Lamps and lights
‘Thus, there is always
A little light in the darkness.
It is out there somewhere, flickering,
But if you want to see it,
You cannot be afraid of the dark.’
From the song Et lille lys i mørket (sang til min nabo) (’A little light in the darkness, song to my neighbour’), from the LP En lille bunke krummer (’A little pile of crumbs’, 1978), text and music by Danish singer and composer Trille Bodil Nielsen (1945-2016).
Colourful fireworks above a temple in Beimen, Taiwan, dedicated to Wang-yeh, the Daoist god of diseases. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Colourful lamps for sale, Kapalı Çarşı (‘Covered Market’), also called Büyük Çarşı (‘Grand Bazaar’), Istanbul, Turkey. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Various forms of illumination are an important issue in most religions. Below, examples from Daoism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Christianity are shown.
Over the years, the dominating religion in Taiwan has become a unique blend of Buddhism and Daoism, with a bewildering array of Daoist gods, which are worshipped on equal terms with the Buddha. A very common feature in Daoist temples is traditional paper lanterns, the majority being bright red.
Daoism is described in depth on the page Religion: Daoism in Taiwan.
Paper lanterns in a temple, Fengyuan. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
In this picture from Ershuei, a dragon is seen on the building in the background. In Chinese mythology, the dragon is a symbol of power, strength, and good luck. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Paper lanterns in the Fushing Temple, Xiluo, dedicated to the Daoist Mother Goddess Mazu. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Temple guardian and paper lanterns, Fushing Temple. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Elaborate paper lanterns, adorning a temple in the town of Dajia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The Chinese zodiac animals have been depicted on these paper lanterns in Dajia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Qingshui, known locally as Zushi-Gong, is the principal Daoist god worshipped at the Zushi Temple (Chinese Qingshui Zushi Miao), situated in the town of Sanxia, northern Taiwan. This temple is popularly known as the ‘Bird Temple’, due to the numerous depictions of birds on walls and columns. Some of these are shown on the page Animals: Birds in Taiwan.
Paper lanterns in the Zushi Temple, Sanxia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Temple and paper lanterns, reflected in the windshield of a car, Xiluo. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
During Chinese New Year 2015 in Xiluo, paper lanterns, on which well-wishing words are being painted, are released into the air, with a bundle of burning fake money inside. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Paper lanterns with drawings, depicting dragons, Guizhou Province, China. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
During the Taiwanese Lantern Festival, which is celebrated during Chinese New Year, thousands of paper lanterns are produced. The pictures below were taken during the Tainan Lantern Festival in the Year of the Rooster (2005), where numerous gigantic lanterns were displayed, depicting various themes, including animals.
Paper lanterns, adorning a bridge. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Paper lanterns, swaying in the wind. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Naturally, a large number of lanterns at this festival depicted roosters, as it was celebrating the start of the Year of the Rooster. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This lantern depicts a tiger. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Lantern, depicting a weight-lifting hippo. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Lanterns, depicting two cats, which resemble Disney’s Aristocats. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
These lanterns depict penguins. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Before entering the inner sanctum of a Daoist temple, burning incense sticks are placed in sand in thuribles, which are often guarded by dragons. When too many incense sticks have been placed in a thurible, a temple servant will collect them and burn them in the centre of the thurible.
Burning incense sticks, Fushing Temple, Xiluo. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Burning fake paper money as an offering is a very common practice in Taiwanese Daoist temples. Ovens, serving this purpose, are erected in front of the temples. Another very common habit is to burn fake money in a special metal container, produced for this practice.
Burning fake money in an oven in front of a Daoist temple. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
During a festival for the Tiger God in the town of Xingang, fake money is burned in metal containers. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
During Daoist festivals in Taiwan, fireworks are always ignited.
Fireworks are often ignited beneath palanquins, which contain images of Daoist gods, carried on bamboo poles, resting on the shoulders of six or eight men. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
These pictures show Chinese New Year celebrations 2015 at the Fushing Temple in Xiluo. Lots of fireworks are ignited, and shortly before midnight, people carry torches, consisting of green bamboo sticks with rolls of burning paper inside, from the temple through the streets of the town, hereby scaring away evil spirits. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
In certain fishing communities in southern Taiwan, people still celebrate the so-called Boat Burning Festival, a Daoist festival, during which a complete wooden boat is built, only to be burned as an offering to the god of diseases, Wang-yeh, hoping that he will spare the people of the plague and other dreadful diseases. In former times, the burning boat was pushed out to sea, ceremonially carrying the diseases away, but this practice has now been abandoned, and the boat is burned on land.
