Created By: henke37 on December 13, 2016 Last Edited By: intastiel on June 17, 2017
Troped

Candlelit Ritual

Candlelight being used in Ritual Magic.

Name Space:
Main
Page Type:
trope
A profound mystic rite would look out of place under fluorescent bulbs, after all. This Ritual Magic is performed by candlelight instead: the candles might be there as a light source, as props, or as components of the ritual itself.

Candlelight can add spookiness or solemnity to the scene, especially if it's otherwise set in total darkness. If Black Magic is involved, it's evocative of both Fanatical Fire and Evil Is Not Well-Lit, and might pair well with mysterious cloaks and ominous magical sigils. More benign rituals benefit from fire's association with purification, protection, and enlightenment. For both, the candles can provide a dramatic Chiaroscuro and some Gothic flair.

The candles might also be part of the ritual's Spell Construction. In this role, they could be an Eye of Newt component in the ritual or, more rarely, as magically empowered items in their own right. They might also be used to build the ritual space, particularly in the case of Geometric or Hermetic Magic.

In either case, the symbolism of open flames and a circle of candlelight help to establish the ritual space as a threshold where the supernatural and material worlds can meet. For bonus points, they might be Technicolor Fire, Cold Flames, or otherwise overtly supernatural — or they might not.


Examples:

Film
  • Constantine. Discussed for laughs when John is preparing the ritual that will send his soul to Hell. Angela asks him "If this is some kind of spell or something, don't you need candles and a pentagram for it to work?" John replies "Why, do you have any?"
  • In Becket, the rite of excommunication is performed with the Archbishop Becket flanked by a full choir, all bearing candles; after declaring Lord Gilbert cast out of the church, Becket snuffs his candle out against the ground.

Literature
  • William Hope Hodgson's Carnacki the Ghost-Finder story "The Gateway of the Monster". Carnacki protects himself against the attacks of the title creature by creating a technomagical barrier that includes burning candles.
  • The Deryni series has a positive example: most formal Deryni rituals use candles at the four cardinal directions to represent the four guardian angels.
  • Parodied in the Discworld series with the Rite of AshkEnte, which summons Death. The full Ritual takes lots of large candles, rare incense, a ceremonial octogram, and whatnot — and it's all set dressing used by self-important wizards to lend some gravitas to something that can be done with three bits of wood and a couple drops of mouse blood.
  • In the Gentleman Bastard series, Locke Lamora is purged of a deadly poison by a highly traumatic magical ritual that uses Sympathetic Magic to link him to three candles, which burn black as they "die" on his behalf.
  • Jill Kismet: Sorrows cults, worshipers of the Elder Gods, use tallow candles made from human body fat in many of their rituals.
  • In Phoenix and Ashes, Alison uses modern (for 1918) flashlights to set up a ritual and to clean up afterwards, but during the ritual itself the only light comes from candles.
  • Alluded to in A Song of Ice and Fire with the Glass Candles, obsidian artifacts that can only be lit by magic. Every prospective Maester holds a nighttime vigil with three glass candles in complete darkness, symbolizing the limits of their knowledge — and their tacit disbelief in magic, which causes some consternation when an Archmaester manages to light one and use it as a Crystal Ball.

Live-Action TV
  • Kolchak: The Night Stalker episode "The Zombie". In order to lay the title monster to rest, Kolchak must fill its mouth with salt, sew its lips together, and surround it with burning candles, all while it is currently inactive. Unfortunately for him, the zombie wakes up while he's performing the ritual.

Music
  • "Dark Lady" by Cher describes how the titular fortune teller "lit the candles one-by-one" before reading the future in her cards.

