[Sca-cooks] FW: Caudle spices

Craig Daniel teucer at pobox.com
Sat Jul 10 16:31:00 PDT 2010

On Sat, Jul 10, 2010 at 5:55 PM, Stefan li Rous
<StefanliRous at austin.rr.com> wrote:
> Lol.  I read that title as "FW: Ca N dle spices" and my first thought was Oh! so there might be some evidence that candles were
> actually spiced in period!"
> I doubt it though, since most candles would have been tallow candles and beeswax candles are nice enough smelling as is, but does
> anyone have evidence to the contrary?

Well, if the candle doesn't need a nicer scent and the usual
candle-making sources (whatever those are) don't talk about it, I'm
not gonna look for it in places chandlers would have checked
already... but modernly, there's another context in which spices go
with candles: some flavors of folk magic. In particular, I recall from
an anthro project on the subject that hoodoo (a form of folk magic of
African-American origin which peaked in popularity in the early 20th
century) used candles anointed with various aromatic oils which often
contain spices, and also reportedly draws significantly from old
European grimoires, some of them period. But it also has other sources
that are less well-documented, and while I've read more modern primary
sources on the matter I know nothing about the grimoires. It would not
surprise me at all, however, to find that they contain antecedents for
this practice. They might even have it in a form that involves candles
being scented.

So, time for a cursory examination of that subset of the sources
that's available online.

Caveat the first: If the use of scented candles is found to be
described in accounts of ritual magic, it doesn't necessarily mean
that it was ever actually practiced - though instructional texts would
tend to imply that it was. (The Malleus Maleficarum, on the other
hand, is notable for containing detailed descriptions of rituals that
there is no particular reason to believe ever actually occurred.)
Finding such in one of those would mean, at best, that people doing
highly transgressive things (like attempting to summon demons, or
otherwise do things the Church would have taken issue with) had
seasoned or annointed candles, which of course would *not* be good
documentation for the use of such in more ordinary contexts. Still, it
has a certain academic interest, so it's worth wasting some time on
the search.

Caveat the second: I've forgotten most of what little I knew of modern
folk magic, and have never known much at all about other flavors of
magic (unless you mean "magic" as in "the art magicians perform",
which is not relevant to this question) from any part of history.
Certainly not enough to be able to tell you without asking Wikipedia
what the major period grimoires are, but some of them are apparently
online. I also cannot vouch for the accuracy of the versions my quick
googling turned up, or the accuracy of the dates attributed to them,
though I'm generally trusting enough of Wikipedia that I'll believe it
until somebody feels like going and checking more authoritative

Anyhow: so far as I can tell in an admittedly not-at-all-thorough
search, period grimoires don't seem to contain any unambiguous
references to scented candles that I have found. Neither do
out-of-period ones that are even close to our timeframe. Not ruling
out the possibility of others that I haven't seen doing so, or of the
ones that I saw implying such in ways a simple search for "candle"
didn't turn up. So, I just spent twenty minutes or so on this avenue
of research and while I didn't get in near enough depth to call it a
dead end, I have added almost no new evidence to the discussion. What
I have found that is even close to relevant is the following:

1. While the candles themselves may be unscented, the grimoires
consistently seem to use candles, incense, and even candles and
incense in combination with each other. This last could be an
antecedent for the use of perfumed candles in magical contexts, and I
suppose it may also be a period precursor to scented candles in more
familiar situations. Especially if we have evidence of it in other
contexts than grimoires, which I don't know of offhand but it wouldn't
surprise me.

2. There's one possible reference that might or might not come from a
period source. The Key of Solomon, probably dating to the 14th or
early 15th century, exists in quite a few different manuscript
versions in multiple languages. There's a 19th-century English
translation that I found reproduced online in an annotated form,
peppered with footnotes comparing that version (translated from
several manuscripts, and apparently not from the earliest ones now
known) to the contents of some of the manuscript versions. In one
place, a footnote quotes a 1674 manuscript as referencing "ollæ cum
carbonibus et speciebus odoriferis, et quatuor cereis; ad faciendum
lumen et odorem". Whether the candles make scent because they are
somehow scented or because beeswax is aromatic to begin with is not
entirely clear to me, and the notes don't give the equivalent of this
passage in most of the other versions. The only other one it mentions
merely has the censers described as "cum carbonibus lauri", which
cannot imply scented candles (though I imagine the charcoal is pretty
fragrant), and the English version just says "with lighted charcoal
and sweet odors." It would take more research than I care to do right
now, by somebody consulting manuscripts that may not have their texts
readily available and reading Latin more fluidly than I can, to
determine whether any of the period versions of this passage mention
candles and if so whether said candles might be perfumed in any way.

And that's the only useful reference in that source - at no other
point in the Key of Solomon is there anything that I turned up that
even maybe means that the candles are scented, though they are often
used in combination with things that are. It does, however, contain
instructions pertaining to candles generally - they're to be made
under very exact conditions, out of virgin wax, inscribed with
specific symbols, and blessed with specific (Christian) prayers and
pieces of scripture. Presumably, if the typical use for these candles
involved any ingredients other than wax, this would be specified in
the same section of the grimoire that insists that the candle wicks be
made by young girls. So there may be one specific situation where your
candles are scented if you're working from one specific out-of-period
version, and even that is questionable (especially as doing something
that you don't do in the rest of the book, like perfuming your
candles, would likely be stated more explicitly!), but otherwise one
presumes they are just wax and no spices.

(For those that want the source:
http://www.esotericarchives.com/solomon/ksol2.htm. Just /ksol.htm is
the earlier part of the same, but doesn't contain as much on candles.
The 1674 source is Aubrey Manuscript 24, which is similar to the
less-precisely-dated Additional Manuscript 10862; 10862 is also
17th-century and is the one that has the laurel charcoal rather than
the possibility of scented candles.)

So, yeah. Candles and aromatic substances go together in at least one
fringe context, but even there they almost certainly weren't actually
making scented candles.

 - Jaume de Monçó,
who is alone and bored this evening

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