In need of a little self-care motivation, I got a lovely package of anointing oils and balms from a friend, who is an holistic therapist – InHerFlow. As part of this pack she included a small brass oil lamp with some wicks, to light when I am meditating, as a focus as well as scenting the air with the oil I use to anoint my forehead, throat and heart. I do sometimes use a candle for focus, however the lamp intrigued me, taking me off to do some research (down a rabbit hole!), which I hope you also find interesting.
Fire and flame have been used in probably all cultures, from those we can glean verifiable information from, as many did not keep written records. There are a few which continue to use this as part of their daily life, as well as at major festivals.
In the Hindu faith, people undertake puja, a daily devotion, many families have a home shrine, often in a corner of the best room in the house. It is a way of honouring the gods and goddesses. Worship at the shrine may involve the whole family, or sometimes it is done alone. A daily puja ceremony uses all five of the senses. In general, the person will ring a bell to begin, before lighting incense and cleaning the image of the god or goddess being worshipped. Flowers or fruit are placed in the shrine and a lamp is lit. Arati lamps often use ghee for fuel and may have one or many wicks. The lamp is circled around in front of the image, symbolising the light and love of the gods and goddesses. Hymns (bhajans) or mantras are sung or said. Then the worshipper marks their forehead with Kumkum powder, and also marks the image as a blessing.
Butter lamps are a common feature of Tibetan Buddhist temples and monasteries throughout the Himalayas. The lamps traditionally burn clarified yak butter, but now often use vegetable oil or vanaspati ghee. The butter lamps help to focus the mind and aid meditation. Pilgrims also supply lamp oil to gain merit.
Lamps are mentioned in the Torah and other Jewish sources as a symbol of "lighting" the way for the righteous, the wise, and for love and other positive values. While fire was often described as being destructive, light was given a positive spiritual meaning.
Within the New Testament there are numerous mentions of oil lamps. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, Roman Catholic Church, and Eastern Catholic Churches oil lamps are still used both on the altar and to illuminate icons around the church building. Orthodox Christians often also use oil lamps in their homes to illuminate their icon corner.
Oil lamps are lit at traditional Chinese shrines before either an image of a deity or a plaque with Classical Chinese characters giving the name of the deity. These lamps are usually made from clear glass and are filled with oil, sometimes with water underneath. A cork or plastic floater containing a wick is placed on top of the oil with the bottom of the wick submerged in the oil, they are kept burning in shrines, whether private or public, so that incense sticks can be lit from the lamp.
A seal-oil lamp provided warmth and light in the Arctic where there was no wood and where the sparse population relied almost entirely on seal oil. This lamp was the most important article of furniture for the Inuit, Yupik and other Inuit peoples. The lamps were made of stone, their sizes and shapes could be different, but mostly were elliptical or half-moon shaped. The wicks were mostly made of dried moss or cotton grass and were lit along the edge of the lamp. A slab of seal blubber could be left to melt over the lamp feeding it with more fat.
Greek lamps are more closed to avoid spilling. They are smaller and more refined, are handle-less, the nozzle is elongated, with the rim folded over so it overlaps in order to make the nozzle and then pinched to make the wick hole.
In the Early Roman era lamps were produced in large scale in factories. All lamps are closed in type, being produced in two parts, the upper part with the spout and the lower part with the fuel chamber. Most are of the characteristic shape, known as Imperial, round, with nozzles of different forms, a closed body, a central disk decorated with reliefs and a filling hole. Late Roman lamps were of the High Imperial type. They included more decorations and were produced locally or imported in large scale.
Frog type lamps are kidney-shaped, heart-shaped or oval, and feature the motif of a frog or its abstraction, sometimes with geometrical motifs. They were produced around 100 AD.
Whilst reading about the history, I also discovered numerous sites (if you’re interested, just do a search how to make a clay oil lamp), where people from various cultures showed how they make their oil lamps currently.
All of this got me thinking, as well as playing with air drying clay. In the UK as well as areas, we have no written records of what our ancestors used, we do have some archaeological evidence showing that there was sharing of items from many other areas. This being so, it is likely that oil lamps were used, probably made from local clay, a handy shaped rock or even a seashell. It is also likely that the lamps were not just useful to provide light with a little heat. Oil and the wicks would have involved effort to make or obtain. I think that labour could have been offered to the gods as the lamp was lit, as part of daily devotional practice within the home.
If you’ve read this far, you’re probably wondering why I gave this blog the title Magical Lamps!
If you decide to make your own from clay, they can be painted, so you can incorporate colour magic into using them.
The oil you chose to use will have magical associations –
Sunflower – wishes, fertility, truth, integrity, luck, protection, loyalty, happiness.
Olive – spirituality, integrity, passion, fertility, healing, peace, protection, luck.
Peanut (arachis oil) – passion, strength, prosperity.
Almond – love, prosperity, intuition, psychic powers, passion.
Butter/ghee – peace, spirituality, prosperity, gratitude.
You can add 2 or 3 drops of an essential oil, to match your intention too.
A chat about this blog is available here
The other blog post I mention in the chat is here
A Kitchen Witch’s World of Magical Food by Rachel Patterson
A Kitchen Witch’s World of Magical Plants & Herbs by Rachel Patterson
photo of oil lamp from Unsplash