Science-based Pyromancy & Ethical Practice of Fire Scrying

A sigil burning with normal flames. Notice the fluid shapes and upward motion.

Many spellcasters, psychics, and other spiritual practitioners rely on the use of fire through candles, oil lamps, charcoal, incense, campfires, etc. Fire is a very active and spiritually communicative element, so for many of us, it feels intuitive to incorporate this natural power into our magical work! 

But we must also keep in mind that fire is a natural physical-realm force, subject to the laws of physics and other scientific parameters, and it is incorrect to overlook the physical reality of fire in the course of conducting our spiritual work. Fire is a high-temperature chain reaction happening between heat, fuel, and an oxidizer (on earth, this is most commonly oxygen in the atmosphere). Flame is the vaporization of the substance being oxidized (on earth, this is usually some form of carbon, such as wood or a candle wick). The ionization of atoms involved in this vaporization process produces plasma, which is the visible flame. Plasma is one of four states of matter (the others being solid, liquid, and gas), and is the same state of matter as seen in lightning, the sun, and certain controlled reactions on earth such as neon signs. To work with fire is to work with matter in a plasma state (and the energy required to produce the plasma), which is one of many reasons it carries so much essential energy for change, transformation, and powering creative labors.

Fire’s color, shape, and size depend entirely on the fuel, burn temperature, and air conditions. While you can (and should) perform divination and spirit contact through flames, never lose sight of the fact that the flames you see are the product of a natural scientific process with clearly defined and measurable causes even if you cannot personally observe or articulate the nuances of the scientific process your fire is undergoing. This does not make the signs appearing in your fire any less significant, but it DOES mean you should not automatically ascribe additional layers of complexity, mystery, or confusion to a natural earthly phenomenon, even if you are choosing to engage with it in intentionally symbolic and emotionally meaningful ways.

What is significant about fire scrying and ritual fire work is the spiritual exchange that fire can facilitate between your conscious intellect and your subconscious intuition (the threshold where most spiritual/divine contact and creative inspiration happens), so YOU and your mind/your creativity/your spirit/your energy are what’s powering the magical work and providing meaning to any signs that appear– a fire that moves left or right does not inherently mean anything at all other than which way the wind is blowing, and seeing a shape in the flames does not inherently mean anything more than you were subconsciously primed to recognize that shape instead of any number of others someone else’s brain might have interpreted instead from the same flame form, as is the case with ink blots, cloud shapes, pond ripples, and other such things– the phenomenon of pareidolia lies at the heart of all divination! A wise pyromancer does not dispute this, nor allow their scrying to be undermined by it– to the contrary, a skilled magician comes to learn their own mind very well, and thereby understands when the universe/spirits/etc are interacting with their mind through the situation at hand, such as the intuitive feelings and emotions that are inspired by working with fire. 

It is absolutely possible to work with fire as a means of communicating with spirits/deities, and in these cases, it is appropriate to treat the fire as a channel for the spirit(s) to “speak” through, assuming the individual’s behavior/feelings/opinions are being represented through the flame and its consumption of the fuel. However, even then, the magician must always factor in practical contextual information– an open window will produce a draft that will change the flame’s movement, different kinds of candles and incense behave differently depending on their material, some materials will produce more smoke than others, etc. This doesn’t mean the spirit/deity is not aware of these facts, and factoring physical reality into their communication at the time, but it does mean you should either contextualize the signs accordingly or take measures to create a more neutral environment to burn/scry in. For example, a candle exposed to a steady breeze WILL bleed wax and show a skewed flame– in this case, these signs should not inherently be read as negative. If you have all the windows closed and are in a more or less still room, these same signs may signal energetic trouble. 

This candle is being intentionally breathed on as part of the ritual.

A flame can also be manipulated in all sorts of ways– breathing on it, fanning it, dropping a pinch of incense or other flammable material onto the flame, moving the wick or rearranging the logs/fuel source, etc. This is all normal, but also VERY important to factor in to how you are conducting the work. In some workings, it may be appropriate to interact with the flame and see how it responds to your action. In other situations, it may be incorrect to meddle and more important to stand back and see how the fire burns naturally when left alone. 

When commissioning fire-based work from spellcasters and psychics, I recommend looking through their portfolio/example photos/social media posts/etc. to see what kinds of environments they burn in, and how transparent they are about their practice with fire/what’s going on in any example photos, and whether they are someone who seems more likely to read positive/peaceful/neutral signs from fire or whether they seem prone to reading flames more negatively or being sensationalist/dramatic about spirit signs that appear. 

