Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Candle In The Dark

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 29, 2011

Originally, a candle in the dark was a magical charm spoken freely and easily by magicians of the 17th century. In more modern times, however, the phrase is a general term for trickery.

Back in 1995, astrophysicist Carl Sagan (1934 – 1996) published a book entitled, “The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark.”  The book’s main focus was to encourage people to learn critical as well as skeptical thinking, and to be able to separate valid science from quackery, hysteria, myth and bad science.  Carl Sagan created a set of tools for skeptical thinking which he called a “baloney detection kit” which relied heavily on well-researched and well-constructed reasoned argument along with the ability to recognize an incorrect or outright fraudulent argument.

The 11th song on what was to be the 11th album from The Alan Parsons Project was entitled, “The Ring.”  The album “Freudiana” however became Eric Woolfson‘s first solo album instead and was released on October 11, 1990.  How strange that the number 11 should be so prominent (maybe there’s some trickery involved in all of that).

Working with Brian Brolly, the album was transformed into a stage musical that premiered on December 19, 1990 (it closed on April 18, 1992) at the Theater an der Wien in Austria.   It seemed oddly fitting since the music on the album and the stage musical were based entirely on the theories of Austrian neurologist and founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939).  While Idiomation can only guess at what Sigmund might have to say about the 11th song on what was to be an 11th album that was released on the 11th day of October, the lyrics of the song are more straight forward.

The ring is magic; the ring is power
Like a candle in the dark for everyone.
The ring is madness; the ring is fire
And it burns with all the brightness of the sun.

Now, long before Carl Sagan and long before Eric Woolfson, there was African-American linguist, scholar and diplomat, Edward Allen Jones (1903 – 1981) best-known for having written “A Candle in the Dark: A History of Morehouse College” published in 1967 by Judson Press.  He, too, pulled back the fakery created by smoke-and-mirrors as he saw them to be and spoke out.

Magician Reginald Scot was called a “candle in the dark” by English physician, humanist and author, Thomas Ady in a book written in 1656, entitled, “A Candle In The Dark or a treatise concerning the nature of witches and witchcraft: being advice to judges, sherriffes, justices of the peace and grand jury men, what to do, before they pass sentence on such as are arraigned for their lives, as witches.” 

Thomas Ady called Reginald Scot a “candle in the dark” based on Reginald Scot‘s book which was published in 1584 entitled, “The Discoverie of Witchcraft.”  Scot’s book was the first practical English language book that dealt specifically with conjuring.  The book was outlawed and ordered destroyed by King James I mostly because of twenty pages found in the book that dealt specifically with magic tricks.

As a side note, 50 years after Reginald Scot‘s book was published in 1584, an anonymous author published a book considered to be the first original work devoted solely to conjuring.  Published in 1634, it was entitled, “Hocus Pocus Junior” and owes a debt to Reginald Scot‘s outlawed book.

Unfortunately, finding the phrase “candle in the dark” is as mysterious a trick as pulling a rabbit out of a hat appears to be and Idiomation was unable to find other publications — books or newspapers — that carried the expression as it refers to trickery.

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