Once you’ve been practicing a while, something like “candle magic” can easily seem too simple to be effective in a serious magical ritual. Obviously, rituals tend to use candles, but when we talk about so-called candle magic we typically mean a ritual that’s focused around a candle; such as the old “dollar under a candle” spell, for example.
And these sorts of cheap, disposable, one-and-done spells elicit eyerolls from knowledgeable practitioners of magic because the idea lacks basic ritual logic and any semblance of nuance and metaphor. There are so many better ways to do magic than dollar-under-candle spells. But, actually, candles are more or less universally part of ritual everywhere for important reasons. And, I think there are, simply put, better ways of incorporating “candle magic” into more complex, layered rituals that can be quite potent.
I’ve built many successful magical rituals around what I would consider “advanced” candle magic techniques; where the candle is the central point of focus in the ritual but there are other layers to the ritual to focus and enhance its effect. Advanced techniques include carving sigils and intentions into the candle before burning, rolling them in oils and herbs, using talismanic candles, and making your own candles, among others.
In this article I want to explain why candles are important in ritual (beyond a cool lighting aesthetic), what that has to do with the element of fire, as well as explore some more advanced ways of incorporating candles (and candle-making) in your practice.
Why Are Candles Important In Ritual?
As with essentially everything in magical ritual, candles serve a practical purpose but also act as various symbols and metaphors, to convey meaning and intent; i.e. to imply a magical purpose. Specifically, candles facilitate light, bringing it into the ritual; casting a light in darkness, so to speak. Light refers to the creative force in the universe and dark the receptive force; think yang and yin. Adding light to the ritual attracts the light of divinity and provides a point of focus for both your eyes and, in the case of candle magic, your intent.
I recently heard it said that the flame of a candle, flickering always upwards, was “striving to reach divinity”; and I like that metaphor. Fire also consumes and transmutes one type of energy into another (wood burns to become heat, etc). Our prayers, which we tend to make in the presence of lit candles, are a form of energy and, like the candles’ flame, we are transmuting heavy energies (needs) into lighter ones (prayers).
Not to mention, magical practitioners tend to have candles dedicated to different workings, different deities and spirits, and so on. So with their function, candles also tend to stand in for other things: a candle for Venus, a candle for our ancestors, a candle for a particular spell, and so on. And this convention leads to candles being used as devices for conveying intent in ritual; and this is where candle magic logically extends from their practical use.
Candles have been in use for a very, very long time. The earliest form of wicked candles is typically attributed to the ancient Egyptians around 3,000 BCE (5,000 years ago) and then the dipped, wicked candles like we’re accustomed to using were introduced by the Romans around 1000 BCE (3,000 years ago). Their use at the time was universal, serving the ancients practically for light and also ritually or magically for their symbolic or metaphorical value. One can imagine how much more impact candles would have had in a world with no electricity and the Moon and stars as competing sources of light in the dark. The flickering of candles creates a unique ambiance of quiet activity, urgency, and warmth which has, for many thousands of years, aided mankind in achieving gnosis. Gnosis in this case refers to the altered state of mind which is essential to the practice of ritual magic.
Candles give light, of course, but they also create mood and setting, function as symbols and metaphors, and provide a point of focus during ritual. What we know of the history of candles goes as far back as the history of magic itself; they seem to have always been part of the show.
And since candles are practically universal in magical practice, we have an opportunity to enrich our rituals by adding metaphor and intent through this commonplace ceremonial tool. From a purely practical standpoint, candles represent both a point of focus and also something of a blank canvas for intentions; which can be carved or painted on candles easily.
Entering Altered States
Light has a profound effect on the psyche and, conversely, so does dark. The interplay between light and dark evokes the underlying nature of duality, flickering back and forth transiently between states. When rituals are performed in the darkness lit only by flickering candlelight, it creates a surrealistic effect which is somewhat hypnotizing. Their hypnotizing visual effect helps to move us into an altered state, conducive to doing magic, in addition to serving a symbolic purpose.
Illustrating the boundaries of your magical circle with candles is another popular practice which illuminates the center (helpful when reading, etc as well) and obscures the area beyond the circle with the incandescence of flickering light. Since the point of a magical circle is separating sacred space (where magic is being performed) from the rest of mundane reality, the visual is particularly effective.
