Sideromancy - Predicting the Future with Natural Phenomena

The practice of divination goes back to the first time that mankind attempted to guess what tomorrow will bring based on observation of such natural phenomena as weather, the celestial sky or behavior of animals. The earliest humans mostly used objects of nature to carry out their divinatory practices and one of the more unusual among these was sideromancy.

Sideromancy is a form of divination that uses straw as a way of reading the future. According to this, seers use a hot iron to set straw a-smoldering, and study the various shapes the stalks adopt as they slowly catch fire; the shapes are then interpreted as portents for the future sometimes. The term goes back to ancient Greek for iron, sideros, and for prophecy, manteia.

According to the most common practice of sideromancy the seer would throw an odd number of Straws on a flat iron surface made red-hot by fire and then observe the shapes, sparks, bends and twists that they made while burning. Sometimes a hot skillet or pan was used to catch the straws upon which they would sizzle and burn, all these signs being late interpreted as portents of the future. The diviners would also consider the shape of the flame as the straws caught fire or movements of any smoke given off during the process as a way of interpreting the shape of things to come.  Straws that were used for this practice could come from a broom, arid twigs, yarrow stalks and so on, basically anything that was well dried and would quickly catch fire.

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Sideromancy was practiced by the ancient Romans as a form of divination who sometimes substituted traditional straw with crushed peas or beans. In this sense sideromancy is a form of causiomancy which is a divinatory practice that studies the behavior of objects cast into flames and draw their conclusions from the way they react to the melting heat. When an object is placed in a fire, it may burn, melt, change color, evaporate and move or behave in a variety of ways and all these form the basis of readings in causiomancy.

Ultimately sideromancy like causiomancy is a form of pyramancy which is divination by fire. Since ancient times, seers have been consigning a whole range of objects, starting from leaves and twigs to metals, animals and humans even, to the flames in an attempt to reveal hidden knowledge as well as foresee the future. This forms the core subject of pyramancy even though the practice can take as many forms as the kinds of objects burnt to read the future. Not much is known about the history of sideromancy except that it was pagan in origin and was practiced by select cultures in ancient Greece and Rome.