Thursday, May 3, 2018

Why Insta-worthy Magical Candle Dressing is Hazardous to Your Health

As I'm sure we all are aware, the internet is both a blessing and a curse. It makes accessing information on pretty much anything easy as a few key strokes. But then it also gives you access to ALL the info on that topic, including a great deal of misinformation, fantasy, wish-fulfillment, spiritual bypassing, and stuff that's just plain WRONG and will mess you up! I've seen quite a few things that I've wanted to address due to their straight-up health and wellness risks.

Like the crystal yoni egg fad that's going right now - it's an amazing way to get a nasty vaginal infection, and that's about it. And that's not even addressing all the issues related to counterfeit crystals that are colored with toxic dyes, which will leech out into your mucosal membranes and get right into your bloodstream. I know, there is actually a long history of such things as Jade Eggs used for this purpose. That doesn't mean that there are not much healthier alternative now available to us. "Historically accurate" doesn't automatically equal "smart" or "safe".

If you want to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles, plain old kegels are scientifically proven to do the job best, but if you're hell bent on having some equipment to help you out, only use products made with surgical steel or other medical-grade materials that can be properly cleaned and will not harbor micro-organisms. If you're wanting to heal and connect with your Goddess-energy, or heal from past traumas, etc - I fully support you in your efforts! But please keep the crystals on the outside of your body. They work perfectly well laying on top of your pelvis, as opposed to minefield you enter when you put them inside of it. And don't even get me started on the related train-wreck and health hazard of "magical douches"! 

But as maddening as it is to see people engaging in infection-inviting behaviors in the name of spirituality, I've seen something else on my Facebook and Instagram feeds more and more, and this one could outright end up with someone either losing their home, or their life due to fire. We need to talk about over-dressing your candles with all those pretty herbs, root pieces, glitter, metal charms, etc that are so popular all over social media.

I know it looks really nice. I do. I ogle the pictures just like everyone else. However, I also know that once you light those gorgeous candles loaded with colorful flower petals and crystal pieces that they will simply become a giant flame. Nothing magical about it, then.

I've also seen companies marketing candle dressing kits where they show a video of someone dumping about 1/4 cup of glitter and an entire 1/2oz bottle of oil onto a glass-encased vigil light, rolling that mess around and then lighting it. 

If you do this, you are asking for a fire. Full stop. That isn't magic. It's irresponsible, and frankly wasteful. What is most crazy-making about this is watching people spin this reckless, risky behavior into evidence for how powerful their magic is. "Look at my tray full of sooty, broken glass candles! And this novena candle that has a full 1 foot flame coming off the top of it! Proof positive of how hard my spirits are working!!" I have seen this SO MUCH over the past year.

This hits me as proof of one of two things: that they are very inexperienced workers, or they are out to scam the unsuspecting. (The blackened candle glass is an element in a classic scam, where the scam artist says they will set a light for a client, and then afterwards they produce a very dramatically blackened candle glass, saying it's proof of a bad curse, and that more money is needed for more work for that client to be free of the spiritual danger!) I hope that it's mostly just inexperience and too much enthusiasm. 

Just, no.

You legitimately DO NOT need more than a PINCH of herbs, &/or more than a few drops of oil in order to dress a candle authentically, powerfully, and effectively. Trust me. I've been doing this for 21 years now, and I've watched many traditional elders dress their candles. If you're using more than a pinch and a few drops - and I understand how aesthetically pleasing it is to your eyes when you do - IT IS A FIRE HAZARD. Period. Not to mention that some things - like most glitters - are toxic when heated or burned.

Any dramatic flames, or pops, or glass breaking, or soot in the glass that occurs when you have over-dressed your candle are simply the result of you over-dressing. It is NOT spirit work. It is not a magical sign. It doesn't mean your trick is working, or "taking a hit" for you. It's purely the result of a flame combined with over-enthusiastic craftsmanship turned dangerous fuel. Period.

You cannot divine anything from the way an over-dressed candle burns. So if you're over-dressing the candle, and then trying to perform divination about the situation from that, you're wasting your time and energy. You've also basically wasted that candle.

This is not to say that candles cannot get up to some wacky stuff when spirit is moving through them, and it is dressed correctly. They can. They do! I

f you've dressed your candle with a pinch and a few drops, and after setting it prayerfully you start seeing unusual flame movement, or a lot of extra smoke - that means something. That's why there is a whole divination skill set around reading the details and remains of a candle burn. I love watching a candle burn - the subtle, and sometimes not so subtle shifts and changes in the flame and over all burn, and the resulting shapes in the wax are evocative, informative, and all part of the work. Yes, sometimes you get a really sooty burn. Yes, sometimes the glass cracks. But when this happens as a practitioner, I always double-check myself to ensure that it was not the result of a mistake that I made, before assigning spiritual meaning to it. Once I confirm that it was not an action on my end that caused the anomaly in the burn, then I can feel confident it is an actual sign!

But if you've over-dressed your candle, all you're getting is a unnecessary fire hazard in your living/working space.

I can completely understand how visual aesthetics are important to some people to really help them get into that ritual, magical mindset. If you are really attached to lots and lots of flowers and shiny things (I was a raver - I lived in a 90s silver holographic universe with glitter and glowsticks everywhere, I get it) put them around your altar space, but NOT into your candles. Be wary of over-decorating platters that you may be using underneath multiple candles. As the candles burn lower, is there a chance that one of the flames will use some of the items as fuel or a new wick? You may wish to rethink that, re-organize your decorations, or have a secondary platter under your burning tray that you can decorate to your heart's content.