Staring into a candle’s flame with a “soft” gaze will effortlessly shift awareness inwards, bringing the mind to a focused, resting state; ready to receive messages from spirit. When casting sigils, flickering candle light is used to soften and unfocus the gaze so that the eyes play tricks and the mind becomes obsessed with the shifting images. The rapt attention this technique encourages is the means by which the sigils are successfully “launched” into the collective unconscious.
Candles are, of course, used for creating ambiance, setting the mood of the scene, and so on. Additionally, candles can also serve as a tool for focusing and conveying intent; by imprinting an intention directly on the candle (by carving, drawing, etc) and then staring into the candle and repeating the statement of intent.
This can be done all at once, so to speak, turning the statement into a mantra as you “send energy” to the candle, charging the spell while the candle burns all the way down. This is best done with smaller, free-standing votives, tapers, pillars, etc. that can spill wax messily over any materials you’re using as magical links (stand-ins, or metaphors, for other “real” things in your spell). For example, if you wanted to sell your home for a high price, you might carve that intent into a candle and burn it over printed copies of your MLS listing, allowing the candle wax to spill all over the papers at the climax of the spell.
You can also stretch this ritual out over several days, in the way that “novena” or “9-day” candles are typically used. Instead of focusing your intention on the candle until it burns all the way down (which takes a while), you focus that intention for a predetermined amount of time each day, returning to the ritual (more or less) daily until the candle is exhausted and has spilled onto your magical links, in the same manner I mentioned before. It’s my personal preference to work with fairly small candles and burn them down in a certain number of days (depending on the working).
One of the most useful features of candles is that they come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. This is useful because, since candles are in nearly every ritual anyway, they are a convenient way to embed relevant symbolism into rituals, which then serves to convey your meaning and intention more clearly to the spirits you’re petitioning. The most common example of this is, of course, using candles of particular colors to honor specific planetary spirits in workings dedicated to those spirits -invoking and petitioning them during either the appropriate planetary days and hours or astrological elections, for example.
Traditionally, the Sun is associated with yellow or gold, the Moon with white, Mars with red, Mercury with orange (or any pattern of multiple colors), Jupiter with royal blue or purple, Venus with green, and Saturn with black. Thus, a working for support in legal matters would involve black candles and prayers and invocations to Saturn on Saturday while a spell to attract a lover or partner would require green candles and would typically involve working with Venus on Friday.
The shape of the candle is also an opportunity to embed meaning into ritual. In Mexican brujeria, among other folks magic currents, it is common to use “couple” candles molded in an effigy of a pair of lovers embracing for love spells or figurine candles (in the shape of man or a woman) for various benefic or malefic spells targeting a particular person. In these cases it is traditional to acquire personal items, bits of hair, etc to use as “magical links”, connecting the candle to the target by burning in or passing the items through (i.e. “feeding them to) the candle’s flame.
There are, of course, other examples of candle symbolism and techniques for using candles in ritual but hopefully these examples serve to illustrate the breadth of their potential usefulness.
Playing With Fire
Really, candles are simply a means of directly interacting with one of Nature’s most essential, and elusive, qualities: the element of Fire. When we talk about the elements in magic we conjure all of their physical, mythical, and spiritual dimensions into the meaning of the word. Fire doesn’t only refer to the chemical transformation which converts kinetic energy into thermal energy (the one that can burn you), it also refers to Fire’s spiritual and mythological roles: purification, transformation, transmutation, devastation, and even ascension, among others (read more about the magic of the elements in my post “Elements: The DNA Of Magic”).
At the most basic level, Fire consumes; it transmutes from one form of energy to another. We can employ power for our own purposes by using fire to send our intentions into the ether. By inscribing our intentions into a candle, and then burning the candle, we’re converting our intentions (made physical) into the ethereal -the intangible- i.e. the realm of spirit.
In a purely spiritual sense, fire is purifying, it burns away all of the dense matter, revealing the lighter / divine energy within. Fire transmutes darkness into light. As one might sterilize an instrument with fire, thus we purify our instruments of spirit with divine fire. The ceremonial knife that I use in healing sessions, for example, to sever cords and cut bindings energetically is purified in the flame of a candle after every use.
