Pyromancy is a form of divination involving the use of fire. It was probably one of the earliest forms of divination – fire being one of the most important elements in the ancient times – and was often practiced in ancient Greece. The Greeks of the ancient world would often observe the behavior of the sacrificial fire. It is understood that the vestal virgins at the Temple of Athena in Athens practiced pyromancy. Hot and fast fire was considered a good omen, whereas the slow burn of the fire considered to be detrimental.
Similar practices also existed where the flames from the burning of select objects were also observed, and predictions and omens drawn from them. The ancients divined by observing the flames of torches, as well. A fame forming a single point was considered good, where as a split flame was considered a bad omen. Strangely, a flame split into three was considered better than the flame with a single point. A bending flame was a sign of sickness for a healthy person, and a sign of death for a sick person. If a flame extinguished suddenly, it presaged the coming of a catastrophe.
The ancient Chinese too, during the Shang and Zhou dynasties practiced a form of pyromancy, where the cracks produced by the burning or heating of the shoulder blades (scapulae) of the oxen, and the turtle shells were read for omens.
Types Of Pyromancy
There were different systems of pyromancy, with different diviners having their own methods for divination. Some would throw some object into the flames and make predictions from the manner they burned, and some pyromancers with a higher gift of vision would read the activities of fire souls, such as salamanders – which sport in the flames.
A look at the various forms of pyromancy:
• Pyroscopy – This form of pyromancy consisted of burning a sheet of paper on a white surface and examining the stains.
• Alomancy – Also known as Halomancy, this form of divination consisted of the casting of salt into a fire. It has been coined from two Greek words – halo, meaning salt, and manteia, meaning divination.
• Capnomancy – From two Greek words – kapnos (smoke) and manteia (divination), capnomancy is also known as Libanomancy. This form of divination interprets the movement of smoke arising from a sacrificial fire. It was considered a good sign if it rose lightly from the altar, and ascended straight to the clouds; but not if it hung about.
• Sideromancy – This consists of dropping an odd number of dry straws onto a hot iron skillet, and then reading the patterns formed by the straws. Their twists, bending, and movements as they burn on the sizzling surface, or the shape of the flame and the smoke resulting from it, told a lot to the diviner.
• Lychnoscopy – Also known as Lychnomancy, lychnoscopy is a form of pyromancy involving the use of three candles arranged in a triangle.
• Botanomancy - A method of pyromancy involving the burning of leaves, herbs and tree branches. Usually vervain (type of herbs) and/or brier (a plant with a thorny or prickly woody stem) were used. Omens were drawn from the smoke and ashes generated.