired outcomes in the best possible way.