Nearly all of my energy healing sessions conclude with giving the advice to incorporate a simple “fire ceremony”, featuring a candle and a toothpick, into daily praxis. The ceremony involves thinking of your various fears, frustrations, grudges, etc. -all the emotions you keep bottled-up inside that make you miserable- and blowing them, with intention, into the toothpick, which you light on fire in the candle and watch burn down before extinguishing in an ashtray.
Simple, but very effective when repeated regularly for a time, the fire ceremony leverages both the physical manifestation of fire, to transmute your intentions into immaterial form (sending them into the ether) and also its purifying powers by aiding us in the release of those energies.
The element of Fire is also very quick; it moves quickly, spreads rapidly, consumes greedily. Its consumptive nature can be exponential -this is how we get forest fires. So it is with elemental (metaphorical) Fire; it consumes the physical symbols we feed it and transmutes them into an ethereal state of pure intention / imagination rapidly. Which explains why the element of Fire is so popular among magicians -who doesn’t want their magic to work quickly?
The qualities of the element of Fire are all very useful metaphors to the ritual magician and they translate into rituals quite simply and straightforwardly through the incorporation of candles. Carving intentions, or their resulting sigils, into a candle and focusing your intention on it while it burns down and smothers your links to your magical target in its wax conveys a compelling and clear story to spirit: “Do the thing described on the candle to everything the wax covers.”
Similarly, using candles to create space, and to purify it and your ritual tools, and to consume (and rid ourselves of) dense, negative energy employs the basic qualities of Fire in ways that just feel right and make sense self-evidently. Fire is the Swiss Army Knife of magical tools.
Taking candle magic beyond basic metaphors to build more complex rituals usually involves adding more opportunities to charge the candle with intent during the ritual -or, in some cases, prior to the ritual. Think of carving an intention into a candle as the end of a process, rather than its beginning…
Making Your Own Magical Candles
Candles are fairly easy to make by hand, compared to other ritual materials like incense, ink, and various concoctions; particularly if you stick to working with soy wax. It’s a very forgiving hobbyist material and not terribly expensive when purchased in bulk. Likewise the various other supplies you might need, such as molds, pitchers for melting and measuring, and so on, are also affordable to acquire on Amazon, CandleScience, and other places.
When you practice Dark Arts & Crafts, the benefit to all the extra labor is…well, extra time spent with the material. And if you do this right, the time you spend making candles charges them thoroughly with your intention, or whatever energy you’re meditating on during this process. Generally speaking, the more time you spend in the lead-up to launching your spell, the more “charged” the spell becomes, and the higher fidelity the message is that you’re sending to spirit.
When you make your magical candles by hand you have the opportunity to bless them thoroughly and add various materials to them which associates them with the spirits or intentions of your working; such as herbs, bits of crystal, etc. They can also be dressed with various magical oils appropriate to your intention.
Alternatively, it’s possible to purchase beeswax sheets which can be heated and rolled around a wick into a taper candle. These can then be rolled in oils and herbs to achieve the same effect I just mentioned. Beeswax is fairly expensive but this method does involve less mess and the candles burn longer than similar soy candles on average.
And we can take this up a notch again by factoring the time of preparation as well as the time it takes to prepare the material, since these are two very different concerns. How long we spend making something, and thus how long we spend meditating on the intention, is one thing -the timing of this activity (to the hour and minute) is something else entirely.
Magical Timing For Magical Candles
The use of magical timing brings us into relationship with celestial spirits through ancient grimoire traditions which associate certain spirits with certain times. There are a variety of such traditions but the most common of which is the “planetary days and hours” method (and there are enough other explanations of this online and also many apps which calculate the days and hours that I will not waste time on one here). Simply put, creating candles during the appropriate planetary day and hour is a means of dedicating (or consecrating) the candles to workings specific to that planet. This is a great practice for making devotional candles to use during planetary prayers and workings.
