Candles are truly fascinating objects – if we do say so ourselves! But it’s true: there are few objects quite so ancient and as universal. Though they’re an integral part of relaxation techniques – many of which we’ve gone into in previous articles – they also have far older, cross-cultural significances. One of the most common of these is of passion, making the symbolism of candles as deep and diverse as the people who use them. It’s probably not surprising, therefore, that they play such a crucial role in many major religions.
Below, we’ve collected for you a few examples of the biggest faiths, and the unique ways in which they use candles in their worship. We’re sure you’ll find it as interesting as we do!
You’ll probably already know this one. Though candles predate Christianity by centuries, it’s one of the most notable modern faiths that took the time to adopt it for specific religious purposes and ceremonies. As early as the 2nd Century, a Christian academic wrote that the religion uses candles “not just to dispel night’s gloom but also to represent Christ, the Uncreated and Eternal Light”.
Thankfully, modern Christians seem to share his enthusiasm. Today they’re used in a vast range of contexts: they can commemorate individual saints or biblical events, or be used as signs of religious fervour or joy. Miniature ‘votive’ candles are often used as part of prayer rituals, or to honour God. Today, Christian candles are frequently lit for prayers; to light a candle for someone signifies an intention to pray for them. They have practical functions too – casting a soft, unobtrusive light that encourages a solemn, reflective atmosphere. (You might find this last aspect especially attractive when lighting candles for your own enjoyment, even if you don’t consider yourself to be religious.)
Judaism uses candles in much the same ways as Christianity does, especially in evoking quiet, calm atmospheres. However, Jewish candles play a far greater role in the home (which is a sentiment we at Melt can definitely get on board with!). The most well known example is during the celebration of Hanukkah, in which a nine-branched candelabrum is lit on eight consecutive nights to commemorate the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in the 2nd Century BC.
They also play a part in the Shabbat (the Sabbath): a weekly period of rest which lasts from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday. Candles are lit either side of its beginning and end. Candles are also lit prior to major Jewish holidays, such as Yom Kippur and the Passover. This idea of candles being used as a symbol of rest and peace is one that’s been most widely adopted, and is one of the qualities about our candles that we love most.
Buddhists use candles in their ceremonies in their own wonderfully distinctive way – they’re an age-old tradition of Buddhist rituals, and treated accordingly. They’re often placed in front of Buddhist shrines as a mark of respect or deference, and along with incense they’re used to evoke the state of impermanence and change; a cornerstone of the Buddhist philosophy. The light from a humble candle is also said to symbolise the enlightenment of the Buddha. In addition to this, on the day before Buddhist Lent, in July of each year, the Thai people celebrate the Candle Festival, in which vast crowds of people gather with elaborately ornamented candles, and then march them on mesmerising parades of colour and light. In this case, the candles they carry represent willpower, unity, and the beliefs of their community. It’s really something to see.
There are many more religions and faiths that each use candles in their own ceremonies – many in creative and distinctive ways – but given that there are estimated to be over 4000 religions in the world today, it would be impossible to list them all! You can enjoy our range of scented candles equally whether you consider yourself to be spiritual or not, or you can read our blog post to find out more about the traditional symbolic roles of candles.
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