THE HISTORY OF CANDLE BURNING IN THE HOODOO ROOTWORK TRADITION
Candle burning has roots stretching back to ancient times as a part of both religious ceremonies and magical rites. Most hoodoo practitioners and rootworkers
, like other folk magicians, burn candles for magical effect, spell-casting, and as an adjunct to prayer, but unlike the traditional and conservative craft of making mojo bags
, candle burning in the African-American hoodoo
tradition has undergone considerable evolution during the 20th century.
During the 19th century candles became readily available as a commercial product, sold in general stores, rather than having to be made at home or on the farm or purchased at a special candle-maker's shop. By the early 20th century, paraffin candle, with a relatively high melting point compared to tallow candles, were transported by rail nationwide and -- and with the invention of aniline dues, they were soon made available in a number of colours.
The epicenter of new developments in ritual candle-magic in the hoodoo tradition was New Orleans, where a long tradition of Roman Catholic candle-burning combined with African-American folk magic to produce an emergent style of working with candles, both for prayer and in laying tricks
. This new way of working with candles soon spread to Memphis, Tennessee, and Mobile, Alabama, and, by the late 1940s, was fairly uniform throughout the South among all professional rootworkers.
Probably the single most important influence on the development of African-American candle magic from the 1940s to the present has been the ubiquitous "Master Book of Candle-Burning," a paper-bound pamphlet written by Henri Gamache
in 1942. Advertised in black-owned newspapers like the Chicago Defender in the 1940s and still carried today by all the major mail-order spiritual supply catalogues, this work delivers exactly what it promises -- detailed instructions that instruct the spiritual doctor or rootworker on "How to Burn Candles for Every Purpose." The chapters include information on how to select candles, anoint them, arrange them on an altar, and engage in what the author quaintly refers to as "fire worship." Along the way Gamache presents a garland of anthropological tidbits about folk-magical practices from Canada, Europe, Africa, and the Malayan Peninsula, making this book a fascinating document indeed.
For those who are not familiar with the work of Henri Gamache
, i'd like to note that he was a prominent mid-20th century occult author and folkloric researcher who developed a unique Creole combination of hoodoo
, Christian, Kabbalist, and Spiritualist magic. Not much is known about Henri Gamache's
personal life, but if he is not simply another pseudonym for the mysterious Mr. Young who ghost-wrote occult books from 1925 - 1948
, he seems to have been a man of mixed race, possibly born in the Caribbean, who lived and worked in New York City. Most of his books remained in print for decades, and all are quite interesting. In particular, his "8th, 9th, and 10th Books of Moses"
is a fascinating document, detailing his theory that Moses, the leader of the Jews, was a black African, "the Great Voodoo Man of the Bible."Henri Gamache
used the term "Philosophy of Fire" to describe the candle burning rituals he set forth in "The Master Book of Candle Burning." That term, and his frequent references to "Zoroastrianism" allow us to identify one of his major influences, for the "Philosophy of Fire" is a system of magical working described in the writings of an earlier author named R. Swinburne Clymer. A Rosicrucian and sex magician prominent in the early 20th century, Clymer in fact wrote an entire book called "The Philosophy of Fire" in which he espoused a mixture of magical theories that embraced Spiritualism, Zoroastrianism, and sex magic.
Clymer had in turn learned most of his occult theories and sex-magical techniques from the writings of Paschal Beverly Randolph
, an African-American sex magician and Spiritualist of the mid 19th century. In 1860 or so, Randolph
originated a magical order called the Brotherhood of Eulis to carry forth his beliefs; it was reformed in 1874 under the name The Triplicate Order. After Randolph's
death in 1875, Clymer corresponded with his widow, Kate Corson Randolph, and received instructions from her as to how to operate his own order of sex magicians. Clymer also reprinted "Eulis!" -- one of Randolph's books on sex magic -- in 1930.
The link from Randolph
, through Clymer, is probably one of book-learning rather than direct initiation, but it is interesting nonetheless, especially in light of the fact that most modern occultists tend to identify African-American practitioners exclusively with folk-magic and to discount the contributions black people have made to the development of formal occultism and ceremonial sex-magic.
COLOUR SYMBOLISM IN CANDLE MAGIC
Following Henri Gamache's
instructions, it became popular among conjure-workers of the 1940s to burn small free-standing candles or "lights" of various colours to draw luck, love, and money; for protection from evil; and to wreak vengeance or exert control over others. Because many, if not most, of the spiritual suppliers then catering to the African-American market were Jews, they usually offered 7-branched menorah candle-holders to their customers, which gave hoodoo
candle burning ceremonies of the period a slightly Kabbalistic cast. The colour symbolism ascribed to altar candle colours is influenced by European magical traditions
, admixed with remnants of African religious symbolism:
white -- spiritual blessings, purity, healing, rest
blue -- peace, harmony, joy, kindly intentions, healing
green -- money spells
, gambling luck, business, a good job, good crops
yellow -- devotion, prayer, money (gold), cheerfulness, attraction
red -- love spells
, affection, passion, bodily vigour
pink -- attraction, romance, clean living
purple -- mastery, power, ambition, control, command
orange -- change of plans, opening the way, prophetic dreams
brown -- court case spells
black -- repulsion, dark thoughts, sorrow, freedom from evil
red and black (Double Action) -- remove a love-jinxing spell
white and black (Double Action) -- to return evil to the sender
green and black (Double Action) -- remove money-jinxing
Typical sizes for colour-coded free-standing candles are 4" Altar candles, 6" Offertory candles, and 9" Jumbo candles. (The candles shown here are the 6" size.)
