Candle with care

I am not sure whether this says more about me or about the people with whom I associate, but suddenly I am surrounded by ear candlers. In November, the fiancee of novelist Steve Berry told me that Steve enjoyed having his ears candled. He said this was true, (though, in all fairness, he said it sheepishly). In December, a reader introduced herself to me in Middlebury and asked me if I ever had my ears candled. And then for Christmas, my in-laws gave me a pack of Wally’s Herbal Beeswax Ear Candles.
“I had my ears candled this summer and I loved it,” my brother-in-law, Clayton, told me. Clayton is the assistant treasurer for ITT, and a serious corporate executive. I mention this so you know that he is neither insane nor especially interested in what might be considered New Age healing practices involving candles, matches and ears. I think his idea of meditation is putting his Blackberry away during dinner.
An ear candle, for those of you who lead normal lives, is a hollow, ivory-colored candle that tapers at one end to a blunt point. You place the small end in your ear and then light the wide end. As the candle burns down, it — and here I am quoting from the directions — “helps soften old, hardened earwax and assists the body to excrete excess earwax.” The lighted end is far enough from the ear that even if you are a middle-aged man with bear fur in your ears — whole hair topiaries emerging like button mushrooms in the spring — it’s unlikely you will set your head on fire, (though, I have to assume, that, too, would soften old, hardened earwax).
When I looked at the ear candles, my first thought was, “This is strange.” My second? A quote from astronaut Alan Shepard as he sat high atop a Redstone rocket and waited to be shot into space in 1961: “Light this candle!”
And so we did. We read the directions, including the disclaimer about how the FDA hadn’t tested these ear candles and the product made no claim to treat or cure anything, and the first person to put a burning candle in his ear was a lunatic. Actually, the disclaimer didn’t say that third part. I just think it must be true.
In any case, as my in-laws watched, I was candled. My wife performed the process, draping towels over my head and shoulders, sticking the candle through an aluminum foil pie plate to catch the ashes, and then monitoring the candle as it burned so we didn’t singe off what little hair remains on my tress-challenged scalp.
The procedure took 10 minutes. At first it felt like I was holding a wide Q-Tip in my ear. After a moment, however, I heard what sounded like low-level static, a lulling and not unpleasant fuzz. When my wife extinguished the candle, we inspected what was inside the remains of the hollow taper.
Before I tell you what my wife said, I should tell you what the ear candle company says on its Web site: “There is no vacuum. There is no suction. … Absolutely no earwax is removed from your ear while the procedure is occurring.” The wax, if it is going to fall out, falls out days later.
Now, here is what my wife said: “Eeeoowwwwww!”
There in the tube was a caramel-colored hermit crab leg of something that looked a lot like ear wax. It was much darker than the candle, and we were both convinced that it came from my ear. If it was not wax, of course, that means it could be only one thing: Brain matter.
“Can’t you hear better?” Clayton exclaimed, and I told him not to shout, because I really could hear better. Was this a placebo effect? Maybe.
Nevertheless, anything that pulls a hermit crab leg out of my skull is, as Martha Stewart would say, a good thing. If I thought I could afford to lose any more of my mind, my earwax, or whatever it was that was in that tube, I might become a serious ear candler, too.
(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on January 7, 2007.)

Chris Bohjalian
Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of eighteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Guest Room. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, and The Double Bind.

3 thoughts on “Candle with care

  1. MacGregor Blewer says:

    Wow. Chris, that was a humorous piece and I was glad to see it, in juxtaposition to your beautiful, poignant and slightly melancholic piece of the other weekend re: the New Year, old room-mates, mortality etc. I would be willing to try the candling technique. However, I probably wouldn’t do it in public. You are a better man than I am, Gunga Din. But what’s wrong with a wet Q-tip? Call me old-fashioned!
    All the best from the Belly of the Beast in DC

  2. Sue L says:

    I have to get away from this BUT i had to say we ..My family .. have done ear candles for years hahahah It looks really scary but gag whoever gets to look in that candle after KNOWS it works !! :/

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