Candles 🕯 History, Materials, and My Adventure?

Most of us use candles regularly in our practice, that much is true. But do you really know where your candles come from? What about who made the first candle? As always, I am intrigued by where my tools and supplies come from, the history behind their use, and how that applies to our modern practice. So, I decided to dig a bit into the history behind candle making and even tried to find out where my local chime candles come from!


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A History of Fire

We know fire was discovered by man a long time ago but it has existed at least as long as Earth has had plants, oxygen, and combustion. According to a Time Magazine article, the evidence we have of fire in the fossil record is generally based on how often charcoal is found. “The oldest fire ever recorded on Earth has been identified from charcoal in rocks formed during the late Silurian Period, around 420 million years ago.” It is possible that humans were opportunistic with the wildfires of the savannas of Africa, but the first clear evidence of habitual use of fire comes from caves in Israel dating back more than 300,000 years.

We know, of course, that the first candles were not invented that long ago because we as a species did not have the technology for such an invention. However, it is amazing for me to think that homo sapiens as we are now were sitting in caves around hearth fires more than 300,000 years ago. In any case, candles did not come around until much, much later.

The First Candle?


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But what about candles? We know that ancient peoples used fires for cooking. We know they used them for warmth. We have evidence of their hearth fires all over the world, but evidence of candle use and creation is harder to pinpoint. Why? Because places all over the world created candles throughout history. Candles may even be one of the earliest inventions of the ancient world. Britannica Encyclopedia says that candlesticks dated back to at least 3,000 BCE have been found both in Egypt and Crete.

Candles from ancient times would have been made from some type of fat, usually the fat of an animal. They would have been dipped rather than rolled, as we see with some beeswax candles today. There is some evidence that ancient Egyptians used something called a rushlight which, when researching a bit more, looks more like a torch than a candle. However, I could not find a picture of this for comparison nor could I found a source that told me this was completely accurate.

Michel-Eugène Chevreul - The Creation of Stearic Acid

In the 19th century, a French chemist named Michel-Eugène Chevreul figured out how to separate the fatty acid from the glycerin fat to create something called stearic acid. This allowed for higher quality candles to be made rather than candles simply dipped in tallow or animal fat. Once this was discovered, many more processes for creating candles were discovered. In addition to stearic acid, two other important sources were found, one which is still used today.

The first is spermaceti. This may sound like a strange word but it is actually a wax that is liquid at body temperature that is obtained from the head of the sperm or bottlenose whale. It was used in ointments, cosmetics, and most importantly, candles. It is unclear to me if this fatty wax from whales is still in use anywhere today. I would like to imagine that it is not, since whaling has been outlawed in most countries, but I could not find a definitive answer.

The second candle-making ingredient, the one still in use today, is paraffin wax. Paraffin wax is usually colorless or white, sometimes translucent. It’s a hard wax obtained by dewaxing light lubricating oil stocks (whatever that means lol). It was favored over tallow and other previous methods of candle making because it is cheaper and easier to produce.

Modern Candles - Different Materials


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Today, we (probably) no longer have to worry about our candles being made from the fat of animals or other animal oils. Our most common type of candle is made from paraffin wax, an easy-to-obtain byproduct of petroleum-based products. There is, of course, some concern over the burning of paraffin wax in the home. Some people have claimed that burning paraffin-based candles can lead to toxins building up in the home, eventually leading to health concerns in the people that live there. However, the one study I could find about this subject may be biased considering the major funder of the study would benefit from the replacement of paraffin candles with soy candles. Source

Speaking of soy, that is another wax that we now have available to us. This type of wax is created from the hydrogenation of the oils extracted from the soybean. One of the reasons people may prefer soy wax over paraffin wax is that soybeans are renewable and paraffin wax is not. The soybean byproduct from gathering the wax ends up being used as animal feed. Sustainability issues aside with water use, carbon emissions of animals, and soil integrity, it does appear that soy wax is renewable while paraffin is not. Source

Beeswax is another common candle material we have at our disposal today. Beeswax, of course, comes from bees. It is made by worker bees to produce cells for honey storage and bee babies. The downside to beeswax candles is that they generally have to be mixed with other waxes if not rolled because it has a higher melting point. The candle must burn very hot in order for the wax to melt properly. On the plus side, this usually means that beeswax candles burn slower and therefore last longer.

