Candle magick is having a bit of a moment. I see all these beautiful candles, beeswax, soy, hand rolled in herbs, loose resin sprinkled around (and the cynic in me is like “That is going to burn everyfuckingthing down.”) The magpie aesthetically-pleased other part of me is desperate to have a full set of intention candles, complete with crystals on top, for every sabbat, season and opportunity. I could easily create my own, as there are so many candle making kits out there, and I’ve definitely bought enough tumblestones over the years, but I just love shopping with small businesses too much. I’m sure many of you feel the same way in our witchy little community; they are so easy for spellwork. But you know what is really fun for once you’ve lit your beautiful candle, and there’s not much else work to be done? Capnomancy.
Capnomancy is a form of smoke scrying (like daphnomancy, which is burning bay leaves/wood). And what is scrying, you may ask? Simply put, gazing at an object and divining answers/the future through symbolism, shapes and movement. Smoke scrying is typically linked to burning incense and the flow of the smoke from it, but I’m not typical. It’s a great low key divination because you can simply be lighting incense in your home for the smell (for those in the broom closet) or if you have been having a lot of energy surges and need some calm low energy grounding divination to sort through the noise of your thoughts. I like to use capnomancy for herbal cigarettes, burning herbs (hello Sage smoke cleanse), on a fire or used in a fire pit, loose incense or burning used tea leaves, and with snuffed intention candles. Here is when I typically use capnomancy as a form of divination:
New Moon/Yule/Imbolc: With incense amongst bath rituals.
Waxing Moon/Ostara/Beltane: With Intention Candles, spell candles, herbal cigarettes.
Full Moon/Litha/Samhain: With fire logs, fire pits, and bonfires.
Waning Moon/Lughnasadh/Mabon: With incense, burning sage and other herbs for cleansing, loose incense, burning used tea leaves.
Different moon phases and different sabbats all have different meanings behind them, so for example I sage-smoke cleanse my home on a waning moon phase, the perfect time for cleansing with a herb perfect for cleansing. I want to metaphysically wash away all the bad vibes, any lingering energies, and any physical bad bacteria (sage is antimicrobial). I personally find that most of my deep divination work is strongest when it is Litha or Samhain. The sage smoke pattern that I may see tells me how the cleansing is going; is it strong and straight up, indicating things are cleansing well? Is it erratic and wavy, does that mean that I need to do extra protection work (or move from draughts because the bloody window is open)? Is it thick white purifying smoke, or is it darker to tell me something is going on here?
When it comes to reading smoke I do advise to follow your own intuition, however below is a small list that I have compiled over the years for personal use from multiple sources.
Intention Candles/Spellwork Candles: When snuffed out, I use it to gauge whether the intention will be successful or not based on how much smoke there is after (from weak to powerful), and any symbols/shapes I see in the smoke I note down for referencing later.
Incense/Herbs/Tea leaves/Herbal Cigarettes: When smoke is rising strongly (with no draughts or breezes present) I can spend time watching the smoke scrying for shapes, signs, symbols and meanings. I ponder on what I see, make a note of different signs, and any directions they flow in based on my thought or dwelled on question.
Fire/Bonfires/Fire Pits/Log Fires: I look for full pictures mainly where the flames/sparks meet the smoke, and get enchanted by the dance. I note multiple images usually quite quickly, and then focus down a certain storyline that the images show to me. Emotionally I’m following a plot, psychologically I’m looking for what my subconscious is trying to show me.
When researching any smoke symbolism later, I look into what is said for the same manifestations in dreams or tea leaves if I don’t already have an understanding of what I’ve seen. If it’s thunder I’ve witnessed, potentially it’s overwhelming feelings that surround my problems that mean I need a break and clarity (a sunnier time) to understand it. Or it could be a literal translation of a storm is brewing, there is too much authoritative power that I feel out of control by. If I see a door, it could mean opportunities are opening up for me or closing for me, depending on what I see. If I’ve questioned whether to go ahead with a project, and I see what reminds me of a field/countryside, I may feel that the project will grow and provide abundance for me, just like an actual field. I very much use divination as a tie between what my conscious needs vs what my subconscious knows, and I trust myself with the messages I pick out. You should too.