How to Read Smoke Divination: The Forgotten Art of Libanomancy and Capnomancy

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When learning how to read smoke divination, you must pay close attention to the swirling and twisting smoke rising from your incense or herbs. Watch the wisps of air dance to unlock messages from the spirit world.

Smoke is a storyteller, using its gentle movements to share ancient secrets and wisdom. Open your heart to the whispers of the unknown. Keep reading to understand the secrets and messages from the spirit world through smoke divination.

Please note that I make every effort to ensure this information is correct and accurate through my own experiences and referencing sources throughout this article.

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What is Smoke Divination?

Smoke Divination (also known as libanomancy (reading incense smoke) or capnomancy (smoke divination) is an ancient divination practice centered around interpreting the patterns, movements, and characteristics of smoke.

The rising smoke carries messages, omens, or guidance from the otherworld; in fact, smoke is often connected to the element Air. The way the smoke curls, rises, or dissipates, as well as its color, scent, and even the sounds it makes, unveils meaningful messages during a ritual.

The practice of smoke divination has taken on various forms across many cultures, but its core belief remains consistent: the idea that sacred smoke can unveil hidden truths and connect us to otherworldly realms.

History of Smoke Divination

Smoke Divination has a rich history originating back to ancient Mesopotamia (Old Babylonian 2000 BCE to 1600 BCE), located in the region of present-day Iraq.

Libanomancy was a spiritual practice closely intertwined with sacred rituals and understanding the divine. Signs or prophecies were obtained from viewing the direction and movement of smoke from loose-leaf incense scattered on a brazier.

Direct evidence of the use of many forms of divination and copies of their associated works are attested from this [Old Babylonian] period…

…we have reports and letters describing the day-to-day practice of extispicy [divination by reading the entrails of sacrificed animals], celestial, dream, and oracular divination in royal circles. The OB period was a time of high literacy, and literary productivity…

Brown, David. Astral Divination in the Context of Mesopotamian Divination.
smoke divination history

How To Read Libanomancy Chart

The Libanomantic text, Three Collated Libanomancy, offers insight into Old Babylonian interpretations of smoke divination. These texts are written in cuneiform, which is a wedge-shaped script used by Mesopotamians, as I discussed in the Pentagram article.

Since most of us can’t read cuneiform and just want a quick translation guide, Irving Finkel (British philologist) shared one, which I quoted below.

I also included a photo of the Old Babylonian tablet and an image of it reconstructed since it’s been damaged. (If you have time, I highly recommend watching his video, Mesopotamian Ghostbusting with Irving Finkel).

  1. If when you sprinkle the incense its flame burns smokily, your army will defeat an enemy.        
  2.  If when you sprinkle the incense it stops short, and afterwards its flame burns smokily, an enemy will defeat your army.
  3. If when you sprinkle the incense (the smoke) goes to its right and not to its left, you will prevail over your adversaries.      
  4. If when you sprinkle the incense (the smoke) goes to its left and not to its right, your adversary will prevail over you. 
  5. If when you sprinkle the incense (the smoke) goes to the east and does not go towards the crotch of the diviner: downfall for your adversary. 
  6. If when you sprinkle the incense (the smoke) goes towards the crotch of the diviner and does not go to the east, your adversary will prevail over you.  
  7. If when you sprinkle the incense (the smoke) goes equally in all directions: equal weapons.
  8. If when you sprinkle the incense (the smoke) clusters: success: the man will enjoy profit wherever he goes.      
  9.  If the top of the incense (smoke) is fragmented, there will be financial loss and loss of cattle in the man’s estate.    
  10.  A) If the top of the incense (smoke) is cleft ([split] in two): madness.
    • B) If the top of the incense (smoke) is cut off, the man will experience hard times.
  11. If the top of the incense (-smoke) (looks) like the brickbasket of Šamaš, there will be di’u disease in the man’s household. 
  12. If the top of the incense (-smoke) gathers like a date palm and is thin (down) at its base, hardship will seize the man. 
  13. If the incense (-smoke) after a while is constricted, hard times will befall the man. 
  14. If the incense (-smoke) after a while pushes through and gets out, the man will pull through hard times.
  15.  If the incense (smoke) pushes through to the east and gets out, the man will pull through hard times. 
Finkel, Irving. A New Piece of Libanomancy
Smoke Divination Old Babylonian Tablet Discussing Libanomancy
Old Babylonian tablet written in cuniform. Photo From: A New Piece of Libanomancy By Irving L. Finkel (The British Museum)

