Candles have been in use for thousands of years — used for light during night time and in religious ceremonies; a myriad of uses and mythical air still cling to them millenniums later. And, just as there are various different events during which candles are used, candles are also made from different types of wax. The type of wax also sometimes influence where and when they are used.
The different types of candle wax
What are candles made from? Historically candles were once made almost exclusively from animal fats (tallow), and beeswax. The beeswax candles were much more costly, though, so their use was usually limited to the rich and religious ceremonies. This was quite common in Europe. Candles made from boiling cinnamon were also used in temples in India.
Later, in the 1800s whale fat and spermaceti (which also burned cleaner) was used. Soon chemists began patenting their own chemical compounds like stearin (1825).
Industrialisation of candle-making was established by the middle of the nineteenth century. By the end of the nineteenth century, most candles were made from a mixture of paraffin wax and stearic acid.
With the introduction of the incandescent light bulb, candles soon began to decline and became a much more decorative item. This, however, opened the market for candle makers to try new waxes and wax blends like soy, palm, and flaxseed oil. Scented candles has also become a large part of the candle industry.
Candles most commonly used in the home
Candles which are used in the home can be divided broadly into two categories; decorative and practical.
The decorative candles include those that are hand-carved or otherwise may hold some special — usually nostalgic or personal — significance, which means that they are used only as decoration and never lit and used. They may also be, for instance, wedding candles which are only lit once during the ceremony. Decorative candles are often handmade or hand-decorated.
Practical candles, on the other hand, are used for different functions in the home. These may include religious ceremonies, praying and meditation, aromatherapy, to set a specific atmosphere that isn’t possible with electric light, and even just to keep your tea warm. Rather than keeping the candles in a pristine condition, the candles are burnt and replaced. These candles are usually plainer than the decorative candles and may be scented or unscented. Practical candles are often mass-produced, which keeps down the cost of the candles.
How to use candles and scented candles in the home
Candles can be used throughout the home to create different atmospheres through light and scent. Here is a room by room guide.
How to use candles in the bedroom
Your bedroom should be your sanctuary; the place you retreat to after a long day. And candles need not just be used on Valentine’s Day or to set a romantic mood.
- Light candles and switch off the lights to create a softer ambiance that will help your mind to start ‘switching off’ and getting ready for bed. Now put that phone, laptop, and tablet away.
- Journal by candlelight to give yourself a meditative atmosphere in which to write and only focus on your writing.
- Use a fresh-smelling candle to wake you up with a spring in your step — this is especially a handy trick for those dark winter mornings.
Scents for the bedroom
- Focus on relaxing and calming scents for the late afternoon and evening, for instance lavender, jasmine, and rose. Floral scents like these help to soothe nerves — and there’s a good reason why those lavender sleep pillows work.
- For the morning, focus on uplifting and energising scents like citrus and citrus or citrus and eucalyptus blends. Productivity here we come!
- Vanilla’s scent has also been found to be relaxing and uplifting. (Not to mention that the scent could curb sugar cravings!).
How to use candles in the bathroom
Candles in your bathroom is a definite must-have.
- In your bathroom you can use pillar candles of different sizes, depending on the size of your bathroom, to cast a wonderful glow that will make you feel like royalty lying in a bath with some healing bath salts.
- Cluster the candles together to create “spotlights” of light where the light is the brightest, for instance at the foot of the bath, next to the washbasin, etc.
- If you feel like a more ethereal atmosphere, float tea lights or small floating candles in the washbasin. Use lukewarm water (too hot and it will melt the wax) and add some flower petals while you’re at it for that extra-special touch.
- Use different scented candles to whisk you away to other places, times, and lands of fantasy.
Scents for the bathroom
- To create an intimate atmosphere, choose scents like rose or cinnamon.
- For a fresh-smelling and energising bath, choose scents like apricot, orange and other citrus, and peach.
- Want a vacation at home? Try some coconut or other tropical scents and imagine yourself in warm sea water.
- Spa time calls for sea-related candle scents. Try those that focus on capturing the scent of the sea, of mineral springs, or even eucalyptus or eucalyptus blends.
How to use candles in the living room or lounge
Let your guests feel right at home through inviting scents and warm light in the living room.
- Conversation is always more intimate and personal in candlelight.
- Light candles on the mantelpiece to cast a dim, but warm and cosy, light across the whole room without making the atmosphere too intimate.
- Light scented candles a while before guests arrive. By the time they arrive, the whole living area will have the delightful, lingering scent of a scented candle or candles. Choosing the right scent will mean that your guests will feel right at home immediately as they step inside.
