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Author Topic: Why candles?  (Read 10778 times)
Hyacinth Belle
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« Topic Start: July 14, 2008, 07:49:48 pm »

Just a curious question I was thinking about today...

Almost every religion, Paganism included, likes to light candles for all sorts of things. Pagans frequently light candles as a form of prayer for someone, for mediation, as an offering, or as part of a spell (candle magic). The prayer/energy request folders on this forum abound with messages of "I'll light a candle for you."

Why is the use of candles so wide-spread? What do you use candles for and why?

I'll answer my own question first: I think the use of candles (and incense) for religious purposes is largely a matter of tradition. By burning a candle, there is a transfer of energy in that you are destroying something (the wax) and releasing something (the flame and perhaps scent). The candle's flame, no matter how small, is very dangerous. It has the power to spread a fire and to burn the skin. By offering such a strong but seemingly small thing, we are sacrificing fire which was so vitally important to the tribes and cultures which many follow. Huh Just typing here... stopping now. lol. Hopefully someone else will have something more enlightening (oh, pun!).

I have used used candles for meditation, because I find it's very easy to focus on a flame. I've also done a teensy bit of scrying with a flame a long time ago, although I've no verification of how successful it was. It was interesting at least. My candle magic has consisted of burning a candle three nights in a row to give a friend good luck and protection. Why I did it that way, I'm not sure. It was a long time ago, and I think I was just doing what I was told on some fluffy websites. Candles during ritual undoubtedly add ambiance. Surprisingly enough, I've never 'lit a candle for someone.'

Thanks for responses in advance.
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« Reply #1: July 14, 2008, 07:59:55 pm »

Almost every religion, Paganism included, likes to light candles for all sorts of things. Pagans frequently light candles as a form of prayer for someone, for mediation, as an offering, or as part of a spell (candle magic). The prayer/energy request folders on this forum abound with messages of "I'll light a candle for you."

Why is the use of candles so wide-spread? What do you use candles for and why?

I will agree with you that a large part of it is probably tradition.  I'm not sure about the 'destruction of wax' part, though.  I think it has more to do with light and as candles were the most convenient to use for many years, it stuck.
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« Reply #2: July 14, 2008, 08:30:43 pm »

Just a curious question I was thinking about today...

Almost every religion, Paganism included, likes to light candles for all sorts of things. Pagans frequently light candles as a form of prayer for someone, for mediation, as an offering, or as part of a spell (candle magic). The prayer/energy request folders on this forum abound with messages of "I'll light a candle for you."

Why is the use of candles so wide-spread? What do you use candles for and why?

As you said, tradition has a lot to do with it. Before electricity was around, I imagine stepping inside a church or chapel that was lit up by candles was a fantastic experience. When the light of day disappeared due to bad weather or night fall, candles were the only thing people had. I can only imagine that when you rely on candles to that extent, how thankful you might be for that tiny little flame.

Also I think candles are symbolic of a person's soul/spirit/life or any other name for the essence of a person. For many, lighting a candle for somebody after they have died is a symbol of their continued existence. Their flame still burns, as it were. For those still living, a candle flame can also have connotations of a person's passions; what makes them 'spark'.

Personally, I love candles. And yet big bonfires scare the crap out of me. I think maybe that has something to do with the fact that yes it is fire, enticing but dangerous, but it is contained. That is, of course, if one properly practices candle safety!
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« Reply #3: July 14, 2008, 09:53:54 pm »

As you said, tradition has a lot to do with it. Before electricity was around, I imagine stepping inside a church or chapel that was lit up by candles was a fantastic experience. When the light of day disappeared due to bad weather or night fall, candles were the only thing people had. I can only imagine that when you rely on candles to that extent, how thankful you might be for that tiny little flame.
This is what I was trying to convey, and failed to do so. lol. None too coherent I am!

Quote
Also I think candles are symbolic of a person's soul/spirit/life or any other name for the essence of a person. For many, lighting a candle for somebody after they have died is a symbol of their continued existence. Their flame still burns, as it were. For those still living, a candle flame can also have connotations of a person's passions; what makes them 'spark'.
Interesting. So by lighting a candle for someone, the energy/vibrancy of the flame is directed towards them?

Quote
Personally, I love candles. And yet big bonfires scare the crap out of me. I think maybe that has something to do with the fact that yes it is fire, enticing but dangerous, but it is contained. That is, of course, if one properly practices candle safety!
Bonfires frighten me too... especially when accompanied by a bunch of drunk people as they so often are. At least around here. lol. I don't drink so I keep an eye on it, but it still makes me nervous!

Yet at the same time, they are so... bewitching. Smiley
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« Reply #4: July 14, 2008, 09:54:52 pm »

I will agree with you that a large part of it is probably tradition.  I'm not sure about the 'destruction of wax' part, though.  I think it has more to do with light and as candles were the most convenient to use for many years, it stuck.
I'm not so sure about it either. But there's not doubt that a lot of heat / energy is released when a candle is burned... *shrug*
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"Silent and thoughtful a prince's son should be / and bold in fighting; / cheerful and merry every man should be / until he waits for death." ~ Havamal, stanza 15
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« Reply #5: July 14, 2008, 10:11:30 pm »

Interesting. So by lighting a candle for someone, the energy/vibrancy of the flame is directed towards them?

I've always thought so. Either directed towards them, or in memory of them. When I light a candle for my grandmother who died nine years ago (which I usually do whenever I visit a church), it always reminds me that a part of her is still alive somewhere (even if it is within my memory).

Bonfires frighten me too... especially when accompanied by a bunch of drunk people as they so often are. At least around here. lol. I don't drink so I keep an eye on it, but it still makes me nervous!

