According to the ancient Mediterranean traditions, the dead needed some light on their journey to the Valley of the Shadow. Therefore, before a tomb was sealed it was on occasion customary to place a perpetual lamp inside.
The lamp served as an offering to the god of the dead and helped ward off evil spirits. Its light also offered the deceased guidance on their journey to the hereafter. Hundreds of years later, when vaults were opened excavators found the lamps in perfect condition and still burning.
The Magic and Philosophy of Trithemius of Spanheim Containing His Book of Secret Things and Doctrine of Spirits gives recipes for constructing ever-burning lights. Whether or not any modern person has attempted to duplicate these recipes is unbeknownst to this Author. Many of the stories deal with oil filled lamps, so for the most part electricity is ruled out.
The Old Testament Exodus 27:20 tells of what could be interpreted as a perpetual lamp And you shall command the children of Israel, that they bring you pure oil olive beaten for the light, to cause the lamp to burn always."
Rosicrucius a/k/a Christian Rosencreutz [Christian Rosy-Cross], alleged founder of the Rosicrucian society died in 1484. Not until 1604 did the world learn of him , The alleged founder of Rosicrucianism bound his followers not to reveal any of his doctrines until 120 years after his death.
The original order consisted of 8 members. When the first of these members died, it was decided that the the burial places of any member of the Order was not to be revealed.
In 1584 Rosicrucius's burial place was found. In Staffordshire, England, As per the story ,a secret door was discovered in the "House of the Holy Spirit", above which was a plaque stating that 120 years after the death of Rosicrucius his tomb could be revealed and his writings publicized.
A 1712 edition of The Spectator reports the following:
"...I shall conclude this Paper with the Story of Rosicrucius's Sepulchre. I suppose I need not inform my Readers that this Man was the Founder of the Rosicrusian Sect, and that his Disciples still pretend to new Discoveries, which they are never to communicate to the rest of Mankind.
A certain Person having occasion to dig somewhat deep in the Ground where this Philosopher lay inter'd, met with a small Door having a Wall on each side of it...
His Curiosity, and the Hopes of finding some hidden Treasure, soon prompted him to force open the Door. He was immediately surpriz'd by a sudden Blaze of Light, and discover'd a very fair Vault: At the upper end of it was a Statue of a Man in Armour sitting by a Table, and leaning on his Left Arm. He held a Truncheon in his right Hand, and had a Lamp burning before him. The Man had no sooner set one Foot within the Vault, than the Statue erecting it self from its leaning Posture, stood bolt upright; and upon the Fellow's advancing another Step, lifted up the Truncheon in his Right Hand. The Man still ventur'd a third Step, when the Statue with a furious Blow broke the Lamp into a thousand Pieces, and left his Guest in a sudden Darkness."
Upon the Report of this Adventure, the Country People soon came with Lights to the Sepulchre, and discovered that the Statue, which was made of Brass, was nothing more than a Piece of Clock-work; that the Floor of the Vault was all loose, and underlaid with several Springs, which, upon any Man's entering, naturally produced that which had happened. Rosicrucius, says his Disciples, made use of this Method, to shew the World that he had re-invented the ever-burning Lamps of the Ancients, tho' he was resolved no one should reap any Advantage from the Discovery."
The vault in which this tomb was found was illuminated by the SUN OF THE MAGI, and inscribed with magical characters. The body of the illustrious founder [Christian Rosenkreutz] was discovered in perfect preservation. Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology
Rosencreutz, say his disciples, made use of this method to show the world that he had reinvented the ever-burning lamps of the ancients, but had resolved no one should reap any advantage from his discovery.
The Daughter of Cicero
Sometime during the Papacy of Paul III [1468-1549] , along the ancient Roman road known as the Appian Way, a tomb was opened, inside was the body of a fair young woman swimming in a "juice", which kept it from decaying, the entire cadaver was lifelike, subtle and very beautiful. Her hair was yellow, which was not unknown -but not common in ancient Rome/Italia. Under her feet burnt lamps, the light of which was extinguished at the opening of the sepulchre. Based upon inscriptions found in the tomb it appeared that she may have lain there fifteen hundred years. Her identity was never known, although many concluded her to be 'Tulliola', the daughter of Cicero.
"In the course of excavations which were made on the Appian Way, to find stones and marbles, three marble tombs have been discovered... One was of Terentia Tulliola, daughter of Cicero...a young girl, intact in all her members, covered from head to foot with a coating of aromatic paste, one inch thick. ... been dead fifteen hundred years, she appeared to have been laid to rest that very day....The whole of Rome, men and women, to the number of twenty thousand, visited the marvel of Santa Maria Nova that day." - Translation of a letter, dated Rome, April 15, 1485, among Schedel's papers in the Munich library.
