Practical Magic: Candles for Candlemas

Happy Candlemas

Happy Candlemas

There are tons of ways to celebrate the Sabbat of Candlemas or Imbolc, as Jason Mankey aptly explored in a recent post on Raise the Horns.  In the past, I myself have used it as a devotional to Bridget, as a celebration of the return of milk and egg production, and as an acknowledgment of snow and an encouragement of Spring’s return.  Now that I’m more BTW than innovative in my practice, Candlemas is the holiday where I rejoice at the sun’s now-noticeable waxing (Hey!  It’s no longer pitch-black when I leave work at 5 pm!) and bless my ritual candles for the upcoming year with the energies of the strengthening sun.

In order to bless your ritual candles, though, you actually have to have your store of ritual candles laid up.  All of them.  For the whole year.

That takes some forethought, doesn’t it?  There’s definitely a gamut of things to consider:  What are the possible spells I’ll do, how many rituals will I take on, how long will they take, and how much money do I have to invest in candles are just a few of the immediate questions that come to my mind.

These days I’ve gone ’round the wheel enough to anticipate my general needs and burning practices.  I know now that I need eight pairs of 12-inch red beeswax tapers for my Sabbat altar candles since I use a new pair at every festival.  These tapers have about a 12-hour burn time, so I use the ample remainders as my daily meditation candles until the next Sabbat.  If I run out, I keep a stash of half-inch diameter, 4-inch long red beeswax “Holiday candles”.  If I still have some remaining, I let them burn on the eve of the next Sabbat until they’re gone.  I also get four pairs of natural beeswax tapers to use as the altar candles for the new and full Esbats and for any work that crops up between them.  I’ve long since given up using tapers for the quarters, mostly because I’m paranoid about lighting my hair on fire.  Instead, I perch appropriately colored glass votive inserts into standard taper holders and pop a beeswax votive candle into them.  I’ve been finding that one votive typically lasts me about a season, so I tend to buy 16-18.  Finally, for spell work I’ve been trying to buy a pair of 12-inch beeswax tapers in each of the rainbow colors:  red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet.  I reserve these for more important spell work.  For general petitions or workings in which I need a lot of candles, I like to use the standard paraffin chime candles you can find at most Pagan friendly stores for something like 4 for $1.

I can't say enough positive things about Big Dipper.  Their colors are rich and the candles burn perfectly.  Heck, even the logo is awesome.

I can’t say enough positive things about Big Dipper. Their colors are rich and the candles burn perfectly. Heck, even the logo is awesome.

Prior to moving to Olympia, I got all my beeswax needs tended to by Sue Theolass, a long-time vendor at Eugene’s Saturday Markets.  It was pretty amazing to buy my candles directly from the woman who hand-dipped them, and I treasured her wares immensely.  These day, though, I get my candles from Seattle’s Big Dipper Wax Works.  The 12-inch tapers run about $9.50 a pair, so I know my taper bill is going to come close to $190 per annum, but they’re very much worth it.  They also have lovely red 2″ diameter pillars that run $10 each, and a case of 18 of their votives is about $40.50.  All in all, it seems that a year’s worth of ritual candles runs me about $250.

Obviously, this is a ton of money for something ultimately disposable.  My choice to spring for beeswax as opposed to much cheaper paraffin for ritual stems from my desire to make my ritual space a healthy one.  People with chemical sensitivities can react to burning paraffin but can tolerate beeswax very well.  In addition, beeswax is obviously renewable (so long as we have bees!) whereas paraffin comes from fossil fuel oil.  Then, of course, there’s the fact that their lovely honey smell immediately puts me in ritual mind-set:  a decided bonus.  Another great bonus?  The light given by a candle varies based on what its fuel is.  Light given by beeswax candles is the closest of all to the sun’s spectrum.  Paraffin is more like an incandescent bulb, and soy wax produces a surprisingly dim flame.

That being said, there’s definitely no shame in buying paraffin candles if that’s what your budget can sustain, and the Craft should never put you in the poor house.  If you can come up with a few reasonable sacrifices for the year to offset the cost, great.  If not, regular old Wal-mart candles will do just fine.

See?  Chime candles are so itty-bitty (1/2-inch diameter and 4 inches long) that you can fit a ton into a tea light holder.

See? Chime candles are so itty-bitty (1/2-inch diameter and 4 inches long) that you can fit a ton into a tea light holder.

Since my own budget barely stretches to cover ritual candles, you can better believe I’m all over the cheap chime candles for most of my spellwork.  It seems that just about every pagan store gets them from Biedermann & Sons, which only sells to retailers.  However, with a bit of shopping you are bound to find a store that will sell you a box of 20 for about $5.  In past years, groups that I’ve been in have bought 2-3 boxes each of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, pink, white and black, then split them up so that everyone got the same number and variety of candles.  If you organize something similar with your group, you’ll likely find that $10-$20 will get you enough candles and enough variety to last you a year or longer!

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