The most advanced form of magical timing is astrological. Certain astrological transits (periods where specific planets are in alignment with each other) provide uniquely auspicious times for various types of magical workings. These types of workings are complex, involving multiple steps, lengthy invocations, incense and other materials, and a working knowledge of astrology to plan and execute. When planning such a ritual, the question is always: at what precise moment -because of the alignment of the Sun, Moon, planets, and stars at that time- is the astrology most favorable to the candle’s intended purpose?
When you perform an astro-magical ritual like this during an election, a qualified window of time with an auspicious alignment of planets favorable to your purpose, the result is typically some form of a talisman. When the “talisman” isn’t a wearable piece of jewelry or engraved (or painted) object, we refer to the final product as “talismanic materia” -or talismanic candles in this case.
How to find suitable magical elections is beyond the scope of this article but just know that this is probably the most powerful way to charge your ritual candles and to dedicate them to a particular purpose or style of working.
In our case, we produce and frequently use talismanic candles in our various magical workings and have been for several years now. My wife and I began producing talismanic materia regularly while Jupiter was in Sagittarius in 2019 and have worked a great deal of our most successful magic with the aid of candles from that very transit. We made a long-term supply of Jupiter in Sagittarius “prosperity” candles during some really great elections towards the end of Jupiter’s time in his home sign, before he moved into Capricorn and the world fell apart.
Ah those were the days…but that’s kind of the point. The qualities of the astrology of 2019 were in many ways more favorable to prosperity and good fortune than any of the signs that Jupiter has occupied since. We captured the energy of that moment into dozens of purple and blue soy wax candles with little gold flakes in them and we’ve been using them for prosperity magic ever since.
Layering Magical Effects
Magic in real life only shares a few ironic areas of overlap with magic in video games -but there are a few similarities. The most useful of which is that magical effects can be stacked, or layered, to boost the potency of a particular spell or working. And when working with magical timing as I mentioned before, you can produce candles in bulk at auspicious times and then use them any time later at full potency.
This is handy, of course, but it can still be given additional boosts in various ways, such as combination, repetition, or by breaking a large operation into multiple stages and steps and leveraging candles prepared for various purposes.
By combination I mean lighting a Jupiter candle and a Venus candle together for a working under a Jupiter / Venus trine, for example. Or praying for revelation while Mercury is Cazimi (conjoined the Sun at 0 degrees) over orange and yellow candles…and so on.
By repetition I mean starting a multi-day working for prosperity during sunrise on Thursday (Jupiter hour on Jupiter Day) with a purple candle consecrated to Jupiter workings and then burning it down a little each day while you pray during Jupiter hour. Repetition like this is powerful without magical timing involved but layering these techniques together is Very Good Magic ™.
Combining these methods in more complicated workings that take place across several rituals offers even more interesting ways to employ candles in ritual. Imagine working on your career magically, for example, you might want to approach that from a number of different ways.
Obviously prosperity magic makes sense but so does magic for being liked and being lucky. You want to be seen and valued by your superiors and it’s helpful to be able to regularly overdeliver so that you can work your magic on promotions as well. Each of these outcomes requires an individual ritual to be timed and prepared with care and intention -and candles would be used at every step of the way.
Candles Are Tools
As aesthetic elements and practical magical tools, as well as symbols and metaphors, candles are one of the most universal elements of ritual. They’ve been in use in magical ritual since the dawn of history -even into prehistory, really. There are simple ways to use them to manifest magical outcomes which I don’t find particularly effective…and then there are more involved, and more complicated, ways to use them, to combine them, and to tell our stories to spirit with them as symbols.
Candles are tools because of their versatility and universality, because they can help induce altered states and focus our concentration, and because they can be carved, melted over items metaphorically, and consecrated for particular uses in advance.
Rituals are built on metaphors. Candles -and the element of fire they facilitate- carry a lot of metaphorical weight in magic ritual: standing in for different things, providing a medium for intention, and transmuting energy from physical experience into the unseen realm.
Though “dollar under a candle” spells are cheap, effortless, and unlikely to succeed, and most serious practitioners would rightly scoff at such a practice, it doesn’t mean that “candle magic” on the whole is ineffective -you just have to boost and layer your way to more potent rituals.
Featured image: The Candle Collector by Greggoth