There’s a lot of different kinds of candles. Completely different candles may be called the same thing – a 2″ freestanding candle is a votive. So is a 4″ candle fixed in a glass holder, a 7″ candle poured into tall glass, and a 6″ freestanding candle. It all depends on who’s making them, who’s selling them, and where you’re buying them.
If you’re unsure as to what kind of candle to use, how long your candle will burn, and if you need a holder, this is for you. If you’re having problems with your candles after you have them, head over to Candle Care. If you are having a particular problem called tunneling, there’s a whole page about it. Interested in purchasing scented candles? Head over to Scented Candle Sources for a list of Black-owned candle companies.
Do not use LED candles in magic unless there are serious extenuating circumstances, like oxygen use in the home. We’re using the power of the element of fire in candle magic, which you don’t get with an LED candle.
Do not use scented candles unless you really, truly have no other choice. Scents mean things, in magic, and using a scented candle can have an unwanted impact.
Filled vs. Freestanding
Candles that are poured into their holders are called filled candles. Candles without a holder or that can be removed from their holders are called freestanding candles.
The biggest drawback to most commercially available filled candles is that they’re often scented, and may be too wide to burn well. The candle holders can be elaborate, too, since they’re the main selling point of the candle. Still, they’re easy to find and a safe choice if you don’t have a candle holder.
There’s no one “right” material for candles. Some people may prefer less industrial ingredients – if you’re someone with breathing or allergy issues, 100% beeswax or 100% soy may be a good choice. Most commercial candles are made from paraffin, which is a product of petroleum refining. Candles advertising themselves as “soy blend” and “beeswax blend” are paraffin mixes, on the whole. There are gel wax candles, made from a mixture of polymer and mineral oil, but they aren’t nearly as common as paraffin.
While some candle waxes may burn slightly faster than others, the wick is what primarily controls the speed with which the candle burns down. Commercial candle wicks are made from cotton, but some have a zinc, tin, or copper core. Zinc and tin cores, in particular, can create a higher temperature flame and lead to fast-melting candle, a wick flare, and other unwanted results.
The burn times provided here presume a paraffin candle with a 100% cotton or 100% cotton/paper wick. They also presume that wicks have been trimmed to 1/4″.
Types of Candles
Tealights are usually made of unscented wax, and are about 1.5 inches wide and just over half an inch tall, with a metal base. Technically, they’re filled candles.
Tea lights are small and fairly quick-burning. If you need to let the candle burn until it gutters out, this is a great choice, because it doesn’t take forever. If you need to write or engrave something on the candle, that’s easily done with a needle, and a fingertip of oil or a light dusting of herbs is sufficient for anointing. Tea lights do not necessarily need a candle holder, but the bottom will get very hot if you’re burning it fully, so they should be on an inflammable surface.
A tea light can take between 3 to 5 hours to burn completely.
There’s different sizes of votive candles – it’s a common term for a candle, but not necessarily specific as to size. Generally speaking, a votive candle is about 2 inches tall and 1 to 2 inches wide. These candles should be used with a holder, even if it’s only a raised base. A two inch votive candle will burn approximately 10 hours.
Votives are probably the easiest candles to find, in general. You can get them in packs, normally, at the drugstore or a home decor shop. Hobby and craft shops also tend to carry small votives for use in centerpieces.
A pillar candle is usually 3 to 9 inches tall and 2 to 4 inches at the base. Pillars can go all the way up to 36″ at home decor or specialty stores, but the shorter ones are usually the way to go. These candles are very versatile and pretty easy to find at places like Target or Tesco. The freestanding pillar candles should not be used without some kind of candle holder, even if it’s only a raised base. The nice thing about the freestanding pillar is there’s plenty of room to inscribe on the sides and anoint with oils and herbs. A filled pillar candle usually has room for anointing or inscribing on the top, more so than a votive.
Pillar candles are also very popular in home decor, and are available in sizes too big to burn with a single wick. Ensure that the pillar candle you are purchasing is not so wide that it won’t burn – more on that in Candle Care.
These are usually 7 to 10 inches tall and fixed in glass holders. They’re often colored, in clear glass so the candle color can be seen. Depending on where you live (and where you shop), they might be devotional candles for a particular saint or religious figure. Occult and new age shops tend to stock these candles, because they’re extremely versatile and simple to use. The tops can be inscribed and anointed with oils and herbs, and a clear glass holder gives the user plenty of space to write intentions or incantations. If the candle is devotional, the name or picture of the saint, god, orisha, etc. is already there and the user doesn’t need to bother with the outside. Certain candles will also have a prayer on them, either to be recited by the user or to be used as a petition for the candle.
Saint candles are most often seen in Catholic folk magic use, and in magical practices derived from or adapted from them. Other common Seven Day candles include intention candles, such as Stay At Home (burned to prevent a lover from wandering) and Cleansing, and Protection.
A filled 7-day candle will take 50 to 60 hours to burn down completely. If it’s being burned continuously, the bottom and sides will get very hot to the touch. If you’re going to keep it burning for more than an hour or two, put the candle on an inflammable plate or on a raised candle holder.
These candles are often very cheaply made, and prone to burning problems. Never leave these candles unattended – the glass can crack, the wick can tunnel, other issues can arise. Since the candle is entirely enclosed, people make the mistake of thinking this kind of candle doesn’t need supervision. It does, as much as any other candle.
A taper candle….well, it tapers from a point to a wider base. Sometimes only the top is tapered, and the cylinder of the candle is the same size all the way down. Tapers are almost always freestanding and must be used with a candle holder. They can be anywhere from 6″ to 18″, but there’s smaller and taller ones available. Technically, a birthday candle is a taper – and if you need a candle that burns out fast, a birthday candle can be ideal.
As a rule, a paraffin taper candle with 1″ base and a cotton wick will burn between 1.2″ and 1.5″ an hour.
But They’re All Called The Same Things!
Some candles called votives are 3 inches high and 3 inches across, and candles the same size can be called pillar candles. 2 inch candles poured into a glass holder are called votives – and so are candles that are 7 to 10 inches tall. A 36″ candle that’s 2″ wide can be a taper – but Pottery Barn may have it listed as a taper.
That’s because there’s no real standardization for sizes or names. While knowing the names for different types of candles is helpful when shopping, different companies will market their candles more according to size than name. Look for the measurements and for the indication that the candle is freestanding or filled, rather than fixating on the name of the candle.
Shop for candles according to what you’re using them to do, not what they’re called. Unless you need a candle of a particular shaped – figure shaped, etc. – you’ll be better off looking for a 2-inch freestanding candle than a “votive.” Candles don’t have to be expensive, candles don’t have to come from certain stores, they just need to be clean burning and well cared for so they can do their work.