THE SYMBOLISM OF FIGURAL CANDLES
In addition to plain offertory candles, spiritual suppliers, as early as the 1930s, provided figural or "image" candles for special uses. More expensive than plain offertory candles, figural candles are preferred by many practitioners when working unusual or extremely strong spells, because their visual symbolism is easy to see and by carving names or other features in them, they can be personalized to represent individuals, in what amounts to a cross between working with candles and working with doll-babies or poppets. Most of the old figural candle styles are still manufactured. Among the most popular are the following: "Black Cat"
-- black for gambler's luck
"Bride and Groom" (man and woman side by side with two wicks) -- red for passion, pink for reconciliation
, white to attract new love
or sanctify married fidelity, black to cause harm or damage to a couple, blue for peace in the home.
"Lovers" (nude embracing couple) -- red for sexual passion, white for new love
."Divorce candle" (man and woman back to back with one candle wick between)
-- black, to cause a couple to separate.
"Lady" (a clothed female figure) and "Gentleman" (a clothed male figure) often used when performing spells related to job, school, or career -- white to meet someone new; pink for reconciliation or friendship; red to foster love
; blue for peacefulness, health, or peace on the job; black for harm or revenge."Adam" (a nude male figure)
and "Eve" (a nude female figure)
-- white to meet someone new, pink and red for love spells
, blue for peacefulness at home or to bring about faithfulness, black for harm or revenge."Male Member" (Penis)
and "Female Member" (Vulva)
-- relating to the sexual behaviour; white to attract a new sex partner and to purify the genital organs, pink for romantic sex or to turn a friend into a lover, red to induce lust and passion, blue to bring fidelity or limit their sexual interest to the practitioner only or to bring healing to the genital organs, black to control a person's ability to perform.
"Cross" or "Crucifix" candles: keys and a book on a flaming cross ("Master Key Crucifix Candle") or four-leaf clover on a cross ("Lucky Clover Crucifix Candle") -- white for spiritual purity and insight, black for personal power and conjure work, brown for court cases and legal matters
, green for money spells
, red for love spells
, orange for change, yellow for devotion, pink for romance."Devil"
-- red for commanding lust and sex, green for collecting money owed or for gambler's luck
, black for doing harm to an enemy."Baphomet" or "Sabbatic Goat Candle"
-- red for lust spells, black for worship of bestial or Satanic forces."Skull Candle"
-- black for meditation on death or for gambler's luck
"Seven Knob Wishing Candle" (flattened spheres stacked seven-high) -- burned on seven days, for seven different wishes or for seven-fold strength on the same wish -- white for healing, black to do evil, green for money spells
, red for love spells
.Order Figural Candles from the Lucky Mojo Curio Co.
DOUBLE ACTION and REVERSING CANDLES
Double action candles are 9" long jumbo candles that have been poured in two stages, so that they are half black and half another colour, according the usual colour symbolism of candles -- red for love, green for money, white for peace and spiritual blessings. They are used to reverse troubles back to the person who sent them and are called "double action" because they both repel jinxes and crossed conditions
and attract what is desired in the way of happiness and luck.
Double action candles are not burned in the usual way -- they are generally "butted" before they are lit. The original tip is cut off and a new tip is cut on the black half, so the "bad" black half will burn off first, leaving the "good" half at the end of the rite. The name of one's enemy is carved backwards in the black half and one's own name is carved normally in the coloured portion. A candle dressing oil
to reverse bad luck back to the enemy if applied to the black end, stroking away from oneself, and a dressing oil
to draw what one wants is applied to the coloured half, stroking toward oneself.
Butted double action candles are sometimes burned on a flat mirror, to further aid the reversing spell. They may be dusted with Reversing sachet powder
or circled with a ring of Crab shell powder (because "Crabs walk backward" and uncross jinxes
Another way to burn double action candles is to carve a second tip on the black end, dress them as described above, and stick them into a nail that has been driven through a board. The nail holds the candle horizontal, like a compass needle, and the black half is pointed toward one's enemy's home, while the coloured half points towards oneself. Both ends are lit at the same time. This is a messy way to burn candles, so use aluminum foil or a metal baking dish to confine the dripping wax to one area.
Reversing -- also called reversible -- candles are 9" long jumbo candles that are similar in their uses to double action candles, but instead of being poured in two layers, they consist of a red core and a black outer layer. The red shows through only at the tip. These candles are only found in red and black, and they are a very old style, still quite popular for reversing enemy work, breaking tricks, and uncrossing crossed conditions
. They are often butted and burned upside down, and are often burned on a mirror, as described above. All the names and words carved or inscribed into reversing candles is generally done backwards, in mirror writing.