Upon researching different types of wax, it appears that beeswax is cheaper than soy wax, yet soy wax is more expensive to obtain than paraffin wax… One pound of beeswax (from Bulk Apothecary) is roughly $9. One pound of of their Akosoy wax is roughly $11. They don’t sell paraffin wax so I had a look on the internet for a substitute. I found a store called Candle Science that sells paraffin wax in bulk. A 23 pound bag is roughly $61 which equates to about $3 per pound.

Modern Candles - Different Shapes


Candle Magic 101 - Spells8

Since we no longer have to rely on dipping candles, we have an ever-increasing selection of candle shapes to choose from. We have tapers, votives, tealights, human shapes, and so much more. This is the perfect opportunity for the witch because it allows us to add more sympathetic magic and symbolism to our magical work. If you need to separate a couple, you can usually find candles in the shape of the sexes (and some androgynous!) to work a spell on the couple. The same can be said for bringing people together. If you need to work some money magic, I am sure you can find a candle in the shape of a dollar sign or even coins! Here is a quick rundown of the different types of candle shapes.

:candle: Taper candles are usually tall and slim. They can range from an inch tall to several inches tall and have a burn time of several seconds (think birthday candle) to several hours.

:candle: Pillar candles are more chunky and thick. They can be short or tall, though I find that they tend to be about six inches tall and roughly three inches in diameter. They have very long burn times.

:candle: Seven day glass candles are a pillar candle encased in glass. These can come with either blank glass or with a picture on the outside of the glass. You may see these in the store with Saints and other Catholic figures on the outside. They have very long burn times as well, hence the name Seven Day candle.

:candle: Votive candles are smaller than pillar candles yet not as small as tealights. They are generally no more than two inches tall and one inch in diameter. They may or may not come in a glass candle holder and only have a burn time of a few hours.

:candle: Chime candles are small taper candles but I put them in a category of their own. They are generally all the same size and they are one of the preferred candles of candle magic. This is because they have a relatively short burn time for being a taper candle and can be made dripless for easy wax cleanup. They are also easy to dress and easy to use.

:candle: Tealight candles are short and round candles usually enclosed in an aluminum candle holder. They are hardly ever bigger than an inch tall and an inch in diameter. They have short burn times, usually only one to two hours.

Where do my candles come from?

Since I am digging into candles and their history (and honestly, there wasn’t a lot for me to dig into lol) I wanted to try and figure out where my local shop gets their chime candles from. So, on to an adventure! Of course, I am not going to give away my exact location or the name of my local shop because that’s not safe. However, I can say that it is fairly popular among my local witchcraft community.

But this adventure turned out to be a bust. I do not feel comfortable asking them where they get their candles. They are a local business and I do not want them to feel like I am trying to take money out of their pockets. I am sure I could ask them what country their candles come from or something like that, but it is difficult to pinpoint exactly where they come from or who makes them without asking directly. I did a quick internet search for wholesale chime candles and whew, there are a lot! Many of them actually come from China and are dirt cheap which is concerning because of human rights issues in China. However, there is not really much I can do about that from where I am sitting.

My next adventure?

I am really wanting to start making my own candle supplies from locally sourced material. However, that involves finding a local beekeeper and pricing beeswax. I know it isn’t impossible but it does take effort. Honestly, the effort is worth it in my opinion but sometimes I don’t feel like I have the time. Maybe one day I will be sitting here with pictures of my own handcrafted beeswax candles. One day…


Continuing the discussion from :diya_lamp: Weekly Witchy CHALLENGE - Light 'Em Up!


:candle: When did humans discover fire? - Time Magazine
:candle: Candles - Britannica
:candle: Spermaceti - Britannica
:candle: Paraffin Wax - Britannica

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Thanks for this! It was interesting. I agree with you about chime candles from China but what can you do? Other than making your own one day. I wouldn’t trust any candle I made myself, I’m not that crafty! LOL!

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Good morning my friends @MeganB & @Amethyst… so I loved reading this & I believe you are right, they do not use whale fat/oil anymore for candles or lamps or cosmetics. I remember a big to-do about it when I was younger & how makeup was made & sourced.

