A friend of mine who thinks that she is under influence of black magic met an astrologer. The astrologer asked her to wear a t-shirt for three nights and then bring that to him. The astrologer then cut some lemons and rubbed them throughout the t-shirt. Then he poured some water on her hands and face; and asked her to keep the t-shirt on her palm. After about 15 minutes, the y-shirt caught fire and the astrologer dropped the rest of water to put the fire down.

I'm now wondering what chemical could cause this fire. I know that the water looked muddy. Would you please help me to find out what material was potentially used by the astrologer? I'm suspicious of the acid in the lemons and water which has been used, as well as body fat or sweat perhaps was on the t-shirt too. She was telling me that at first, smoke color was white but then it turned to black after the t-shirt caught fire. The smell of the fire was as bad as rotten meat.

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    $\begingroup$ Was an alcoholic smell around? $\endgroup$ – Alchimista Feb 20 '18 at 15:51
  • $\begingroup$ Not sure about alcoholic smell. I been told that was very bad smell seems a dead body smell $\endgroup$ – user59309 Feb 20 '18 at 16:17
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    $\begingroup$ And here my inner sceptic activates and a question arises: I don't see any proof here so how am I supposed know if you or your colleague didn't made it up? Even if it's not the case, then it was a trick and these are made to be hard to analyse and fool people. Therefore I don't see how it's supposed to be valid question. $\endgroup$ – Mithoron Feb 20 '18 at 21:27
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    $\begingroup$ Is this just a curiosity, where you believe the events can be explained by chemistry, but don't yet know the chemicals? Or do you plan to accomplish something with this information? Or are you worried about how long you can wear a shirt before drinking margaritas becomes hazardous? ;-) $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Feb 20 '18 at 22:19
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    $\begingroup$ Magic tricks don't usually rely on exotic physics or chemistry, they just rely on the fact that humans have limited perceptive abilities. I'd personally guess that the guy had a hidden lighter somewhere before assuming there's some secret chemistry at play. $\endgroup$ – chipbuster Feb 21 '18 at 3:29

White phosphorus can spontaneously ignite in air, and produces white smoke.

Some oils, like linseed oil, on bunched-up cloth can also spontaneously combust.

  • $\begingroup$ The problem is we don't know what exactly he used. All I know is that after he rubbed cut lemons on cloths, and after about 15 minutes the cloths ignited. Perhaps it make sense to you that whatever trick it was, he done it perfectly without she realises what's going on. $\endgroup$ – user59309 Feb 20 '18 at 17:41
  • $\begingroup$ All the clue that I have, the time of around 15 minutes and white smoke at the first of ignition as well as bad smell like a dead body smell. That's all I know. I'm not sure how long does it take for white phosphorus or linseed oil to ignite. $\endgroup$ – user59309 Feb 20 '18 at 17:45
  • $\begingroup$ In meantime, in my point of view, this should be an old style alchemy that used by such people and passed generation to generation. I don't feel it's a new chemistry science. $\endgroup$ – user59309 Feb 20 '18 at 17:51
  • $\begingroup$ @user59309 linseed oil soaked rag took 3 hours and 10 minutes in this experiment: abcnews.go.com/GMA/ConsumerNews/… however, if the ambient temperature is high, it would take less time. $\endgroup$ – DavePhD Feb 20 '18 at 17:52
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    $\begingroup$ @user59309 "a small chunk of white phosphorus has been left exposed to air for about 15 minutes (which is not shown); the white phosphorus then spontaneously ignites, producing a brilliant" angelo.edu/faculty/kboudrea/demos/burning_phosphorus/… $\endgroup$ – DavePhD Feb 20 '18 at 17:53

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