SEVEN-DAY and SEVEN-KNOB CANDLES
Whereas Catholic religious practice presents us with the novena (nine-day) candle, in hoodoo, we see instead the seven-day candle, sometimes referred to by older practitioners as the "7-day vigil candle," due to its being burned for difficult cases or ongoing situations over the course of seven days, while one watches and waits for divinatory signs
There are four types of 7-day candles used in hoodoo
The candle divided by seven needles or pins:
I believe that this is the oldest form of the 7-day candle. To make one, take a regular offertory or jumbo-size candle and seven needles or pins. Poke the needles into the candle, dividing it into seven equal parts (the seventh needle or pin can go at the top or at the bottom, but no one i know ever uses SIX needles or pins to divide the candle into seven parts). Write your wish (or seven wishes) on a piece of paper. Turn the paper 90 degrees sideways and write your full name over the wish or wishes seven times, crossing and covering the previous writing with your name. Place the paper under the candle. Dress the candle with an appropriate oil. Burn it for seven nights, pinching it out (NOT blowing it out) each time a needle falls. Save the needles when they fall. When the last needle falls, stick the needles into the paper in the form of two X patterns surrounding one double-cross pattern (that has two lines crossing one upright line). Dispose of the ritual remains in an appropriate way
: Bury the paper and any leftover wax under your doorstep if your intention is to draw something or someone to you. Throw the paper and wax away at a crossroads, in running water, or in a graveyard if the intention is to get rid of something or someone.
THE SEVEN KNOB CANDLE:
I have seen ads for these under the name "The Famous 7-Knob Wishing Candle" dating back at least to the 1930s; they might be older, but i do not know. They are mentioned favourably in Henri Gamache's
"Master Book of Candle Burning" (written in 1942) and they are very popular in the African-American community, which seems to indicate that they are efficacious. Seven-knob candles generally come in four colours, with the usual symbolism implied (white for blessing or wishing, red for love or sex, green for money or gambling luck, black for destruction or revenge). Carve a brief wish on each knob -- either the same wish seven times or seven different wishes, one per knob. Dress the candle with an appropriate oil. Burn it for seven nights, pinching it out (NOT blowing it out) each time a knob is gone.
THE SEVEN CHARM SORTILAGE CANDLE:
This is a hand-made candle that contains seven tiny metal charms (milagros or ex-votos) inside, which are revealed one per day as you burn the candle down over the course of seven days. It is more common in Latin America than in the USA. Often the charms are religious as well as lucky, and they may include a cross, an angel, the powerful hand of God, a man's head, a woman's head, and so forth.
THE SEVEN-WISHES GLASS ENCASED CANDLE:
This style of 7-day candle only became popular from the 1970s onward. It is made with seven layers of wax in different colours, poured into a tall, narrow glass container. Burn one layer each day with appropriate prayers or wishes. It's interesting to note that this is the same size and shape of candle which the Catholics call a novena candle, although they expect it to burn for nine days. For many more examples of glass encased candles in both the Catholic and hoodoo traditions, see the sections below on glass encased religious candles and glass encased vigil candles.
VOTIVE CANDLES and TEA LIGHTS
A votive candle is one that is burned as the result of a vow. Many people think of votive candles as small, glass-encased candles, about 2 or 3 inches in height, but this is only one type of votive candle. In fact, such candles are defined by their function, not their form. However, for the purposes of clarity, in this article, i will refer to paper or glass encased candles under 2 inches in height as tea lights, those under 5 inches in height as votive candles and those that come in tall glass cylinders as novena and vigil candles.
In Mexico, small paper encased religious votive candles called "Lux Perpetua" (perpetual light or eternal light) were developed during the 19th century. These delightfully old-fashioned candles are usually filled with a very soft grade of wax that may also contain animal fat. Imported into the United States, especially along the border with Mexico, they are now quite popular among African-American Catholics as well as with immigrants from Latin America.
Perhaps the first glass encased votive candles specifically marketed to hoodoo buyers (as opposed to religious buyers) were Jan-O-Sun brand jelly-jar style three-colour votive candles, sold by the Standard O and B Supply Company of Chicago in the 1940s. They look essentially like modern glass votive lights of today and seem to have come onto the market suddenly, to have achieved immediate popularity, and to have been in production from various makers since their introduction.
Typically, votive candles are burned as the prelude to or result of a conditional vow: The petitioner asks a favour of a deity, saint, or spirit and offers recompense (an ex voto) if the wish is granted. Under these circumstances, votive candles may be used either as inducements, as offerings, or as both.
Tea Lights are very small votive candles poured into aluminum cups; originally designed to be used at the table to keep foods and drinks warm (hence the name "tea light"), they make great refills for glass votive candle holders, are extremely economical, and are relatively safe to burn. Their small size is also an advantage for busy people who wish to do continuing candle magic on successive days without leaving large candles unattended.
When employed as inducements, votive candles are burned during the course of making the petition. For instance, a petitioner may be awaiting a court case hearing in nine days, and will burn votive candles for the entire length of time as an inducement for a patron saint to hear his plea for help, all the while promising an additional offering, such as flowers, more candles, publication of the saint's name in the newspaper, or a donation to a charitable organization, if the court case has a successful outcome.
