Obviously if anyone asks me what is the best book to buy to learn how to do candle magic, I would recommend my own book, Pagan Portals - Candle Magic, which was released last month. However, several people I have chatted to recently have mentioned that the first book they bought on the subject was the classic Practical Candleburning Rituals by Raymond Buckland in the Llewellyn's Practical Magick series. They also usually said that, despite the title, they didn't find the rituals all that practical. So I thought I would give the old book a new review to offer potential buyers an idea of what's inside it.
Practical Candleburning Ritualswas written in 1970 by Raymond Buckland, founder of Seax-Wica, and has been reprinted and updated several times since then. The copy I own came out in 1982 and I bought it at the lovely Cat and Cauldron shop in Glastonbury. It was rather dog-eared and there were a few splodges of candle wax on the pages – proof that it was well used by its previous owner.
Most of the book is a collection of spells – which it describes as rituals. I would classify them as being on the ceremonial magic side of the Craft. You need lots of candles of different colours, anointing oils, incense and a censer. Above all, you need a very large permanent or at least semi-permanent altar, as most of the rituals need to be completed in several sessions – either over several days, or on the same day each week for several weeks. They all follow pretty much the same format, summarised below.
Light two white altar candles at the back of the alter, burn incense in a censer at the front of the altar, light a candle to represent the person or people the spell is being cast for or on (which Buckland calls astral candles), then light other candles to represent the forces acting on them (called offertory candles). You may also light a candle to represent the day of the week. While you are doing that, concentrate on the purpose of the spell. Say words and spend some time concentrating on the desired outcome, then extinguish the candles. Leave them all in position for a day or so and then repeat the procedure, moving the offertory or astral candles an inch towards or away from each other depending on the type of spell. For example, to attract good luck you would move a candle representing luck towards the candle representing the person; to get rid of bad luck you would move the candles in the opposite direction. When the candles touch, the ritual is complete and you can take all the candles off your altar.
What most people find a bit awkward about these rituals is the fact that you need a very large altar - probably dining table size - that can be left undisturbed for days or even weeks. That's fine if you have a large dedicated temple in your house, but not so great for those sharing a small flat with others. And you really do need to keep pets and small children away too.
However, what I find interesting about Practical Candleburning Rituals is that every spell has two versions – one Christian and one Pagan. They are pretty identical in terms of the candles used, but the Christian versions have words from the Bible – usually psalms – while the pagan versions have other poetry, sometimes calling on Pagan gods and goddesses.
Another thing that some will like and others won't is the inclusion of spells to affect other people without their permission. The very first ritual is To Break Up a Love Affair. Buckland does state that many modern witches would not do a spell like that, but he includes the spells because they are traditional and witches of old would have happily cast them.
The end of the book includes an Appendix called The Darker Side, which is primarily about sticking pins in wax effigies to cause harm to people and about the Hand of Glory – a candle traditionally made from a hand cut from a hanged man, which was said to “stupify those to whom it is displayed and render them motionless”. There are instructions on how to make one, should you happen to have a suitable man hanging about...
I found it a very interesting book, but it does seem dated now. These days, most witches I know who do candle magic prefer to use just a single candle that they can charge with their intent and burn down in one go. My own book, Pagan Portals - Candle Magic,has one chapter on Buckland's type of moving candle rituals, but also covers the kinds of candle spells witches are likely to want to try if they have limited space and time.
Links and previous related posts
Practical Candleburning Rituals: Spells and Rituals for Every Purpose (Llewellyn's Practical Magick)
Pagan Portals - Candle Magic: A Witch's Guide to Spells and Rituals
Easy Candle Wishing Spell