Candle burning has roots stretching back to ancient times as a part of both religious ceremonies and magical rites. Most hoodoo practitioners, like other folk magicians, burn candles for magical effect, spell-casting, and as an adjunct to prayer, but unlike the traditional and conservative craft of making mojo bags, candle burning in the African-American hoodoo tradition has undergone considerable evolution during the 20th century.

Probably the single most important influence on African-American candle magic from the 1940s to the present has been the ubiquitous "Master Book of Candle-Burning," a paper-bound pamphlet written by Henri Gamache in 1942. Advertised in black-owned newspapers like the Chicago Defender in the 1940s and still carried today by all the major mail-order spiritual supply catalogues, this work delivers exactly what it promises -- detailed instructions on "How to Burn Candles for Every Purpose." The chapters include information on how to select candles, anoint them, arrange them on an altar, and engage in what the author quaintly refers to as "fire worship." Along the way Gamache presents a garland of anthropological tidbits about folk-magical practices from Canada, Europe, Africa, and the Malayan Peninsula, making this book a fascinating document indeed.

For those who are not familiar with the work of Henri Gamache, i'd like to note that he was a prominent mid-20th century occult author and folkloric researcher who developed a unique Creole combination of hoodoo, Christian, Kabbalist, and Spiritualist magic. Not much is known about Gamache's personal life, but he seems to have been a man of mixed race, possibly born in the Caribbean, who lived and worked in New York City. Most of his books remain in print to this day, and all are quite interesting. In particular, his "8th, 9th, and 10th Books of Moses" is a fascinating document, detailing his theory that Moses, the leader of the Jews, was a black African, "the Great Voodoo Man of the Bible."

Gamache used the term "Philosophy of Fire" to describe the candle burning rituals he set forth in "The Master Book of Candle Burning." That term, and his frequent references to "Zoroastrianism" allow us to identify one of his major influences, for the "Philosophy of Fire" is a system of magical working described in the writings of an earlier author named R. Swinburne Clymer. A Rosicrucian and sex magician prominent in the early 20th century, Clymer in fact wrote an entire book called "The Philosophy of Fire" in which he espoused a mixture of magical theories that embraced Spiritualism, Zoroastrianism, and sex magic.

Clymer had in turn learned most of his occult theories and sex-magical techniques from the writings of Paschal Beverly Randolph, an African-American sex magician and Spiritualist of the mid 19th century. In 1860 or so, Randolph originated a magical order called the Brotherhood of Eulis to carry forth his beliefs; it was reformed in 1874 under the name The Triplicate Order. After Randolph's death in 1875, Clymer corresponded with his widow, Kate Corson Randolph, and received instructions from her as to how to operate his own order of sex magicians. Clymer also reprinted "Eulis!" -- one of Randolph's books on sex magic -- in 1930.

The link from Randolph to Gamache, through Clymer, is probably one of book-learning rather than direct initiation, but it is interesting nonetheless, especially in light of the fact that most modern occultists tend to identify frican-American practitioners exclusively with folk-magic and to discount the contributions black people have made to the development of formal occultism and ceremonial sex-magic.

Following Henri Gamache's instructions, conjure-workers of the 1940s-60s burned small free-standing pillar candles (called "altar" or "offertory" candles) of various colours to draw luck, love, and money; for protection from evil; and to wreak vengeance or exert control over others. Because many, if not most, of the spiritual suppliers then catering to the African-American market were Jews, they usually offered 7-branched menorah candle-holders to their customers, which gave hoodoo candle burning ceremonies of the period a slightly Kabbalistic cast. The colour symbolism ascribed to altar candle colours was likewise influenced by European magical traditions, admixed with remnants of African religious symbolism:

• white -- spiritual blessings, purity, healing, rest
• light blue -- peace, harmony, joy, kindly intentions
• dark blue -- moodiness, depression, unfortunate circumstances
• green -- money, gambling luck, business, steady work, good crops
• yellow -- devotion, prayer, money (gold), cheerfulness, attraction
• red -- love, affection, passion, bodily vigour
• pink -- attraction, romance, clean living
• purple -- mastery, power, ambition, control, command
• orange -- change of plans, opening the way, prophetic dreams
• brown -- court cases, neutrality
• black -- repulsion, dark thoughts, sorrow, freedom from evil
• red and black (Double Action) -- love-jinxing, removal of love
• white and black (Double Action) -- to return evil to the sender
• green and black (Double Action) -- money-jinxing, get money owed

