Now that we’ve cleared Yule and the Twelve Days of Christmas, I’m starting to feel that I can safely look forward to my very favorite Sabbat of the Wheel: Candlemas. And that, obviously, means candles. Less obviously, it means questioning how best to light them.
Admittedly, this is a ridiculous post, but at one time in my early Craft explorations, it really worried me. I wanted to be able to everything perfectly, and I obsessed over tiny details. For a long while, I was convinced that if you used matches to light your ritual candles, you were “doing it wrong.” This stance was due to small notes in a couple popular books I’d read at the time: Silver Ravenwolf’s Teen Witch and A.J. Drew’s Wicca for Men. Silver noted that that lighting candles and incense with matches added negativity to a ritual thanks to their sulfurous smell and Drew stated that sulfur was a powerful banishing agent, so having that smell present when you were inviting directions, elements, and deities into a circle was counterintuitive. I thought, then, that this was the final word on the matter and that no witch worth her broom would be caught dead using a match for ritual.
But then in other reading, I’d come across phrases that indicated some didn’t hold with using lighters in ritual. A spell in Scott Cunningham’s The Truth About Witchcraft, for example, specifically says “light the candle. Don’t just flick a Bic lighter; strike a match and touch its tip to the wick. As it picks up the fire, sputters, melts, and rises to a shining flame, see money energy burning there.” I thought Cunningham had quite the point. Visually, a flame just sort of spurts out of nowhere with a lighter. With a match, though, you see the spark, the fizzle as it catches, the massive flare-up as it takes hold, and then the steady flame. You witness a birth, and you pass that new energy on as you touch match to wick.
And then, of course, there’s the thoughts of Deborah Lipp, who I encountered much later. In The Elements of Ritual, she famously said “I find cigarette lighters to be ugly and incongruous. Wearing robes, working by candlelight, and using knives as tools, we have left the modern world behind. How jarring, then, to be brought back to it with a hot pink Bic. Wooden matches have a nice ‘feel’ to them, and burn better for those times when a candle or incense doesn’t light easily.”
Lipp does have a point. Even as a teen and trying so hard to be so perfect, I bristled at using a lighter for my ritual candles. It didn’t feel right, but I wasn’t confident enough in my own intuition to explore why. But even though I agree with Lipp, I question her reasoning behind it. Matches aren’t exactly a huge improvement over lighters in terms of leaving the modern world behind. If we get right to it, the match we use today was only invented in 1805. The modern lighter followed just 18 years later. If we were really to leave the modern world behind, I suppose our best option would be to bring a pre-lit taper into the ritual space before we started Circle. And if we were being very authentic, I suppose we’d have to light it from “the ever-burning hearth”…and unless we’re talking about a pilot light, I doubt too many people in the Western world have one of those these days.
When it comes right down to it, the most important thing about ritual is that it is done with intent, and quibbling over tiny details like this does little towards that purpose. These days, I love using matches and hearing the spark, seeing the catch, and watching the flare. But outdoors, I usually use a lighter, specifically a torch lighter intended for cigars (a Colibri Legacy QTR-2900, a gift from my airline-employee High Priest who confiscated it from a belligerent passenger). After all, it’s hard to get matches to light anything if there’s a light breeze in the air, and simple Bic lighters fizz out, too. And you know what? No matter what I use, my rituals turn out just fine.