The History of Candles in Religious Practices

spiritual candles

The inception of the humble candle is thought to date back to ancient Egypt and China.

In Egypt, early iterations of candles were made by dipping papyrus in beeswax, while in China, candles crafted from tallow (animal fat).

Although they were originally designed for illumination, these early candles swiftly became symbolic of the divine and began being used for spiritual purposes as well.

Candles in Christianity

Despite candles serving a very practical purpose, they also hold an immense symbolism within many societies and religions. For example, early Christians often used candles to light their surroundings during religious service, but over time they became associated with the tradition of honoring saints and martyrs.

In the Catholic Church, candles are also used during various sacraments, including the baptismal ceremony, where the lighting of the baptismal candle is thought to symbolize the light of Christ.

In time, many Catholics began to view candlelight as having distinct attributes, with the flame representing his divinity, the wick representing his soul, and the finally, the wax representing his body.

Candles in Judaism

In Judaism, candles have been an essential part of religious observances since ancient times. The most prominent example is the Menorah, a seven-branched candelabrum that was placed in the Temple in Jerusalem. The Menorah symbolized the presence of God, and its eternal flame was to be kept burning continuously.

Today, the historical Menorah is often represented by the Hanukkah menorah, which is lit during the eight-day festival of Hanukkah to commemorate the miracle of the oil that lasted eight days when it should have only lasted for one.

Another important Jewish custom involving candles is the lighting of Shabbat candles on Friday evenings, which marks its beginning.

jewish menorah with candles
Jewish Menorah with Candles

Candles in Buddhism and Hinduism

Candles also hold a significant place in Buddhist and Hindu traditions. In Buddhism, candles are thought to symbolize the light of the Buddha’s teachings and the attainment of enlightenment.

They are often lit at temples and during meditation to represent the journey from ignorance to wisdom.

In Hinduism, candles (or oil lamps) called diyas are used during the festival of Diwali, as well as other festivals and ceremonies.

Candles in Paganism

Many pagans and ‘witches’ view candles as a key component to their rituals and often place them upon their altars.

“The flame cleanses our energy fields. There are no rituals that could be done without the energy of a candle because every ritual typically invokes four energies: fire, wind, earth and water.” – Vilius Malinauskas : Lithuanian Runologist

In color therapy, some people may view different colored candles as having various attributes. For example, one might burn a red candle to encourage passion or motivation.

Candles in Modern Times

Although candles are regularly lit in modern times, few people ponder their history and origins.

Remember, whenever you burn a candle, it signifies more than a simple flickering flame. Candles carry a profound meaning, reminding us of our shared history and the luminous path we have traversed together.

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