Smoke signals were used by American Indians to send messages. There was no standardised code for these signals because they could be read by your enemies as well as your friends, so when used to send secret messages the signs were agreed in advance, case by case. However, there were a few more or less recognized smoke signals including the following; one puff meant ‘attention’, two puffs meant ‘all’s well’, three puffs, or three fires in a row, signified ‘danger’.
Amongst the Apache, the sighting of one puff quickly losing its geometric shape indicated that a strange party had been spotted approaching. If puffs were frequent and rapidly repeated, it transmitted the message that ‘the stranger approaching’ was in fact many in number and armed.
Sending stations were built on top of hills, so that the signals could be seen from a long distance away. Fires were built in ‘fire bowls’, saucer shaped holes about 5ft across lined with stones which stopped the fire escaping. Poles were laid over the ‘bowls’ with skins attached, and these were used to fashion the smoke from the fire into signals. Smoke could be made to curl in spirals and ascend in puffs, circles, or even parallel lines. Some signals resembled the letter V or Y and some were zigzag. To send messages over long distances tribes would make a chain of fires to transmit the signal from hilltop to hilltop.
The Stuarts thought breathing the smoke from the sole of an old shoe would help if you accidentally swallowed a snake.
Smoke signals are used during the conclave to choose a new Pope. Ever since the great vote-rigging scandal of ad 607 the electors have been forbidden (on pain of excommunication) from discussing potential successors during the Pope's lifetime. It's also regarded as poor form to look papabile (i.e. like potential Pope material), so the election is always a very open and sporting event.
Fifteen to twenty days after the death of the incumbent the cardinals meet in the Sistine Chapel under the Last Judgement fresco. There is a series of ballots, and after each one they burn the ballot papers, adding a bit of damp straw (or more recently, chemicals) to make the smoke black if they haven't got a winner, or leave it to burn white if they have. Since 2005 they also ring a bell so people know the decision has definitely been made.
The Yámana tribe used smoke signals to alert people if a whale drifted ashore – to avoid wastage.
In the 19th century, tobacco was used for ‘rectal inflation’: blowing smoke up the anus
to resuscitate the drowned.
American Indians who inhabited the Great Plains communicated through sign language. It was a way for tribal groups to interact, irrespective of differences in their spoken languages. This language was probably the first American language and may be the only universal American language.
Australian Aborigines would send up smoke to notify others of their presence, particularly when entering lands which were not their own. However, these were not complex signals; smoke simply told others where you were.
One may have a blazing hearth in one's soul and yet no one ever come to sit by it. Passersby see only a wisp of smoke from the chimney and continue on the way.