Wicca Candle Magick by Gerina Dunwich – Book Review

Since I recently reviewed two books on candle magic (see the previous one on Natural Magick), I thought I should review this book that I had lying around in my closet. I read this book in my early days of researching witchcraft and Wicca. For the most part, the book is in the format of a “cookbook” where you simply look up something, such as a spell, ritual, or candle colour correspondences. Written in that manner, you can’t argue with the book too much. You either agree with the way the author does things or you don’t. However, I would recommend to readers to see if they can find a reason for the way the author does something. For example, why does the “Ancient Gypsy Love Spell” involve onion or garlic? Essentially, before doing something based on this book, try to understand why it’s done the way it is. I would also recommend that readers think of their own colour correspondences and see if they fit with the author’s. (Perhaps yellow makes you think of love instead of pink?)

There some things I’d like to comment on.

On page 22, the pentacle. The pentacle is a symbol in the shape of a five-pointed star with a circle around it. A pentagram is a five-pointed star. This author makes the common mistake of calling the pentagram (the five-pointed star without a circle) a pentacle. Many people make this mistake these days because of early authors making this mistake. A pentagram is a five-pointed star. A pentacle is a a pentagram surrounded by a circle. If you study the tarot, you may recall the pentacles suit in the Rider-Waite tarot deck. The pentagram always refers to the symbol itself. The pentacle however isn’t just the symbol. The pentacle may also be a circular object with the pentagram inscribed on it, such as a dish or a coin. This an important difference. (Please see Wikipedia articles, “Pentagram” and “Pentacle”.) To further clarify things, a six-pointed star is properly called a “hexagram”, a seven-pointed star is called a “septagram” or “heptagram”, an eight-pointed star is called an “octagram”, and so on. See the pattern here? There is a consistency in the names for the various star symbols so it’s quite easy to remember what they are called. Can you guess what an eleven-pointed star is called? It’s actuallt a hendecagram!

Returning to the pentagram, the five-pointed star, it does not necessarily become a symbol of black magic or Satanism when its top point (the apex) is facing downwards. While it’s true that Satanists use the inverted pentagram as one of their symbols (they also use the inverted Christian cross), the inverted pentagram has other meanings as well. One meaning of the inverted pentagram is a mastering of the elements earth, air, fire, and water. This is in line with the idea that pentagram with its apex pointing up represents spiritual pursuits as the apex itself is associated with spirit while the remaining four points represent each of the elements earth, air, fire, and water.

On page 23, the author discusses the “Eye of Horus” symbol and says that it “represents both solar and lunar energies”. This isn’t entirely accurate. It depends on whether the symbol is the left or the right eye. The left eye of Horus was gouged out at some point. Thus, the empty socket of the left eye is said to represent the moon as the light from that eye is dimmer than the right eye, which is said to represent the sun. The “Eye of Horus” is also called the “Eye of Ra”. (However, since Ra is the Egyptian sun god, the “Eye of Ra” is properly said to be the right eye of Horus.)

Further on page 23, the author states “The triangle, equivalent to the number three (a powerful magickal number) is also a symbol of the Triple Goddess: Mother, Warrior, Crone. Inverted, it represents the male principle.” The commonly known triple aspect of the goddess was written about in D.J. Conway’s book Maiden, Mother, Crone. Maiden, mother, crone is the triplicity you will hear of the most. I have not heard of “mother, warrior, crone” as a triplicity although I suppose it’s possible. Additionally, the upright triangle does not always represent the female. Actually, the upside-down triangle more accurately reflects the female as on the female body the upside-down triangle can be seen by the connection of the female sexual organs. The male is represented by the upright triangle for the same reasons.

The swastika is a controversial symbol because of its associations with the Nazis in Germany prior to and during the second world war. The swastika is indeed a “good luck” symbol and is often considered to be a symbol of a sun wheel representing success. (Yes, the Nazis were likely using it for these reasons). Wikipedia has more information on the swastika that may wish to read about.