Personally, my red flags include things like:

This fire has had iron filings cast into it.
  • Many photos of flames with an extreme lean, with this being described as indicative of high energy/action/spirit interaction/etc. Flames don’t lean past about ~60 degree angle unless there’s a significant draft/breeze or someone blowing on the flame, and I have never personally seen evidence of a spiritual entity being able to literally blow on a fire to this degree. Spirits/deities may be able to produce natural breeze/sudden gusts during ritual work, especially when working outside, but if so, this should be clearly talked about in the practitioner’s report of the service!
  • Many photos of flames that show very straight horizontal lines or jagged hooks (especially with downward pointing curves) within their shapes. This is very seldom a natural flame form, and is far more often the result of someone blowing on it/fanning it/otherwise manipulating the airflow in the area. Fire prefers to flow/move in fluid-like shapes and move upward. Similarly, videos that show candle flames with really busy/high movement/erratic flames are NOT usually “spirit activity,” there’s probably just a fan going somewhere in the room or a drafty window open! Always use your discernment when looking at photos and videos of fire and remember the scientific principles that govern airflow and combustion processes.
  • Many photos with showy sparks/explosive effects with no discussion of how this is being produced, and/or attributing the effect solely to spiritual interaction. Most showy gold sparks you’ll see in images of fire are either iron filings being cast on the flame, natural knots in the wood/other irregularities in the fuel popping, seedpods/pinecones, or other materials being used to stoke the fire. Mineral supplement powders like potassium and magnesium will flash and produce brief colors when cast into fire, and even things like powdered coffee creamers/sweeteners and corn starch will produce dramatic poofs of flame when cast in. This doesn’t mean a big flash of sparks can’t/shouldn’t be read as a positive sign of “received/successful” within the working, it just means we have to be honest that it’s a two-way exchange and not JUST spiritual forces causing this reaction to happen in the fire! Magicians/alchemists have been doing this kind of interactive pyromancy forever, so there’s no problem with manipulating fire this way as part of ritual practice, but the magician SHOULD be transparent about their methods and make it clear in their social media posts/client reports/other discussion areas when they are doing this to the flame. In my personal experience, spirits are not able to spontaneously produce explosions/colored flames/sparks/etc that would be outside the physical properties of the fuel and environmental conditions of the burn. Remember: normal fires will be blue/purple around the hottest areas of the burn and gold/reddish orange in the “cooler” areas– any colors other than golds/reds/purples are the result of added materials/chemicals, such as colored inks on paper being burned or special “fairy fire” blends of powders sold in many stores during camping season.
These candles are in the room with a ceiling fan on.

Some quick rules of thumb to help with identifying what kinds of fire reactions you’re seeing in photos and videos:

  • Fire always wants to go UP! If the flame is moving in a direction other than straight up, there ARE air currents at work. Sometimes this can be the natural convection/heated airflow produced by the fire itself (this is what makes flames “ripple”!) but if the flame looks to be leaning to one side, there IS outside breeze/airflow influencing its motion, which is normal, but this should not be held up as obvious evidence of spirit presence/influence.
  • Fire does not just spontaneously flare/explode/spark. There is something in the fuel itself (such as a knot in the campfire wood, an impurity in the candle wax or wick, a variation in the incense, etc) causing the sudden expression within the flame. This can be incorporated into one’s scrying/spirit work, but should NOT be the sole basis of interpreting spirit messages or getting an energetic read on a situation.
  • Candle wicks drastically affect how a burn goes. If the wick flops over and sticks to the side of the candle, it WILL bleed wax. If the wick is long/tall, there will be a bigger flame. It’s up to the spellcaster if they choose to leave a candle untouched or if they choose to intervene when there is a physical issue with the candle. Either way, a practitioner should make it clear when they have or have not touched a candle in the course of its burn when there is a significant sign from the wick or wax flow. BEWARE: it IS possible to simply push a candle wick over with a pin/nail/etc while it is burning and cause a candle to bleed wax or have a showy display. You are 100% trusting your hired magician to not be manipulating the candle and then creating a story about it for you! Be wary of practitioners who seem to rely on a lot of dramatic candle signs or giving bad news/scary signs/negative spirit messages/etc from their candle work. 

As with many kinds of spiritual care and pathwork, if you have a fire spell or reading done that generates signs you find concerning or do not resonate with your situation, get a second opinion from a different pyromancer or (if you have space/ability) try burning a candle at home and seeing if your own direct experience with fire feels the same way/yields the same messages.

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