Sacred Flame: Pyromancy by Charlynn Walls
Fire has played a pivotal role in the evolution of humanity. It has provided us light, heat, and a way to cook our food. Therefore, it is little wonder that we have sought to utilize the sacred flame in its various forms as a divinatory tool to shed light on our lives and our individual pathways.
There are many different ways to interpret the various components of flames, smoke, ash, and items placed into the pyre. The diviner may look at factors such as the interpretation of color, shape, intensity, and movement to aid in understanding the question posed. Each variation offers its own unique insight into the question that a practitioner asks.
Types of Pyromancy
The form of pyromancy that most may be familiar with would be the flames of a fire in which a sorceress sees a visage take shape. Once the image dissipates and she has had time to ponder what she has seen, she makes her proclamation about the viability of a future endeavor or event. Whether she sees the image as a good or a bad omen, it is heeded by those who seek her council.
This form of divination could take place around a hearth fire, campfire, or ritual fire. However, there are many other forms of pyromancy that are equally viable. The following are just a few that I have personally experienced.
Capnomancy is the divination based on the rising smoke from a ritual fire or candle. Typically, the more direct and straight the plume of smoke is the better the omen. Smoke that sank or began to waft around the room was thought to be an indicator that the gods did not have a favorable response to the question or matter at hand.
I have lit candles before that smoked excessively while I tried to do a spell. Those were the spells that never really seemed to work out in retrospect. I have since taken it as an omen that the spell is not meant to be and that there is a block to this work. So I will cancel and clear my spellwork when a candle begins to emit a large amount of smoke. I will try the spell again at a later time after I have attempted to remove the block.
Causimomancy occurs when the diviner casts an item such as incense, grain, or something of personal interest into the flames. They then make an interpretation based on if the item burns or not. The more quickly the item ignites, the more favorable the omen. Items that burn slowly or do not burn at all are thought to be particularly bad signs.
There was a time when I was attempting to start over after a particularly bad breakup. I created a blend of herbs that were designed to bring clarity, focus, and openness. I tossed the blend into a campfire at a festival late at night after the majority of the people had wandered to their beds. The herbs ignited almost before they touched the flames. The fire burned bright and then returned to normal. I took this as a good sign that I was on the right path.
Lampadomancy divines the message provided by the flickering flame of a candle or oil lamp. This encompasses how the flame moves, its color, or if it is particularly loud. If the flame lists to one side or another, crackles, or is any color besides a bright yellow flame, it is not a favorable portent.
My coven interpreted a flickering flame at Samhain a few years ago. We had been working with our ancestors and the ritual had been particularly exhausting. We were resting around the fire and a log started to spew a blue flame out its side. It was very loud and would have been difficult to ignore. It was up to us, the practitioners, to determine what the message was. In this case we felt we still had spirits among us that needed to be released from the prior ritual.
Lychnomancy, though traditionally conducted by interpreting the flames of three candles, is often interpreted by modern diviners through the use of one candle. The color, size, movement, and quality of the flame are considered. A good reading is established by a bright flame that is devoid of flickering or popping.
I have often used this type of pyromancy for personal and group work. I am reminded of a time during another coven meeting when we were dealing with several different deities during a Samhain ritual. We had finished a part where we had petitioned Papa Legba. The candle flames in the circle grew strong and bright for a moment and then extinguished. The ritual was outside, and only a few of our participants saw this. We had to interpret what the meaning was. We were certain that our petition had been heard and that he had left immediately after hearing what was said.
Spodomancy examines the ashes, cinders, or soot left by a ritual fire. The diviner writes a message in the ashes, and the result is discerned based upon what is left the next morning. Alternately, the shapes and designs left naturally in the remaining ashes from a ritual fire can be interpreted in a similar manner. Parallels can be drawn between the shapes left in the ashes and one’s own life. This was a popular divination to use in order to determine aspects of the past, present, or future.
At a women’s retreat I attended one year, I had retired early. A good friend was still up when I emerged from my tent much later in the evening, and I asked her what she was still doing up. We sat and talked a while as we were staring into the remaining coals of the fire. One coal looked particularly like a phoenix to us both. We took it as a sign that our group was heading for a rebirth, and a short time later things changed. Several people left, and we had a few new members come into the group.