On page 30, the “Voodoo-Witch Oil” lists as an ingredient “powdered bat’s skull”? It’s optional for the oil, but where does one get powdered bat’s skull? The author seems to dabble a little in dark magic. Indeed, chapter 8 is “Voudoun Candle Magick”, which is known mostly for its black magic forms. (I personally haven’t worked with Voudoun (also spelt “Voudun”), so I can’t comment on anything the author has written regarding this form of magical practice. If you are drawn to Voudun, I would recommend you undertake your own research.) Additionally, I’m not sure what she is recommending if you were wanting to use animal blood in the oil. I suppose you can go to the butcher and buy some cow blood. I personally can’t prick my own finger or thumb. I’m a bit of a wuss about that. Don’t ask why. I’d much rather punch some pine boards.

Regarding the candle colours for deities listed on pages 36 to 58. I’m not familiar with all these deities, and it is a nice list. I would suggest (only because it’s what I would do!) that readers become familiar with a deity first and decide for themselves which colours to use. Sometimes the colour to use is fairly obvious as in the case of the Celtic war goddess Morrigan. The choice of colour for Morrigan comes straight out of the mythology. Yes, this means read some mythology. Reading and studying mythology is the only way to research deities. Then you can work with them and see what works for you.

Regarding the names of the sabbats, I use the following names – Samhain, Yule, Imbolc, Lady Day/Ostara, Beltane, Midsummer, Lughnasadh, and Harvestide. Dunwich uses Candlemas for Imbolc. Candlemas is a conflation of the words “candles” and “mass” (as in a Catholic mass). At some point, witches adopted the Catholic term for Imbolc in order to hide their often labelled heretical practices. Imbolc may also be refered to as St. Brigit’s Day as the Irish Celts celebrated their goddess Brighid on that day. When Christianity arrived in Ireland, worship of the goddess Brighid could not be extinguished. The Christians adopted the festival and simply made claim she was a Christian saint (pretty much as a way to suage pagans to Christianity). Dunwich also uses Lammas for Lughnasadh. Lammas is short for “loaf” and “mass” and has similar origins as Candlemas.

Candle colours for sabbats (see page 33)? My recommendation is the same as for determining candle colours for deities. Research the sabbat. Then decide what theme the sabbat should have, and then decide the candle colour. If you are familiar with a deity already and that deity is associated with the sabbat, you may use the colour you associate with that deity.

On page 59 Dunwich writes, “Herbs should also be used in all homemade candles crafted especially for healing spells and rituals.” You don’t need to use herbs in your healing candles if you don’t want. It’s a nice touch. Similarly, you can anoint your healing candle or not. I like to anoint candles when I think I have an appropriate oil for the magical purpose or deity.

Regarding the list of herbs to use in candles for magical purposes on pages 60 to 63. Since this list of herbs is for using with candle magic and they are not to be ingested, a warning on potentially dangerous herbs isn’t necessary. I would, however, double check the magical purposes for each herb. Magic done with the wrong herb may not necessarily make you sick, but it can be a pain to have magic go awry.

Regarding stones for magic and healing (pages 76 to 87), again do your own research and double check the information you are given. See what works for you.

Chapter 5 is “Sabbat Candle Rituals” where Dunwich gives a ritual for each sabbat. She gives dates for the sabbats, which you may use or not. There is nothing wrong with the dates as given. I have already posted elsewhere the dates for the sabbats that I prefer based on the Chinese lunisolar calendar which is based on astronomical observations.