How to Read Smoke

Throughout time, smoke divination has spread across many cultures, including Greek, Egyptian, Roman, and many more! For example, Celtic Druids practiced smoke divination called dendromancy (2). They would cut Oak tree branches and mistletoe with a sickle, toss them into coals or a fire, and then interpret the movement of the smoke.

However, let’s take a look at how to read smoke divination in modern times.

Create a Sacred Space

Ask Your Question

  • Create a clear and specific yes or no question you want to know
  • Hold your question in your mind or say it softly to yourself
  • Remember, the question guides the reading, so make it clear

Focus on the Smoke’s Movement

  • Light your chosen incense or loose herbs and let them start to produce smoke
  • Watch how the smoke moves—does it rise quickly or slowly? Does it twist and turn gently or dance wildly?
  • Notice any patterns, curls, or shapes the smoke forms. Observe any smells or changes in its behavior
  • It’s important to note you should always consider non-magical meanings before spiritual ones. Is there a fan on in your room or an open window creating a breeze? Always consider the mundane before the magical to keep your readings accurate!

Smoke Reading Meanings

  • If the smoke rises straight and strong, that’s a positive answer or a YES
    • (Basically, if the smoke rises up, it goes straight to the Universe or the heavens. This is a good sign showing there’s no resistance)
  • If the smoke breaks apart or seems to struggle to move upward, that means NO
    • (Essentially, if the smoke won’t rise to the Universe or the heavens, this is a sign of challenges)
  • If the smoke travels down to the ground or stays near the base of the incense, this is considered a warning to change the path you’re on
  • Remember to connect with your intuition and feelings as you observe the smoke. Similar to practicing scrying or doing an egg cleanse, you want to look for any images in the smoke.
  • Do you see numbers, spirals, symbols, shapes, or animals? Those messages are meant directly for you, and only you’ll know what they mean! Trust your intuition!
  • Listen for any faint crackling or hissing sounds because the smoke might be telling you something.
  • The aroma of the smoke can also carry meaning. Reflect on how it makes you feel.
  • Pay attention to the time, because sometimes the way the smoke behaves at specific moments can be meaningful

Record and Reflect Your Observations

  • Keep a journal or a notebook handy to write down your observations and interpretations. (However, I like to record myself so I can just say things out loud that I can write in my grimoire later)
  • Reflect on the messages you saw in the smoke. How do they relate to your question?
  • Just like with candle wax readings, you must consider the broader symbolism and potential guidance the smoke has given you, and thank it for its help.

In Conclusion

  • Remember, smoke divination is a form of connecting with the spiritual otherworld. Each reading is unique and personal.
  • Over time, you’ll develop your own understanding of the smoke’s language and meanings.
  • Take what resonates with you and leave behind what doesn’t. Your intuition is your guide.

I hope you enjoyed this article about how to read smoke divination! Lots of love to you, and remember, as always…


(1) Brown, David. “Astral Divination in the Context of Mesopotamian Divination, Medicine, Religion, Magic, Society, and Scholarship.” East Asian Science, Technology, and Medicine, no. 25, 2006, pp. 69–126. JSTOR, 

(2) Dunwich, Gerina. Herbal Magick: A Guide to Herbal Enchantments, Folklore, and Divination. Weiser Books. 1 September 2019.

(3) Finkel, Irving L. “A New Piece of Libanomancy.” Archiv Für Orientforschung, vol. 29/30, 1983, pp. 50–55. JSTOR, 

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