I know you guys in the US don't have Bonfire Night on November 5th, but what a fun night! Even though bonfires worry me, I stand well back and am quite content with my toffee apple  Smiley  Or I used to...no more Bonfire Night now I've moved to the US  Sad
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« Reply #6: July 15, 2008, 04:35:23 am »

Also I think candles are symbolic of a person's soul/spirit/life or any other name for the essence of a person. For many, lighting a candle for somebody after they have died is a symbol of their continued existence.
There's a fairy tale in the Grimm's collection where Death keeps people's life as candles and when they are burned down, the person dies. I think I read it in one version of 'Gevatter Tod' ('Gaffer Death'?).
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« Reply #7: July 15, 2008, 01:09:47 pm »



well, candles is totally out of my academic range, but I wonder if it had to do with people working all day, and doing religious stuff at dark when they couldn't do anything productive?  I suspect not, but it occurred to me anyway. Smiley
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« Reply #8: July 15, 2008, 05:32:37 pm »

There's a fairy tale in the Grimm's collection where Death keeps people's life as candles and when they are burned down, the person dies. I think I read it in one version of 'Gevatter Tod' ('Gaffer Death'?).
That reminds me of the LotR in the Dead Marshes. Essentially "Don't follow the lights or go out to light little candles of your own."

The more I think about it, however, I think candles are indeed a good metaphor/symbol for the spirit.

well, candles is totally out of my academic range, but I wonder if it had to do with people working all day, and doing religious stuff at dark when they couldn't do anything productive?  I suspect not, but it occurred to me anyway. Smiley
I think that kind of backs to the ambiance thing. Not sure if people practiced at night because they "couldn't do anything productive," but I think that nighttime is a very powerful time. Even more so when there wasn't electricity! This primal fear of the dark, and accompanying it with tiny lights as candles or big lights as bonfires, creates a very charged atmosphere. So mayhap people just recognized the combination of added light to the darkness and ran with it. Tongue
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"Silent and thoughtful a prince's son should be / and bold in fighting; / cheerful and merry every man should be / until he waits for death." ~ Havamal, stanza 15
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« Reply #9: July 31, 2008, 04:53:13 pm »

I will agree with you that a large part of it is probably tradition. 

Aren't candles also used to represent two of the elements, fire and air? (At least in Pagan religions) Fire for the flame and the air to allow the flame to burn?  That combined with colors which represent certain things would be a huge part in candle magic.



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« Reply #10: July 31, 2008, 05:48:46 pm »

Aren't candles also used to represent two of the elements, fire and air? (At least in Pagan religions) Fire for the flame and the air to allow the flame to burn?  That combined with colors which represent certain things would be a huge part in candle magic.

To my knowledge, only Wicca and Wiccan-derived religions incorporate the elements into ritual.  Regarding Wicca, I know that some use a candle to represent fire and/or the God and Goddess but I'm not sure about air (which is normally covered by incense).  I also heard of some Wiccans using candles to mark the boundaries of the circle (sometimes all one color and sometimes with colors representative of each direction).

Candle magic is also a good point to bring up, but the main question the OP asked was "why candles?"  So basically it could also extend to a reason candles are used in some magical systems.
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« Reply #11: July 31, 2008, 06:33:37 pm »

As you said, tradition has a lot to do with it. Before electricity was around, I imagine stepping inside a church or chapel that was lit up by candles was a fantastic experience. When the light of day disappeared due to bad weather or night fall, candles were the only thing people had. I can only imagine that when you rely on candles to that extent, how thankful you might be for that tiny little flame.

And before that, you'd have used oil lamps.

Lets face it, most ancient architecture doesn't have a lot of natural light and, well, there are rituals/festivals held at night. Practicality dictates some sort of lighting. First oil lamps and then candles. Now much of it is tradition, but most ancient cultures were pretty practical.
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« Reply #12: July 31, 2008, 08:28:00 pm »

And before that, you'd have used oil lamps.

Lets face it, most ancient architecture doesn't have a lot of natural light and, well, there are rituals/festivals held at night. Practicality dictates some sort of lighting. First oil lamps and then candles. Now much of it is tradition, but most ancient cultures were pretty practical.

Yeah, 'cause they had to be able to see! Cheesy  A very practical reason. Nowadays people make the choice to use candles over electricity.
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« Reply #13: July 31, 2008, 10:25:48 pm »

And before that, you'd have used oil lamps.

Lets face it, most ancient architecture doesn't have a lot of natural light and, well, there are rituals/festivals held at night. Practicality dictates some sort of lighting. First oil lamps and then candles. Now much of it is tradition, but most ancient cultures were pretty practical.

Oddly enough, I actually incorporate an oil lamp when I'm doing my work.  I have a gorgeous one that lights up a corner of my room and I use candles to best represent what I am working with.  Oil lamps make my room feel more homely and more comfortable, which is why I suppose people could use candles also.  Candles can give almost a sensual glow and work in the same way cleansing before a ritual could... clearing the mind.  But, that's just a theory, since I think everyone's interpretation of "why candles" is their own theory. Smiley
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« Reply #14: August 01, 2008, 04:03:49 am »

well, candles is totally out of my academic range, but I wonder if it had to do with people working all day, and doing religious stuff at dark when they couldn't do anything productive?  I suspect not, but it occurred to me anyway. Smiley

Makes sense to me.  Practical life comes ahead of spiritual.  We have to live here and now, and don't really know what comes after.  So, we do what we know first, then afterwards concentrate on what we don't know.  That's not quite what I was trying to get across, but it's late, and bits of my brain are starting say goodnight.
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