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Divination - Pyromancy

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Pyromancy is divination by fire.  Due to the importance of fire in society in prehistory and its continued importance within civilisations, it is quite likely that Pyromancy was one of the earlier forms of divination, arising independently in many civilisations around the world.

In much of Western Culture, fire was often associated with a god, or revered as a god itself.  Fire was associated with a living being -- it ate, breathed, grew, decayed, and died -- in both Western and non-Western religions.  Fire was so basic to the human experience that it persisted in the minds of humanity as an element close to nature.

In the Old Testament, fire was often associated with divine intervention; with the burning bush guiding the decision of Moses, and the pillar of fire guiding the Israelites in the wilderness.  Even the burning of Sodom and Gomorrah was accomplished through divine retribution.

Fire rituals in Mesopotamia and Eurasia were thought to originate with ancient Zoroastrian rituals around the use of fire in temples and on altars.  Greek legends of the origins of fire speak of the importance of fire to separate humans from animals.  To many Ancient Greeks, fire was a godly element bestowed by higher forces; given to humanity by the Titan, Prometheus, (the Titan god of fire).  In ancient Greece, virgins at the Temple of Athena in Athens regularly practiced Pyromancy, being responsible for making predictions by observing the perpetually burning fire there.  It was also likely practiced by the followers of Hephaestus, the Greek god of the forge.  In Renaissance magic, Pyromancy was classified as one of the seven ‘forbidden arts’, along with Necromancy, Geomancy, Aeromancy, Hydromancy and Chiromancy (Palmistry).

Fire rituals in East Asia most often revolved around animal bones.  In Ancient China, Japan and Tibet, bones from animal scapula (the shoulder bone) would be thrown into fires, and the cracks would be interpreted to divine the future.  In Japan, specifically, turtle shells would also be used as a ritualistic divination technique.  In Tibet, such divination was used to understand natural phenomena otherwise inexplicable to villagers.  Lamps using animal fat were often burned by ancient Tibetan peoples, and the smoke and flames were interpreted as the guidance of natural forces.  In sacrificial Pyromancy, the outlook was good when the flame burned profusely to consume the sacrifice quickly, but if it was slow, it normally foretold of evil.

Divination by Torches

When divining by torches, if the flame formed a single point it was deemed to be a good omen, bad if it split into two, while three was considered an even luckier omen then one.  If the flame flickered, i.e. it was bent, this was taken to foretell sickness for the healthy, and death for those unfortunate enough to be sick already.  Its sudden extinction was said to predict the coming of an awesome disaster or catastrophe.  In sacrificial Pyromancy, the outlook was good when the flame burned profusely to consume the sacrifice quickly, but if it was slow, it normally foretold of evil.

Some Different Methods of Pyromancy

The most basic form of Pyromancy is that in which flames from a sacrificial fire, a candle, or some other source are observed, from which the diviner interprets the shapes that he or she sees within them.  There are several variations relating to Pyromancy, some of which are listed below:

  • Alomancy – This is divination which involves throwing salt into a fire.
  • Botanomancy – This is divination by burning flora.
  • Capnomancy – This is divination by smoke.
  • Causinomancy – This is divination by burning - non-specific as to the object burned.
  • Daphnomancy – This is divination burning laurel leaves.
  • Osteomancy – This is divination using bones.
  • Plastromancy – This is divination using the under part of turtle or tortoise shells.
  • Scapulimancy – This is divination by scapulae (shoulder blades).
  • Sideromancy – This is divination by burning straw.

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