Candles are a cornerstone of some of the most simple — and powerful — magic there is. Pretty much everyone’s first spell is some form of candle spell, because they’re inexpensive, easy to come by, and effective (once you know how to use them). A lot of care and thought goes into the selection of a candle’s size, color, and even shape. This got me thinking… What about the wax?
Candles made from the wax of the bayberry plant are traditionally burned on new year’s in order to bring prosperity into the home. We’re also way past the days when all we had were bulk paraffin chime candles. There’s some history behind using specific wax candles for specific purposes, and a lot of options out there. It made me to do some experimenting.
Bayberry wax is typically, but not always, green. I’ve also seen plenty of bayberry candles that have turned out beige, brown, or even a grayish color. So, assuming that it isn’t the color of the wax alone that gives it its associations with prosperity, that gives me a jumping off point.
Looking at the metaphysical properties of the origins of each wax and my own experience, here’s what I’ve found:
Palm wood is said to be associated with transformation and transitions, but also peace and relaxation. Wands made of palm conduct energies around them and stimulate intuition. While not at all analogous to the living wood, petrified palm wood is protective and grounding. While those are typical traits of petrified wood in general, they seem to go hand-in-hand with palm’s ability to help us navigate transitions and upheaval.
Palm is one of the waxes I don’t have much experience with, in a magical sense. Based on its other properties, I’d use candles made of palm wax for stability and protection, particularly when it comes to weathering major life changes.
Beeswax is a bit different. Honey is frequently used in sweetening jars, to anoint other candles, and so on, because it’s sweet and sticky. It’s an attraction ingredient par excellence, and its inviting golden color certainly doesn’t hurt.
I predominantly use beeswax candles in my practice, but they’re especially good for spells that involve drawing things to you — like love, money, friendship, and so on. Good beeswax even has a warm honey smell that’s absolutely wonderful while it burns.
Another nice thing about beeswax is that it’s fairly firm. So, if you use it in a spell to bring something to you, and you want to dispose of the candle’s remains, it’s really easy to melt the candle stub down and form it into a love-, money-, or whatever-drawing amulet. Soften the wax, flatten it, and inscribe it with a rune, symbol, sigil, or even just a word expressing your intent, then use it however you please.
Paraffin is where things get a little strange. It’s a byproduct of the petroleum industry, which leads a lot of people to view it as less natural than the alternatives out there. It does release compounds like toluene into the air, which keeps it from being the best choice for anywhere that isn’t well-ventilated. I haven’t found any sources for magical properties of paraffin itself, other than as a base for candles. I was able to find a few for petroleum jelly, which is often used as a base for herbal salves, but they primarily touted its ease of use as an ointment.
Some sources cite petroleum’s origins as a good basis for ancestor magic — even going back to our non-human ancestors.
It seems that few people have really delved into the magical properties of paraffin, which I can understand. If your practice relies on using materials that are as close to nature as possible, it’s hardly going to be your first choice! Paraffin’s history of use seems to indicate that it’s like a white candle — while it might have properties of its own, it’s also a neutral, all-purpose stand-in for other waxes. Its associations with the ancient dead also make it useful for death-related or ancestor work.
Soy is another option for candle wax. Traditionally, soybeans are associated with prosperity and luck. Soy milk is used in recipes for employment and business success. In magical cooking, soy ingredients are said to promote psychic awareness and spirituality. As the seed of the soy plant, soybeans also have obvious connotations of growth.
Soy wax is a great choice for spells and rituals for financial gain and abundance of any kind. (I like it when I’m looking to grow my bank account!) I have a fantastic soy-based candle by Enchanted Botanicals that I light before spells to establish a sacred space — that soy-seed-growth energy is an excellent foundation for spellwork.
Tallow is a bit hard to come by now, because it’s made from rendered animal fat, sticky, and not quite as appealing as other waxes for candle crafting. Since it’s sticky, it made for an excellent vehicle for magical herbs — all you had to do was roll it in fresh or dried herbs, and you were good to go. Raymond Buckland recommends against using tallow for candle magic in Advanced Candle Magic, but this seems to be a purely practical concern (tallow can be smelly and messy).
As animal fat, tallow has connotations of wealth and sacrifice. It’s a food, so, by burning it, you’re giving up something you could use for your own sustenance. This would make it a worthwhile choice for an offertory candle — as long as who- or whatever you’re offering it to doesn’t have any taboos against the animals used in making it!
For more specific magical properties, you’d have to look at its origins. Pigs are associated with abundance, prosperity, and fertility. Cows are associated with nurturing, protection, and fertility. Sheep are associated with peace, harmony, and tranquility.
There are other options for candle wax out there, including clear gel (which is probably closest to paraffin). I’d like to experiment with them and see how I can expand this list.