Behind the Flame: The Symbolic Meanings of Candles Through Time

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Today, we light candles for many reasons. Some do it to set a romantic mood, others do it to relax, and still others just like the scent that emanates and the glow it casts. Our traditions are steeped in candles, specifically, the lighting and blowing out of the candles each birthday to make a wish come true. However, that is an old tradition coming from a variety of ancient traditions which believed smoke took one’s prayers to the heavens to be heard and answered. It’s easy to see why people throughout time have stared into the flame, there is something else, almost a meditative cultural consciousness that reverberates with every flick and lick of the flame.

Candles Are Believed to Contain the Gifts of the Gods

In ancient times, candles largely symbolized the divine. They are believed to contain the gifts of the godsas the Greek gods gave the fire to Prometheus for illumination and progress. The ancient Greeks used candles to light the temples of the gods and to offer sacrifice. Villagers would light candles on the sixth day of every month in celebration of the birth of Artemis, the goddess of the hunt, wild animals, childbirth, and virginity in order to win her favor.

The Flame Holds Celebration and Remembrance

The flame also holds festival, celebration, and remembrance. The sacred lighting of the candles during Hanukah reminds those of the Jewish culture to remember to have faith and that they are in the presence of God. The flame holds belief and conviction and reminds them of the triumph of good over evil in every wick lit during each night of the “Festival of Lights.” The belief is that so long as the candle burned, safety would abound. Another festival of lights, the Indian celebration of Diwali, is a five-day celebration of the power of light over darkness. It marks a time of wishes for the coming year. On Diwali night, candles are lit throughout the home and community to represent the power of light and floating candles are sent out on the water to Lakshmi, goddess of wealth and prosperity.

The Flame Is Symbolic

The flame also holds somber and sacred meaning for those of the Catholic faith. A candle is lit at the beginning of each mass to represent the illumination of Christ. The flame is symbolic of unity in the marriage ceremony, two lighting their separate candles and then bringing them together to form one perfect union of souls. Candles are used in every festival and ritual the Church performs. It is also used in the rituals lead by individuals, such as lighting a candle and watching the flame while praying, imbues fire of the heart for the person who is the subject of the prayer.

The Flame Represents Home

Finally, there is the tradition of putting a candle in the window which dates back to colonial times. It was one-part prayer that a special someone far away would return home safely and one-part a sign that someone was waiting for them and ready to welcome them home. The flame represented home.It’s no wonder then, that when we are far away from home, the sight of a burning flame brings us back to home no matter where we are, and quells the nostalgia and homesickness, bringing us peace and tranquility.