HOODOO-CANDLE-MAGICHOODOO CANDLE MAGIC
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
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
• 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
• standing devil -- red for commanding lust and sex, green for
collecting money owed or for gambler's luck, black for doing harm to an
• 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
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
RELIGIOUS and VOTIVE 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 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
DRESSING, MARKING, MEASURING, LIGHTING, AND EXTINGUISHING CANDLES
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.
SIGNS FROM CANDLE-BURNING
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
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
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
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.
DISPOSAL OF CANDLE WAX
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
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.