Unfortunately for me, I have to get my chime candles off of Amazon or the like because the closest thing to a metaphysical shop is the Crystal Shops by my house. They literally sell… crystals. One of them has what seems to be an unlimited supply of Palo Santo which always piques my curiosity of how they keep so much all the time & they have incense along with a handful of essential oils. Neither of them sells chime candles though.

I had been thinking about one day, like a rainy day :cloud_with_rain: I could make use of the old crayons (from the days of having actual children in my house that used them) & melt them down. I remember I was in Girl Scouts (Yes I was in Girl Scouts through my Freshman year of high school) one of our weekend trips (learning camping, life skills, Girl Scout things) we made candles.

I believe we had some kind of double boiler, but I remember we had 1 long piece of string/cord for the wick & we alternated dipping 1 side then the other into the different waxes (melted crayon, we each brought a box of like 16 or something to add to the pots). So we had 2 candles attached by one wick.

We learned how to layer the colors or mix them as we were dipping. It is something that stuck with me because I remember being really excited & almost amazed as each layer dried & was applied. I love making things.

Circling back though, I think I am going to look into where these chime candles are coming from & more in-depth about how they are made or what they are made with? I think I am going to look into any updates in the making of candles by Party Lite, I know they have switched their processes & materials over the last 20 or so years. I did eventually have to stop buying them, great quality, & great scents, but you paid the price for that quality.

I remember working at Party Lite (Think Tupperware parties for Candles). One of their main offices was in the area that I lived in, so the consultants would have the parties & send in the forms. My department entered the orders, corrected item numbers, (made the numbers work if the math was off & processed adjustments) or processed the consultant’s orders for materials or what have you.

ANYWAY!!!

The warehouse was attached where some of the orders were packaged & sent out & they would have warehouse sales. I’m telling you I have never had so many candles. I got my hands on all the scents I loved in every version, candle holders, sconces, especially ones that looked antique. I still have a box in the basement with more types of candle holders than I know what to do with. However, their candles, are AMAZING. The burn times were great Votives were 8 hours Tealights was 6 hours. The 3 Wick Candles were massive & burned for a long time. I don’t think it can be measured in hours, you’d be better off with days or weeks. Now the 3 wick candles are about half as tall or smaller.

I also became a scent person, every so often throughout my workday, we had times that we went to a different part of the building & literally sampled smells without knowing what they were until after & voting on the best scents. That was really fun, there were some really good smells & to balance that out, some not so good ones.

I actually do use other candles besides chime candles in my practice. I have used tealights, depending on what I am doing or the energy I am trying to manifest, I will use votives, jar candles, & pillars. (Yes I STILL have candles :candle: from Party Lite) For reference, my oldest son will be 23 :flushed: in May. I worked there & he had just turned 1 & I was there for a few years so between warehouse sales & quarterly parties… the collection is quite vast :rofl: I actually used a crystal piece we got at a quarterly meeting that can be a holder in about 6 different ways. We used it for our wedding ceremony with the pillar candle in the middle & taper candles on each side then we each held a taper & lit the pillar at the same time :fire:

Thank you for the learning experience of shifting my mindset for the morning. It’s been a whacky night into the morning for me & I’m just trying to make it until others are awake in the house. :people_hugging: :heart:

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Thank you for all the info on candles, @MeganB and for putting it all together for us.
:heart:

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I mean, my concern with the chime candles from China is less about the fact they’re from China and more about exploitation of workers, sustainability, carbon emissions to get things to the US, etc. At this point the only thing I could really do would be make them myself or buy them from someone local (or at least on my side of the country) who makes them. I’ve made some candles myself but I don’t trust myself to make chime candles :laughing:


There is absolutely nothing wrong with this and I do hope my post didn’t come across that way :grimacing:

This sounds like so much fun! I’m bookmarking that thought for a future day :laughing: I’d love to do something like that with my daughter, too. It’s a good lesson!

I generally work with chime candles or tealights for magical purposes. I use votives and large pillar candles for deity-related things. I can’t believe you still have all those candles! I mean…you can send some my way :laughing:

Of course, Marsha! It’s a learning experience for all of us :blush:

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If I can actually make it downstairs, I will take a picture, which is part of the reason I use them in my practice. I can’t see buying more candles in a different shape just for the color when I have all of these to go through still :rofl: I guess I could be like the “cat lady” only with candles. Goodness, I have holders for the seasons they still have a rather strong scent to them & I haven’t worked for Party Lite for the better part of 2 decades if not more. :joy: Nevermind gifts or ones that I have acquired over the years that still haven’t been used.

