"I cannot think about anything that would be better to invent than a candle that burns without soot." Goethe
Up to the mid 19th Century, candles smoked the house out, candles that made ceilings and walls black with soot and left the late-night reader with red, sore eyes.
Today Goethe would have his wish: if we choose quality materials - the right combinations of wax, wicks, and dyes for the best production - he would be burning a smoke-free candle.
Today's candle perfection is due to just one action: try it out, try something else, try it differently and then try it out again and again.
In their search for sources of light, humans have continuously experimented with materials that can be used to burn a flame.
Let us look through the multi-faceted kaleidoscope to see the different materials used to make candles worldwide throughout the Ages.
Early Chinese Cultures
Made candles with Rice Paper and wax from indigenous insects combined with Seeds.
Fruit of the Cinnamon Tree Wax
Used in India by boiling the fruit of the trees.
Tree Wax or Japan Wax
Candles and Buddhism were introduced to Japan from China. Fruits from Trees, typically Haze ハゼ (Toxicodendron succedaneum), were steamed and then pressed to extract this precious wax, which is mainly replaced with Sumac Wax today. Today this precious wax is replaced by Sumac wax.
there is evidence that the Romans made wicked/dipped candles using tallow, an animal fat rendered from cattle and sheep. This readily available wax was later used all over Europe, but the smell was highly unpleasant due to its high glycerine content. Several European cities banned the production of these animal fats.
with its honey fragrance, was discovered as an alternative, though only available for the Rich – already then, as today - a precious and expensive source of wax.
During the Roman Empire, olive oil fuelled lamps were widely available, the primary light source – mainly across Europe. Beeswax became more popular and used by affluent households during the Middle Ages and is still a very popular wax today.
Three bees wax candles found at the Alamannic gravyard of Oberflacht, Seitingen-Oberflacht, Kreis Tuttlingen, Germany. Dating to 6th or beginning 7th century A.D. They are the oldest survived bees wax candles north of the Alps.
Spermaceti was used as far back as the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BCE) and discovered as an alternative to tallow. It became more widely used during the height of the Whaling industry. The oil for this hard and odourless wax was harvested and then crystalized from the brain of the Spermaceti Whale.
Spermaceti oil, an amber fluid produced by the tonne in the head cavity of a sperm whale (or isolated from whale oil
Stearin-purified animal fat
French Chemist Michel Eugene Chevreul discovered how to extract stearic acid from animal fats. The resulting stearin wax was clean, burning, hard and durable and remained a popular wax to this present day.
By the mid-19th Century, the first candle-making machines were invented, and the continuous production of moulded candles began.
Paraffin wax was discovered in 1850 when George Wilson, from the British Candle Making Company Prices, accidentally distilled a substance today known as Paraffin from petroleum. He refined the naturally occurring waxy substance after it was separated, and today's most widely available candle fuel was born.
Religions around the world use candles a part of their rituals. Here are a few examples
Candles are placed in front of Buddhist shrines as a mark of respect. They point to impermanence and change. The light from a humble candle symbolises the enlightenment of the Buddha.
Emperor Constantine called for candles to be used during an Easter Service in the 4th century. Today's Christian Churches use candles throughout their services.
During Diwali, various lights and candles are lit to commemorate the legend of the return of the Hindu god Rama to his kingdom after 14 years in exile.
One of the most famous Islamic holidays is Eid al-Fitr. Eid al-Fitr is celebrated after a month of fasting (Ramadan).
People dress in their finest clothes and give each other treats to celebrate. Lights and candles are decorated around the house and religious spaces to celebrate getting closer to Allah (God).
One example is the use at the Dome of the Rock (Qobbat al-Ṣaḵra) and the Aqsa Mosque (al-Masjed al-Aqṣā) in Jerusalem, which were lit by some two thousand wax candles in addition to five thousand suspended lamps.
Paganism is still a popular religion today and is practised worldwide. Like any religion, lights symbolise and emphasise the meaning of religious holidays. Candles are primarily used in Paganism to help with meditations. Lighting a candle helps calm the room's atmosphere and evoke focus.
Candles are used throughout rituals. One example is Hanukkah (Hebrew for Dedication), the Jewish Festival of Lights, which centres on the lighting of candles and dates back to 165 BC.
The centrepiece of the Hanukkah celebration is the hanukkiah, a candelabra that holds nine candles. Eight candles symbolise the number of days the Temple lantern blazed; the ninth, the shamash, is a helper candle used to light the others. Families light one candle on the first day, two on the second (and so on) after sundown during the eight days of Hanukkah while reciting prayers and singing songs. They're filled from right to left (a new candle each consecutive day) but lit left to right.
Taoism is practised and observed in Eastern Asia. Taoists do not practice many religious holidays, but this doesn't mean that candles do not serve a purpose in their beliefs.
Candles are placed on altars representing the moon and sun or Ying and Yang. On alters, you will always find two candles representing differences but harmony in the light and darkness of life.
Please note this list is not exhaustive.
Read more on candle history across Europe
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