Sacred and wicked candles

This is a Chicago Tribune story, but I just ran into it while reading through the drifts of South Florida Sun-Sentinel newspapers that collected while I was in Washington, D.C. The tradition of burning candles is, of course, very ancient. Try to find a reference to public ritual in the Bible that does not involve this tradition (and incense).

I had no idea that the whole seven-day candle phenomenon was this modern. In fact, I am going to try to do some more digging online to see if reporter Monica Eng has this straight. Hey Amy Welborn, if you are reading this, let us know what you think! Ditto for you, Dawn Eden.

But here is the part of the story that amazed me. It turns out that this very populist form of devotion has, well, spread into other parts of life. If you live in the right kind of ethnic neighborhood, you can find all of this at the local grocery store. Who knew?

The use of these candles has evolved far beyond a religious context. On the same Web site and even on the same store shelf, you can find Virgin Mary candles not far from “D.U.M.E. Black List” candles that are purported to help you, well, kill your enemies.

More common uses include attracting a specific mate with a “Come to Me” candle while simultaneously sabotaging the mate’s current relationship with a “Break Up” candle. According to Carlos Soto, manager at Indio Products, a chain of botanicas in Southern California, the “Come to Me” + “Break Up” combo is his No. 1 seller.

Isn’t that kind of mean? “Not really,” Soto says, “because usually [the customer] is a woman . . . whose husband or boyfriend is cheating, so she is just getting back what was hers.”

Be careful what you pray for, people. You might get it.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Huw Raphael

    Terry: take a google for Santeria or other Yoruban Traditions. They are found “native” in Brasil, Haiti, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Mexico… But they are now growing in this country.

    African Slaves mingled their religion with the Catholic faith in the Caribbean as was as in Latin America. Later they also picked up elements of the local religions in the Americas. The various saints are merely masks of African gods and goddesses – thus the slave kept their idols and dressed them up as Christian. Doing a ritual “to St Barbara” with her sword is a rite to an African deity asking for justice to be inflicted on an enemy.

    Today many people of all races practice the various Yoruban paths because, well, hey: Go to church, hear mass, make confession, and actually believe in morality? Issues with that! But light a candle, sacrifice a chicken and get a job. Not a problem. Of course, the further away from the Ethnic Roots you get the more it starts to look like just more newagey silliness. But the roots are still there.

  • Stephen A.

    My Santeria story:

    About 10 years ago, I was on a plane flying from Florida seated next to a Santeria priestess. She was shocked that this white boy knew about her religion!

    Interestingly, she went to great pains to distance herself and her religion from the more sordid accounts of sacrifices that were in the news at the time.

    Yes, she admited sacrifice was part of the religion, but when I asked about news reports that the religion was leaving chickens all over Miami at stop signs to put “curses” on neighborhoods (or individuals there) she denied it and said it was exaggerated.

    Was this an attempt at “mainstreaming” this folk religion, or just spin? I don’t know. Maybe the news accounts were sensationalized. It wouldn’t be the first time.

  • Huw Raphael

    Stephen: I once knew a Vegan Santera. She insisted that cutting a yam in half at a crossroads was good enough for her. YMMV, of course.

    Another facet of the mainstreaming is found in the politics of it: “recapture the true roots of your African spiritual identity from before your ancestors were enslaved by Christians.”

  • Terrence Berres

    How about “Increasing Candle Sales” candles?

  • Will Linden

    My one time Warden at Temple Omnium Nomine, who grew up around “the religion”, told us that “fruit and flower” Santeria has developed, but its devotees are snooted by the sacrificial traditions.

  • Molly

    Do Christians really want to throw stones at those who practice sacrifice when our central event is the death of Jesus on the cross? Remember, we were considered cannibals by the secular world when the sect began. Plus, there are plenty of folk out there who believe in the prosperity gospel which I recall being pretty well bebunked on this blogroll unless memory fails me.