working with candles
Candles have become one of the mainstays of most spell work today. It's actually hard to believe that what we think of as a "standard jar candle" is actually something that was not available until the early 1900s, with colored-wax versions not arriving on the scene till many years later. Before our beloved glass jar candles, people used taper candles, household candles, the small "chime" candle, and before that oil lamps. As time and availability of this wide variety has changed, so have our choices in what we use for candle magic.
Each of these candle types has their uses, and when you find the need to burn one in your work, even the humble birthday candle can work in a pinch. Don't ever be discouraged by not having the "right" candle, you have more options that you realize!
Over my years of working in a metaphysical shop, I've simply lost count of the times I've helped teach people how to "dress" a candle. I'm always happy to provide this service to others, but as the old saying goes "teach a man to fish..." I love showing someone how to do this for themselves and then watch when the come in the next time and confidently go to the candle dressing station and do the work for themselves.
So what is "dressing a candle?" This is the process of adding herbs and/or oils to the wax of a candle to help empower it to for your intention and purpose in your spell work. Often, one will use an awl, nail, or other sharp object to inscribe a word, a phrase, or name(s) on the wax before adding the herbs and oils. This can be done in the exposed wax on the top of a jar candle, or on any taper or pillar candle.
With tapers and pillars, one will inscribe the words, then rub a little oil on the surface, followed by rolling the candle in the herb(s) that have been chosen to match the purpose of the candle's use. For jar candles, we often use a sharp object to poke some holes into the wax as deeply as we can (I've used a Phillips-Head Screwdriver for this part!), dropped some of our chosen oil(s) down the holes, then add our herbs on top. After everything has been added, take the candle firmly in your hands and pray over the candle to awaken and empower it for your purpose. This prayer can be as simple as a statement of intent, a request that your desire comes true, a whisper for assistance, or a Psalm or Scripture quote that fits your need.
As I mentioned above, I've helped a lot of people with their candles over the last ten-plus years, and I've learned a few things, and seen a few things more. Here are a few of my tips to help you get the most from dressing your own candles:
When adding oils, there is no need to drown the top of a jar candle with oil. A few drops work fine, and if you use good quality oils you will be rewarded with some nice scent! Tapers and other free-standing candles also only need a small amount.
You CAN mix and match oils. As long as you have oils that compliment each other in the work you are doing, feel free to use more than one. Looking for work? Steady Work Oil mixed with Success Oil is a great combination. Blessing Oil and Spiritual Healing Oil combined with Home Sweet Home Oil can ease family tension and bring a family closer. There are all kinds of possibilities, use your own intuition and use what "feels right" for you and your magic.
As you add your herbs, remember that you are lighting a wick and introducing live flame! I grind my herbs to a powder before adding them to the top of my jar candles, or rolling a taper candle in the blend. Use a mortar and pestle, or just crush and crumble in your hands - reduce them down however you can to prevent them from catching that flame. There have been multiple times when a client has brought their dressed jar candle to the register to check out, and had the entire space above the wick covered with herbs and powders. This is a big fire waiting to happen. A few pinches is all you really need to use. I make a variety of ready to use Magical Powders that have a specifically chosen herbs and roots ground to a fine powder with added essential oils for The Raven's Wing Magical Co.
Glitter. Many people love to add glitter as a final step in dressing a candle before they pray and empower the candle. I'm not one to judge, but this is not something I do. Most commercial glitter is small bits of shiny plastic, and I just don't want burning plastic in or on my candles. If you can find natural or eco-friendly glitter, you have my blessing.
Adding stones or crystals. This is something I really don't recommend. Even very small stones that come into contact with the flame could shatter and break, sometimes rather dramatically. I believe this is a bit risky and not a great idea. If crystals and stones are part of the work you are doing, place them in front or around your candle. Their energy will still help in the work, and you will still have them later to carry.
Burning your candle
Next come the fun part - lighting the candle! There are lots of ways to do this, and it seems almost silly to list them out. You can use a simple match, a lighter, or as some people do the flame from another candle. The choice is up to you.
Before you light the candle, take a moment to reflect on what you are lighting it for. Remember what you said and felt when you dressed the candle, bring those feelings back up and feel the need for your result to be what you want it to be. It's OK to be emotional, that will help move the work forward towards your goal. When you are ready, light that wick and speak your prayer into the flame. Sit with it, imagine the flame reaching out to attract your desire and lighting the way for it to come to you quickly and surely.
Many people light their jar candle once and let it burn all the way down, never putting it out. Please only do this if you have a safe place for the candle to burn for the time it will take. It is perfectly acceptable to extinguish your jar candle and light it again at another time. I was always taught not to blow the candle out, but rather to "tap the light out" using a candle snuffer or something to smother the flame (like a small bowl or dish) over the top of the glass. Do what is right for you as long as you are safe doing so.
If you are going to put the flame out and relight later, I've got a hint for you. The "first burn" is the most important. These candles are meant to burn non-stop, so lighting and putting them out over and over can cause them to create a "well" with wax going up the side of the glass. If you burn the candle until you get a good 1/4th inch of melted wax in the jar the first time and then every time you light it, this is less likely to happen.
When your candle is done
Your candle has finished! The wax has all melted away, and you likely have a little smattering of herbs or powders at the bottom of the jar. Did it burn clean all the way down, or is the jar covered inside with soot and debris? Here are some basic "candle reading" things to loom for:
Lots of soot: There is a blockage of some kind to your work, or a "push back" that may indicate that something is "in the way" of what you are trying to achieve. Reevaluate what your goal is, and figure out the next step. You may need to change up what you are doing and come at this from another angle.
Soot at the top, clear at the bottom: Whatever was blocking you got pushed out of the way. Rough start, but good finish.
Soot at the bottom, clear at the top: After a good start, something is getting in the way. This is another indicator that perhaps the work needs to be adjusted, or thought through from a different angle.
Cloudy glass: This traditionally means some kind of spiritual message is trying to come through. Examine the shapes and see if they mean anything to you. This is like reading tea leaves, where shapes and forms can take on meanings.
Clear glass: A great indication that the work you've done will be successful.
Whatever style or type of candle you are using, please please please use common sense with safety in mind!
Tall glass encased jar candles have a burning time of 120 hours or more. They get HOT. Make sure you have them on a fire-safe surface and nothing flammable nearby.
Never leave a burning candle unattended. If you feel that you need to, find a safe place to do so. A clean fireplace is great, a small metal bucket filled with sand and nothing nearby can be used, or a porcelain sink or tub if you must.
Use an appropriate sized holder for the candle you are using. Tapers in a loose holder can shift and fall when wax starts to drip down the sides.
Pets and children seem to be attracted to burning flames. Make sure your candle is inaccessible to them.
Avoid drafts or vents if possible as they can make a candle burn unevenly.
This might all seem like a lot to remember, but once you have "dressed and blessed" a few candles and then used them in your own spell work, it will all become second nature and you will feel like an expert in no time.
I wish you all the best in you candle magic!