In addition to plain offertory candles, spiritual suppliers, as early as the 1930s, provided figural or "symbolic" candles for special uses. Most of these styles are still manufactured. Among the most popular are the following:

• black cat -- black for gambler's luck.
• man and woman side by side with two wicks ("bride and groom") -- red for passion, reconciliation, white to attract new love or sanctify married fidelity.
• nude embracing couple ("Lovers") -- red for sexual passion.
• nude male figure or nude female figure -- red for love and passion, black for harm or revenge.
• male or female genital organs -- control of the sexual behavior of another; red to induce passion, black to control their ability to perform, blue to limit their sexual interest to the practitioner only
• "lucky hand" -- green for gambler's luck.
• keys and a book on a flaming cross ("master key crucifix candle") -- white for spiritual purity and insight, black for personal power and conjure work
• standing devil -- red for commanding lust and sex, green for collecting money owed or for gambler's luck, black for doing harm to an enemy.
• seated Baphomet or "Sabbatic Goat" -- red for lust spells, black for worship of bestial or Satanic forces.
• skull -- black for meditation on death or for gambler's luck
"seven knob wishing candle" -- burned on seven days, for seven different wishes or for seven-fold strength on the same wish -- white for healing, black to do evil, green for money, red for love.

Whereas Catholic religious practice presents us with the novena (nine-day) candle, in hoodoo, we see instead the seven-day candle, sometimes referred to by older practitioners as the "7-day vigil candle," due to its being burned for difficult cases or ongoing situations over the course of seven days, while one watches and waits for signs.

There are four types of 7-day candles used in hoodoo:

The candle divided by seven needles or pins:
I believe that this is the oldest form of the 7-day candle. To make one, take a regular offertory or jumbo-size candle and seven needles or pins. Poke the needles into the candle, dividing it into seven equal parts (the seventh needle or pin can go at the top or at the bottom, but no one i know ever uses SIX needles or pins to divide the candle into seven parts). Write your wish (or seven wishes) on a piece of paper. Turn the paper 90 degrees sideways and write your full name over the wish or wishes seven times, crossing and covering the previous writing with your name. Place the paper under the candle. Dress the candle with an appropriate oil. Burn it for seven nights, pinching it out (NOT blowing it out) each time a needle falls. Save the needles when they fall. When the last needle falls, stick the needles into the paper in the form of two X patterns surrounding one double-cross pattern (that has two lines crossing one upright line). Dispose of the ritual remains in an appropriate way : Bury the paper and any leftover wax under your doorstep if your intention is to draw something or someone to you. Throw the paper and wax away at a crossroads, in running water, or in a graveyard if the intention is to get rid of something or someone.

The seven knob candle:
I have seen ads for these under the name "The Famous 7-Knob Wishing Candle" dating back at least to the 1930s; they might be older, but i do not know. They are mentioned favourably in Henri Gamache's "Master Book of Candle Burning" (written in 1942) and they are very popular in the African-American community, which seems to indicate that they are efficacious. Seven-knob candles generally come in four colours, with the usual symbolism implied (white for blessing or wishing, red for love or sex, green for money or gambling luck, black for destruction or revenge). Carve a brief wish on each knob -- either the same wish seven times or seven different wishes, one per knob. Dress the candle with an appropriate oil. Burn it for seven nights, pinching it out (NOT blowing it out) each time a knob is gone.

The seven charm sortilage candle:
This is a hand-made candle that contains seven tiny metal charms (milagros or ex-votos) inside, which are revealed one per day as you burn the candle down over the course of seven days. It is more common in Latin America than in the USA. Often the charms are religious as well as lucky, and they may include a cross, an angel, the powerful hand of God, a man's head, a woman's head, and so forth.