For you own reference, Gardner in his book Witchcraft Today lists on page 130 the following sabbat names and dates as “Samhuin (November 1), Brigid (February 1), Bealteine or Beltene (May 1) and Lugnasadh (August 1).” On page 24, he mentions Yule and says “This in theory should be on December 22, but nowadays is held on the nearest day to that date that is convenient for the members.” He is, of course, here speaking of the winter solstice, which falls sometimes on December 22. In Gardner’s second bookThe Meaning of Witchcraft, he mentions the sabbats again. On page 82, he says, “Now, the four great festivals the witch cult celebrates are Halloween, May Eve (the old “Walpurgis Night”), Lammas, and Candlemas (February 2nd).” Gardner connects the witches’ sabbats with the Druids’ by explaining some of the Druidic festivals. August 1st he notes as “Lammas” (page 81), November 1st he notes as Samhain and “our Halloween” (page 82), “May 1st was Bealteinne (Beltane)” (page 82), and February 2nd he explains is tied to the Christian festival, “The Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary”. He further comments that the Christian festival “is actually derived from the rites of the Roman goddess Februa, who was worshipped with lighted torches. Oimelc, the festival of the moon goddess Bride among the ancient Celts and Gaels, was February 1st. Bride has in modern days been Christianised as “St. Bride” or “St. Briget”…” He finishes off by describing the festival on Bride’s Day (note that “Bride” is pronounced “breed”).

Thus, we have from Gardner the following as the sabbats:

Samhuin (November 1) also spelt “Samhain” and called Halloween;
Brigid (February 1) also called Oimelc, Candlemas if on February 2;
Bealteine or Beltene (May 1) also spelt “Beltane” and called May Eve or Walpurgis Night;
Lugnasadh (August 1) also called Lammas;

and one additional festival, Yule (December 22).

Of additional interest, there was a small book published in 1989 by Rhiannon Ryall called West Country Wicca: A Journal of the Old Religion where the author shares the tradition with which she grew up. In the first few pages of the book, she explains why she wishes to share her knowledge (simply because it may be of interest to those studying Wicca) and that there were only five festivals celebrated in the “West Country”, the area the author grew up in England. The five festivals and dates she lists are:

Lady Day (March 25)
Beltane (April 30/May 1)
Summer Solstice/Midsummer (June 21)
November Eve/Samhain (October 31/November 1)
Winter Solstice/Yule (December 21)

Ryall says they did not know of the equinoxes, although now we can see that Lady Day was celebrated close to the spring equinox. The reason for this she claims is that the equinoxes are supposedly Greek in origin and that “West Country people of that time knew nothing of the Mediterranean customs, and therefore did not celebrate either Equinox.” Ryall says that the festivals Lammas and Imbolg were not celebrated because those were extremely busy times of the year and the West Country folk were practical people, so those two festivals would go unnoticed.

Contrasting and comparing the information from Gardner and Ryall shows quite a difference of festivals being celebrated. It seems it wasn’t until more modern times that a “Wheel of the Year” with eight seasonal festivals was created. Combining Gardner’s list with Ryall’s list, the only sabbat you are missing is the autumn equinox (which I learned is called Harvestide, supposedly a name that came out of the Gardnerian tradition later on – this was mentioned in my previous book review). Interesting, isn’t it?

Returning to the book, Wicca Candle Magick, on page 106, the author mentions Easter Sunday in relation to the spring equinox. She states incorrectly that Easter Sunday is “the first Sunday following the Vernal Spring Equinox.” (As a sidenote, isn’t Vernal Spring Equinox redundant? It’s either Vernal Equinox or Spring Equinox as “vernal” means “spring”.) In the most simplest terms, “Easter is observed on the Sunday after the first full moon on or after the day of the vernal equinox.” This is only a rule of thumb, supposedly the calculations for the date is more complicated (see Easter on Wikipedia). Thus, Easter can actually be as early as the first Sunday after the spring equinox or as late as approximately a month after the spring equinox. (Because the full moon can be the day before the spring equinox, the next full moon will be approximately another twenty-eight days later possibly pushing the festival back another six days if the full moon is on Monday. Sorry, if that hurt your head, it hurt mine trying to write that out.)

The sabbat candle rituals in the book are nice and simple. I haven’t had a chance to deconstruct these, but nothing strange jumped out at me.

Chapter 6 is titled “Candle Magick”. Here the author gives a definition of magic and explains the reasons for spelling it with a “k”. The definition she gives is actually paraphrased from Aleister Crowley who wrote “Magick is the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with the will.” It was actually Crowley who popularized the spelling of magic with a “k” in order to distinguish it from stage magic. (See Wikipedia article on magic.)

