Candles are probably one of the easiest ritual tools to make. I also find them one of the most satisfying. Oddly enough, I’m only in the mood to make them in September and February, so I tend to go on a bit of a binge so that I have enough to get me through the rest of the year.
The first step getting some wax! First, I put an email around to all of my neighbors asking for their old candle ends. This will save you a TON of money versus buying new paraffin from a craft store. My other wax source is directly from a bee keeper. Most of my ritual candles are pure beeswax, while my daily devotional ones use recycled wax of varying proportions beeswax to paraffin. (A word on crayons—some sources maintain they do NOT make good candles, so resist tossing your child’s collection into the melting pot, please.)
Once you have yourself a nice little stash, the next step to to melt the wax, which is best done in a double-boiler over low heat. Yes, this way takes longer, but the risk of wax explosion/fire/other mayhem is much less. When everything is liquid, it’s time to add dye and/or fragrance as desired. Dye come in solid blocks or liquid form—I much prefer the latter as I feel it gives more control and deeper colors. You can color-test the wax by putting a teaspoonful on s sheet of white paper. This will give you a decent approximation of the final shade.
Once the wax is melted and dyed, it is poured into a mould lightly coated with olive oil. I just learned the olive oil trick this year and boy has it helped! I used to spend a good deal of time cursing stuck candles, or worse, marring them with a hair dryer or hot water bath. Olive oil really saves you the trouble and keeps bits of wax from sticking to the inside of the mould.
There are a number of different types of wicks, some stand alone, some needing to be tied off through a hole in the bottom of the mould. For votives, I do prefer the self-supporting wick, though these often have some sort of metal like zinc in the core. But for anything bigger, a large or extra-large braided cotton wick is my favorite.
In my experience, all poured candles (as opposed to dipped ones) need to have a second or even third pouring after the initial ones have cooled. A well will develop around the wick as the wax shrinks and adheres to the sides of the mould. Simply use a chopstick or thin dowel to poke three to four holes into the soft wax to within an inch of the bottom of the mould; this will relieve the surface tension, so you can make a second pour to fill in the well.
Once the candle has cooled and you’ve removed it from the mould (if if does get stuck, put it in the freezer for no more than 10 minutes and it should pop right out, especially if you’ve used olive oil), you can trim the seams and decorate it. This one got one of WillowCrow‘s necklaces to spruce it up a bit.
The next couple of shots show the process for votive candles. When melting wax, I try to keep the colors to one family, or at least to a secondary color and its two primaries (e.g. orange, red, and yellow)—otherwise, you end up with a lot of browns. These votives came out on the red-orange end of the spectrum (a shade I privately call Tequila Sunrise), and truthfully a bit more eye-searing than I would have liked. But they are relentlessly cheerful in the face of winer!
Below you can see the difference between the self-supporting wicks (which tend to bed in larger candles) and the tensioned cotton wick, supported by half a chopstick.
I actually managed to craft my way through my entire left-over wax stash this fall, as well as all my neighbors’ donations. I still have a large block of paraffin left over, and probably six to eight pounds of beeswax. And hopfully my generous neighbors will have even more odds and ends for me in the spring.
The last candle I made will be for Alban Eilir, since it reminds me of spring leaves. I also mixed in ashes from the Alban Elfed bonfires at the OBOD East Coast Gathering, which give it a nice symmetry in my mind.
Candle making can be more than just a way to create nifty altar swag. It’s a way to live the ideal of reusing materials. It’s a way to connect with your neighbors and community. And it can also be a way to remember what our ancestors had to do in order to work past sunset on those long winter nights. And it’s an exercise in patience, meditation, and mindfulness, if we so choose.