When votive candles are employed as offerings, the petition is made silently and the burning of a certain number of candles with the patron saint's picture on them in a church where all may see and recognize the patron saint's efficacy is a typical offering that is promised or vowed should the petition be granted.
GLASS ENCASED RELIGIOUS NOVENA CANDLES
By 1945, although American mail order hoodoo catalogues still primarily sold free-standing altar candles with pasted-on labels -- under brand names such as black cat, Success, and Master Power -- they also began to carry what they called "religious" candles, those familiar tall, glass encased European-American Catholic novena candles bearing printed paper labels depicting various saints.
Novena candles are designed to be burned for nine days while a series of votary prayers are made. It is not necessary to dress them with magical oils, although many people like to anoint them with named Saint Oils that match the candles they burn. Colour symbolism is not always important part of the lore accompanying these religious candles, although some saints do have certain colours associated with them, such as green for Saint Jude and red for Saint Expedite.
The use of glass-encased Novena candles is widespread in Catholic Latin America; as well as in pseudo-Catholic African-Caribbean religions such as Santeria and Voodoo, and among the pseudo-Catholic Mayans of Guatemala who burn glass encased candles to a black-garbed peasant figure called Maximon or Saint Simon.
Beginning in the late 1970s, Cuban, Mexican, Guatemalan, and Salvadoran immigrants -- both Catholics and Santeros -- entered the United States in great numbers, which led to the increased marketing of Catholic saint novena candles here. Suddenly, not only could one find novena candles dedicated to universally well known Catholic figures like Saint Jude (San Judas Thadeo), but candles featured a host of Catholic saints previously little known here, such as San Martin Caballero (Saint Martin of Tours) and the Nino de Atocha (Infant of Atocha).
Additionally, as time went on, manufacturers began to add more and more paper-labelled glass encased novena candles marketed to their inventories in order to appeal to this sector of the population. Some of these candles honour Catholic folk saints and holy apparitions that are revered in Latin America but have not been officially approved by the Vatican, like the Anima Sola (Lonely Soul), a Mexican favourite, and the Seven African Powers (Siete Potentias), a staple image that represents the Cuban Santeria religious practice of mingling Catholic saints with the West African deities called Orishas.
On occasion one may even find the conflated Mayan-Catholic deity-saint Maximon (often labelled Saint Simon-Judas) on the candle shelf in a grocery or supermarket, a sure sign that a community of Guatemalan immigrants lives in the area.
The arrival of these immigrants, with their firmly entrenched candle-burning customs, has had a strong effect on hoodoo candle-burning practices. After decades of exposure to people who find it efficacious to petition the saints, it is not uncommon now to hear from African-American Protestants who have little interest in the Catholic form of Christianity, that they would like to burn a Just Judge (Justo Juez) candle for a court case.
GLASS ENCASED VIGIL CANDLES
Although special-use figural candles are still very popular with African-Americans and "The Master Book of Candle Burning" is still in print, since the 1970s, the old Jewish-style offertory candles have shared shelf space in hoodoo curio shops with "vigil candles" modelled after tall, glass-enclosed Catholic-style novena candles. In short, a merger between hoodoo and Catholic candle burning traditions has been effected.
Catholic novena candles bear colourful paper saint image labels, and many hoodoo vigil lights are similarly decorated. (Others are printed with one-colour line-art and hand-lettered text silk-screened directly onto the glass.) The text and images found on vigil candles are typically the same as those used in hoodoo formulae for anointing oils, including Fast Luck, Uncrossing, Compelling, Money House Blessing, and the like.
While hoodoo glass encased vigil lights still retain such traditional African-American titles as Fast Luck and John the Conqueror, some have been outfitted with partial or complete Spanish translations of their names or intended manner of use. In addition, the makers of silkscreened hoodoo candles may carry a Mayan item such as the chuparrosa love candle and they might add a Santeria line with special colours and designs for the orishas or their Catholic saint equivalents.
The evolving form of hoodoo candles has not greatly affected the traditional system of colour symbolism, although under the influence of Santeria's Catholic heritage, which invokes the brown-robed Saint Anthony as the finder of lost things and returner of lost lovers, brown candles, formerly used for court cases, are now also employed for the return of that which is lost. Glass containers make it easy to pour two-, three-, and even seven-layer candles -- which led to the development of multi-colour symbolism.
Probably the most popular of the multi-colour glass encased 7-day vigil candles is the red-and-black Reversible candle for returning evil to the one who sent it. This is simply a modification of the old standby two-colour free-standing jumbo altar candle called "Double Action," which is still manufactured and still quite popular. However, other multi-coloured candles are only found in glass encased form, among them the seven-colour Lucky Prophet Lafin [sic] Buddha Brand All Purpose Novena Candle which grants "7 desires" to the user.
