Candle Rituals

One of the more characteristic “witches’ tools” used in rituals is the candle. There are many ways we can work with them to create psychologically powerful and effective rituals.

Candles provide a “magical” atmosphere for many reasons. Low light conditions tend to provoke a spooky desire on the part of people to be quieter, possibly as a result of our roots as diurnal animals afraid of nocturnal predators. Flickering golden light provides a soft, hushed ambience that works perfectly on a Focus (or altar) and which is conducive to the brain’s Ritual State (aka trance, or “flow”). And after all, lighting candles is a rather “magical” act, in that it creates dancing heat and light out of (apparent) nothing.

Candles are readily available and easy to do rituals with, so let’s talk a bit about the activities we can do with candles in a ritual context.

Here are steps you can take to “consecrate” your candle or candles to the ritual purpose you intend. Remember that you will want to concentrate on your goal for your ritual throughout these activities.

Safety. First, consider fire safety. The sleeves of the woman in the picture above aren’t a good choice for working with fire. Make sure you have a fire extinguisher or bucket of water available to douse a fire if one gets started, and be smart about what kinds of objects and materials you place in proximity to fire.

Color. Choose the color for your ritual candle based on what kind of intention you have for your ritual and what color you find best associated with that goal. If your ritual goal is a complex one, you may want to use more than one candle, of differing colors.*

Inscription. Carving a word, a symbol or sigil into a candle is another way to “charge” it with associations for your ritual purposes. If you have one, use a ritual knife, or one you have ritually consecrated to the purpose.

Anointing. Dressing a candle with scented or “blessed” oil is a common way of making a candle “special” and unique. Choose a scent that you associate with your ritual intent: if your purpose is passionate, you might use a spicy oil such as carnation, juniper or yew, or even cinnamon. Other scents may strike you as calming, or dreamy, or energizing, or associated with a particular memory. Rub the oil up and down the candle until a smooth, even coating is applied throughout.

Smoke blessing. Additionally or alternatively, you can pass a candle through smoke from burning incense, herbs or leaves. Choose those that reflect the associations with which you want to imbue the ritual candle (but be certain that you avoid burning toxic leaves such as hemlock, camphor, oleander, etc.) You can also roll an oiled candle in powdered herbs so they will burn along with the candle.

Ritual lighting. Lighting a ritual candle can be the moment of “igniting” the power of the ritual, or there can be further steps. To me, it is more powerful and evocative to light a candle with a wooden, strike-anywhere match than with a lighter. Speak your intention as an invocation over the candle as you light it. 

Wax sealing. After your candle is lit, you may want to use it to create a “spell note” or sachet. This is done by writing your ritual intention as a phrase on a small square of paper of the same color as your candle. Then fold each of the corners of the square into the center of the square, resulting in a smaller square. Glue the points of the paper down by dripping wax from your candle to form a seal, hiding and “locking in” the ritual’s intention. You can add to the sense of “sealing” and ritual by impressing a signet ring, envelope seal, or other textured item into the candle wax. The sachet can go on your Focus to remind you of your intention.

Ceromancy. There is a form of “divination” using the shapes formed by wax as it is dripped from a burning candle into water. Prepare yourself by meditating or contemplating your candle’s flame until you feel calm and centered. Then drip wax into a bowl or chalice of cold water. Look for shapes that form; our brains’ propensity for pareidolia causes us to see recognizable forms in such random stimuli. Look for symbols, objects or animals: what do they mean to you? How does that meaning relate to your life at this time?

Candle rituals can be impactful, meaningful…and fun! Give one a try as a part of your ritual practice and see how it works for you. Don’t forget the most important part of every ritual: acting in accordance with your intention for the ritual after it is completed!


*Remember, what is important in a ritual is what something means to YOU. If you associate orange with peace and quiet, use orange for that! See theAtheopagan Table of Correspondences.

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Effective Atheopagan Leadership: a Curriculum

As I’ve written before, my conceptualization of Atheopaganism as a path and a tradition does not incorporate concepts of degrees of advancement or “clergy”. I just find these to be fraught with too many pitfalls, ranging from “higher-level” persons gatekeeping access to knowledge and training from lower-level ones, to those with “status” potentially being able to leverage that status in unhealthy ways ranging from minor pomposity all the way to harassment and abuse.

The whole idea of “initiations into secrets” is a holdover from secretive organizations like the Masons, with their roots in the Romantic movement of the 18th and 19th centuries. There is no longer any legitimate reason why secrecy should apply to anything that has to do with religious practice…and in the era of the Internet, frankly, in practical terms it does not.

Atheopaganism doesn’t have “secret lore”. There is no mystical origin story, nor secret handshake, nor Super-Secret Sigil. Everything we are about is in the open and available to anyone interested in it.