The seven-wishes glass-encased candle:
This style of 7-day candle only became popular from the 1970s onward. It is made with seven layers of wax in different colours, poured into a tall, narrow glass container. Burn one layer each day with appropriate prayers or wishes. It's interesting to note that this is the same size and shape of candle which the Catholics call a novena candle, although they expect it to burn for nine days. For many more examples of glass-encased candles in both the Catholic and hoodoo traditions, see the web page on glass-encased candles

Perhaps the first glass-encased candles marketed to hoodoo buyers were Jan-O-Sun brand jelly-jar style three-colour votive candles, sold by the Standard O and B Supply Company of Chicago in the 1940s. Meanwhile, small paper-encased religious votives called "Lux Perpetua" (perpetual light) candles were developed in Mexico. These are typically filled with a very soft grade of wax that may also contain animal fat. By 1945, although American mail order hoodoo catalogues still primarily sold free-standing altar candles with pasted-on labels -- under brand names such as black cat, Success, and Master Power -- they also began to carry what they called "religious" candles, those familiar tall, glass-encased European-American Catholic novena candles bearing printed paper labels depicting various saints. Novena candles are designed to burn for nine days while a series of votary prayers are made. It is not customary to dress them with magical oils, nor is colour-symbolism an important part of their lore. The use of such candles is widespread in Catholic Latin America; as well as in the pseudo-Catholic African-Caribbean religion known as Santeria and among the pseudo-Catholic Mayans of Guatemala.

During the 1970s and 1980s, Cuban immigrants -- both Catholics and Santeros -- entered the United States in great numbers and a merger between hoodoo and Catholic-Santeria candle burning traditions was effected. Although special-use figural candles are still very popular with African-Americans and "The Master Book of Candle Burning" is still in print, the old Jewish-style offertory candles have been replaced to a certain extent by "7-day vigil candles" modelled after the tall, glass-enclosed Catholic-style novena candles. The one thing that sets 7-day hoodoo candles apart from true Catholic novena candles is that the latter bear colourful paper saint image labels and the former are decorated with one-colour line-art and hand-lettered text silk-screened directly onto the glass. The text and images found on 7-day candles are typically the same as those used in hoodoo formulae for anointing oils, including Fast Luck, Uncrossing, Compelling, Money House Blessing, and the like.

The evolving form of hoodoo candles has not greatly affected their traditional system of colour symbolism, although under the influence of Santeria's Catholic heritage, which invokes the brown-robed Saint Anthony as the finder of lost things and returner of lost lovers, brown candles, formerly used for court cases, are now also employed for the return of that which is lost. Glass containers make it easy to pour two-, three-, and even seven-layer candles -- which led to the development of multi-colour symbolism. Probably the most popular of the multi-colour glass-encased 7-day vigil candles is the red-and-black Reversible candle for returning evil to the one who sent it. This is simply a modification of the old standby two-colour free-standing altar candle called "Double Action," which is still manufactured. However, other multi-coloured candles are only found in glass-encased form, among them the seven-colour Lucky Prophet Lafin [sic] Buddha Brand All Purpose Novena Candle which grants "7 desires" to the user.

The practice of dressing candles with anointing oils and herbs had to be modified considerably to accommodate the new 7-day vigil candles. Since the sides of a glass-encased candle cannot be rubbed, it is now customary for the retailer rather than the user to dress the candle. This is done by poking holes into the top of the candle with a nail (preferably a coffin nail) and then dripping the oil into these holes, sometimes finishing off the top with symbolically coloured glitter. This technique leaves the customer in danger of spilling the oil while carrying the candle home, so in many stores the dressed candle is covered with a plastic sandwich bag held in place by a rubber band.
The introduction of glass-encased candles also necessitated modifications in spells designed to be worked over a length of time. The old pin or needle measuring technique, described above, cannot be used on glass-encased candles, so timed burning or measuring the glass into sections with a marking-pen has taken the place of needles or pins among people who prefer the glass-encased candles. This serves to weaken the practitioner's involvement in the spell, however, because there are no pins or needles left over to make the crosses and double crosses prescribed in the older workings. A glass-encased candle spell therefore takes on a slightly "ritual" or "religious" tone, in that one's desires and wishes are expected to do the work alone, as contrasted to an offertory candle spell, in which the manipulation of magical objects -- candle, flame, paper, and needles or pins -- is integral to doing the job.