Other Daoist festivals are described in detail on the page Religion: Daoism in Taiwan.
Boat Burning Festival, Jiading, near Kaoshiung. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Ignited oil lamps in the Kuan Yin Teng Daoist temple, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This lamp in a Daoist temple in Beigang, Taiwan, dedicated to the Mother Goddess Mazu, has been blackened by hundreds of years of incense smoke. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Modern unit, installed in an old-fashioned lamp outside the Tzi Gong Da Foa Daoist Temple, Linnei, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Aspects of the life of the Buddha, and the origin of Buddhism, are described on the page Religion: Buddhism, where you can also read more about the Bodhnath Stupa and the Shwedagon Pagoda below.
This woman is celebrating the Buddha’s birthday by igniting numerous mustard oil lamps at the huge Bodhnath Stupa, Kathmandu, Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
At the giant Buddhist Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar, red candles are burned to honour the Buddha. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
These lamps, carved out of gourds, were for sale in the town of Dongshih, Taiwan.
This lamp has a tiny Buddha inside. The text translates thus: “The Buddha’s light is blessing the World.” (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This elaborately carved gourd has been adorned with tassels. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Hinduism is the dominant religion in India, counting for about 85% of the population. This religion is permeated with rituals. Three examples, involving lamps, are shown below, whereas other Hindu festivals are described on the pages Religion: Hinduism, and Travel episodes – India 1991: Attending Hindu festivals in Rajasthan.
These women place tiny oil lamps and marigolds on small ‘rafts’, made from leaves, presenting them as an offering to the Ganges. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Aarthi is a ceremony, held at sunrise or after sunset, in which the sacred Ganga River (Ganges) is worshipped. During Aarthi, a thurible with burning incense is swung in the air.
Aarthi, celebrated at the Ganges at sunrise (top), and after sunset, Varanasi. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
During the Hindu festival Janai Purnima, thousands of pilgrims are crowding around Muktinath, a very important Vishnu temple in the Mustang District, central Nepal.
This pilgrim is busy igniting mustard oil lamps at the Muktinath Temple. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Atop this sculpture in Kathmandu, Nepal, depicting a Hindu goddess, oil is burned as an offering. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The rise of Christianity is dealt with on the page Religion: Christianity.
One of Christendom’s most gorgeous buildings is the Byzantine church ‘Church of the Holy Wisdom’ in Istanbul, Turkey, usually called Hagia Sophia, or, in Turkish, Aya Sofia. This grand structure, which was erected 532-537 during the reign of Roman Emperor Justinian, was converted into a mosque in 1453, and today it is a museum.
A collection of chandeliers, adorning the Hagia Sophia. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Roman Catholics, burning candles at a shrine for Virgin Mary, Cartagena, Chile. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Lighthouses are buildings on the coast, from which powerful light beams are cast out to sea as a warning to ships, that they are approaching dangerous reefs, sandbars, or other hazards. Below, lighthouses from various places around the world are presented.
Portland Head Lighthouse, popularly called Cape Elizabeth Lighthouse, is situated on a promontory at the entrance to Portland Harbour, Casco Bay, Maine, United States. This lighthouse station was first established in 1828, although the present buildings are from 1874-1886. The lights in the 20.4-metre-tall tower were automated in 1963.
Portland Head Lighthouse, Maine. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The tallest lighthouse in Scandinavia is situated at Dueodde, the southern tip of the island Bornholm, in the Baltic Sea. This lighthouse is 47 m tall, built 1960-1962. The foundations of this building rests on 19 concrete pillars, reaching a depth of 14 m. It has a 1000-watt lamp, the light of which is amplified 200 times by a French lens from 1886 with a rotating set of prisms, reused from an older lighthouse. This older lighthouse, erected in 1880, was 38 m high, situated inland, so that its foundations could rest on solid granite. It was supplemented with a smaller, only 15 m tall lighthouse further south. This southern lighthouse soon became inadequate due to an upgrowing pine forest. In 1936, the remaining unvegetated dunes were protected, the largest of which is still migrating 3 to 4 m a year.