Pyromancy in Fire Festivals
We are able to utilize and benefit from pyromancy during the Greater Sabbats, which are also traditionally known as fire festivals. Each festival has the potential to utilize pyromancy in its celebration and connect with the spirits to obtain insight.
Samhain (October 31) is a time to honor and connect with those that have passed into the otherworld. One way we can honor and connect with our ancestors is by creating a symbolic pyre. The ritual fire is to be constructed in a similar way to a funeral pyre.
The wood can be systematically built and prepared several days prior to the rite. This will give the participants a chance to focus on the rite to come. A symbolic body can then be created to represent the loved ones that you are trying to reach in order to obtain a sign or warning. The representation can be a poppet constructed of simple materials like cloth and straw. Questions from each member can also be incorporated into the stuffing materials, should that be desired.
Once lit, the flames will start to rise from the funeral pyre. How they rise can be noted by the group, and each member can provide their own interpretation or ask what other group members think regarding the question that they posed.
Imbolc (February 2) is a celebration of the returning light to the earth along with new beginnings. This day is also sometimes referred to as Candlemas. It is the perfect time to practice the divinatory arts.
Candles are traditionally incorporated into this festival, and it is the perfect time to practice lychnomancy. The diviners should take three large pillar candles of the same size, shape, and color and place them on the altar. They should be arranged in a triangle. One candle represents the present, one represents the past, and one represents the future. These should be clearly identified to all parties prior to the start of the ritual.
Once the ritual is underway, the diviner or diviners are given paper to write down their question, and then they should place it in the space that is left open on the altar between the candles. They should then clear their minds and stare toward the center of all the candles. When one candle begins to burn brighter, flicker, or pop, it will catch the petitioners’ attention. They should then note why it caught their attention and write down if that candle represented the past, present, or future. They should also note everything they notice about that candle.
Beltane (May 1) represents the emergence of the light half of the year. The veil between the worlds is as thin during this time of year as it is at Samhain. It is an excellent time of the year to make contact with otherworldly beings such as the Fae and to perform divination.
The balefire should be lit and allowed to burn throughout the night. It will provide a beacon to spirits and the Fae who may want to provide insight into the diviner’s life. This provides an excellent opportunity to explore spodomancy more directly.
Each individual wishing to participate should toss a paper with a question into the balefire. This will signal the spirits or Fae to offer their assistance in answering the questions. Once the revelry and festivities are over, the fire should be allowed to extinguish on its own.
Once extinguished, the ashes and remnants of the fire can be examined. Those performing the divination should note what shapes are present within the ashes. Sometimes drawing on paper what is seen can help provide further interpretation and avoid any missing information. Also, any odd occurrences such as reigniting of coals or having ashes blow out of the pit at the time of interpretation should be noted as significant to the question at hand.
Lammas (August 2) marks the beginning of the harvest festivals. It is a time to recognize the abundance of the harvest and the prosperity that it brings to a community. A hearth fire would be best to harness the harvest energies.
Causimomancy would be a good type of pyromancy to use during this time of year. One could take harvest grains or loaves of bread made from the grain and toss them into the fire. Not only is this an offering to the gods, but the reaction of the fire to it and the question of the diviner can then be deciphered.
The diviner should look at what item was thrown into the hearth fire and assess how long it took to ignite along with what happened once it did. Did the grain or bread take a long time to ignite? Was there an abundance of smoke or loud popping noises? This scenario would not be favorable to the question at hand. Did the flames get larger and brighter with very little smoke? This would indicate a much more favorable response.
The possibilities for the use of pyromancy during ritual are only as limited as our imaginations. These are only a few options that can be expanded upon for further customization for your particular path or practice. These can be adapted for solitary or coven use as well.
The practice of pyromancy likely developed soon after the first fire was created because we as humans seek answers to the world around us. Fire is transforming and sacred to many cultures as both life giving and destructive. It offers various ways for us to work with it, whether through the flame, smoke, or remnants of the fire once it has been extinguished.
One must be open to the potential offered through this form of divination and be willing to explore its myriad of possibilities. Pyromancy, in its varied forms, allows the practitioner to highly personalize their divinatory practice.
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Dunwich, Gerina. A Wiccan’s Guide to Prophecy and Divination. New York: Citadel Press, 1997.
Morwyn. The Complete Book of Psychic Arts: Divination Practices from Around the World. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 1999.