In recent years, an influx of Mexican, Guatemalan, and Salvadoran immigrants to the United States has led to the increased marketing of Catholic saint novena candles, and on occasion one may even find the Guatemalan Mayan-Catholic deity Maximon (Saint Simon-Judas) on the candle shelf in a grocery or supermarket. The arrival of these immigrants has had another effect on hoodoo candles: While they still retain such traditional titles as Fast Luck and John the Conqueror, some have been outfitted with partial or complete Spanish translations of their names or intended manner of use. In addition, the makers of silkscreened hoodoo candles may carry a Mayan item such as the Chuparosa love candle and they might add a Santeria line with special colours and designs for the orishas or their Catholic saint equivalents.

Offertory and figural candles are dressed by rubbing them (for instance, upward to "draw" and downward to repel) with appropriate anointing oils, such as Fast Luck, Compelling, or John the Conqueror. Some practitioners then sprinkle them with sachet powders or roll them in finely cut herbs selected for their specific magical powers. The time of day is important, too: To draw influences, some hoodoo practitioners say that the candle should be lit when both clock hands are rising, in the second half of the hours between six and twelve; to repel or cast off influences, they believe that the candle should be lit when both hands on the clock are falling, in the first half of the hours from twelve to six. Other folks prefer to light candles at midnight, the traditional "witching hour."

Candles are usually marked in some way to indicate on whose behalf they are being burned. In its simplest form, this consists of writing a petition and/or a name on paper (usually 7 or 9 times) and placing the paper beneath the candle. In addition, words or sigils may be inscribed or carved into the candle wax with a needle, pin, rusty nail, or knife, depending on the intention behind the spell.

Experienced workers often accompany the setting of lights with the burning of an appropriate incense. Some folks prefer to light the incense first to set the mood as they dress, mark, and inscribe their candles. Others believe that the lighting of the candles must come first, with the incense following. There is also a strong contingent of spiritually-inclined folks who will not use common matches at their altars because they feel that the disposal of matches breaks the ritual flow of their movements. They prefer to light a taper in another room and bring the taper to the altar, blowing it out or snuffing it once the actual lights are set. As with all such matters, tradition and personal preferences leave room for variation.

In some spells, the candle is burned a half-inch at a time for several days. In others, it is marked into sections with pins or needles and burned a section at a time "until the pin drops." In addition to burning the candle while it stands on a piece of paper, some spells specify that the candles should be moved toward or away from each other over the course of the working, or that the candle flame be used to ignite the name- or petition-paper, the ashes of which are then used in the work. During the course of certain conjurations, altar candles may also be ceremonially extinguished in water or turned upside down into a saucer of graveyard dirt or even burned sideways at both end.
When a candle is burned in sections, either measured by time or by pins, it is invariably pinched out, not blown out at the end of each session, to signify that the spell is not yet complete. If pins or needles are used for measuring sections, they usually will not be discarded after they drop, but will be saved for further use. Depending on the type of job being done, they may be utilized for making crosses and double crosses in the paper on which the names or desires have been written, they may be wrapped in a cloth or paper and buried or carried in a mojo hand, or they may be disposed of in a ritual manner.