On page 125, regarding “moon magick” Dunwich writes, “It is extremely important that magick spells and rituals be performed during the proper lunar phase of the moon.” This isn’t necessary, although you may find that magic timed with the moon phases to be more effective. There may be times when you feel it is the “right” moment to do magic and you should do it then. You don’t need to wait for the right lunar phase. There are other magical timing methods that will help with magic. To coordinate your magic with every timing method would be nearly impossible. So, pick the time that’s best for you to do magic. If you can wait to time it with the lunar phases, go ahead. For your reference, you may also time your magic according the astrological sign the moon is in, as well as the signs the other planets are in. (The book, Astrologickal Magick by Estelle Daniels discusses this in more depth.)

The bulk of chapter 6 consists of spells and various other ways of performing magic, such as making mojo bags and witch bottles. Some of it I consider for curiosity’s sake, such as a love philtre from the Middle Ages described on page 132. It involves the heart of a dove, the liver of a sparrow, the womb of a swallow, and the kidney of a hare – not really something I think modern witches would like to deal with or feel comfortable dealing with. Another spell is fairly simple such as the “Candle Love Spell” on page 134. It involves a candle, rose water, and honey. There is also a list of lucky birth charms, which you may use or not. A final note regarding spells, it is considered ethical to receive permission from someone before doing a spell for them and to never do a spell on or against someone. Generally, it is better to concentrate on doing spells for yourself. Yes, this means the bulk of traditional love spells shouldn’t be used (as they were often done without letting the other person know). Revenge spells are a particularly nasty business to get involved with. Remember, what you send out may come back to you greater than you sent out. (This is referred to as the “Threefold Law”, though there is no measure of how much something returns to you.) On rare occasions, binding spells may be used in the case that not binding someone will allow more harm to continue to be done. Obviously, for binding spells you do not need the permission of the person you are binding.

Chapter 7 “Magick for Hearth and Home” is a nice short chapter consisting of a “House Blessing Ritual” and some spells for the home.

I’ve already mentioned chapter 8, “Voudoun Candle Magick” earlier when discussing the “Voodoo-Witch Oil”. This chapter probably serves as a decent introduction to Voudun, but as mentioned earlier if you are interested in Voudun, you should research this more. The “hoodoo doll” mentioned in this chapter is in comparison to the “voodoo doll”. Hoodoo is another form of magical practice that can be found in Southern U.S., notably Louisiana. Supposedly, it is a mix of Voudun with local magical practices. (See Wikipedia article on Vodou.) There is a book on Hoodoo by Ray T. Malbrough called Charms, Spells & Formulas if you are interested in reading further about Hoodoo. (I haven’t read it yet, so I can’t give you any comments on it, except that it exists.)

Chapter 9, “Candle Omens and Superstitions”, is amusing. Interestingly, on page 175, “It is considered unlucky to fall asleep with a candle burning.” I have fallen asleep with a candle burning. Perhaps that might explain my strange luck and lack of fortune?? Bah, humbug!

Finally, chapter 10 is “Resources”. It is invariably out-of-date since this book was originally published in 1989 (re-published 1998). However, with the internet the way it is today, you don’t need a book listing resources. Google!!!

Overall, I thought this book was straightforward and practical. I have no major objections to the material in the book. (There’s some misinformation, but sometimes people make mistakes and learn later that the information might have been wrong.) As I said at the beginning of this blog post, you either agree with how this author does things or you don’t. It’s presented in a somewhat “cookbook” format, and like any cookbook you may pick and choose what you like. Regarding love and revenge spells, it’s up to you to decide if you will use those. It isn’t up to me to tell you what you can or cannot do. All I can say is keep in mind the Wiccan Rede and the Threefold Law (unless you think you’re invulnerable and things won’t come back and bite you in the butt).

My rating from 0 of 10 (5 is average): 7

Cassandrah
Brigid’s Flame

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