Just about every pagan and polytheistic tradition active at this time have a love for candles. Those flickering flames can set an otherworldly mood perfect for ritual and can fuel their own magic. They are also cheap and ubiquitous. So, no problem right? A quick trip to IKEA, buy a pack of tealights, and you’re good to go.
Did you ever consider why those candles are so cheap?
The answer comes down to three little letters: oil.
Paraffin-based candles are all made from oil. They are big business and have a huge environmental impact. Back in 2001, the Environmental Protection Agency released a report about the impact of burning candles in the home. (source) Burning these candles can create a toxic environment in the house and wreak havoc for anyone with respiratory issues. Plus wicks in these candles often contain lead.
Sometimes it seems like a person just cannot win in these matters.
So what can you do? A few weeks back my good friend Sufenas wrote up e’s own post on such matters though I do not know if e is aware of the reason why candles are so specifically toxic.
You do not have to burn candles for all your rites, that is for certain.
In my own case this is not as much of an option, as the Kemetic Orthodox rite of Senut includes a lighting portion of the rite, either with candle or oil lamp.
There are safer candles out there. Beeswax candles do not emit the same kind of chemicals as paraffin wax candles do. And while I have yet to find any formal studies, there are anecdotes available online from those who have found the candles may even benefit people with asthma and allergies.
During this year I have made a conscious decision to switch over as many candles as I can to beeswax. The cost is a factor and I will not try to deny that. However, as some of my practices do involve candles on a regular basis and I can afford to do so, I will buy them. I also see it as another way to support real beekeeping, since the wax would not be available otherwise.
Beeswax candles can also give your magic an extra boost. In the spring I bought a box of beeswax sheets for making candles, and it also came with wick. The candles get rolled tightly around the wick and lit. But before you do that winding you can make a seemingly innocuous candle into something with a punch. Sigils can be carved on the inside of the candle, and you can put your oils, herbs, or powders in there as well. (I think I first got this idea from Ellen Dugan’s Herb Magic for Beginners book but I have been unable to find a page number in there.)
To be fair though, I have not made a full switch in candles. Since some of my practice includes serving the lwa and some hoodoo, I have yet to find a good replacement for glass-encased candles. In fact, it was because of hoodoo that I first became aware of the base material. When the price of oil began to spike up in the mid-2000s, those of us in Miss Cat’s hoodoo course were told that the prices of her candles would be going up for this reason.
You can also use soy wax candles, but as I am not a fan of soy in the diet I tend to stay away from the candles too. In this case it is your choice. They would most likely be much easier on your home’s air quality than most candles.
You can find previous posts in this series here.