Rite of light

A self-taught chandler illuminates Newburgh

23 Jan 2020 | 12:07

“I don’t believe you have to depend on things outside of yourself in order to create,” said Alysia Mazzella, as we sat in her rustic studio filled with the unmistakable sweet scent of honey. She poured us coffee and checked her goldenrod-colored wax, heating in a large cauldron and almost ready for her next set of hand-dipped beeswax candles.

Mazzella’s path to candle making started shortly after she moved back home to Newburgh from New York City in 2010, with a mission to slow down and embrace the wooded landscape of her youth. The 30-year old SUNY communications major has long been passionate about ritual. She believes we all have a deeper purpose within us, and if we take proper space and time, we can cultivate it.

Before moving home, she’d started an online magazine in New York City, then studied documentary locally and at Salt Institute in Portland, Maine. She devoted her time to telling other peoples’ stories as a documentarian until 2015, when she became director of trainings at The Restorative Center, a nonprofit devoted to community-centered restorative justice in downtown Newburgh. That, for her, was a gamechanger.

“It was circle work,” she said. The nonprofit approached conflict mediation through the structure of the medicine wheel, a four-part ritual. Two people told their stories, seeking justice for themselves and from their community, rather than from the black and white perspective of conflict between victim and aggressor.

The medicine wheel ritual as a means for resolution further inspired Mazzella’s meditation practice and prompted her to create an oracle deck of cards—also structured in four parts. She did a limited print of 150 decks, called Fourfold the Oracle, last spring. Like tarot cards, oracle decks divine wisdom and guidance, however, an oracle deck strays from a strict set of cards. It’s a system dreamed up by the creator. Fourfold the Oracle encourages players to “discover the stability of fourfold rhythms,” Mazzella explains on her website. “Purpose lives within natural cycles of four: the directions, seasons, elements, moon phases, noble truths, [and] stages of life.”

Mazzella’s rituals had always included aromatic beeswax candles, so in 2017 she tried her own hand at the age-old craft. Beeswax, accompanied by tallow, is among one of the oldest candle making materials, and it stands unmatched in its healing benefits when burned.

The first candles she made weren’t exactly beautiful, but “I could feel my ancestors cheering me on,” she said. Mazzella followed that feeling into a business of finely crafted beeswax candles – introducing a modern and elegant twist to the 5,000-year-old practice.

Mazzella sources her beeswax from a family-owned apiary in Western New York, where they practice regenerative beekeeping. The honey is only harvested when there is extra to be taken. When they do harvest honey, the wax is naturally harvested, too.

In addition to her hand-dipped tapers, Mazzella’s collection includes a pillar candle that showcases imagery of leisure, mirth and delight. She makes these from a silicon mold modeled after an antique bowl. Her hand-poured glass prayer candles feature Ganesh, “remover of obstacles,” and Mama Moon, “nourisher of harmony.” She recently introduced an especially elegant twin flame taper. As we yearn for more warmth and joy, ritual nourishes our senses and spirit—a bright beeswax flame may be just the right accompaniment.

Beeswax candles
A fleck of wax is produced by the eight abdominal glands of one worker bee. This wax seals off the honeycomb, protecting and storing the hive’s honey. The intensive process, gifted from one of earth’s most crucial creatures, alone proves the value of beeswax. Beeswax candles are of superior quality, too. They burn two to three times longer than the average candle, they purify the air by emitting negative ions which neutralize positive ions, such as dust, dander, pollen, and smoke, and they radiate a bright light within the same spectrum as the sun.
The first candles she made weren’t exactly beautiful, but “I could feel my ancestors cheering me on,” said Mazzella.