The practice of dressing candles with anointing oils and magic herbs had to be modified considerably to accommodate the new 7-day vigil candles. Since the sides of a glass encased candle cannot be rubbed, it is now customary for the retailer rather than the user to dress the candle. This is done by poking holes into the top of the candle with a nail (preferably a coffin nail) and then dripping an appropriate anointing oil and magic herbs into these holes, sometimes finishing off the top with symbolically coloured glitter. This technique leaves the customer in danger of spilling the dressing oil while carrying the candle home, so in many stores the dressed candle is covered with a plastic sandwich bag or cling wrap, held in place by a rubber band.
The introduction of glass encased candles also necessitated modifications in spells designed to be worked over a length of time. The old pin or needle measuring technique, described above, cannot be used on glass encased candles, so timed burning or measuring the glass into sections with a marking-pen has taken the place of needles or pins among people who prefer the glass encased candles. This serves to weaken the practitioner's involvement in the spell, however, because there are no pins or needles left over to make the crosses and double crosses prescribed in the older workings. A glass encased candle spell therefore takes on a slightly "ritual" or "religious" tone, in that one's desires and wishes are expected to do the work alone, as contrasted to an offertory candle spell, in which the manipulation of magical objects -- candle, flame, paper, herbs, and needles or pins -- is integral to doing the job.
UNLABELLED PLAIN GLASS ENCASED VIGIL CANDLES
For those who wish to burn candles in their own home but don't want family members or visitors to know their business, the preferred form of symbolically coloured vigil candles are those that are fixed and prepared with herbs and oils, but WITHOUT LABELS. Usually called "plain" lights, they can be introduced into the home under the name of "mood lighting" or "holy lights." Their actual purposes -- and the types of oils and herbs used to dress them -- remain the secret of the one who lights them.
PULL-OUT CANDLES: REFILLS FOR NOVENA CANDLES AND VIGIL LIGHTS
Due to requests from those who regularly perform candle-work at their altars, many curio and candle shops carry pull-out candles -- refills for novena and vigil lights. There are pluses and minuses to the use of pull-out candles, of which the user should be aware.
ADVANTAGES OF PULL-OUTS:
Folks old enough to recall the earlier types of novena and vigil lights will be pleased to know that pull-outs are REAL WAX -- solid wax, not the gooey semi-solid you get these days in vigil lights.
Pull-outs are sturdy enough to burn as STAND-ALONES, that is, standing on their own with no glass, like a commercial pillar candle.
Pull-outs can be LOADED from below with personal concerns, petitions, and so forth.
Pull-outs can be CARVED with names and petitions and DRESSED with oil before being slid into the glass holder.
Favourite glass holders can be re-used again and again.
Pull-outs come in all ten of the standard colours used in candle-magic symbolism. Standard novenas and vigil lights are most often white or yellow, but with pull-outs, you can burn a candle of any colour you prefer in a jar dedicated to the saint or condition of your choice, making personal combinations that cannot be found in stores.
DISADVANTAGES OF PULL-OUTS:
Pull-outs are usually 2 inches wide and 7 inches tall. Because of their width, they do not fit into every single brand of novena or vigil light. There are at least three different patterns of moulds used on the glass for novenas and vigil candles. Wide-mouth novenas made in glass jars DO take the pull-outs but narrow-mouth novenas in what is often called the "sanctuary style" do NOT accommodate them.
The cost per pull-out candle is almost the same as the cost of new glass-encased candle -- and some folks will no doubt think that is too high. The reason for this, as with all candles, has to do with the quality of the wax (pull-outs are made with better wax than novenas and vigil lights) and with the WEIGHT of the candles. Pull-outs weigh about 1 lb. each when wrapped for shipping. Many internet retailers keep their shipping costs very low by estimating shipping on "average" products but candles are not average in weight, so they add the extra candle shipping charge to the price of the candles, which makes them look more expensive than they really are. If retailers did not do this, they would have to calculate and charge shipping on every single order individually, which is beyond most occult shop owners' abilities at math -- and above the math inclinations of most of their customers as well.
DRESSING, MARKING, MEASURING, LIGHTING, AND EXTINGUISHING CANDLES
Offertory and figural candles are dressed by rubbing them (for instance, upward to "draw" and downward to repel) with appropriate anointing oils, such as Fast Luck, Compelling, or John the Conqueror. Some practitioners then sprinkle them with sachet powders or roll them in finely cut magic herbs selected for their specific spiritual powers.
The time of day is important, too: To draw influences, some hoodoo practitioners say that the candle should be lit when both clock hands are rising, in the second half of the hours between six and twelve; to repel or cast off influences, they believe that the candle should be lit when both hands on the clock are falling, in the first half of the hours from twelve to six. Other folks prefer to light candles at midnight, the traditional "witching hour."
Candles are usually marked in some way to indicate on whose behalf they are being burned. In its simplest form, this consists of writing a petition and/or a name on paper (often multiple times) and placing the paper beneath the candle, sometimes under an overturned saucer. In addition, words or sigils may be inscribed or carved into the candle wax with a needle, pin, rusty nail, or knife, depending on the intention behind the spell.
