The ritual usage of candles can be found in separate mystical traditions from more or less every society, or at least the ones who developed wax candles.. The exact symbolism is quite varied, but the idea of light in the darkness is universal, as is the meaning of such a light in the darkness.
Preparing Ritual Candles In Buddhism
In Buddhism, candles are an old traditional of the faith. Along side flowers and incense, candles are positioned before shrines of any size or images or statues of a Buddha. The one used most often is Siddhartha Gautama, but the Buddha used is personal to each follower. The light of the candle is considered to represent the enlightenment of the Buddha and the power such enlightenment has to bring believers closer to Nirvana.
This is particularly relevant to Buddhism as many Buddhist scriptures use light as a metaphor for the practice of the faith. In certain parts of the Buddhist world, there are entire festivals that call for believers to use a large number of candles, sometimes even crafting candles over eight feet tall.
Ritual Candles In Christianity
In Christianity, the candle also has a large number of ritual purposes. Typically used during masses and other religious gatherings, different denominations have their own uses and rules involving candles. In the Oriental and Eastern Orthodox churches, the candles are widely seen as a symbolic gesture. Called “offering a candle”, it’s used to reflect the believer offering themselves to Christ.
These candles are symbols lit in front of various icons, sacred images of important religious figures. Sometimes these figures are important to Christianity as a whole. Other times, it’s a matter of local significance. In Egypt for instance, Christians often leave candles in front of icons of Saint George. In many Scandinavian countries the day of Saint Lucy is marked by having a local girl wear a crown of candles.
Different Uses Of Ritual Candles In Judaism
Inside of Judaism, there is a weekly candle ritual practiced by many. A Shabbat candle is lit on a Friday evening before the start of the Saturday Sabbath. It’s a simple ritual to help ward away the dark and show solidarity with your brethren.
On Saturday nights, a candle with multiple wicks is lit for a Havadalah ritual that ends the Sabbath and begins the new week. Traditionally these candles are lit by the woman of the household, followed by the woman covering her eyes and reciting a blessing in traditional Hebrew. While this woman is typically a wife, sometimes grandmothers or daughters may be the woman of the household who light these candles. If there is no woman living in the household, it is acceptable for a man to light the candles and recite the blessing.
Preparing Ritual Candles In Modern Paganism
Not all pagan practices can be covered by one grouping. It’s just not possible. Yet there are a few standard ritual uses of candles. Wiccan style rituals are popular, where candles are typically used on altars. These candles may represent any number of things, from personal sacrifice to a simple ward against the darkness.
Ritual circles are also marked by candles in the four corners of the circle as well. These candles often represent the four watchtowers, or the four directions. Sometimes the candles are colored or scented to represent specific elements. Earth, air, fire, and water go well with the four directions, and it’s easy enough to find candles that help symbolize those things.
Of course, candle color is an important aspect of many pagan candle rituals. For some pagans, the color of the candle is a symbol of the kind of magic being done. For others, a specific color or style of candle may represent a specific thing. It can depend on what the practitioner feels personally connected to.
At the end of the day, candles have been used in so many different rituals that it’s impossible to pin down just a few. Religious practices are always evolving and changing, and rituals practiced today are cobbled together from rituals practiced throughout the ages. Religious symbols merge with pagan ones to become their own branch of religion, and the cycle repeats.
So if you have a particular way you’d like to prepare your ritual candles, then go for it.