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 define 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. Compare and contrast Post-Modern Magik, where profound mystic rites might be perfectly well suited to fluorescent bulbs.
- Various forms of Ritual Magic in Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose are aesthetically based on Wiccan practices, thus you would expect to see candles accompanying pentacles drawn about for rituals.
- 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.
- 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 (or two small bits of wood and a fresh egg).
- 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.
- The Dresden Files: Downplayed to the point of Mundane Fantastic. Harry's Thaumaturgical workshop is candlelit for the simple reason that his magic shorts out any nearby technology; he lights the candles with the homemade Canis Latinicus incantation "Flickum Bickus".*
- 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.
- "Dark Lady" by Cher describes how the titular fortune teller "lit the candles one-by-one" before reading the future in her cards.
- 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 series, the Black Sacrament is a ritual prayer to the Night Mother to summon the Dark Brotherhood. It involves chanting the prayer within a candlelit circle while stabbing an effigy made of human body parts.
- NetHack. You need a bell, the local Tome of Eldritch Lore, seven 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.
- 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.)
- 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.
Selma: Nothing good on TV.
- In Gravity Falls, the ritual to summon the extradimensional entity Bill Cipher involves a circle of candles. Unusually for the trope, it takes place in a sunny meadow for extra Daylight Horror.