When a paper is placed under the candle, this is called "burning a candle on [him or her]." Many people also burn a candle on someone's picture, that is, place a drawing or photo under the saucer. It is customary to write the name on the back of the picture when doing this. Burning a candle on someone's name or picture can be done for love, revenge, harm, or any desired result, depending on the candle colour and the dressing oil used.
The earliest printed version of this spell i have yet found comes from New Orleans and dates back to 1924. It is found not in a book of folklore or magic, but rather in the song "Hoodoo Blues" written by Spencer Williams and recorded by Bessie Brown. Due to the constraints of the blues lyrics format, the spell is given in sketchy format, but it is recognizable.
In this 1924 version, a black cat bone is used for the return of the narrator's lover (he seems to have moved into another woman's home) and burning a candle on her picture (a black candle, i'd wager) is to get her to let loose of the man so he can return to the singer. The enemy's picture goes under the candle, and although it is not specifically stated in the song lyric, i presume that in keeping with modern usage, the enemy's name is written on the back of the picture and the picture-with-name goes under a saucer which is under the candle.
Here is the relevant verse:
Goin' 'neath her window, gonna lay a black cat bone Goin' 'neath her window, gonna lay a black cat bone Burn a candle on her picture, she won't let my good man alone.
Free-standing candles are typically burned in candle holders or candle stands. These may be elaborate or plain. When a large number of small altar candles or offertory will be lit at one time -- as, for instance, in the Fiery Wall of Protection Spell, it is most economical and efficient to utilize small, simple, stamped metal candle stands called "star holders."
In some spells, the candle is burned a half-inch at a time for several days. In others, it is burned in intervals at specified times of the day, or marked into sections with pins or needles and burned a section at a time "until the pin drops." In addition to burning the candle while it stands on a piece of paper, some spells specify that the candles should be moved toward or away from each other over the course of the working, or that the candle flame be used to ignite the name- or petition-paper, the ashes of which are then used in the work. During the course of certain conjurations, altar candles may be butted and burned upside down or even burned sideways at both ends, as with double action candles. They may also be ceremonially extinguished in water or turned upside down into a saucer of graveyard dirt to put them out.
Any kind of matches can be used to light candles, of course, but some people enjoy having specialty matches available, both for aesthetic and for practical reasons. Wooden matches are easier to light than paper ones and burn longer, so they can be used to set several candles alight at once. When it comes to glass encased candles, most folks burn those straight through -- but if you chose to burn them for short periods, put them out, and then relight them, you will probably need to use extra-long fireplace matches to get them going again.
When a candle is burned in sections, either measured by time or by pins, it is invariably pinched or snuffed out, not blown out at the end of each session, to signify that the spell is not yet complete. A more graceful way to put out candles than by spitting on your fingers and pinching, is to snuff the candles out with an old-fashioned candle snuffer. This also reduces objectional smoke from the snuffed candle. Decorative candle snuffers are often made of brass or brass and wood and they make elegant altar tools for spiritual workers whose practice involves regular candle burning.
If pins or needles are used for measuring sections on a candle, they usually will not be discarded after they drop, but will be saved for further use. Depending on the type of job being done, they may be utilized for making crosses and double crosses in the paper on which the names or desires have been written, they may be wrapped in a cloth or paper and buried or carried in a mojo hand, or they may be disposed of in a ritual manner.
Experienced workers often accompany the setting of lights with the burning of an appropriate incense. Some folks prefer to light the incense first to set the mood as they mark, inscribe, dress and light their candles. Others believe that the lighting of the candles must come first, with the incense following.
There is also a strong contingent of spiritually-inclined folks who will not use common matches at their altars because they feel that the disposal of matches breaks the ritual flow of their movements. They prefer to light a taper or an extra-long fireplace matches in another room and bring it to the altar, and blow it out or snuff it once the actual lights are set. As with all such matters, tradition and personal preferences leave room for variation.
HOW TO READ DIVINATION SIGNS FROM CANDLE-BURNING
When we burn candles, we often watch and wait for divinatory signs that tell us how the work is going to come out -- that is, whether the spell will be a success or not. Some of the common signs we observe are so-called "coincidences" (especially names and subject matter that relate to those in the spell). We can also consult a system of divination, such as using a pendulum or a Jack Ball, reading or cutting playing cards or tarot cards, or employing Bibliomancy (divination by means of a book such as the Bible). Another easy way to get a divination on candle-burning spells is through ceromancy -- divination by wax. In this case, the wax we "read" is the wax of the candles themselves.
Not every magical practitioner takes heed of the manner in which ritual or spell-casting candles burn, but for the most part, in my experience, people who work in African-American and African-Caribbean traditions often pay attention to the way a candle burns and can draw conclusions about it. In particular, spiritual workers who set lights for clients make a habit of noticing the manner in which the candles burn.
Of course, it is important to note that some candles are simply poorly made and will burn badly no matter what you do with them (for instance, if the wick is too thick they may burn sootily). Also, the temperature in the area, the presence of wind or a draft, and other external factors may play a part in how candles burn. The novice should not worry over-much about how candles burn until he or she has burned a lot of candles and gained some perspective on the matter.