Dueodde Lighthouse, seen behind a migrating dune, with a tuft of marram grass (Ammophila arenaria). Two jet planes are passing behind the tower. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The shadow from Dueodde Lighthouse is cast on a pine forest, covering the dunes. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Cape Reinga Lighthouse, at the northern tip of the North Island, New Zealand, was built in 1941 to replace the Cape Maria van Diemen Lighthouse, located on nearby Motuopao Island, which had been built in 1879. Accessing that lighthouse was difficult due to the rough seas in the area, and in 1938 it was decided to move the lighthouse to Cape Reinga for safety reasons. The complete lantern fittings from Motuopao Island were reused at Cape Reinga, although the new lighthouse was fitted with a 1000-watt electrical lamp instead, which could be seen at a distance of 26 nautical miles (48 km). (Source: maritimenz.govt.nz)
Cape Reinga Lighthouse. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The lighthouse on the rocky islet Ynys Lawd (South Stack), off Ynys Gybi (Holy Island), west of the island of Ynys Môn (Anglesey), north-western Wales, was built in 1808-1809 to warn ships of the dangerous rocks below.
The lighthouse on Ynys Lawd, Wales. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Pigeon Point Lighthouse, south of San Francisco, California, was constructed in 1871. At 35 m, it is the tallest lighthouse on the Pacific Coast.
Morning light illuminates Pigeon Point Lighthouse. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The old lighthouse on Hammerknuden, northern Bornholm, Denmark, was constructed in 1872. Unfortunately, it was hidden in fog and clouds so often that a new lighthouse had to be built already in 1895.
The old lighthouse on Hammerknuden, Bornholm. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The lighthouse on the islet of Eilean Musdile (in English Mansedale), near the island of Lismore, Inner Hebrides, Scotland, was built in 1833 to guide traffic in the Sound of Mull and Loch Linnhe. In 1910, most lights in British lighthouses were changed to dioptric lenses, but this was not the case with Eilean Musdile Lighthouse, which has a fixed white light.
The lighthouse on Eilean Musdile, Scotland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Hirsholmene is a group of islets, situated c. 6 km north-east of Frederikshavn, northern Jutland, Denmark. A 27-metre-tall lighthouse was built of local granite in 1886-1887 on the highest spot on the islets, 6-metre-high Ørnebjerg (‘Eagle Mountain’), situated on the main isle Hirsholm – the only inhabited island in the group.
The lighthouse on Hirsholmene, Denmark. The birds on the roof are common gulls (Larus canus). (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Coquille River Lighthouse, near the town of Bandon, Oregon, United States, dates back to 1896. This lighthouse, originally named Bandon Lighthouse, was constructed to guide ships past dangerous, shifting sandbars at the mouth of the Coquille River to the harbour in Bandon.
Coquille River Lighthouse, Oregon. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Sletterhage Lighthouse, on the narrow isthmus Helgenæs, eastern Jutland, Denmark, was built in 1894 to guide ships to and from the port of Aarhus, the second-largest city in the country, via a narrow channel close to the isthmus. Today 7,000-8,000 ships pass the lighthouse every year.
Sletterhage Lighthouse, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
In 1859, a lighthouse was built on the highest rock on Cape Point, near Cape of Good Hope, South Africa, 238 m above sea level. However, as it turned out, the highest point was not the best point, as fog tended to concentrate at higher, rather than lower levels, and, secondly, the light from the lighthouse was often spotted too early by ships, luring them to approach too closely. In 1911, Lusitania, a Portuguese liner, sank after hitting Bellows Rock, a treacherous submerged reef 3 km south of Cape Point. This event prompted the construction of a new lighthouse, which was completed in 1919, 87 m above sea level.
The present lighthouse on Cape Point, South Africa, was completed in 1919. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Cape Arago Lighthouse is situated on a rocky islet near Sunset Point State Park, Oregon, United States. This lighthouse, which was constructed in 1934, is no longer operated, and the islet has been returned to the Coquille native tribe.
A dilapidated bridge – not to be used by the public – leads out to Cape Arago Lighthouse. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Långe Jan (‘Tall John’), 41.6 m high, is the tallest lighthouse in Sweden, situated on the southern tip of the island Öland. It was built in 1785, probably by Russian prisoners of war, using stones from a former local chapel, Capella Beati Johannis, from which the lighthouse got its name, Jan and John being short forms of Johannis. Originally, the light was an open fire, which was replaced by a lantern with burning rapeseed oil in 1845. Electric light was installed in 1948.
At the northern tip of Öland, situated on a small island named Stora Grundet, is the lighthouse Långe Erik (‘Tall Eric’), 32 m tall and built in 1865. The older and larger lens is still present in the lighthouse, but is no longer in use.
Långe Jan, southern Öland. In the upper picture, cattle, sheep, and barnacle geese (Branta leucopsis) are grazing on the meadows. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Långe Erik, northern Öland, partly hidden behind common oaks (Quercus robur). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Point Reyes Lighthouse, California, is situated at the windiest and foggiest place on the entire Pacific Coast. It is frequently blanketed by week-long periods of fog, and almost every year, the area sees violent gales of 120 to 160 km per hour. The lighthouse was constructed in 1870, but did not have electricity until 1938. It was automated in 1975.
