This week's blog is inspired by a piece published in Natural Life Magazine. Author, Lorraine Aho, talks about her love of beeswax candles and their place in history.
There are few things more comforting than the warm, golden glow of handmade beeswax candles. The intimate light never fails to transform the cold dark night into a special evening, whether it kindles romance between two people or intensifies a personal meditation. In my home, I like nothing better on long winter evenings than to light as many candles as I can. I suppose this desire comes from a long tradition of people who, wanting to encourage the sun to reappear, lit fires in the night. This literal and figurative illumination of bringing light into darkness by lighting candles or miniature fires is universal and timeless.
Bees and beeswax candles throughout history
Bees and candles have a long history in spiritual beliefs and customs, beginning with the ancient Egyptians and continuing through today. Fires have been a holy mystery for humankind since Greek myths made fire's warmth and light a possession of the gods. Bees have existed in religious traditions for centuries, ever since being identified with the "Queen" or Mother Goddess. The use of beeswax in sacred candles date as far back as the earliest organized religions.
To begin with, ancient Egyptians believed that bees were born from the tears of Ra, the Sun God. When his tears fell onto the soil, they were transformed into bees that built honeycombs and produced honey. This led beeswax to be honored as sacred and candles made from beeswax were to be used solely by spiritual leaders.
Later on, ancient Greeks believed that bees were born spontaneously from animal corpses and therefore symbolized resurrection and rebirth. Bees were revered as holy messengers that carried prayers from earth to heaven. Any creation made by these holy creatures, such as honey or beeswax, was valued as a gift from the gods.
In the Chinese teaching of Feng Shui, beeswax candles bring fire ch'i energy into a room, which is thought to encourage passion and expressiveness.
In Hebrew the word for bee, Dbure, has its origins in the word Dbr, meaning speech so bees symbolized eloquence and intelligence among early Jewish believers. The Torah states, "The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord."
More recently, in Christian tradition, honeycomb symbolized the monastery cells where monks lived and worked. Bees often were a symbol of Christ, with the honey and sting of the bee representing his mercy and justice. A popular legend states that bees hummed on Christmas Eve to honor Jesus at his birth.
As the workers of the hive, bees are an industrious and prosperous community governed by the queen bee. This led the French to use bees to symbolize all that is royal and imperial. Napoleon I used the bee motif on his coronation robes and palace rugs.
Today, common rituals include lighting candles for prayers, for remembering the deceased, for celebrating Advent or Hanukkah, and illuminating icons. When I visited the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, the first thing I did upon entering was light a candle and say a prayer.
Candles at Home
When I want to meditate, I light a candle. Something mysterious happens while staring at the flickering flame that helps me see my problems in a "different light." I always light candles before I begin a task that requires focus, such as writing.
When I set the table for dinner, I always light candles whether I'm eating with guests or by myself. Eating by candlelight lets you slow down and pay more attention to the subtleties of your surroundings. In Jewish households, the tradition of lighting the evening Havdalah candle is a very important Sabbath ritual that brings the whole family together.
In the dining room, I like to group different-sized candles in the center of the table. The subtle, sweet smell of the warm beeswax complements but never overwhelms the aroma of the food. I pick candles that have complementary colors to the tablecloth, but I like to use a variety of sizes and shapes such as pillars, votives, and tapers.
I group small vases of flowers or wreaths and twist vines around the candles or place candles on a small round mirror to reflect the flames. Try grouping votive candles with small, smooth rocks or polished stones to create a Zen feel. Experiment using different candlesticks too. I like to change them with the season and often use crystal for winter, silver for spring, ceramic for summer and gold for fall. Take those wedding presents out of storage and use them without fear because beeswax candles won't drip on your precious linens or candleholders.
Celebrate the seasons by creating a harvest bounty wreath with candles: Choose a flat-bottomed round platter with short sides and arrange medium pillar candles and leaves of the current season.
For meditation purposes, I choose specific colors for my candles: blue for healing, purple for divine connection, yellow for energy, red for passion, green for connection with nature, white for truth. If you have a sacred space set up in your home be sure to include a few beeswax candles and burn them often.
When I take a bath, I add lots of scented bubbles to the water, turn on soft music and light my candles. I like to place the candles in front of the mirror so the light is caught and reflected back into the room. I then soak in the soothing soft glow and let my thoughts wander.
In my bedroom, there is nothing more romantic or comforting than soft candlelight. The yellow flame bathes the room in a warm glow and softens the hard edges, transforming an ordinary bedroom into a place to let your imagination run wild. I prefer to use small votives in glass containers to reflect more light.
Mind Your Beeswax
There are many reasons why beeswax candles are superior to regular paraffin candles. Beeswax candles are thought to clean and purify the air as well as emit healthful ions. Beeswax gives off a much brighter light with a beautiful golden halo and less flicker. Beeswax is naturally aromatic and smells like sweet honey. Beeswax candles burn longer so the total cost is less than buying "cheaper" candles. Beeswax is cleaner to burn; it doesn't drip or give off unhealthy byproducts such as soot and smoke.
Most commercial candles are made from paraffin, a derivative of crude oil. Manufacturers will dye and scent them with chemicals in an effort to produce colorful "aromatherapy candles" as cheaply and quickly as possible.
As you light your candles, remember the people who have gone before and what beeswax symbolized to them. Honor the long history of holy bees and their sacred offerings by using beeswax candles to add a special light in your home. And do your part to encourage the sun to return by lighting your "miniature fire." It just may work.
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About the original author
Lorraine Aho enjoys helping people create a sacred space in their homes. She lives in a sacred home in Sonoma, California with her husband and two cats.