A sign does not reflect on your ability to do the work: If your candle burns badly or goes out, you did not "botch" the spell. However, on the other hand, the fact that a "natural" draft put your candle out or "the cat tipped it over" does not obviate the fact that the candle going out was a bad sign. This is because a sign is a message, and the method of its delivery to your consciousness is not as important as that you saw it and received the sign.
All that having been said, here are some of the things to watch for when burning candles:
The candle gives a clean, even burn
This means things will go well with the spell or blessing and that one will most likely get what one wishes for. If a glass encased candle burns and leaves no marks on the glass, that is best. If a free-standing candle leaves little or no residue, that is best.
The flame flares, dips, gutters, and flares again, repeatedly
This is often seen as a sign that the person on whom you are working is subconsciously aware of your actions and may be responding partially, then fighting off your influence, then responding again. Be sure, however, that this behaviour of the candle flame is not caused by the mundane fact that you have set the candle in a draft. If necessary, move the candle somewhere else and see if the repeated flaring up and dying away stops; if it does not stop, then it is to be considered a sign, and not simply a physical coincidence.
The flame hisses, sizzles, pops, or makes other noises
This is usually interpreted -- especially by those in the Spiritual Church Movement -- as a sign that spirits (of the dead, of angels, or of other entities) are trying to "come through," that is, to communicate. Pay attention! You may learn something important.
A free-standing candle runs and melts a lot while burning
This gives you an opportunity to observe the flow of wax for signs. For instance, if you are burning a bride-and-groom type candle for love, and the woman's wax runs all over the man's, then the woman desires the man more than he desires her. If you are burning a green money candle and the wax melts and runs down onto the monetary offering, then the spell is "eager to work" and the candle is "blessing the money." Some people try to influence the way melting wax runs. They do this as an intentional part of the spell-work, to increase the likelihood that things will go the way they want. Others prefer to let nature take its course and to watch running wax for signs, without interfering in its movements.
A free-standing candle burns down to a puddle of wax
When this happens, most workers will examine the shape of the wax for a sign. You may see something of importance there, for the shape may suggest an outcome regarding the matter at hand. For instance, a heart-shaped wax puddle is a good significator if you are burning red candles for love spells -- and a coffin-shaped wax puddle is a good significator if you are burning a black devil candle against an enemy. Wax puddles come in all kinds of shapes; most candle-workers treat them like tea-leaves when they "read" them.
A glass encased candle burns half clean and half dirty
This indicates that there is hidden trouble with the person for whom the lights have been set or that someone is working against your wishe
. Things will not go well at first, but by repeated spells you may get them to go better.
A free-standing candle lets out a lot of smoke but burns clean at the end
Again, hidden trouble or someone working against your wishes. Things will not go well at first, but with repeated work you will overcome.
There is a dirty, black, sooty burn (especially one that messes up a glass encased candle)
This means things are going to go hard -- the spell may not work, the blessing may fail, the person is in deeper stress or trouble than you thought. If the work is being done against an enemy and the enemy's candle burns sooty and dirty, then it is likely that the enemy is fighting your influences.
A glass encased vigil candle cracks or breaks, spilling wax
This is never a "good" sign. That does not mean, however, that it is always a "bad" sign. You need to consider what kind of candle it is in order to interpret the meaning. A broken Love Me candle and dripping wax could mean tears and separation and a broken Money Stay With Me candle with dripping wax could mean inability to control outflow of money and failure of the spell -- but a broken Separation candle might signify a very compete and abrupt break-up (with tears) and a broken Cast Off Evil candle might signify that the evil spell was suddenly broken (possibly with tears, bloodshed, or God-all-knows-what). In other words, the symbolism varies based on the type of candle. In any case, the action i personally would take would be to set another of the same sort of light on the same situation; that is, i would re-do the work because i would not consider a broken candle and spilled wax to be a positive outcome unless the candle was lit for a negative petition, and even then it would have negative side-effects (tears, blood, loss).
The candle goes out before completely burning
If your light was lit for simple increase or decrease without respect to the will of another being (more wealth, less illness, etc.) then this is may be considered a bad sign -- a negative reply from the world of spirit to the question implied in the work.
If the candle was set in open opposition to the will of another person (e.g. a coercive love spell, an antagonistic spell, etc.) then this sign may either be a negative reply from the world of spirit to the question implied in the work or it may be a message from the other person, implying resistance, blockage, reversal of your designs, or sending harm back onto you or your client. Such a dousing of your lights may indicate that someone very strong is working against you or against the person on whose behalf you are setting the lights.
In any case, if the light goes out, you will have to splint the wick (that is, re-wick the candle) and pray over it before relighting it, or start the entire job over from the beginning. If the light goes out or is put out a second time, this a sign that you may need to use stronger means than you first employed to reach the goal.
The candle tips over and flames up into a fire hazard
Not only will the spell probably fail but there may be increased danger ahead for you or the client. In order to accomplish anything, you will have to start the entire job over from the beginning -- but first do a thorough Uncrossing spell for everyone involved and ritually clean the premises before setting any more lights.
