Candle burning has been associated with religious and magical ceremonies since earliest antiquity. To light a candle in respectful remembrance of a person who has died is a common practice in many religions. The light of a single candle is held by many to be symbolical of the illumination of the soul in the midst of earthly despair or of death.
Ancient Romans honored Juno Lucina, Mother of the Light, whenever a candle was lit to spread its light and sweet scent into the darkness. Juno Lucina controlled the sun, moon, and stars, and granted to newborn children the "light" of their spirit. Each year during the winter solstice a festival of lights was celebrated in her honor. This winter celebration became the Christian feast of Santa Lucia (Saint Lucy), which is still observed in Sweden with a young woman wearing a crown of candles and portraying the Lussibruden or Lucy Bride.
The custom of the lighting of the Yule candle also has its roots in the pagan observance of the winter solstice. Whereas Christians light an oversized candle that they hope would burn through the night from Christmas Eve to the dawn of Christmas Day to bring good luck for the coming year, the Scandinavians of old ignited a bundle of kindling and conducted a religious ceremony that was designed to encourage the sun to return from the long night of darkness.
For many centuries, candles have been very popular in the practice of certain rites of magic. In the Middle Ages, it was believed that a candle formed in the image of a woman and burned with the proper incantation could bring love to a man seeking the favor of a particular lady. According to tradition, a red-colored candle brought about the best results. First, according to the charm, the candle was to be anointed with perfume to signify femininity. Then, after the candle had burned for a few minutes a brief invocation was offered to loving spirits to bring the man's love to him forevermore. The invocation was to be made at sunset—once over the flame of the candle, then repeated over the smoking wick. The spell was to be repeated on consecutive sunsets until the candle had been consumed.
A black candle formed in the shape of a skull was often used in ceremonial magic to dispel curses. The skull-candle was to be burned at midnight and a proclamation, which had been formally written on paper, was to be read above the flame, demanding the removal of any curse that had been set against the magician. The candle was to be anointed with oil and was to be burned precisely at midnight.
It was believed that power and success might be gained through the ritual burning of a candle with oil and setting before it an incense offering of sandalwood or myrrh. The candle was lighted, and the magician concentrated on a mental image of the goal that he or she most wished to attain.
If a Magi felt that he had become the unwelcome recipient of a candle spell, he believed that he might reverse its effect through an ancient Medieval candle burning ceremony. For five consecutive nights, the magician was careful to light two large, black candles just as the sun was phasing into dusk. As the candles burned, the supplicant recited an invocation that called upon benevolent spirits to remove the curse from his head and to redirect it toward whomever had summoned the powers of darkness to cast a malediction against him. The ritual required that two candles must be allowed to be completely consumed each night.