Accordingly, I invite each of us to be “clergy”: to practice and learn the skills and knowledge, to confront their own spiritual and personal work. Any of us can step into that role at any time–if you need a credential, I suggest an Atheopagan symbol lapel pin for hospital and hospice visits or to conduct weddings, namings, funerals and other rites of passage*.

All that said, I was talking with a friend who is in the process of helping to retool the “advancement levels” process and criteria for a different Pagan tradition, and I can see how it would be useful to have, at least, a broadly identified “curriculum” describing the skill sets that an Atheopagan ritual and community leader will need and rely on in order to be successful.

So here is an overview of what I think is a minimal knowledge and skill grounding to be a consistently effective Atheopagan community and ritual leader. They are not in any priority order; all are essential.

  • A solid grounding in basic science and critical thinking;
  • Specifically, understanding of the basic systems of the brain and how their functions intersect with Atheopagan theory and practice (described in my founding essay for this path, found here);
  • Local natural history: life cycles of keystone species, ID of major species of trees, plants (including edible and useful plants), fungi and fauna;
  • Basic knowledge about any native cultures which may predate the current dominant culture in the leader’s area (and sensitivity to their concerns, if any, about cultural appropriation);
  • Familiarity with history, culture and mores of both the Freethought and Pagan communities;
  • Familiarity with and commitment to  the Atheopagan Principles and Values, including appropriate social and sexual boundaries;
  • Pastoral peer counseling skills, including understanding of when referral to a professional is indicated and of legal reporting requirements for reports of abuse;
  • Effective communication skills and conflict resolution skills;
  • A commitment to one’s own personal psychological work and evolution;
  • Skill with ritual organization and design per the Ritual Primer, as well as event planning and organizing, including being able to work well with a team;
  • Understanding how to create rituals for Rites of Passage;
  • Adequate competence in the core ritual skills: public speakingsinging, drumming and rhythm, and movement.

Someone with these attributes and skill sets is well-prepared to serve the community as a leader, exemplar and friend. It’s a high bar—I certainly don’t qualify in all areas—but a great one to aim for. 

Time permitting, perhaps at some point I will do videos on some of these. In the meantime, if you’d like to set a course of study for yourself, start with the blog posts linked and then augment with web searches—there’s a lot of stuff out there about most of these topics.


*If you really need a legal credential (as some states and counties require for solemnizing weddings), see this post for ways to be legally ordained.

Ritual “Special Effects”

Sometimes in a ritual, a little special-effects magic can help to create that sense that “magic is happening”. Here are some effects I’ve collected from a conversation in the Atheopagan Facebook group.

Burning Isopropyl alcohol. Use the full 90%+ stuff, not the 40% methanol “rubbing alcohol”. This is highly flammable and can make for a marvelous ritual effect. I have a shallow basin on a dragon-shaped pedestal that works perfectly for this. When you light it, it flares up beautifully and burns for a few minutes; if you want for it to last longer, put epsom salts in the bottom of your burning basin, which will absorb the alcohol and release it more slowly, for a lower, longer flame.

Fire tornado. I’ve only done this once, but it was amazing. All you do is pour a bottle or two of wine in a cauldron, and set it on a fire to boil. When it does, the alcohol evaporates off first, and convection around the cauldron causes the resulting burn-off of the alcohol to form a tornado! The wine is ruined, of course, so use the cheapest stuff you can get.

Waters for asperging.  Asperging, or sprinkling participants with water, is a nice way (similar to smoke blessing with burning herbs) to help participants to feel that they are entering a “different state” and to promote the onset of the Ritual State of focus, presence and flow. I have had success with water with a bay leaf suspended in it, or basil, or rosewater, or lilac water. Other essential oils can be used but only in VERY SMALL AMOUNTS. Make sure no one is allergic or sensitive to scents before sprinkling people.

Fireball. Perhaps the most dramatic effect of all. A handful of non-dairy creamer powder tossed in a fire creates a huge fireball, just for an instant. CoffeeMate contains the anti-caking agent aluminosilicate, which is flammable (and the rest of it is largely made up of flammable fats). Being dust, the powder has enormous surface area relative to its mass, so it ignites very quickly.

The flash is so fast and low-temperature that it is quite safe, but be sure to take all the usual precautions when dealing with fire (such as not having dangling fabrics—especially cotton and artificial fabrics—anywhere near the flames, and having a fire extinguisher handy). You can mix in some copper sulfate powder and turn the flames blue-green!

Dry ice fog. Available at many grocery stores, frozen carbon dioxide is FAR colder than water ice and creates thick white fog from surrounding moisture as it sublimates back into a gas. Be very careful never to touch the ice to your skin; instant frostbite!

Fill a metal or plastic container half full of hot water and add a few pieces of dry ice every 5-10 minutes. As the water cools, you will need to add more hot water to maintain the fog effect.

Here’s a spectacular magical potion kind of thing:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zIpoLiesBgg using fluorescein from highlighter markers.