- Unwind after a long day with some scented candles — even while watching Netflix or the lights are still on. Let the scent do its thing by relaxing your muscles as you forget about the stresses of the day.
Scents for the living room or lounge
- Need a pick-me-up? Then some woody, forest scents might just be the thing you need. Try pine, cedar, and sandalwood. Now, just lean back and relax!
- Let sweet scents like vanilla and honey linger in the air — but beware if you have a small living room. Don’t let the smell of vanilla or lilies become overpowering and headache-inducing.
- You can also change scents with the seasons; breaking out spice-scented candles around Christmas time or simply for a warmer atmosphere on winter nights.
- For fall, get some baked apples or cinnamon candles and burn them in your living room for that quintessential autumn-smell.
- Citronella candles are perfect for the spring and summer months if you live in an area where mosquitoes abound. Place one or more (depending on the size of the room as well as the size of the candle) close by to keep the mozzies at bay.
How to use candles in your entryway
A welcoming scent in your entryway will make guests feel welcome from the first time they set foot in your home.
- Use a welcoming scent by the front door to greet guests as they enter.
- Rainy weather with stuffy air? Try an uplifting and fresh scent to freshen the space.
Scents for the entryway
- Just like in the living room, woody scents are a good choice for the entryway in order that the scent won’t be too overpowering for those entering your home. Try pine, cedarwood and even patchouli and leather.
- Light floral scents are also a good choice for the entry hall, especially if you have a bit more space at the front door or don’t have a garden. These floral scents bring the spring and summer garden inside in place of cut flowers while welcoming the guests. Try lily of the valley, rose, violets and even jasmine.
How to use candles in the kitchen
The kitchen — the heart of the home — is one of the perfect rooms for using scented candles in throughout the day.
- Keep your kitchen smelling fresh by burning a scented candle after cooking. In this case, choose a scent that isn’t overpowering. You can even focus on scents like ‘clean linen’, ‘cotton’ and the like just to banish any lingering smells.
- Flowery scents or citrus scents are perfect for the morning while you’re making your coffee or tea and packing your lunch. Not only will the smell energise you, it will also soothe, taking away some of that oh-no-I’m-going-to-run-late-and-what-am-I-going-to-wear anxiety.
- Burn a lavender candle in the evenings while winding down and even while making some chamomile or rooibos tea. Let the deep scent soothe your soul at the end of the day while you’re finishing up in the kitchen and getting ready to go to bed. (Also good to get the kids a bit calmer!)
- Baking biscuits? Spicy scents and blends, cranberry, and the like are perfect while getting ready for Christmas celebrations. Bring the scents of the season into the kitchen by pairing it with pine.
Scents for the kitchen
- Lemon, tangerine, mandarin, and other citrus scents. Lemon and lavender will leave a delightful, clean fragrance in the kitchen.
- Herb scents like rosemary are also invigorating and helps the kitchen to smell fresh.
- Coffee or coffee and vanilla will give a homely scent to the kitchen while also energising
- Baked apples, cinnamon, and other spices — as long as the scent is not too heavy — can be used in the kitchen throughout the year and needn’t be kept for the fall and winter.
- Understated flower scents as well as woody scents like pine and cedar can also be used when there has been little or no meal preparation.
- You can also be on the lookout for scents like clean linen and cotton to bring that fresh touch to the kitchen. Because these scents can almost be described as “neutral”, they can take care of food smells quite quickly and easily.
- Citronella candles are perfect for the spring and summer months if you live in an area where mosquitoes abound. Place one or more (depending on the size of the room as well as the size of the candle?) close to windows and doorways to keep the mozzies at bay.
- Spice blends, cranberry, baked apples, and pine are the perfect way to bring some festive cheer to the kitchen.
How to use candles in the dining room
The dining room or area can so easily become a cluttered workspace and home office. However, making the room smell delightful can make all the change in the world. And a meal by candlelight is always a winner!
- Whether you’re having guests over or you’re just eating a meal as a family, it’s important to make meals special. Candlelight makes the meal a much more intimate experience. Use short, unscented pillar candles or tall, tapered candles to create the perfect candlelight setting.
- Use candles as a type of palate cleanser after the meal is finished. Complement your guests’ coffee with rich scents.
- Bring the seasons into your home by burning candles in the dining area (you can also use the living room if you don’t have an open plan living area).