Video Games
  • Bendy and the Ink Machine: At the end of Chapter 1, Henry stumbles upon a room with a pentagram on the floor and some candles. It's currently unknown what exactly these were used for, but it's strongly implied they were put together for some sort of dark ritual.
  • In Chrono Trigger, Magus's rite to summon Lavos involves a series of braziers burning blue flame surrounding his circle and the path leading to it. The flames light automatically as the heroic party approaches.
  • In The Elder Scrolls games, the Black Sacrament to contact the Night Mother and the assassin Cult that worships her involves stabbing an effigy made of human body parts within a circle of candles.
  • NetHack. You need a bell, six candles and a candelabra to perform the rite that will grant access to the deepest dungeon levels where the Amulet of Yendor is.
  • Simon the Sorcerer: A ritual to banish two demons to Hell requires a double-square with 8 candles at each of the square's corners, a mouse, a human skull, and knowing the demons' true names.
  • Tattletail: On the final night, you must bring the Tattletails candles to help them perform a ritual to destroy Mama Tattletail.
  • One quest in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt requires that the player recreate a person's memory by making things exactly as they were when it actually happened. One such memory involves a person trying to summon a demonic entity and the player is given chalk and some candles. By reading a nearby book, the player learns that the proper Spell Construction is to draw a pentagram outlined by a circle and then place candles around the circle, since the circle summons the creature and the candles form a barrier that imprisons it.

Web Original
  • Dark Dungeons features a pagan/occult mission control center filled with spooky tapestries, robe-clad cultists, miscellaneous computer screens... and tons of candles. There's also a blazing fireplace in the room where all the RPG playing and accidental summoning of Cthulhu actually takes place. (None of these items are present in the Chick Tract on which it was based.)

Western Animation
  • One episode of The Simpsons has Marge Simpson discover her sisters, Patty and Selma, in the attic. The sisters have a pentagram on the floor with lit candles at the points. Marge wonders what they're doing and why.
    Marge: What are you doing?
    Patty: Trying to summon Satan.
    Marge: Why?
    Selma: Nothing good on TV.

Community Feedback Replies: 30
  • December 14, 2016
    Arivne
    Literature
  • December 14, 2016
    Arivne
    • Capitalized the title.
    • Added punctuation (periods at the ends of sentences).
    • Examples section
      • Added a line separating the Description and Examples section.
      • Added media section titles.
  • December 14, 2016
    intastiel
    The Dark Arts specifically, or could this be a broader look at candles as components or props in Ritual Magic? A few:

    • In the Gentleman Bastard series, Locke Lamora is purged of a deadly poison by a highly traumatic magical ritual that uses Sympathetic Magic to link him to three candles, which burn black as they "die" on his behalf.
    • In The Elder Scrolls, the Black Sacrament to contact the Night Mother and the assassin Cult that worships her involves stabbing an effigy made of human body parts within a circle of candles.
    • Alluded to in A Song Of Ice And Fire with the Glass Candles, obsidian artifacts that can only be lit by magic. Every prospective Maester holds a nighttime vigil with three glass candles in complete darkness, symbolizing the limits of their knowledge — and their tacit disbelief in magic, which causes some consternation when an Archmaester manages to light one.
    • Parodied in Discworld with the Rite of AshkEnte, which summons Death. The full Ritual takes lots of large candles, rare incense, a ceremonial octogram, and whatnot — and it's all set dressing used by self-important wizards to lend some gravitas to something that can be done with three bits of wood and a couple drops of mouse blood.
  • December 14, 2016
    Leporidae
    Web Original
    • Dark Dungeons features a pagan/ occult mission control center filled with spooky tapestries, robe-clad cultists, miscellaneous computer screens... and tons of candles. There's also a blazing fireplace in the room where all the RPG playing and accidental summoning of Cthulhu actually takes place. (None of these items were present in the Chick Tract on which it was based.)
  • December 15, 2016
    Arivne
    Film
    • Constantine. Played For Laughs when John is preparing the ritual that will send his soul to Hell. Angela asks him "If this is some kind of spell or something, don't you need candles and a pentagram for it to work?" John replies "Why, do you have any?"
  • December 15, 2016
    StarSword
    Literature:
    • Jill Kismet: Sorrows cults, worshipers of the Elder Gods, use tallow candles made from human body fat in many of their rituals.
  • December 15, 2016
    NubianSatyress
    • One quest in The Witcher 3 Wild Hunt requires that the player recreate a person's memory by making things exactly as they were when it actually happened. One such memory involves a person trying to summon a demonic entity and the player is given chalk and some candles. By reading a nearby book, the player learns that the proper arrangement is to draw a pentagram outlined by a circle and then place candles around the circle, since the circle summons the creature and the candles form a barrier that imprisons it.
  • May 2, 2017
    henke37
  • May 2, 2017
    Astaroth
    Simon The Sorcerer: A ritual to banish two demons to Hell requires a double-square with 8 candles at each of the square's corners, a mouse, a human skull, and knowing the demons' true names.
  • June 5, 2017
    intastiel
    The OP hasn't edited this since it was first posted on December 13, so I've updated it with the new examples and marked it Up For Grabs.
    Also, some related tropes:
  • May 2, 2017
    DrNoPuma
    Video Games
    • Tattletail: On the final night, you must bring the Tattletails candles to help them perform a ritual to destroy Mama Tattletail.
    • Bendy And The Ink Machine: At the end of Chapter 1, Henry stumbles upon a room with a pentagram on the floor and some candles. It's currently unknown what exactly these were used for, but it's strongly implied they were put together for some sort of dark ritual.
  • May 2, 2017
    Getta
    The candle is there usually because it fits the gothic, dark feel; the candle itself is little more than a light source (which isn't even needed when doing rituals in broad daylight).
  • May 2, 2017
    SquirrelGuy
    Music: "Dark Lady" by Cher. "Lit the candles one-by-one"
  • June 6, 2017
    Arivne
    Live Action TV
    • Kolchak The Night Stalker episode "The Zombie". In order to lay the title monster to rest, Kolchak must fill its mouth with salt, sew its lips together and surround it with burning candles, all while it is currently inactive. Unfortunately for him, the zombie wakes up while he's performing the ritual.
  • June 5, 2017
    Generality
    In Chrono Trigger, Magus's rite to summon Lavos involves a series of braziers burning blue flame surrounding his circle and the path leading to it. The flames light automatically as the heroic party approaches.
  • June 5, 2017
    Getta
    Please add my reasoning there?
  • June 5, 2017
    intastiel
    ^ The sponsor hasn't edited this proposal since 2016 so it's Up For Grabs — go right ahead!
  • June 5, 2017
    Antigone3
    At one point in Phoenix and Ashes, Alison uses modern note  flashlights to set up a ritual and to clean up afterwards, but during the ritual itself the only light comes from candles.
  • June 5, 2017
    Antigone3
    Just wondering if there's some reason the trope description specifies dark magic — I've seen candles used in plenty of fictional light magic rituals as well.
  • June 5, 2017
    intastiel
    Yeah, it would probably be better to generalize the description. If nobody else wants to take over as sponsor, I might prepare a more detailed description later.
  • June 6, 2017
    Arivne
    I agree with changing this to any magical ritual, not just dark ones.
  • June 6, 2017
    Getta
    ^ It's "dark" because of the candle's association with the gothic.

    What justifies candle's use in lighter magic?
  • June 6, 2017
    intastiel
    While the examples tend towards the spooky, the concept can also draw on some of the more positive connotations with fire and light. Or to use the fire as a sort of symbolic barrier, which is pretty neutral.
  • June 6, 2017
    Antigone3
    For a positive example, most of the formal Deryni rituals use candles at the four cardinal directions to represent the four guardian angels.
  • June 6, 2017
    intastiel
    I've added the examples above and expanded the description to encompass non-dark Ritual Magic and to address related tropes. How's this look?
  • June 14, 2017
    henke37
    Great description. You have my approval.
  • June 14, 2017
    Getta
    Aye, description looks solid.
  • June 14, 2017
    oneuglybunny
    Western Animation
    • One episode of The Simpsons has Marge Simpson discover her sisters, Patty and Selma, in the attic. The sisters have a pentagram on the floor with lit candles at the points. Marge wonders what they're doing and why.
      Marge: What are you doing?
      Patty: Trying to summon Satan.
      Marge: Why?
      Selma: Nothing good on TV.

  • June 14, 2017
    intastiel
    Cheers, folks. Also, sorry, henke37; somehow I missed that you were the original sponsor when you bumped this in May. Want to do the honors when it's ready for launch?
  • June 15, 2017
    henke37
    Nah. I'm more of a hit and run guy.
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