I’m not a big fan of candles. If you ever meet a firefighter, ask about candles and you’ll be wary of ever lighting one in your home again. Worldwide there are tens of thousands of homes destroyed by fire each year, all because of candles. There are also many fatalities. And yet candles have an undeniable magick about them. You light a candle and it feels ceremonial.
When I was starting out in the occult, the act of lighting up a candle felt like the magick was really getting underway. As I lit that wick, I was doing something real. If I added incense to the mix then it felt like I was opening the gates to another world. (In a nearby home, quite recently, a young man left his incense sticks alight, and – to cut a long story short – he burned the house down. I’m a little more reluctant to rave about incense now.)
Is danger part of the allure of the flame? I don’t think so. I think that a candle reflects the act of alchemy that occurs in magick. When magick works well, you undergo an emotional change, from one state to another. A candle is also something that changes. It is a solid, and it is turned into heat, light and gas. Like most fascinating things in life, it is filled with contradictions. Although it provides a comforting warmth and a pleasant light, it also gives off a thick black carbon soot. Candles pollute.
It’s amusing that candles are so beloved by spiritual people, and yet they are a stick of pollution, giving off carbon, of all things. Most candles are made from paraffin wax, which is a byproduct of the petrochemical industry. In an age when carbon is widely seen as a planet-killer, we set up these little pollution devices in our own homes. Even ‘eco-friendly’ candles produce pollution and are often sourced from materials that are anything but eco-friendly. Perhaps this contradiction is central to a candle’s appeal. Although candles were once necessary for light, they are now a luxury, and when you light one you know that it is an act of indulgence. Magick is about getting the results you want, so this small act of indulgence may connect you to that energy.
For some magickal workers, lighting a candle is central to their operations. You light a candle, say a prayer, make a wish or command a spirit. Some people wrap hexes and curses around candles. You cannot spend much time around occultists without seeing candles being used. There is an alternative.
For those who don’t want to use candles, you have something far more powerful. Imagination. In any ritual where you are asked to light a candle, you can simply imagine a flame or a glowing light, in its place. If you have no visual imagination, you can simply ‘know’ that a flame is there. You can even imagine igniting it, observing it and consider the transformation that goes on within the flame. This is the only method I use, these days. Some people have scoffed at this, and told me that the magick can’t be as powerful, but I seriously doubt that spirits watch me perform a ritual, and turn away from me because I haven’t lit a candle.
Although I used to love incense, and have found it useful in many rituals, when I’d been using it for many years I realized that I may as well be smoking unfiltered cigarettes, because I was breathing in so much smoke. I have no idea whether there is an actual health risk, but my lungs began to feel heavy with the smoke, and I gave it up. Instead, I replaced incense with imagined scents. In most cases, this works just as well. There are some rituals where the spirits are most pleased by a particular scent, but there is a solution. If the spirits like the scent of roses, for example, get some rose petals, and that will work. You don’t have to burn anything.
The burning of candles and lighting of incense has become so routine in magick that people rarely consider the alternatives. And most magick shops would go out of business if my advice was followed. So candles and incense remain an option, but you shouldn’t underestimate the risks. I get countless messages asking me about the safety of magick, and yet nobody has ever asked me about the danger of candles. I can assure you that candles are far more dangerous than magick.