Also known as spodomancy, this ancient form of divination uses cinders, ashes, and even the soot from sacrificial fires to find clues into the past, present, and future.
The traditional method uses ashes from a ritual sacrifice. The diviner would write or sketch the question in the ash. It was then left overnight. The following morning, the diviner would look for clues in the ashes. Some letters or symbols would become unreadable; the remaining legible letters or symbols were used to determine the response.
Versions of this form of divination have been traced back through all ancient cultures. It is easy to imagine prehistoric man, hunched over a newly-acquired flame, rubbing symbols into the dirt and hoping for a reply.
An early Masonic organization, founded in 1733, described the practice. A thick layer of ashes were scattered on a flat surface where the air might move across it. A question was then written in the ash, and the ashes left overnight. Any letters that were legible in the morning were meant to be omens. By placing the letters in their “natural order”, the word formed would provide the answer to the question. However, the spirits are not always so kind – sometimes the letters do not clearly spell out the word. In those cases, a period of study and reflection would provide the answer.
In the Middle Ages, people used cinders which popped out of the fire as wood crackled and burned. The shape of the cinder indicated either a good omen or bad. Round cylinders, reminiscent of purses, where an omen of prosperity; heart-shaped cinders indicated a lover. Oval cylinders foretold the coming of a child. However, oblong cinders with a hollowed core were a bad omen. These coffin-shaped cinders foretold a death in the family.
In Scotland, it was an ill omen if soot fell down the chimney – the newly-married couple would experience bad luck.