Thursday, March 6, 2014

Following the Lamp and Reading the Ashes

From Goat and Candle, October 2001

It defies the exacting eye of science; it is rendered a secret sacred treasure by innumerable mythologies; it is a symbol of destruction and divine presence, hearth and elemental fury, fertility and the blackened sterility that births new life. Fire is an ideal medium for divination, for it is at once a symbol of power, manifestation and majesty, and a thing of beauty that draws our gaze and embodies the primal promises of life and the pyres of the worlds beyond. And, certainly, the divine spark within us all, the lamp that burns without oil, calls us to utilize our full potential and recapture the unfettered sight of our youthful days, when our dreams and our goals were one and the same. The various forms of divination are the means to that radiant end.

Pyromancy is basically simple fire gazing, divination through analyzing the flames of an object as it burns, or allowing the flames of a burning object to induce an altered state of consciousness. This core method, coupled with intuition and symbolic thought, is often effective, but it should be remembered that, via the laws of magick, specific magickal emphasis can placed upon the object to be used. For instance, in ages past, a replica of an enemy's castle might be constructed and ignited. If it burns quickly and evenly, the battle will be short and the enemy will fall. But if the flames gather at the front of the miniature edifice and it burns slowly, it should be assumed that the fortress is well defended and the battle will be arduous, if undertaken at all.

This would be easily adapted to modern quandaries. If three elements of a situation seem to be drawing you simultaneously - say, three different job offers at once - and you want to determine which is the prospect that will work out for you and endure, divide a piece of flammable material into thirds. Charge each third with the appropriate energy and cast the material into an open flame. The third which lasts the longest before being consumed is your best bet. As an interesting footnote, divination through interpreting shadows, specifically those cast by open flames, is called sciomancy. If you're looking for a final note of closure after engaging in pyromancy, this method would provide that desired exclamation point.

The creative coupling of fire and the written word emerges in the form of spodomancy, which is divination by fire through the use of messages or sigils written on paper. A question can be put down in words or rendered as a sigil on various forms of paper (and you can certainly experiment with symbolic meaning here - for instance, velum for questions of love, parchment for questions of achievement, newspaper or pulp paper for matters of communication, etc.) and cast into a fire. The flames are then scrutinized in terms of intensity, shape and form for suggestive value. But most often the ashes are the substance to be examined. Just as we consume foodstuffs for nourishment, fire consumes that which burns for sustenance. Ashes can be read like tealeaves, and for this undertaking, a good dream symbol dictionary or tasseography (tea leaf reading) guide is a must.

A variant of this requires the production of a great deal of ash. Sacred woods can burned, the symbolic values of the woods chosen to match the criteria of the query. In the evening hours, once the ashes are cool, they should be spread in a thick layer over a set outdoor area, whether a clearing in a wooded area or a second floor balcony. The querent then analyzes his or her reason for divination and reduces it to words or sigils, and traces the words or sigils in the ashes. The ashes are then left overnight to the elements and, if in a rural setting, to any visiting power animal or curious critter. The results are then assessed in the morning.

Lampadomancy is an ancient tradition, the elements of which have spawned a thousand and one tales of adventure and romance. It is divination through the observation of flames specifically from a candle, torch or lamp. This includes lynchomancy, divining the future through studying the flame at the base of the candle's or lamp's wick and the actions of the wick during burning. Ironically, in ancient times, only children could engage in lynchomancy, as their vision and imagination were untouched by incredulity and cynicism (and isn't that the sort of prescience we all long for?). In fact, an early form of lynchomancy, practiced by the Greeks presaged the use of the triangle by ceremonial magickians. Four candles were used. Three were placed in a triangle with the fourth placed in the center. The triangle was believed to attract the proper spirits who would act upon the fourth candle which was the true divinatory tool.

Just as autumn's chill touch is being felt, comes capnomancy, using the patterns of smoke made by the burning of various materials for the purpose of divination. Once the age of the burnt offering had passed (divination using this source of smoke was called extispicy), laurel leaves were a common choice (so common it had a specific label: daphnomancy), as were various herbs and incenses (the use of sacred incenses was specifically referred to as libanomancy) as well as certain tree barks and seeds.

A variation of this method is the Halloween tradition of foretelling the future by placing hazel nuts close to a raging fire and assigning each a name, goal or the like. If the nut exploded, the forecast was good, if it merely smoldered and caught fire, the outlook was poor.

And let us not forget an oft-overlooked form of botanomancy - divination through utilizing various forms of plant life. Burning leaves provide an excellent fount for capnomantic smoke, moved about by the seasonal winds of change. What better use for those vexing autumn leaves than as a medium for foretelling what the lighter half of the year will bring.

- Frater S.P.R.V.

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