The light from a fire has long been associated with rituals and prayer. This source of light is present in many forms: in the burning of oil, incense and candles. The candles used for “Finados”, a ritual where food is prepared and placed on an altar for the dead, is one of the many pure items placed. They provide the light that will guide the souls in the afterlife towards the altar for the special feast that has been prepared for them.
There are many myths in candle-making but these are rules and candle-makers follow them. The preparation for the making of the candles truly begins an entire month before they are actually made. The person making the candles abstains from sexual contact and this is to cleanse the body from impurities. Also, a woman who is making candles must not be menstruating during candle- making. This again has to do with purity, but it is also believed that the candles have the tendency of not staying together, bending or breaking when this rule is not observed. Lastly, the use of restrooms must be done before starting the candle-making process, as this activity, again, makes one impure.
The candles are made from bees’ wax, therefore, obtaining this material would entail you either being a honey producer or knowing someone who is. The Benque House of Culture was able to secure the expertise of Mr. Raul Shish, a local farmer and honey producer. The relationship between a honey producer and the bees is certainly an interesting one, and it was presented to me by Mr. Shish, as being similar to the relationship between women and men. The bees must be happy or they will leave. They should have plenty of space within the beehive and this must be regularly maintained by cleaning it. Vitamins are also given to them in their water to keep them healthy. As part of the maintenance of the beehive, the honeycomb must be removed when harvesting the honey. This can be discarded, used medicinally or in the making of candles. To prevent the honeycomb from rotting or getting lice, Mr. Shish had previously melted it by placing it inside a pot over the fire. Once melted and dried, this takes a new form of wax and has a longer shelf life.
The process of candle-making is rather simple. First of all, you must take the honeycomb or the wax and place it into a pot over the stove, or as in our case, a traditional fire heart. This will take a couple minutes, depending on the heat. It will melt and liquefy, becoming extremely hot. It cannot stay on the fire the entire time, as it will get too hot and begin to burn. Thus, some management is applied to prevent the wax from getting too hot or from it getting too cold and becoming a solid once more. Next, a wick is dipped into the hot wax and placed on a flat surface to dry out. Once the wick is dry, it becomes stiff. It is then held vertically and, with a spoon or ladle, the hot wax is applied to the wick by dripping the wax onto it. The hot wax will run down the wick and it will slowly build up and thicken, gain the appearance of a candle. The candles are then pinned or suspended to dry. Once they are dried, they get a dijon mustard color. The appearance of the candles varies in the end; it all depends on how you make them, but overall, none will be perfect or immaculate as they are hand made.
The ancient Maya had many rituals and traditions, many of which were still being practiced at the time of colonization. The Maya were converted to Christianity by the Spaniards and “Finados” is the direct result of mixing ancient traditions with Christianity. This practice is condemned by the Roman Catholic Church, as it is a ritual conducted to contact the dead. “Finados” is practiced by many people in Mexico, Guatemala and Belize, although over time, similar practices bearing different names have also spread to many parts of Latin America. Pure items are placed on a dining table or altar. A photograph of the person you are trying to contact, along with holy water, salt, a crucifix and bees wax candles form part of thisaltar. Traditional foods are also placed on it, such as tamales, bollos, homemade breads and sweets made from papaya, pumpkins and a local cherry known as “nance” or “craboo”. Candles are positioned standing and coordinated with the cardinal points. It is unknown from where the spirit of the person that you are trying to contact will come, but it is possible that they are more due north of where you are, thus the light of the north candle will lead them towards the altar. On November 2nd, for All Souls Day, there will be a feast. Many will come, but you are not invited. It is a feast for the dead.