A Few Words About Oil Lamps


When people think of oil lamps, they usually think of the type of lamp that has a reservoir base, a wick, and a glass chimney, like the ones we sell here:

Oil Lamp Selection

However, oil lamps come in many different shapes, styles, and materials because they have been around forever — way before candles. Do a Google image search on “oil lamps” and you will get an idea of what I mean. Some are fancier than others and some are shaped differently due to what kind of fuel they burn. You can buy an unfixed oil lamp for as little as eight dollars at Wal-Mart or spend more, all the way up to 150.00 dollars, for a lamp from a specialty lamp shop.

An oil lamp is “worked” by adding to the reservoir roots, herbs, minerals, and symbolic items that correspond to the condition or type of work one is doing; this ingredient adding is part of the process of what is called “fixing.” Petitions are placed under the lamp or attached to the wick with a safety pin. The lamp is lit and kept going continuously, being tended and prayed over each day.

There a very few limitations as to what you can place in a lamp’s reservoir. However, you typically do not want to add other oils or things that will screw up the wick — sugar, for example. Some reservoirs are see-through and others are not. Some people choose to buy colored oil to match the lamp’s intent. A see-through reservoir with colored oil is rather lovely. However, an opaque reservoir keeps the lamp’s ingredients and intent hidden, thus it is better for secretive workings. Ultimately, a lamp’s ingredients and structure are a matter of personal taste and environmental requirements.

To me, the most important things are what the lamp burns and how big the reservoir is. Lamps that are used for kerosene will also burn liquid paraffin, which burns much more cleanly and with much less smell than kerosene. The downside to fuels like kerosene and liquid paraffin is that both are highly flammable, so leaving a lamp burning unattended requires some serious thought with regard to safety. Olive oil is probably the best fuel because it burns without much smell or soot and is not highly flammable. Lamps that burn olive oil are shaped differently than those that burn kerosene, and to me, are not as elegant. Hence, the fact that they can easily be made out of a tin can or a pinched piece of clay. However, some attractive examples can be found, for instance, the classic “Aladdin’s lamp” is an oil lamp.

A large reservoir is important because it allows for a greater amount of time in between refueling. Refueling once a day is ideal. It works out well because praying over a work at least once a day is pretty standard. It is then easy to get into the habit of each day tending the lamp and then praying over it. In addition to daily filling, a lamp will also occasionally require chimney cleaning and wick adjusting/trimming to keep it working and burning properly.

Oil lamps are a little more maintenance than vigil candles, but again, a lamp can be started and then burned continuously. Also, oil lamps burn hotter than a candle so they heat up the work more — these two aforementioned reasons being primary as to why oil lamps are most frequently used when doing difficult, protracted, or ongoing works.

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