Aunt Linda Here: writing to you on a rainy Thursday morning.
This morning I am watching Santa’s cap go up in flames. The heat is nearing his face, now, poor thing. He does not look happy. The Buddha on the other hand, appears downright enLightened. On this rare rainy morning in the desert South West, the smell of rain is merging with the aroma of melting bees wax. The impact is enchanting.
The color of wax in a hive changes as the season progresses. In last month’s post, we delighted in how different nectars and pollens produce different colors and flavors of honey. So do they affect the colors and scents of the wax itself.
Honey Bees are the only creatures, that I know of, that build their homes from substance secreted by their own bodies. Solitary bees, wasps, and other relatives dig ground nests, collect mud and create mud nests, paper nests, bore into wood. In contrast, the honey bee “draws” comb using wax flakes secreted from their own bodies. What fascinates me is that they will INVOLUNTARILY secret wax flakes when there is a need for it. One of the great delights of my life is watching the bees pass along these flakes to one another in a process called “chaining”. It is like the old toy “A Barrel of Monkey’s” where the plastic monkey’s arms entwine as they hang together. As the build comb, honey bees link up in a similar way, as they pass a wax flake at a time, all while directing heat to make the wax more malleable.
This comb functions as the skeleton of the hive, in that it provides structure. It is also a pantry for the honey and nectar stores. It is a nursery, for the brood. It also functions as a kind of liver. Beeswax absorbs and holds oil- and fat-soluble toxins, which are, sadly, all too prevalent in today’s environment. These toxins can build up, especially in hives near monoculture farmland (now often more polluted than cities because of our agricultural practices) and in hives in which the beekeeper treats bees to deal with mites etc. The wax can literally become toxic for the bees! Ironically, these days it is the small scale bee keeper, even within cities, that have the purest wax both for the bees, as well as for lip balms salves etc.
Throughout history, humans have used beeswax in surprising variety of ways. In addition to candle and salve making, the use of beeswax has been used in both honorable and quirky ways: encaustic painting, mustache wax, use in dread locks, accordion making, bullet casting, embalming (last two are used probably in that order!) furniture polish, wood waxing , glass etching, crayons, candy making, basket making, ear candles, blacksmithing. I could wax on and on about all the different uses of beeswax. And have begun writing and crafting several recipes for this post using beeswax – from a DIY Lip balm to a Beeswax Furniture Polish, a Wax Varnish, even a Grafting Wax for horticultural grafting, even a ax furniture “filler” . The possibilities for practical utilities using beeswax are seemingly endless.
In the end, though, I settled on candle making once again. Mostly because it smells so darn good. And it is satisfying to light a candle in these days approaching the winter solstice.
RECIPE : (in the quantities that you choose) Candle making is a kind of process where we find our own way … at least it was that way for me.
A few rules of thumb:
*Have a dedicated just-for-wax melting pot. Melt wax on low heat (or use a crock pot on “low” setting) as you would chocolate, and do not let it boil nor even smoke.
*When you are “threading” your candle mold, ( I use rolls of wick #2/0) leave the wick uncut. That way as you release the candle from the mold, you pull the fresh wick up through the mold for the next pour.
*Pour the wax slowly for a better result.
*Organic beeswax – (you want to breath in the great “ions” that beeswax produces, and not the toxins from a more polluted wax.
*Candle molds ( check out bee keeping supply companies such as Brushy Mountain, or Dadant, or simply google “candle making supplies” or “candle molds”). Make sure you buy molds for wax, and not for food. I have found my most interesting molds in quirky google searches. Molds can be pricy; I buy one new one a year. Once you get versed in the craft, you’ll find yourself experimenting with all sorts of things. Yuo can make sand caste molds … you can pour wax into tea cups from thrift stores … and of course you can relish in the simplicity of Hand-Dipped Beeswax Canldles and skip the whole mold thing completely. Use your creativity as your guide.
*Wicks (beeswax requires wicks are #2/0; or ask the person you are buying from for advice.)
*A large needle to thread the molds with (this is a must and you can get them from candle making suppliers; you just need one and it will last a lifetime)
A mold release spray to help the wax candle separate from the mold once it has cooled.
TIPS: Melt your wax slowly
Pour your wax into the molds … slowly for a smooth result, and allow the wax to cool. This depends on the mass of the candle and the ambient temperature.
Beeswax Candles are beautiful. Their smell is enlivening. They make great presents. Making them is a great project for any age.
They light the dark.
They are also a great lessons in the nature of change. From the pristine new candles above, to the fully burned Buddha candle below. The real Buddha found part of his enlightenment in making friends with the nature of change and cycles and impermanence. Here is his candle version, left hand still visible in the photo, filled with rain water and mesquite leaves from today’s rain.
I will likely rinse him off, and put this version of him back in the wax pot to melt down for the next round of pouring candles. The cycles continue.