Point Reyes Lighthouse, California. The plant in the foreground is Hottentot fig (Carpobrotis edulis), an invasive plant from South Africa. This species is dealt with on the page Nature: Invasive species. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Rubjerg Knude Lighthouse, 23 m tall, was constructed in 1899 on the highest spot in the area, c. 200 m inland from a 60-metre-high cliff, Rubjerg Knude, northern Jutland, Denmark. Gradually, wind and sea eroded away the cliff, and not many years passed, before serious problems with sand drift arose. The caretaker’s garden was covered by sand, and dunes, which were created on top of the cliff, grew higher, which meant that the light from the tower was very difficult to spot from the sea, and the fog horn could not be heard. An attempt was made to plant bushes and grasses on the dunes, but the forces of nature proved too strong, and the lighthouse operation ceased in 1968.
A sand drift museum was established in the lighthouse buildings, but gradually they were engulfed by sand, and the museum had to close. Lately, a new staircase has been built inside the tower, giving the public access to the upper platform. Simultaneously, a huge prism was placed there, casting light into the tower, instead of out to sea. However, it won’t be many years, before the tower has to be closed again, as the lighthouse today is only a few metres from the cliff’s edge, and it has been predicted that it will slide into the sea before 2030. (Source: loenstrup.dk/toppenafdanmark/rubjerg-knude)
Rubjerg Knude Lighthouse, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Using artificial light to attract fish at night is widespread around the world. Three examples are shown below.
Fishing boats with lamps in the harbor of Kavala, Greece. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Fishing boat with lamps, Nanya, northern Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Fish traps in Lake Bolgoda, south-western Sri Lanka, consist of mats, made from split, 1.5-metre-long, thin bamboo stems, which are tied together with string at the upper and lower ends, and in the middle. The mats are then tied to poles, which have been stuck into the lake bottom, forming two rows. The distance between these rows gradually decreases, ending in a fish trap. During the day, fish are attracted by fodder, at night by kerosene lamps, tied to the poles. You may read more about my stay at Lake Bolgoda on the page Travel episodes – Sri Lanka 1976: Among alcohol brewers.
At night, fish are attracted to fish traps in Lake Bolgoda by kerosene lamps, tied to poles. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Street lamps occur in a wide variety of shapes. A few examples are seen below.
Old-fashioned street lamps, San Diego, California. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Street lamps in the town of Weining, Guizhou Province, China. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Street lamp on a bridge, spanning the An Life (Liffey) River, Dublin, Ireland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Evening illumination on a tree, Luxor, Egypt. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Street lamp in the village of Saint Rhémy, Aosta Valley, Italy, adorned with a figure, depicting a wanderer. Note the crescent moon in the background. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
For unknown reasons, this black vulture (Coragyps atratus) is pecking at a street lamp in the province of Limón, Costa Rica. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Manhattan, New York City, by night, seen from Brooklyn Bridge. – To commemorate the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, which were destroyed during a terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, four blue laser beams are cast into the air, six months later, on the original location of the towers. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
While watching a theatre performance, spectators are waving coloured light bulbs, Taichung, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
One of the spectators has placed two light bulbs in a backpack. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Crystal chandelier, dating from the 1700s, Selsø Castle, Zealand, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Species of mullein (Verbascum) are known by other names, such as torches, Our Lady’s candle, and candlewick plant, referring to their former use as torches. In the old days, the long spikes were dried and dipped in tallow to make torches. When dry, the down on leaves and stem makes excellent tinder, and before the introduction of cotton it was used for lamp wicks, hence the popular name candlewick plant.
According to legend, witches used lamps and candles with mullein wicks, giving rise to the name hag’s taper, although hag may be derived from Anglo-Saxon haege or hage (‘hedge’), perhaps implying that the long spike resembled a tall candle, growing in the hedge – hence the name Our Lady’s candle.
In his book A niewe Herball (1578), English botanist and antiquary Henry Lyte (1529?-1607) tells us that the “whole toppe, with its pleasant yellow floures, sheweth like to a wax candle or taper, cunningly wrought.” Another herbalist, John Parkinson (1567-1650), says: “Verbascum is called of the Latines candela regia, and candelaria, because the elder age used the stalks dipped in suet to burne, whether at funeralls or otherwise.”
Flowering spikes of dense-flowered mullein (Verbascum densiflorum), photographed on the island of Funen, Denmark. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
(Uploaded October 2017)
(Latest update January 2020)