Here’s ￼this 5000-word essay from Cantrap that traces the history of candle making; comparisons between bayberry oil, tallow, beeswax, and whale oil; and how late in candlemaking history oil-soluble dyes came in. It describes the dipping rack, to which would be tied hand-knitted cotton or flax candle-wicks, for dipping repeatedly in hand-gathered animal fats melted in a vat or cauldron.
It definitely gave me an appreciation for contemporary candle wishcraft. My housemates keep some in stock for power outages during monsoon season, whether because candles are cheaper or seem more environment-friendly than battery-hungry torches. Sometimes the candles might also be vividly colored, or made of see-through solid gel, or some crystalline metallic kind of wax, shaped in many other amusing ways than “candle-shaped”, scented like citronella (which keeps some kinds of pesky insects away) or ocean breeze (how did that even happen wait what)…most stores stock some fancy novelty varieties like these.
The glamour of candle spells comes at me from…the fact that a naked flame is more of a process than it is an object; that the candle as an object is something I can hold and move around, so this externalizes my intent and anchors it in symbolic action; maybe even an echo of the sort of children’s birthday parties in which ritual leaders traditionally set cakes on fire and then challenge the celebrant to put a stop to this devastation (as the cake belongs to the celebrant’s age-peer community. In extinguishing the flame, the celebrant displays their heroism and commitment to serve the tribe, as well as their willingness to keep silent about their personal desires or “the birthday wish.” Perhaps this privacy also encourages integrity and independence, or is otherwise a lesson or test in maturity.)
I voice my wish to the candle, and let it burn for as long as I can attend it, until it puts itself out.
The tea light pictured above is magenta-colored and rose-scented. The spiky twigs are dried cloves that I’d arranged on the candle before lighting it. Each part mentioned is associated with a notion active in this spell, as well as some I haven’t mentioned or kept in the picture.
The pictures below show the cloves sinking into melted wax, the miniature clove bonfire that formed after the wax ran out, and the charred cloves after the wick burned down.
The last time I tried one of these things, it was with a white unscented tea light. I’d scored a minus symbol on the metal cup and wished at the flame to burn away my depression. As it burned, I could feel the misery and fogginess growing—the exact opposite effect I’d wanted. I wouldn’t say that I’d done it wrong so much as I didn’t really know what I was doing, I was just hoping.
When it came to the spell in the pictures, it felt so much less like (ha, ha?) backfire. I still haven’t figured whether candle spells work like distance-defying sympathetic magic, or whether the flame razes or unleashes and magnifies what the wax was told to symbolize, or if candle magic is better suited to area spells that can see the light or feel the warmth or smell the paraffin, or if it’s more like a communication beacon to someone otherworldly who’d just so happen to have any interest in getting something along those lines to happen.
I’d like to cast like this more often, though. I’m already imagining cocoa powder on a cinnamon-scented candle for a housewarming spell (or cinnamon powder on a chocolate-scented candle), a way to invite healing numinous dreams that might include lavender and milk scented candles burning at the same time, and I could probably figure out something to do with ocean breeze once I figure out how the manufacturers got something like that into a candle in the first place. Right now I’m going with “they employ wizards”—of course candles are magical.