With the obsolescence of the candle as an everyday object, ‘candlesnatcher’ has lately dropped from usage. Essentially, most candlesnatchers were lost spirits, or revenants, suspended between this world and the next, although there are numerous accounts of faerie sprites pretending to be revenants in order to steal and make mischief, such as Peggy Pickwick whose theft of a candle is blamed for the Great Fire of Lunden.
The Roman Catholic Church long maintained that the primary cause of suspension of the human spirit is a failure to baptise children into the Church, citing the childlike character of ‘revenants’ as proof; however, this is inconsistent with accounts from Pliny the Elder and Aristotle which describe similar phenomena long before the advent of Christianity. Today, most authorities agree that the causal factors for spiritual ‘suspension’ remain unknown.
Although uncanny, candlesnatchers are harmless and usually discouraged with an unkind word or, in the rare occasions they prove persistent, with a show of iron or steel whose magnetic properties are, of course, anathema to all forms of magick. The majority are ephemeral and dissipate into the void when their energies fail, although folklore suggests that those with a permanent home near water can survive for many decades existing off water’s subtle energies, albeit a number of these may be the elemental spirits which habitually frequent watercourses. Despite this partiality for water, candlesnatchers are, like all forms of magickal being, unable to cross running water owing to the etheric field created by the current.Much of that is necessary to understand the candlesnatcher’s purpose in MacGregor’s narrative. The most obvious is it introduces the uncanny or supernatural early on. In his Mise en Scène MacGregor informs the reader that the chief concern of Acts of the Servant is magick and, as if to remind us, he introduces an element of the supernatural on the first page. The less obvious purpose is to illuminate an aspect of Captain Wolfe’s character for a candlesnatcher is an interstitial phenomenon, at home neither in this world or the next, but rather trapped in a permanent state of unbelonging, as is Captain Wolfe whose clearsight prevents him being the son his father wished and the heroic officer he wishes to be. In essence, Captain Wolfe’s reaction to the candlesnatcher mirrors the loathing in which he holds himself. Having stated that “this novel’s concern is the place, and, dare the author say it, purpose of magick in the modern world”, MacGregor now shows that one cannot ignore magick and trust that it will go away.