Candles represent Fire, and are often the most visible element on an altar.
Candles have always been used on altars; either actual candles, or torches, or oil lamps. In earlier times a bonfire might be built, which would serve as the "candle" and also as the actual "altar" itself. Sometimes this is still done in outdoor ritual.
Since the earliest times the presence of fire in Pagan ritual has been of extreme importance. Fire represents the God (as you should remember from LESSON II), and when you light a flame you are repeating the Goddess' act of First Creation. Each ritual then begins with the symbolic re-enactment of the First Creation when the candles are lit. the candle flame bursts forth from darkness, even as the God burst forth from the Goddess in an explosion of flame and light.
Moreover, flame generates energy. Each candle that you light puts out energy of its own, which will add to your working; it acts as a kind of "battery" raising the available energy level, and increasing your ability. This is why you sometimes see so many candles burning at once on an altar.
You can add to this effect by imagining a ball of white light around the flame when you light your candle -this increases the energy the flame puts out. Imagine the ball of light expanding out from the flame for several inches. When you put out the candle, imagine the ball of light shrinking down and disappearing. You can use the ball of light without the flame too, but if you do make sure you remember to shrink it down when your done.
You may also wish to "dress" your candles before you use them. This does not mean putting little clothes on them. You dress a candle with essential oil. The most common reason to dress a candle is to do CANDLE MAGIC, about which you will learn more later. But some people like to dress candles whenever they use them. dressing a candle gives you a chance to focus on the candle and put energy into it, "programming" it for the purpose it will be used for. By doing this you imprint your INTENT upon it, and cause it to focus naturally upon what you are trying to do. Then when the candle burn, the energy it generates will already be programmed for your purpose.
To dress a candle you take an appropriate essential oil (say lavender for a purification, or sandalwood for general ritual) and put a little in the palm of your left hand. Now rub your two hands together so that they are coated with the oil. As you rub your hands together, visualize white light shining out from between them, and see this white light expand and grow into a ball of light around your hands. Now take up your candle, holding it by the middle. Slowly work the oil up toward the top of the candle, and down toward the bottom, a little bit at a time. As you do this, imagine the candle filling with white light, and concentrate upon what it is you wish to do with this candle. The harder you concentrate, the more you will impress your intent upon the candle. Coat the whole candle with oil, including the wick.
As the candle burns it will release energy imprinted with your intent, as well as the scent of the oil it has been dressed with.
The number and color of candles you want on your altar is entirely up to you. A chart of colors and their meanings is included to help you choose. You will want to do this carefully as it adds a great deal to the atmosphere and energy of your altar.
Beeswax candles are considered preferable and some people go so far as to make their own -infusing the candles strongly with their personal energy by doing so. But in practice most people buy regular candles at the local store, and they work perfectly well.
Some people use only a single candle on their altar, to represent Spirit, or Primordial Deity. Or they might use a single candle to represent only that aspect of Deity which they are invoking at the moment.
Some people use a matched or contrasting pair to represent Goddess and God -Spirit and Matter, Death and Life: the great Duality Whose interaction forms the Universe as we know it. These candles might be in any of a number of color combinations used to represent Goddess and God, including Black and White, Silver (white or grey) and Gold (yellow), Green and Red, Indigo and Yellow, and so on. In such an arrangement the Goddess candle goes to the left, the God candle to the right, in keeping with the Geomancy of the altar as discussed above. Sometimes a Spirit candle is placed between them to symbolize Their inner Unity.
You might want to use altar candles to symbolize the Four Elements in elemental colors, or the three phases of the Goddess, or whatever conveys the idea o of holiness to you, and helps you to make the magical shift in consciousness. You may want to include a special candle to honor your ANCESTORS (whether by blood or affinity) or your Spirit Guides. Also, many magical working require special candles that will only be used for that working. These candles will be on your altar for anywhere from a few minutes to few weeks, depending on the working.
So you can see why candles are such an important part of the altar.
When you finish a magical working, do not blow your candles out -use a candle snuffer, your fingers, or a magical blade. This is to make sure that the candle goes out the first time as it is a bad omen to do otherwise.
In general you may use as many candles on your altar as you wish, in colors that have significance to you. Even the guidelines we have outlined here are just that -guidelines. If you feel strongly that you should arrange your candles in a way that is not consonant with the geomancy we have discussed, you should listen to your intuition and do as it tells you.
Candles help to raise energy, so the more the merrier -just be careful not to set yourself on fire!
Candles can also be used to represent the Fifth Element -Spirit. In this aspect the wax represents
Spirit, the flame represents the body/physical existence. Thus the Spirit (wax) feeds the body (flame ). And just as the candle can be re-lit any number of times, so too we see that the soul passes through any number of bodies.
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