What Are Votives Used For?

What Are Votives?

Votives are offerings made in fulfillment of a vow or in the hopes of obtaining a favor from the divine. The word “votive” comes from the Latin “votum” meaning “vow.”

Votives have a long history dating back to ancient Greek and Roman religious practices. According to the Wikipedia article on votive offerings, “Votive offerings have been described in historical Roman era and Greek sources, although similar acts continue into the present day.” [1]

Common types of votives include candles, statues, figurines, plaques, jewelry, and paintings. These objects are offered at sacred sites like temples or shrines, placed at altars or holy sites, or sometimes left outdoors. The purpose is to honor and petition the gods and goddesses.

The Art History Glossary defines a votive figure as “objects offered to a god or goddess at a sacred place, such as a temple. Common types of votive offerings include statues, figurines…” [2]

Types of Votives

There are various materials used to make votive containers. The most common material for the actual votive candles is wax. Paraffin wax, soy wax, and beeswax are frequently used for making votive candles (How to Make Votive Candles). The wax is melted and poured into small votive molds specifically sized for votive candles. Cotton or paper wicks are used for the votive candles.

Votive holders can also be made from other materials besides wax. Clay is commonly used to make ceramic votive holders. These are often decorative and glazed. Glass votives are also popular for their elegant look. Metals like bronze, iron, and tin are used to create elaborate votive lanterns. Votive holders may also be constructed from wood, stone, plastic, or other materials. The containers provide a safe place to hold the lit votive candles.

Votives in Religion

Votives have been an important part of religious practice for thousands of years. In the Catholic faith, lighting votive candles is a significant tradition. Worshippers light candles as a symbol of their prayers and petitions to God or saints. The candle flame represents the prayer rising to heaven. Catholics often light votives when praying for healing, memorializing a loved one, or showing devotion to a saint. They may light a candle at church or keep votive candles at home for daily prayer. According to Catholic belief, the saints intercede on behalf of people who pray through lighting votives.

In Orthodox Christianity, worshippers also light votive candles when praying in church. The candles represent an offering to God and a symbol of the person’s faith and prayers. In some Orthodox traditions, worshippers light candles to honor saints and angels. Votive candles are often placed in sacred places like icon corners at home.

Hindus also use votive candles and lamps during worship. Lighting votives is believed to symbolize dispelling darkness and igniting the light of wisdom. Hindus light votives at shrines when making offerings to deities. During major festivals like Diwali, millions of clay votive lamps are lit to signify triumph over evil.

In Buddhism, lighting votives is a symbolic offering to Buddha and a representation of wisdom illuminating spiritual darkness. In some Buddhist traditions, small candles or lamps fueled by oil or butter are kept burning continually on home altars.

Across faiths, the votive flame signifies prayers, intentions, and devotion rising to the divine. The shared practice shows how votives have connected religious worship for thousands of years.

Lighting Votive Candles

Lighting votive candles in church is an important Catholic tradition that serves both practical and symbolic purposes. Votive candles are typically small candles in glass containers that are lit by churchgoers to accompany their prayers and intentions (source). Lighting a votive candle represents illuminating one’s prayers and petitions to God.

person lighting a votive candle in a church

When lighting a votive, Catholics often say a prayer or focus on a special intention. The physical lighting of the candle signifies giving light and life to the prayer. It is also thought to show the living flame of faith and bring the prayer to life (source). Votive candles visibly represent the intentions, hopes, and prayers of the faithful lifting up to heaven. They demonstrate the connection between earthly petitions and divine light.

In addition, the candle’s light symbolizes Christ as the light of the world. By lighting a votive, Catholics reflect Christ’s light into the darkness. The glowing candle reminds us of His undying presence and the hope of resurrection. Overall, votive candles represent the living faith, prayers, and desires of Catholics united with God’s illuminating grace.

Prayers and Intentions

Votive candles are frequently used to represent prayers and intentions in the Catholic and other Christian churches. When lighting a votive, the worshipper offers up their prayers and petitions to God or the saints. According to Mercy Home, “These candles are seen as an offering that indicates we are seeking some favor from the Lord or the saint before which the votive is placed.” The light of the votive signifies the prayer offered in faith coming into God’s light, as explained by Fatima Church. People may light votives to pray for loved ones, offer thanks for blessings, request healing or guidance, and much more. The votive flame continues burning as a symbol of the ongoing prayer. Votives allow people to physically represent their spiritual hopes, needs, and gratitude through the act of lighting a candle.




