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Fire Oracles

ashes atop hot, glowing coals

The World is Your Oracle

by Nancy Vedder-Shults

Nancy's forthcoming book, The World is Your Oracle, compiles hundreds of divination methods, from ancient oracles to modern-day techniques. The excerpts published here will describe a few of the ways to access the deeper layers of our minds and broaden our sense of perception.

A good oracle puts us in touch with ourselves. It lets us discover our motivations, feelings and thoughts about the question we're exploring. And it connects us with the atmosphere or environment surrounding that question — making us aware of the water we swim in, but usually don't notice.

To receive inner guidance, all we need is to open ourselves to what our body/mind tells us, what our emotions display, and what our unconscious knows. In this way, we can begin to hear with our inner ears and see with our inner eyes. Using these mystical senses — what we might call the sense organs of the unconscious — we perceive holistically, noticing relationships and patterns rather than isolating, classifying and judging what we observe. Once we have gathered this wisdom, we can then use the rational mind to interpret what we have learned.

We live in an interconnected world, a web of life. Each segment of that web reflects the whole just like fractal designs or holography. That's why the patterns we discover through divination give us information. They mimic the relationships of the whole at a particular moment in time.

We in the West inherited Aristotle's view of the elements. Like earlier Greek philosophers, Aristotle believed that four elements constituted all physical matter — earth, air, fire and water — but he also added a fifth, "ether," a heavenly substance that gave rise to the stars. This cosmological concept deeply influenced our culture until the sixteenth or seventeenth century, when more scientific understandings of nature began to displace it. Luckily for us, western mysticism preserved this ancient way of thinking, keeping it alive in tarot and astrology, and even in our common playing cards with their four suits.

Of the elements, fire demonstrates change most directly. In fact, many traditions name fire the great transformer, since anything that burns must certainly change. In China and Tibet, fire's symbolism resembles that of the West, although the Chinese system is more elaborate. It correlates each of the elements with a color (for fire, it's red), a direction (south), numbers (2 and 7), a climate (hot), a planet (Mars), a sound (laughing), an emotion (joy), an hour (9 a.m. to 1 p.m.) and an animal (the phoenix). Linking these characteristics together, I love the idea of a joyful, laughing fire.

In the West as in China, we associate fire with the direction south, but here it represents will power and passion, each an agent of change. The power of will provides the energy necessary to implement any personal transition, and passion transforms us in its fiery embrace. A fire can also warm us in the winter or spark the imagination as we watch its mesmerizing flames dance. It's this final quality that influences us during divination, although fire's ability to symbolically purify also comes into play.

Divination Methods
To begin, ground yourself by feeling your feet planted firmly on the earth, and then center yourself by using your favorite breathing exercise. This will help you set your antennae wide to hear with your inner ears, see with your inner eyes or feel with your inner empathy and sense of touch in order to gain the divinatory advice fire can bring to you. When an oracle has uttered its wisdom, nudged you with a feeling of rightness or opened your eyes with a new insight, be sure to express your gratitude for its guidance. And thank fire for its help as well.

Fire, Fire, Burning Bright
Watching a fire spark and flame serves as one of my favorite divination methods, because it lulls me so effortlessly into a trance state. In fact, the ancients used at least part of this technique when they employed capnomancy, the study of smoke rising from a fire. It can also work well for you if you follow the steps outlined below:

  1. Decide on your divinatory query.
  2. Ground and center.
  3. Light a fire. You can light a simple candle, a roaring campfire, an indoor hearth fire, a gas fireplace or even a wood stove with its door open.
  4. Let yourself become entranced — let the fire transport you to an altered state of mind, reminding yourself occasionally of your oracular question.
  5. Watch and listen to the fire for ten to fifteen minutes. Your answer may arrive while you gaze at the flames.
  6. If you are still waiting after fifteen minutes, close your eyes and sit in silence for another five minutes. Your oracular response may come during this period of stillness.
  7. Identify and analyze the guidance.
Identifying and Analyzing the Guidance

Your oracular guidance may come during your trance or just afterwards, from the fire or from within yourself, as well as in a variety of forms, visual, auditory and kinesthetic: as a vision, words or some other sound, or as awareness of a feeling or subtle movement. Be open to your intuition, and you will sink within yourself to your deeper wisdom.