Scents for the dining room
- Complement after-meal coffee with rich scents including chocolate, cinnamon, sandalwood, and vanilla-honey or vanilla-coffee.
- Use bergamot and lemon or lemon and lavender to freshen up the room after a delicious meal.
- Bringing the seasons into your home by using scented candles is a lot easier than you might think. The easiest way to go about it is to think about what embodies the season for you. Is it the coconut scent of cocktails and suncream? Or maybe some tropical fruit and flowers that just says “summer”. For spring, look to blossoms — for instance cherry blossoms — and other sweet flowers like jasmine, while fall will be all apples and cinnamon (and probably pumpkin spice). Winter’s mix of spicy scents, coffee, chocolate, and vanilla will also not go amiss. Use it even on those cold and rainy days.
Reading by candlelight
Reading by candlelight seems to hold its own type of magic. There’s just something about sitting in silence, or with some classical music playing in the background that electric light can’t give you. The best books to read by candlelight, though, are definitely fiction — fantasy, some so-called ‘chick-lit’, historical drama or fantasy, steampunk, and just plain history.
Here are some tips for reading by candlelight:
- Use candles that burn cleanly without a flickering flame. These will probably be a bit more expensive (i.e. don’t buy the cheapest brand you can possibly find), but well worth it to give a steady light.
- Use a cluster of candles to make sure that the light is bright enough to confortably read by. No need to squint just because it’s candles!
- Make sure to keep your book (or Kindle) away from the flames at all times. Also put the candles on a sturdy flat surface where they can’t be knocked over easily.
- Use candles with a broad base, for instance votive, pillar, or jar candles.
Candle meditation: a beginner’s guide
Just like other types of meditation, candle meditation is used to clear the mind and improve the ability to focus. Not only do candles form a calm and relaxing atmosphere, the flame of the candle also give you something to focus on and, thereby, making the meditation easier. It is also quite a quick meditation and lasts about 15-30 minutes.
Candle meditation consists of five steps:
- Choose the candle you are going to use
- Create the environment you will be meditating in; it should be as relaxing as possible.
- Position your candle for the meditation session
- Light the candle
- Start and work through the meditation
Step 1: Choosing your candle
With so many candles and waxes to choose from, it can be very difficult to choose a candle. The best type to choose for meditation, however, is one that is clean-burning and won’t give off a headache-inducing scent!
Take your time to choose your candle and even try different ones (for instance, unscented versus scented candles, different types of waxes, etc.). Remember that this candle will be in your home for a few months, probably, and that you also need to think about this when choosing a candles.
However, it’s not just the wax or scent that you should give attention to — the colour of the candle also holds a specific meaning.
The meanings of the different colours of candles:
- White, blue or purple: Meditate for protection, inner peace, spirituality, or intuition.
- Red or pink: love, passion, happiness, and power. Meditate and focus on any of these elements while holding the image in your mind.
- Green: fertility and wealth. Green candles are said to focus the meditation on fertility as well as wealth and prosperity.
Step 2: Creating your environment
Choose a quiet corner in the home where you can meditate without being pestered by noise or bothered by people in the middle of your meditation. These corners can literally be a corner in your room, home office/study or guest bedroom.
Step 3 and 4: Positioning your candle and lighting it
Position your chosen candle at eye level and the distance between you and the candle should be enough so that, when you stare at the naked flame, it doesn’t hurt your eyes. You should neither strain your neck, nor your eyes when you stare at the candle.
Step 5: Starting the meditation and working your way through it
Start your meditation by siting comfortably in an upright position and starting to stare at the candle. Imagine that you are breathing the light of the candle in and out.
Your peripheral vision will slowly start to fade away until you’re only left with the flame of the candle. In essence, you have become one with the flame — a profound experience.
You will find at this stage that you have both mental and physical stillness.
Once you’ve finished meditating, close your eyes and lie down for at least 5 minutes and allow your body and mind to relax and come back to themselves.
Candles, although not necessary for everyday light when you have electricity, still hold a place in the home, in meditation and in religious ceremonies. All that’s left for you to do is to go out and find your perfect candle!
Daniel Seeker is a lifelong student of the past, present and future. He realized deep relaxations of the psyche when meditating in his hermit cave on the island of Gotland. His writings are mostly a reflection of that realization. Daniel has meditated & done yogic exercises daily for more than 10 years and is studying history and philosophy at Uppsala Universitet. He is currently finishing writing his B.A. thesis in history which explores how Buddhist, Yogic and Hindu texts were first properly translated and introduced to the western world in the late 18th and 19th century.