The candle burns up overly fast
Generally a fast burn is good, but an overly-fast burn (compared to other times you have used the same kind of candle) means that although the work will go well, it may not last long. You might have to repeat the job at a later date. If you have set lights for several people and one person's candle burns faster than the others, then that person is most affected by the work, but the influence may not last long enough to produce a permanent change.
HOW TO RITUALLY DISPOSE OF USED CANDLE WAX
In European-American traditions, many people bury candle wax and other ritual remains after a spell is cast. Burial toward the appropriate quarter of the compass is considered a thoughtful way to go about this. Some neo-pagans dispose of ritual or spell remains in a bonfire or fireplace.
In African-American hoodoo candle magic spells the disposal of left-over materials follows other patterns, usually dependent upon the type of spell.
If the intention of the spell is good and it involves matters around one's own home, like blessing, love-drawing, money-drawing, or home protection, one can wrap the materials in a cloth or paper packet and bury them in the yard. It is important to never bury remains from negative spells in one's own yard.
If the intention of the spell is not centered on matters close to home, or if one does not have a suitable yard, one can wrap the materials in a cloth or paper packet and throw them in running water over the left shoulder and walk away. Alternatively, one can take the materials to a crossroads -- any place where two roads cross -- and throw the packet into the center of the crossroads over the left shoulder and walk away. The crossroads is also the preferred place to throw bath-water before beginning a spell; it is often used for throwing out the remains of candle wax if the spell does not personally involve the practitioner or if the spell is negative or influence-removing.
If the intention of the spell is specifically to get someone to leave town or leave one alone, one can divide the materials (e.g. 9 needles used in a spell and 9 pieces of wax from a candle) into 9 packets and add Hot Foot Powder (or Drive Away Powder) to each packet. One starts at a crossroads near to where the person lives and throws out the first packet. Then one travels in a direction away from the enemy's home, toward where one wants them to go, and drops a packet at each crossroads one passes until all the packets are gone. In the country this might carry one several miles. In the city it would only be 9 blocks, so city folks only count major intersections (with a light) when they do this, or they may count freeway interchanges to get some distance worked up between the packets.
If the intention of the spell is seriously, irreparably harmful (like causing another person grave illness), especially if it contains graveyard dirt or goofer dust, one can dispose of the material in a graveyard. The wax and other remnants are placed in a miniature coffin, buried, and marked by a miniature headstone with the enemy's name on it. When setting such a spell to rest, many workers also sprinkle a mixture of sulphur powder and salt around the grave, then walk home and don't look back.
NAMED TYPES OF GLASS ENCASED CANDLES
For a list of titles and images found on contemporary glass encased hoodoo, Catholic, Santeria, and Mayan candles, go to the page of 7-Day and Novena candles.
MANUFACTURERS OF GLASS ENCASED CANDLES
For a list of contemporary manufacturers of hoodoo, Catholic, Santeria, and Mayan candles, go to the page of candle makers
HOODOO HERB AND ROOT MAGIC
Materia Magica of African-American Conjure by catherine yronwode
This is the first book of its kind, presenting accurate botanical information about the roots and herbs that are employed in African-American folk-magic, with sample spells that will show you how to make and use your own mojo bags, spiritual baths, and incense.
Hoodoo Herb and Root Magic is a practical manual for those working in traditions such as hoodoo, rootwork, witchcraft, spell-craft, conjure, white magick, black magick, pow-wow magic, hexenkraft, and herb magic. Included are hundreds of easy love spells, money spells, protection spells, healing spells, curses, and revenge spells, plus a wealth of botanical lore for the student of herbology.
With solid sales and enthusiastic reviews, we believe that Hoodoo Herb and Root Magic is well on its way to becoming a standard in the fields of folk magic and kitchen-witchery.
224 pages, available in trade paperback softcover ($14.95) or limited edition clothbound hardcover ($39.95).
500 herbs, roots, minerals, and rare zoological curios, with taxonomic ("Latin") names for proper identification.
750 traditional spells, tricks, and magical recipes. These are complete, easy-to-use, and highly practical, designed for readers who want to go beyond the "romance" or symbolism of herb magic and actually mix up and make their own potions, dressing oils, bath crystals, incenses, floor washes, and mojo bags. If you grow or gather herbs, this book will teach you exactly how to use them.
50 black and white line illustrations of common magical herbs and roots of North America.
6 handy charts in which dozens of conditions -- such as love-drawing or protection -- are listed and the herbs for each condition are given in alphabetical order. This saves time when looking for ways to use herbs that are available -- and you can use these charts to find substitutions, if necessary.
Cross-referencing: Every herb is accompanied by at least one spell. End-of-entry cross-references make it easy to find other spells in which the herb is used -- no flipping back to an index: Cross-references are right in the entry itself.
Bibliography: Authentic recipes are drawn from first-hand experience and 100 years of solid folkloric research.
The author, Catherine Yronwode, is the proprietor of the Lucky Mojo Curio Company, a manufactory for traditional herb-based spiritual supplies. A former staff editor for Organic Gardening Magazine, she has written extensively on subjects as diverse as gardening, home crafts, antiques and collectibles, comic books, rural music, and other aspects of popular culture. She lives in Northern California with her husband, a dog, cats, and firstname.lastname@example.org