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Monday, April 26, 2010

A votive candle is one that is burned as the result of a vow. Many people think of votive candles as small, glass-encased candles, about 2 or 3 inches in height, but this is only one type of votive candle. In fact, such candles are defined by their function, not their form. However, for the purposes of clarity, in this article, i will refer to paper or glass encased candles under 2 inches in height as tea lights, those under 5 inches in height as votive candles and those that come in tall glass cylinders as novena and vigil candles.

Perhaps the first glass encased votive candles specifically marketed to hoodoo buyers (as opposed to religious buyers) were Jan-O-Sun brand jelly-jar style three-colour votive candles, sold by the Standard O and B Supply Company of Chicago in the 1940s. They look essentially like modern glass votive lights of today and seem to have come onto the market suddenly, to have achieved immediate popularity, and to have been in production from various makers since their introduction.

Typically, votive candles are burned as the prelude to or result of a conditional vow: The petitioner asks a favour of a deity, saint, or spirit and offers recompense (an ex voto) if the wish is granted. Under these circumstances, votive candles may be used either as inducements, as offerings, or as both.

When employed as inducements, votive candles are burned during the course of making the petition. For instance, a petitioner may be awaiting a court case hearing in nine days, and will burn votive candles for the entire length of time as an inducement for a patron saint to hear his plea for help, all the while promising an additional offering, such as flowers, more candles, publication of the saint's name in the newspaper, or a donation to a charitable organization, if the court case has a successful outcome.

When votive candles are employed as offerings, the petition is made silently and the burning of a certain number of candles with the patron saint's picture on them in a church where all may see and recognize the patron saint's efficacy is a typical offering that is promised or vowed should the petition be granted.


Properly speaking, any candle used in conjunction with a vow is a votive candle, but in the United States, the term votive candles generally refers to candles moulded to fit into a glass or ceramic votive holder. They can be burned as free-standing lights (sometimes called "stubbies") rather than placed in holders if you wish to "read" the way their wax melts for the purposes of divination.

A typical votive light is 2 inches tall and 1 1/2 inches in diameter. When in a holder, such a candle may burn for 10 - 15 hours. These candles come in an assortment of symbolic colours and they will fit in most sizes of glass or ceramic votive candle holders or can be used as free-standing "stubbies", which will make for a shorter burn time.


Lux Perpetua means "eternal light" and that is the name given to paper-encased votive candles in Latin America. In Mexico, small paper encased religious votive candles called "Lux Perpetua" were developed during the 19th century. These delightfully old-fashioned, hand-made devotionary religious candles predate paraffin was candles. They are filled with a very soft grade of wax that may also contain animal fat, poured into a stiff paper cup or cylinder. The paper is printed with a Catholic devotionary image.

Imported into the United States, especially along the border with Mexico, they are now quite popular among African-American Catholics as well as with immigrants from Latin America. Lux Perpetua lights are much sought by those working in traditional forms of Mexican and Latin American espiritismo (spiritualism) and curandismo (herbal spiritual healing).

Tea Lights are very small votive candles poured into aluminum cups; originally designed to be used at the table to keep foods and drinks warm (hence the name "tea light"), they make great refills for glass votive candle holders, are extremely economical, and are relatively safe to burn. Their small size is also an advantage for busy people who wish to do continuing candle magic on successive days without leaving large candles unattended.