Candle Shops of Downtown Baltimore--part 1

Copyright 2005-2009 Edward Knapp. All rights reserved

Baltimore, MD (2005) -- In the mod-20th century, the city of Baltimore wasa major hub of distribution for mass-produced spiritual supplies (for a fuller history, "Spiritual Merchants" by Carolyn Long is greatly reccomended). Today, while its position as a national center for the distribtion of spiritual products has waned, the Seton Hill / Lexington Market neighborhood is still a local and regional center of the trade in spiritual supplies.  Indeed, this neighborhood still possesses an unusually high density of storefront psychic readers, vendors of perfume oils, and candle shops, even after the closing of the Palmer House in 1998.

[I missed my chance to experience the lunch-time card readers and psychics at the Palmer House, but a Baltimore City Paper write-up from 1997 which talks about this former downtown staple may be found here: http://www.citypaper.com/bob/story.asp?id=7840 ]

While the dozen or so vendors of perfume oils may sell scents that could also be considered spiritual "condition oils", this is not emphasized in their advertising or sales pitches. Rather, it is the four brick and mortar candle shops that offer extensive ranges of formulas for a variety of spiritual conditions, often in several forms, from powders to oils to candles.

[Update: In 2005 when I first surveyed this area, there were four brick and mortar candle shops.  As of 2009, there are now only 3.]

Two of the 4 actually call themselves "candle shops" (Grandma's Candle Shop and Old Grandpa's Lucky Star Candle Shop). And while Jericho's signage currently emphasizes its 'body oils and herbal teas', its' offical name is the Jericho Herb and Candle Company, known also as "The Golden Horn" or, in earlier days, "The Clover Horn" -- (Spiritual Merchants has the history of the Clover Horn in Baltimore).  The fourth and most recently opened candle shop, Grandmas Too, is, as its name suggests, a sister store to Grandma's.

All sell candles (among other things) and dried herbs, and all cater to a predominantly African-American and (presumably) hoodoo and rootwork-familiar clientele, but each has its own feel and range of focus. 

 None of these shops is a botanica -- there are no fresh herbs, and few, if any, of the items specific to the Afro-Carribean diasporic traditions, although Saints candles are stocked, due at least in part to the prominance of Catholicism in Baltimore, and Maryland generally. Empty Ellegua heads, pre-strung (unconsecrated) elekes, and Indio Orisha candles may be stocked, but none of the proprietors are verifiably initiated in La Regla d'Ocha, Palo, Voudou, or any other Afro-Carribean tradition, nor are items such as fundamentos or cargas des palos typically stocked.  

Although there are significant populations of Central American immigrants in Baltimore, they do not, for the most part, comprise the clientele of the shops in the area of Lexington Market.  And indeed, neither cuarandismo- nor brujera-specific items are represented in the supplies and materials stocked by the candle shops, though spanish-language novena candles may be stocked.

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