I'm not here to rain on anyone's parade. If you've been over-dressing your candles, just chalk it up to a life-lesson, have a lighter hand when it comes to the herbs and such next time, and go on with your life! Be grateful you didn't run into any trouble before now. Every practitioner has over-dressed a candle at some point in time. Most of us learned real quick how unsafe that is, and how it's not conducive to our spiritual work.

There was a particular method that I had come across when I was a new worker, that I really loved. I won't say exactly what it was, because I don't want others making the same mistake. But suffice it to say it was a method that purposefully put an item into the vigil candles, that had the capability of becoming a second wick, as well as drifting too close to the glass which can cause too much heat transfer and result in a broken jar. At first, it seemed really powerful working to me - because I really LIKED that method, and it was very evocative for me. I had some early red flags that it wasn't super safe, such as the second wicking which happened almost every time with this, and also sometimes it would result in some too large for comfort flames. But I just sort of ignored it, because I liked my personal narrative of this being a powerful working, and so far nothing had gone super dramatically wrong! After the third cracked glass, though - and thankfully the jars always cracked clean around the bottom, and there was no explosion of glass, or shards to contend with - I had to listen to that little voice in the back of my head that had been saying " hazard, lady!" As soon as I stopped using that method, all of that goofiness stopped. This wasn't magic, it was just poor technique that did not work.

My point being... I get it. I just worry that as more people are learning in the Instagram age, that they may not have more experienced practitioners available to let them know that less is more, even when MORE is what sells on social media. And common sense seems in REAL short supply now, and I don't trust folks to get to that point where they finally realize that something is more dangerous than anything else before an actual injury, or a resulting fire that gets out of control.

So here are some basic rules of thumb to help you get the best burns, without burning down your home:

* Test burn new brands/styles of candles before using them for magic.

Get a couple and burn them and watch what they do when they are just burned plain. Note how long they take to burn, if they leave a wax or soot residue, how high the flame generally burns with that wax, if the wick stays centered or drifts to the side as the candle burns down, how much wax tends to roll off the candle and puddle, etc. Now you have a control set of data for when you start using them for magical workings.

* Trim your wicks!!

Many people don't understand that wicks must be attended to. When you first purchase a new candle, very often the wick is far too long. You'll need to trim that to a reasonable length. If you're burning something like a novena candle that will be lit over a long period of time, you need to plan to check your wick several times a day. It may need to be re-trimmed, it may have developed "knots" that need to be removed, the wick may be drifting towards the glass and so becoming a cracking/breaking/exploding hazard, etc.

Candle magic is ACTIVE magic - it's not a front-loaded magic where you prepare the candle and then set it and forget it. You must check up on it regularly, pray over it, attend to it, and act as a flame-keeper to shepherd the burn, and thereby the working. 

* Let's talk all things sparkly and lovely - GLITTER!!

Glitter has been used for a long time as a component in some practitioners' candle dressing, so I have no quibble with using it. I use it sometimes myself! But, glitter, the majority of which is made from plastics, is toxic when burned. It's also TERRIBLE for the environment. Now that we know better, we need to do better.  If you still want to use glitter in your candle dressing (or other conjure works), make sure to get biodegradable glitters. They exist! They're every bit as beautiful. You still need to use it sparingly.

* Grind your herbs for candle dressing WELL!!

They should really almost be a powder. (There are a few exceptions to this, but generally unless a spell specifically tells you that you should beware popping or otherwise flaming herbs in the dressing, you should NOT have that happening.) You ideally don't want a lot of chunks or leaves left. As the candle burns, these can turn into secondary wicks, increasing the heat output which can stress many containers to the breaking point. There is also a chance that the plant matter will pop or explode, sending sparks flying and increasing the fire risk. 

If hand-grinding herbs isn't for you, just pick up a small coffee grinder at the store for $10. They work AMAZING for this kind of thing.

After you are done with any inscribing &/or loading, apply your oil to the candle. Then take the ground herbs and lightly sprinkle them onto your candle. It should be a light dusting - LIGHT! The oil will make the herbs stick to the candle, and you'll be ready to set it working. When properly dressed, the herbs on the candle should IN NO WAY change how the candle would have burned in other circumstances.


Remember, if you're using high quality, authentically crafted conjure oils, then you will already be putting lots of herbs and curios onto the candle through dressing with oil alone. 

Adding additional herbs (sometimes called double-dressing) over the oils is a traditional, but not a universal, and certainly not a mandatory practice. Your prayers, inscriptions, loaded concerns (if applicable as in the case of figural candles), and condition oil are more than enough for very effective candle magic. 

* Use fire-safe containers and platters for your candle work.

I prefer straight up metal. Make sure that the surface that container on is also heat proof. You don't want to come home to warped counter-tops or shelves. If you are going to be leaving a candle unattended, be VERY sure that where you place it is safe. A fireplace, or inside an oven, or a ceramic or cast iron (NOT the vinyl ones) bath tub can be very safe - but still not fool-proof!

Even in using best practices, and excellent fire safety, practitioners who burn a lot of candles will nearly all have at least one story of a close call they had. (I have 2 close call stories, myself) So there is no reason to increase your risks even more by thinking that Instagram-worthy elaborately festooned candles are safe, or desirable, or NECESSARY for successful magic. They are not. 

So what happens if you over-dress a candle, and/or you are able to identify that an anomaly in the burning process was most likely due to your own errors, rather than some spiritual event? Just dispose of the candle like your normally would, and then start the work over again with a new candle, and more careful and moderate technique. That's it. No drama. Just accept that it happened, learn from your mistake, and move forward!

Happy Hoodooin'!