The symbolism of candles is used all over the world, giving it universal meaning.
All the major religions use candles in worship and we use them in non-religious ceremonies.
Candles in non-religious ceremonies
We light a candle at the beginning of a Baby Naming Ceremony. Often the candle will have the name of the baby printed on it. This is also a way of involving siblings in the ceremony, where they are asked to light the candle. The candle will be a memento of the ceremony.
The Unity Candle ritual is a popular part of a Wedding Ceremony. Two people will each light a candle and then they will use these two candles to light one main candle. This symbolises the union in the marriage of two people and of two families. Sometimes the bride and groom light the candle, sometimes their mothers or other family members or special friends are asked to do it.
We see the flame as a symbol of love, for even when it is used to light another candle, the original flame continues to burn. So it is with love, which is undiminished, no matter how many people we may love.
Often the candles are decorated or have the names or initials of the wedding couple printed on them. The main candle is kept by the newlyweds to remind them of this special day.
A candle used at a funeral or Celebration of Life Ceremony is a symbol of life after death for some people. It is a sign of remembrance and as long as a flame is lit, the memory of the one who has passed remains alive.
We can light a candle at any ceremony in honour of absent friends. This can refer to people who are no longer with us or to people who are not able to join us at the ceremony.
We also use candles at ceremonies which mark significant stages in a person’s life, such as a Wisdom Ceremony for a woman who has reached sixty.
Different simbolism of candles
The symbolism of candles is so varied.
There are many ways to interpret the light of a candle in the darkness. It can stand for knowledge. “Illumination” makes something clearer. We use the light to give guidance.
It might mean faith, hope or truth. The flame might give courage.
The Pagans use candles on their altars to symbolise the God and Goddess.
Many spiritual practitioners, including African traditional diviners, use different coloured candles to create different responses. A particular colour is chosen to evoke a particular emotion or a form of healing for a certain condition. Those who work with chakras of the body speak of the different energy vibrations of different colours.
Many people use candles to help them to meditate. Sometimes they light a candle in order to think about a certain person. At other times they light a candle in order to deal with a specific problem.
Candles also help us to celebrate – people have been using candles on a birthday cake since the mid-1700s.
More modern use of candles can be to create a romantic atmosphere.
There is something very moving about the idea of a lit candle being placed in the window of a home. It shows that we are thinking of someone, waiting to welcome them home and using the light to guide them through the darkness of life.
Main photo: Use of candles in a Women’s Wisdom Ceremony.