If you can't immediately decipher your oracle, see "Free Association," my column in the last issue of MatriFocus. The beginning of that article outlines how to interpret a divination using free association.

Snap, Crackle and Pop
Listening to a fire can also provide a powerful oracular experience. To use this practice as a divinatory method, follow the steps in Fire, Fire Burning Bright, except for steps 4 and 5:

  1. ...
  2. ...
  3. ...
  4. State your question out loud. Let yourself become entranced — let the fire transport you to an altered state of mind, reminding yourself occasionally of your oracular question.
  5. Listen to the fire for ten to fifteen minutes. Your answer may arrive while you listen to the flames.
  6. ...
  7. ...

Ashes to Ashes
Another technique that may prove particularly effective for visual perceivers is to burn your query. Seeing the transformation from paper to ash creates a powerful visual representation of the change an oracle can facilitate.

Decide on your divinatory query.

  1. Prepare a safe place for burning.
  2. Write your question on a small piece of paper.
  3. Ground and center.
  4. Drop your query into the flames.
  5. Watch it go up in smoke (another potential source of illumination).
  6. Once the paper has burned, examine the form taken by the remaining ash for information about your question.
  7. Identify and analyze the guidance.
A Safe Place for Burning

Outdoors
If possible, it is best to perform this oracle in a metal bowl or tub outside. Using such a container will allow you to easily identify the ash created by burning your piece of paper without having to distinguish it from other cinders in a fireplace or campfire.

Indoors
If you need to ignite your query inside, you can safely use what I call "Bridget's fire." This contained blaze employs both fire and water, two elements associated with the goddess Bridget. The water safely absorbs the heat of the blaze, and the fire produces a smokeless flame, making it ideal for indoors. Once your query has burned, you can clearly discern the ash on the remaining Epsom salts.

To use Bridget's fire:
a. Pour 2 tablespoons of Epsom salts and 2 tablespoons of rubbing alcohol into a small metal bowl. This recipe is for a single piece of paper. If you are going to burn two or three queries, use proportionately more ingredients.
b. Place the small metal bowl inside a larger bowl filled with water. The water will safely absorb the heat from the blaze.
c. Ignite the fire by touching a long fireplace match to the surface of the mixture. Watch your fingers; the alcohol flares up quickly.

Smudging
Another oracular method that utilizes fire is smudging, a form of purification employing incense or a smudge stick. This technique will appeal most to people who enjoy open-ended oracles. It involves at least three of your senses: sight, smell and touch. It will help you settle into an oracular space, so that you can focus more clearly on your divinatory issue.

  1. Choose a fireproof area. Such an area might include a sink, stove or a fireproof container of some kind. Make sure there's dirt, sand, or water to use for extinguishing the smudge.
  2. Determine your oracular question.
  3. Ground and center.
  4. Light a smudge stick or a piece of incense over the fireproof area. As you light your flame, remind yourself of your query.
  5. When your incense or smudge stick is burning well, extinguish the fire by gently shaking it. Then sweep the resulting smoke over your body with your free hand, a fan or a feather. As the incense washes over your head, arms, torso, legs and feet, imagine all thoughts and sensations that are unnecessary to your oracle blowing away as the smoke disperses into the air.
  6. Extinguish your smudge stick or incense by grinding it into the dirt or sand. This method allows it to be relit if necessary. Alternately, you can dip the end of the smudge stick or incense in water, but bear in mind that it won't relight until it has fully dried out.
  7. Sit in silence with your question for ten minutes at most.
  8. Identify and analyze the guidance.

Important:
Usually within a few minutes you will begin to have an inkling of your inner guidance. But occasionally you will need to revisit this practice — perhaps a number of times over the following days — in order to quiet your surface mind sufficiently to access your deepest wisdom.

Graphics Credits

  • ashes, courtesy of Digiology.
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