Votive Offerings

Votive offerings have a long history in many religious traditions as a way to petition the divine or spirit world. The practice of giving votive offerings involves dedicating objects to a deity, saint, spirit or ancestral figure as part of a prayer or request for intercession (Source).

In ancient Greece and Rome, votive offerings often took the form of small figurines made of terracotta or bronze depicting gods, heroes or particular body parts. These were left at temples and shrines to request healing or protection (Source). Votives could also include jewelry, flowers, food, wine and even animal sacrifices. The practice was a way for people to show gratitude or devotion.

In Christianity, Catholics and Orthodox Christians light votive candles in front of saints or images to symbolize their prayers. The size or color of the candle may hold special significance. Votives are often left to give thanks for answered prayers or to ask for future blessings.

Across traditions, votive offerings create a physical token of people’s petitions and connection to the divine. The practice continues today with both traditional and modern votive objects used in rituals, ceremonies and personal spiritual practices.

Petitioning the Divine

One of the most common uses of votives is to petition the divine for help or intervention. Votive offerings have been used for thousands of years across many religions as a way to ask God, gods, saints, ancestors, or other divine entities for assistance or to grant a wish or prayer.

In the Catholic tradition, lighting votive candles is a symbolic way to offer prayers to saints or God. According to the National Catholic Register, “The votive candle is the way we can express in a physical, tangible way our inward prayer. Our prayer is symbolized by the candle.” https://www.ncregister.com/features/lights-of-faith-candles-keep-vigil-become-votive-offerings

People may light votive candles while petitioning for help with finances, relationships, health issues, or any other personal matter. The flame represents the prayer rising to the heavens. Votives can also be offered to give thanks for prayers already answered.

In ancient Greek and Roman religion, votives were commonly left at temples and shrines with requests for the god or goddess. These could take the form of inscriptions, figurines, food, flowers, and other offerings. According to OrthodoxWiki, vows often accompanied the offerings, promising further sacrifice if the prayer was granted. https://orthodoxwiki.org/Votive_Offerings

Memorial Votives

One common use of votives is to honor loved ones who have passed away. In the Catholic tradition, lighting votive candles is a way to remember the dead and pray for their souls (Votive offering). Votive candles are often lit at wake services, funerals, and on the anniversary of a person’s death. Lighting a candle signifies keeping the memory of the deceased alive and asking God to welcome them into heaven.

People also leave votive offerings at memorials and gravesites. According to a 2019 study, visitors leave objects like wreaths and flowers at war memorials as a symbolic vow to remember the fallen soldiers for their sacrifice (Pilgrims and votives at war memorials: a vow to remember). These votive offerings help maintain social memories and a connection to those who have passed on.

In this way, votives play an important cultural role in honoring the dead and processing grief. The act of lighting a candle or leaving an offering provides mourners with a sense of doing something for their loved one, even after death.

Healing Votives

Many votive offerings were given as prayers for healing and wellness. People suffering from illness, injury, or disability would offer votives to petition the gods or saints for recovery and good health.

At healing sanctuaries like those dedicated to Asclepius, the god of medicine in Greek mythology, archaeological evidence shows that pilgrims left votives shaped like the afflicted body part as part of their healing rituals.[1] For example, terracotta or marble votives depicting eyes, limbs, organs, breasts, and genitals have been discovered at Asclepian shrines across the ancient Mediterranean and Europe.[2] These ex-voto offerings expressed faith in the healing powers of Asclepius and gratitude for successful treatment.

In the Catholic tradition, lighting votive candles is a popular way to offer healing prayers. Candles are lit before statues or images of saints associated with healing, like St. Peregrine for cancer patients or St. Lucy for eye afflictions. The flames represent the ongoing prayer offered for relief from suffering and restoration of health.

Decorative Votives

Votive candles can be used decoratively in homes and events for beautiful, ambient lighting. Their small size makes them ideal for decorating tables, mantels, shelves, and more. Votive holders come in a huge variety of styles, shapes, colors, and materials to complement any décor.

For a quick and easy way to add mood lighting to any room, place votive candles in glass holders of different shapes and sizes and arrange them down the center of a table or across a mantel or shelf. The variety of heights and silhouettes creates visual interest. For more flair, choose colored votives or votive holders made from stained glass, ceramic, metal, and other materials. According to efavormart.com, mixing and matching different votive holders is key for creating an eye-catching display.

Votives can also be used to line walkways and accent steps for a gorgeous glowing effect at nighttime events like weddings and parties. They’re a classic for relaxing spa ambience as well. Their portability and small size make votives easy to place anywhere you want a soft glow.

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