Not every magical practitioner takes heed of the manner in which ritual or spell-casting candles burn, but for the most part, in my experience, it is people who work in African-American and African-Caribbean traditions often pay attention to the way a candle burns and can draw conclusions about it. In particular, spiritual workers who set lights for clients make a habit of noticing the manner in which the candles burn.
Of course, it is important to note that some candles are simply poorly made and will burn badly no matter what you do with them (for instance, if the wick is too thick they may burn sootily). Also, the temperature in the area, the presence of wind or a draft, and other external factors may play a part in how candles burn. The novice should not worry over-much about how candles burn until he or she has burned a lot of candles and gained some perspective on the matter.
All that having been said, here are some of the things to watch for when burning candles:
The candle gives a clean, even burn
This means things will go well with the spell or blessing and that one will most likely get what one wishes for. If a glass encased candle burns and leaves no marks on the glass, that is best. If a free-standing candle leaves little or no residue, that is best.
A free-standing candle runs and melts a lot while burning
This gives you an opportunity to observe the flow of wax for signs. For instance, if you are burning a bride-and-groom type candle for love, and the woman's wax runs all over the man's, then the woman desires the man more than he desires her. If you are burning a green money candle and the wax melts and runs down onto the monetary offering, then the spell is "eager to work" and the candle is "blessing the money." Some people try to influence the way melting wax runs. They do this as an intentional part of the spell-work, to increase the likelihood that things will go the way they want. Others prefer to let nature take its course and to watch running wax for signs, without interfering in its movements.
A free-standing candle burns down to a puddle of wax
When this happens, most workers will examine the shape of the wax for a sign. You may see something of importance there, for the shape may suggest an outcome regarding the matter at hand. For instance, a heart-shaped wax puddle is a good significator if you are burning a red candle for a love spell -- and a coffin-shaped wax puddle is a good significator if you are burning a black devil candle against an enemy. Wax puddles come in all kinds of shapes; most candle-workers treat them like tea-leaves when they "read" them.
A glass-encased candle burns half clean and half dirty
This indicates that there is hidden trouble with the person for whom the lights have been set or that someone is working against your wishes. Things will not go well at first, but by repeated spells you may get them to go better.
A free-standing candle lets out a lot of smoke but burns clean at the end
Again, hidden trouble or someone working against your wishes. Things will not go well at first, but with repeated work you will overcome.
There is a dirty, black, sooty burn (especially one that messes up a glass-encased candle)
This means things are going to go hard -- the spell may not work, the blessing may fail, the person is in deeper stress or trouble than you thought. If the work is being done against an enemy and the enemy's candle burns sooty and dirty, then it is likely that the enemy is fighting your influences.
The candle goes out before completely burning
This is a bad sign because it indicates that someone very strong is working against you or against the person on whose behalf you are setting the lights. You will have to start the entire job over from the beginning and you may need to use stronger means than you first employed.
The candle tips over and flames up into a fire hazard
Not only will the spell probably fail but there may be increased danger ahead for you or the client. In order to accomplish anything, you will have to start the entire job over from the beginning -- but first do a thorough Uncrossing spell for everyone involved and ritually clean the premises before setting any more lights.
The candle burns up overly fast
Generally a fast burn is good, but an overly-fast burn (compared to other times you have used the same kind of candle) means that although the work will go well, it may not last long. You might have to repeat the job at a later date. If you have set lights for several people and one person's candle burns faster than the others, then that person is most affected by the work, but the influence may not last long enough to produce a permanent change.
In European-American traditions, many people bury candle wax and other ritual remains after a spell is cast. Burial toward the appropriate quarter of the compass is considered a thoughtful way to go about this. Some neo-pagans dispose of ritual or spell remains in a bonfire or fireplace.
In African-American hoodoo candle magic spells the disposal of left-over materials follows other patterns, usually dependent upon the type of spell.
If the intention of the spell is good and it involves matters around one's own home, like blessing, love-drawing, money-drawing, or home protection, one can wrap the materials in a cloth or paper packet and bury them in the yard. It is important to never bury remains from negative spells in one's own yard.
If the intention of the spell is not centered on matters close to home, or if one does not have a suitable yard, one can wrap the materials in a cloth or paper packet and throw them in running water over the left shoulder and walk away. Alternatively, one can take the materials to a crossroads -- any place where two roads cross -- and throw the packet into the center of the crossroads over the left shoulder and walk away. The crossroads is also the preferred place to throw bath-water before beginning a spell; it is often used for throwing out the remains of candle wax if the spell does not personally involve the practitioner or if the spell is negative or influence-removing.
If the intention of the spell is specifically to get someone to leave town or leave one alone, one can divide the materials (e.g. 9 needles used in a spell and 9 pieces of wax from a candle) into 9 packets and add Hot Foot Powder (or Drive Away Powder) to each packet. One starts at a crossroads near to where the person lives and throws out the first packet. Then one travels in a direction away from the enemy's home, toward where one wants them to go, and drops a packet at each crossroads one passes until all the packets are gone. In the country this might carry one several miles. In the city it would only be 9 blocks, so city folks only count major intersections (with a light) when they do this, or they may count freeway interchanges to get some distance worked up between the packets.
If the intention of the spell is seriously, irreparably harmful (like causing another person grave illness), especially if it contains graveyard dirt or goofer dust, one can dispose of the material in a graveyard. The wax and other remnants are placed in a miniature coffin, buried, and marked by a miniature headstone with the enemy's name on it. When setting such a spell to rest, many workers also sprinkle a mixture of sulphur powder and salt around the grave, then walk home and don't look back.