From there we went to the wax melt warmers, still going through those scents too, & more recently we added essential oil diffusers & such but with 2 dogs… well it’s a busy place for scents & colors here :laughing:

I have to really put my thinking cap on for this one. It’s easy enough, we did it at a campground & we had like a line of us that just went through & dipped each side in whatever color, got to the end of the line & did it again until they were suitable for candle sizes (or what we thought was suitable?) I’m assuming we dipped once or twice in a pot & then went to the end to let the wax dry on the string we were using. I remember we had to keep the ends from touching or they would stick together. Old crayons, that’s what we used & I remember there being 3 large pots on the “stove” 1 was a clear or neutral color, the other 2 had bolder colors & they would switch out the different colors in the pots or the pots with the colors. Ack! I wish my mom that was my troop leader was alive. She was there & did this with me.

Oh no, you didn’t, that was my own, I wish there was a metaphysical shop or the like closer to me than 2 hours away. :smiling_face:

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So mote it be(e)! :grin: :honeybee:

I’d be lying if I said this wasn’t a goal of mine too- I would love to keep bees someday (despite the fact that it is a pretty tricky and expensive past time, from the classes I’ve taken and word of mouth :sweat_smile: ) for both fresh honey and beeswax. There’s something about beeswax candles that really appeals to me- maybe it’s just me impressing my thoughts on them, but I feel that natural beeswax candles burn cleaner and clearer than other types of processed candles. I really love them! :heart:

Thank you so much for this awesome post- it was really interesting to explore the history of candles over the ages! And I completely agree about how wild is it to stop and realize that we as a species have been handling flames for 300,000 years- that is mind boggling in a cool way :laughing: :+1: :fire:

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I can theorize how to do it in my head. I’m just trying to think of how many crayons I would need for that to even work :laughing: that’s a lot of wax! I’m sure I could just pick up some beeswax and make beeswax dipped candles :thinking:

haha thank you for that! :star: I have the same thoughts about beeswax and, if I’m not mistaken, they do actually burn cleaner than at least paraffin candles. I’m not sure about soy, though, so that would take more digging. But yeah! I had that thought about ancestors sitting in caves 300,000 years ago just…cooking over a fire, laughing, staring at the rain outside, and living their life :fire: it’s crazy to think about!

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Yeah, it wasn’t just my troop that brought crayons, I want to say this was like one of their Jamboree or something of that nature, there were definitely other troops & it was a designated Girl Scout Campground. Maybe color the beeswax with some crayons?

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Yeah, that’s what I’m thinking :laughing: One day I’ll have to do it! I’ll have to get some pots from the thrift store or something because I am not using my good pots for that :candle:

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Awesome! My favorite topic currently; and here is a very well researched and interesting breakdown! With footnotes, sources and links, be still my nerdy and witchy :heart:
Thank you

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I have to add my 2 cents!! :coin: :coin:
I read somewhere that the bees :honeybee:wax candles make particles in the air drop to the floor, therefore cleaning the air!
I don’t know if soy :olive: wax does that but I’m sure it’s better in the air than petroleum :wink:

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This was a lovely read, both the history and the personal candle making shenanigans! :blush: I remember I had to look into the ingredients of candles as some of them were making my eyes itch, turns out paraffin wax has that effect on me. I’ve been happily burning stearin candles ever since with no issues. :candle:

I made a few cute Valentine’s tealights once from white and red taper candle stubs and rose essential oil, they turned out lovely! :smiling_face_with_three_hearts: Cleanup was a real mess though… :sweat_smile:

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Always! Sources, citations, and further reading are a must when I write things like this lol

Ohh :thinking: interesting! I’ll have to see if I can find that info!

Thank you :smiling_face_with_three_hearts: I can’t burn too many scented candles anymore because the fragrance is usually way too strong but I seriously vow to one day make my own scented candles that we can actually handle in the house :laughing: and you’re right, cleanup is definitely a pain!

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