candles


candles
   In religious ritual, candles express a widespread symbolism whereby light is equated with goodness and spirituality - specifically, in Christianity, with Christ as the Light of the World. In all Catholic and many Anglican churches, there must be two alight during all services; they feature in the communal liturgy at Advent, *Candlemas, and *Easter; they are often used in processions and *baptisms, and placed beside deathbeds and coffins. They also are a material expression of individual prayer; hence the customs of buying a small candle (or its modern equivalent, a night-light) and leaving it to burn before an altar or statue, and carrying candles during vigils of mourning or protest. Paradoxically, they also express celebration, so have a place on *Christmas trees, *birthday cakes, and dinner tables.
   In medieval Catholicism, candles blessed by a priest (especially at Candlemas) were kept at home to protect the house against demons, *witchcraft, and thunderstorms, and to be lit for the sick and dying; they were one of the commonest gifts offered in *pilgrimage; people left money to ensure that lights would burn in front of specified altars, crosses, or statues in their parish church, especially during Mass (Duffy, 1992: 16-22, 134, 146-9; Finucane, 1977: 95-6).
   Religious ritual is recalled in the idea that solemn cursing involves 'bell, book, and candle', and stories about ghost *laying where the exorcist's candle must be kept alight. An ingenious variation of the latter concerns the ghost of 'Old Coles', who haunted a road between Bransford and Brocamin (Worcestershire): twelve parsons trapped him one dark night in a nearby pool, by the light of an inch of candle, bidding him stay there till the candle burnt out - and, to make sure he does, they threw the candle into the pool and filled it in (Hazlitt, 1905: 458).
   Occasionally candles were used in *magic; in 1843 a Mrs Bell in Norwich was said to have stuck a candle with *pins in order to immobilize the arms and legs of a man she had quarrelled with (Hole, 1973: 91). Henderson reports two love *spells, the first being from Durham, where a servant girl who kept a candle stump studded with pins explained, 'It's to bring my sweetheart. Thou see'st, sometimes he's slow a-coming, and if I stick a candle-end full o' pins it always fetches him.' His second account is from Buckinghamshire:
   Damsels desirous of seeing their lovers would stick two pins through the candle they were burning, taking care that the pins passed through the wick. While doing this they recited the following verse:
   It's not this candle alone I stick
   But 's heart I mean to prick
   Whether he be asleep or awake I'd have him come to me and speak.
   By the time the candle burned down to the pins and went out, the lover would be certain to present himself. (Henderson, 1879: 172-3; cf. Opie and Tatem, 1989: 55-6).
   Henderson's informant thought this dangerous. Of three girls she knew who had used this spell, one did marry the man but was very unhappy; a second was harangued by her lover when he arrived, as 'no tongue could tell what she had made him suffer' by summoning him, and he immediately left her.
   One of the regular *Halloween games was to hang a short stick from a rafter, with an apple fixed to one end and a lighted candle to the other. With their hands tied behind their backs, the players attempt to bite the apple while avoiding the singeing candle. Strutt reproduces two illustrations from 14th-century manuscripts showing games where people are sitting on a pole above a large bowl of water, holding candles which they must manipulate carefully to avoid losing their balance (Sports and Pastimes of England (1801; 1876 edn. by William Hone, 503-4).
   See also *blessing the throats, *candle auctions, *candlemas, *hand of glory.

A Dictionary of English folklore. . 2014.

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