Before I begin, let me say how both utterly horrified and mortified I am by what happened, by what I let happen. I have somewhat hidden the evidence, but I am sure it will be found when I move out of my apartment, and I will be paying a lot for this mistake. No matter how much I have to pay for what has been destroyed, it could have been a lot worse. So, let’s begin.
I moved into my current apartment last summer. It is a furnished apartment, so I had to find a place for a shrine based on the flat surfaces that exist here. I don’t own my own furniture. After some consideration, I ended up deciding to use the desk in the spare bedroom. It was not ideal for a number of reasons – I don’t go into that room for much else, the window is drafty and lets in dirt, and even though I tied off the curtains, it’s difficult to pray in there without my arm hitting them, and they’re not clean. Regardless, this is what I chose to go with, and it looked like this.
As you can see, I typically use tea light candles that burn themselves out in anywhere from one and a half hours to four hours depending on where I bought the candles. I know that one ought to remain in the same room as a burning candle, and this is bad decision number 1. I routinely left the door open to that room and went about my business in other rooms while letting the candles burn out after I prayed and made offerings. I would pop in to check on them periodically as I was a little paranoid about a prayer card falling over or something and starting a fire. I was clearly not paranoid enough to not do this but just paranoid enough to keep checking. Don’t worry, that isn’t what happened.
I received a pillar candle as a gift. It was tall and green with dried flowers pressed into it. I bought a glass plate to put under the candle, and when I ran out of tea lights, instead of buying more, I decided to burn the pillar candle. Unbeknownst to me, the dried flowers in the candle weren’t actually dried flowers. They were plastic flowers. I don’t know if this contributed to what did happen or not, but I think it’s an absolutely terrible idea to put plastic flowers (or plastic anything) in a candle. Why? Just why would anyone even make that?
I burned the candle without incident a number of times. As I had always done, I would light the candle, say my prayers, make my offering, and then leave the door open and go about my business. Instead of letting the candle burn out, I would blow it out either before leaving or before bed. So far, so good. The candle was lovely, and there didn’t seem to be a problem.
About a week ago, I started having dreams/daydreams about something on my shrine catching fire. Each time this happened, I took it as a warning and went and blew out the candle early. It didn’t occur to me to change candles, and after this happened two or three times without there being any real problem, I thought it was just me. It was probably just anxiety or some other symptom of my atypical neurology. I kept checking and thanking the gods for the warning, feeling that it was safest to just consider it a warning and that I was catching the problem before anything actually happened, but it didn’t occur to me to change anything.
On the 9th of the lunar month (Thursday), I should have made offerings to the muses. Somehow, my brain got confused and I ended up making offerings to Athena and the Horae. I didn’t realize until afterwards, and I thought it was strange because I don’t recall ever confusing my calendar like that before, but I decided to just go with it. That confusion should have indicated to me that there was something wrong with my brain – potentially a petite mal seizure, but it also could have been just about anything. Neurology like mine is confusing because I am often not aware of problems when they happen. The clues are really small.
You may recall that I always check on the candle multiple times, and I always blow the candle out before bed, right? Well, this time I didn’t. I don’t know what happened. The door was still open, but even when getting ready for bed and getting up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, I didn’t notice the light. It might be because the flame was deep inside the pillar candle and not giving off much light, I’m really not sure. In any case, I completely forgot about the candle.
The next day, I had the feeling of needing to check on the candle, but a quick look at the date told me that it was the 10th (when I have no offering scheduled) and that I hadn’t lit a candle. I didn’t check. My neighbors smoke, and I can often smell it in my apartment, so I figured it was just that that gave me the idea. That night, I have a feeling that I had a similar dream, but I was so tired that I wasn’t lucid enough to heed the warning, and I didn’t check on the candle. I didn’t even remember early enough to make the offering that I had planned to make to Hera (if I had, I would have caught the burning candle), and I planned to make it after I got out of work the next afternoon. That morning when I woke up, on the 11th mind you, I smelled burning. I ran into the spare bedroom to my shrine, and I found a completely melted down waxy mess on the scarf that I use as a base for the shrine as well as broken glass. The candle had completely burned down and broken the glass (was it hotter because of the plastic flowers in the candle that must have also burned?), and the desk had started to burn as well.
The fire was completely out by the time I found it. The area was still warm, but nothing was burning. I don’t know what stopped the fire. I don’t know why the wood of the desk didn’t burn completely. I don’t know why the prayer cards or photo images didn’t burn. I don’t know why the curtains didn’t catch. I don’t know why I’m still alive.
I live on the 18th floor. My girlfriend was asleep in my room. There are children in the neighboring apartment. We all could have died. This could have been completely catastrophic.
I have moved the shrine. I put it on a smaller and lower (why I didn’t put it there to begin with) surface on my 晒太 (it’s indoors and connected to my living room but juts out a bit – it’s where we hang clothes to dry. In English, the best translations would be terrace or porch, but none of these are really accurate). I also bought a metal lantern to hold the tea lights so that they will be entirely encased and there is no more risk of a prayer card falling over and hitting a burning candle. It’s now mere feet away from the sofa where it will be very obvious when there is still a candle burning.
I am so thankful to the gods who stopped this disaster. Was it the agathos daimon? Apollon? Hermes? Athena? one of the horae? Someone else? I won’t know without divination, but I will continue to thank them all regardless. I know that it was my fault, and the consequences could have been so much worse than the loss of my security deposit. The gods saved lives that would have been on my hands.
Please, even if you have become complacent or think that you’ll notice if there’s a problem, please reevaluate where you have your shrines and your choices of candles, candle holders, incense, and anything else that burns. Are you making the safest choices that you can? If there’s something that you can change to make your practice safer, please do it. Please don’t have to learn the hard way.