Documented Discoveries of "Perpetual Lamps'
Derived primarily from We are not the first: riddles of ancient science By Andrew Tomas
Byzantine historian George Cedrenus who compiled A concise history of the world In the 1050s mentions a lamp, which, together with an image of Christ, was found at Edessa in the reign of Justinian the Emperor. It was set in a niche over a certain gate , and elaborately enclosed and shut out from the air. This lamp, judging by the date inscribed on it was lit soon after the crucifixion of Christ .500 years later the soldiers of Persian King Cosroes, discovered the lamp. It's oil was taken out and cast into the fire.
On the island of Nesis, in the Bay of Naples, a marble vault was opened. Inside was found a lamp still lit , even though it had apparently been placed there before the advent of Christianity in that region [At least 1500 Years earlier]. * Several versions of this story exist dating it anywhere from 600AD to 1500 AD
The legendary second King of Rome Numa Pompilius, said to be a magician of considerable power, allegedly caused a perpetual lamp to burn in the dome of a temple he had created.
Plutarch wrote of a Lamp which burned for Centuries at the entrance of a temple to Jupiter-Ammon
In the Temple of Trevandrum a Reverend Mateer claims to have seen a Golden Lamp that had been lit over 120 years ago.
The Oedipus Aegyptiacus  tells of lamps found lit in subterranean passages in Memphis, Egypt thousands of years after being first lit.
'Now the House of Solomon the King was illuminated as by day, for in his wisdom he had made shining pearls which were like unto the sun, the moon and the stars in the roof of his house." Excerpt From: 'The Queen of Sheba and Her Only Son Menyelek"'
St. Augustine described an Egyptian temple with a lamp which neither wind nor water could not extinguish. He declared it to be the work of the devil. In his notes to St. Augustine, 1610, Ludovicus Vives writes about a lamp that was found in his father's time, in 1580 A.D. According to the inscription, the lamp was burning for 1,500 years, however when it was touched it fell into pieces. Obviously, Ludovicus Vives did not share St. Augustine's views as he considered perpetual lamps to be an invention of very skilled men and not demons.
In 140 AD, in the vicinity of Rome a lamp was found burning in the tomb of Pallas, son of king Evander. The lamp, which had been alight for over 2,000 years, could not be extinguished . It turned out that neither water nor blowing on the flame stopped it from burning. The only way to extinguish the remarkable flame was to drain off the strange liquid in the lamp bowl.
When Henry VIII broke away from the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church , he ordered dissolution of monasteries in Britain and many tombs were plundered. In Yorkshire, a burning lamp was discovered in a tomb of Constantius Chlorus, father of the Great Constantine. He died in 300 A.D. which means that the lamp had been burning for more than 1,200 years.
Recipe for a Perpetual Lamp
Take:1 and 1/2oz. flowers of sulphur
1 oz. burnt alum
"... and place them in a subliming pot after a thorough mixing. Place a similar pot mouth to mouth with this and seal the join well with potter’s cement. The pot with the mixture inside is set on a coal fire so that it becomes red hot for approximately one hour, and the sublimed fixed mass is taken out to be pulverized in a mortar. Half as much pure borax by weight is added to the resultant powder and the whole is then reduced to a similar powder in the mortar. This powder is placed in a shallow glass or porcelain basin and is covered with the most highly rectified spirit of wine (ethyl alcohol). The basin is now placed on hot ashes, held over a coal fire in a small caldron, and the spirit is allowed to evaporate slowly. When the mass runs thick like oil, a little of it is removed and laid on a red-hot sheet of copper. Now if the mass runs like wax without smoking, it is ready; but, if it still smokes, more spirit must be poured into the basin and evaporated as before, and the process is to be repeated until the samples no longer emit smoke when tested. The product is then ready.
A wick is now made, about 2 inches long and as thick as the piggest piece of quill. The material used is asbestos or white fibrous gypsum (steatite) bound with silk thread. The prepared mass is then placed in a strong glass made for the purpose, the wick is inserted and the preparation left standing for 24 hours in hot sand. The wick is the pulled up and a sufficiently large lamp chimney is made for it so that it is only slightly exposed at the top and the perepetually burning sulphur mass pours onto it, and the glass is placed in hot sand until the sulphur mass melts and collects around the wick. Finally, the lamp which has been prepared in this way is lit with a light and placed in a place where it will not be disturbed. It will then go on burning without ever going out." -
'We may add that we have ourselves seen a lamp so prepared, and we are told that since it was first lighted on May 2, 1871, it has not gone out.' - H.P. Blavatsky
References and Links
Curiosities of Literature -Perpetual Lamps of the Ancients -by Isaac D Israeli (1766-1848)
Everburning Lamps Ellen Lloyd