DRESSING, MARKING, MEASURING,
LIGHTING, AND EXTINGUISHING CANDLES
Offertory and figural candles are dressed by rubbing them (for instance, upward to "draw" and downward to repel) with appropriate anointing oils, such as Fast Luck, Compelling, or John the Conqueror. Some practitioners then sprinkle them with sachet powders or roll them in finely cut magic herbs selected for their specific spiritual powers.
Glass-encased vigil and novena caldes are dressed by using a sharp tool (such as a nail, awl, or screw driver) to poke holes or engrave a name or symbol in the wax at the top and then drizzling in a small amount of oil. They may then be topped with finely crushed herbs and symbolically coloured glitter. They are then prayed over and dedicated for use.
Care must be used when adding oil and herbs to a vigil light -- too much oil will result in the candle wick becoming drowned, and too many herbs, especially those that are highly flammable, may lead to the candle catching on fire all along the top surface, which can be a fire hazard and may also result in a black, sooty burn, which is an unfortunate outcome when seeking to perform a candle divination.
The time of day the lights are set is important: To draw influences, some folks prefer towwork in the morning, and the sun rises and hoodoo practitioners say that the candle should be lit when both clock hands are rising, in the second half of the hours between six and twelve. To repel or cast off influences, some folks like to work as the sun is setting and some say that the candle should be lit when both hands on the clock are falling, in the first half of the hours from twelve to six. Other folks prefer light to all of their candles at midnight, the traditional "witching hour."
Candles are usually inscribed or marked in some way to indicate on whose behalf they are being burned. In its simplest form, this consists carving a name in the wax, but it also a very common, almost a universal, practice to write out a petition and/or a name on paper (often writing the name multiple times) and to place the paper beneath the candle, sometimes under an overturned saucer to protect it from burning. In addition to the petition paper, words, symbols, or sigils may be inscribed or carved into the candle wax with a needle, pin, rusty nail, or knife, depending on the intention behind the spell, and the candle may be "loaded" by inserting personal concerns into a hole in the wax and coverin it over with wax before the candle is lit.
When a name-paper or a petition paper with a name on it is placed under the candle, this is called "burning a candle on [him or her]." Many people also burn a candle on someone's picture, that is, place a drawing or photo under the saucer. It is customary to write the name on the back of the picture when doing this. Burning a candle on someone's name or picture can be done for love, revenge, harm, or any desired result, depending on the candle colour and the dressing oil used.
The earliest printed version of this spell i have yet found comes from New Orleans and dates back to 1924. It is found not in a book of folklore or magic, but rather in the song "Hoodoo Blues" written by Spencer Williams and recorded by Bessie Brown. Due to the constraints of the blues lyrics format, the spell is given in sketchy format, but it is recognizable. In this 1924 song, a black cat bone is used for the return of the narrator's lover (he seems to have moved into another woman's home) and burning a candle on her picture (a black candle, i'd wager) is to get her to let loose of the man so he can return to the singer. The enemy's picture goes under the candle, and although it is not specifically stated in the song lyric, i presume that in keeping with modern usage, the enemy's name is written on the back of the picture and the picture-with-name goes under a saucer which is under the candle.
Here is the relevant verse:
Goin' 'neath her window, gonna lay a black cat bone
Goin' 'neath her window, gonna lay a black cat bone
Burn a candle on her picture, she won't let my good man alone.
Free-standing candles are typically burned in candle holders or candle stands. These may be elaborate or plain. When a large number of small altar candles or offertory will be lit at one time -- as, for instance, in the Fiery Wall of Protection Spell, it is most economical and efficient to utilize small, simple, stamped metal candle stands called "star holders."
In some spells, the candle is burned a half-inch at a time for several days. In others, it is burned in intervals at specified times of the day, or marked into sections with pins or needles and burned a section at a time "until the pin drops." In addition to burning the candle while it stands on a piece of paper, some spells specify that the candles should be moved toward or away from each other over the course of the working, or that the candle flame be used to ignite the name- or petition-paper, the ashes of which are then used in the work. During the course of certain conjurations, altar candles may be butted and burned upside down or even burned sideways at both ends, as with double action candles. They may also be ceremonially extinguished in water or turned upside down into a saucer of graveyard dirt to put them out.
Any kind of matches can be used to light candles, of course, but some people enjoy having specialty matches available, both for aesthetic and for practical reasons. Wooden matches are easier to light than paper ones and burn longer, so they can be used to set several candles alight at once. When it comes to glass encased candles, most folks burn those straight through -- but if you chose to burn them for short periods, put them out, and then relight them, you will probably need to use extra-long fireplace matches to get them going again.
When a candle is burned in sections, either measured by time or by pins, it is invariably pinched or snuffed out, not blown out at the end of each session, to signify that the spell is not yet complete. A more graceful way to put out candles than by spitting on your fingers and pinching, is to snuff the candles out with an old-fashioned candle snuffer. This also reduces objectional smoke from the snuffed candle. Decorative candle snuffers are often made of brass or brass and wood and they make elegant altar tools for spiritual workers whose practice involves regular candle burning.
If pins or needles are used for measuring sections on a candle, they usually will not be discarded after they drop, but will be saved for further use. Depending on the type of job being done, they may be utilized for making crosses and double crosses in the paper on which the names or desires have been written, they may be wrapped in a cloth or paper and buried or carried in a mojo hand, or they may be disposed of in a ritual manner.
Experienced workers often accompany the setting of lights with the burning of an appropriate incense. Some folks prefer to light the incense first to set the mood as they mark, inscribe, dress and light their candles. Others believe that the lighting of the candles must come first, with the incense following.
There is also a strong contingent of spiritually-inclined folks who will not use common matches at their altars because they feel that the disposal of matches breaks the ritual flow of their movements. They prefer to light a taper or an extra-long fireplace matches in another room and bring it to the altar, and blow it out or snuff it once the actual lights are set. As with all such matters, tradition and personal preferences leave room for variation.