Kumalak is a divinatory form I’ve been learning for a little over two years. As soon as I picked it up on the advice of an ancestor, I quickly came to embrace it as a frank, accurate, and attractive oracle my spirits are able to express their messages through. The system, which a good friend of mine described as “the best geomantic oracle that nobody ever heard of”, is native to Central Asia, most popular in modern-day Kazakhstan, and employed by a variety of folk magicians and shamans for divining the future. Kumalak does have a presence in the Balkans, as well as in Russia (and I’m sure in many more countries in the general geographic region). I’ve personally seen healers and cunning folk from Eastern Serbia divine with Kumalak using corn brought to them by their clients. Like geomancy, it can provide advice both incredibly esoteric and utterly mundane, and is remarkably versatile despite being far less complicated than its more famous counterpart.
To read Kumalak, you need 41 beans of any kind (or pebbles, seeds, pieces of corn etc.) and, optionally, 3×3 square cell grid. You can paint one on cloth to have a permanent, ready-to-use surface (consecrated by the hands of the appropriate spirits), or you can redraw it each time on paper or in the sand. The grid is not necessary on its own, most readers I’ve met will either draw it temporarily with grain, chalk, or in the dirt, or the’ll omit it entirely and just arrange the beans evenly along visualized lines. I prefer to have the lines visible since I have a consecrated cloth I’ve baptized with the four elements, but it’s important to note that it’s not required.
As a quick aside, I wanted to note that I keep my beans in a leather container that I shake while intoning the Hygromanteia prayer of the day for whichever planet is ruling the question—though this is my own addition and not at all a necessary step. If you feel inclined, I do find that beginning with a prayer to an intelligence governing the general situation increases the accuracy of the reading. In other circumstances, I’ve also prayed directly to my spirits, performed breathing techniques and hand gestures for greater psychic vision that they’ve taught me over the beans, and then cast them. With that out of the way, here’s a brief outline of how a Kumalak reading works as I have learned to do them:
To begin, you first take the beans, whisper into them your question, and then shake them. When you are ready, cast them on the ground. Touch each bean to your forehead, one by one, until you have gone through all 41. A man I met from Eastern Serbia who reads Kumalak advised me to give a simple prayer, asking “God and his angels to help you see with your secret eye through the stones” over each bean. When you are finished, divide them into three piles as your intuition guides you. Beginning from the right, remove four beans at a time until there are a maximum of four left. These will go in the top right square on the grid. Do the same for the middle pile and the top middle square, and then again for the left and top left. Scoop the remaining beans into one pile, and then repeat the process for the middle row, dividing them into three piles, taking four away at a time, and filling out the squares. Once you’ve done the same for the last row, it’s time to interpret.
Here’s an example of a reading I did; all the squares have 1-4 beans, with the leftovers below. As with the witnesses and the judge in geomancy, you can verify whether or not you’ve done the division correctly with some simple math. The total of the beans in the first row when added together should be either five or nine; for the second, four, eight, or twelve; and for the third, also four, eight, or twelve.
Each square is, according to its row, assigned a symmetrical part of a greater picture. For the top, the squares are eye, head, and eye. For the middle, hand, heart, and hand. Lastly, the bottom row is foot, horse, and foot. Generally, the top row handles past influences as well as the thoughts, ambitions, and beliefs of the querent. The middle reveals the present as well as the emotions, doubts, and relationships entwined in the situation; it is also the row concerned with outside help and allies. The bottom row is concerned with the future and practical concerns, obstacles, helping forces, and the journey in general; should you be patient and wait for other circumstances to fall into place, or should you act immediately, and how?
If you know your elemental correspondences from geomancy, reading the beans should be no problem. One is fire, two water, three air, and four earth—and the associations and implications of each element can be reliably read in the usual geomantic way. Each possible row combination has its own name according to tradition, taken from the right-most square. In the reading above, for example, the top row is called “wind in the head, sand in the eyes”, because there are three beans (air) in the head, and four (earth) in the right eye. For the middle, it’s “fire in the heart, earth in the hands.” Lastly, at the bottom we have “horseman of wind on horse of water”.
These combinations for head, eyes, heart, hands, horseman, and horse all have their own interpretations which are relatively intuitive if you’re familiar with the active and passive roles of the elements and how they combine (again, if you’re familiar with geomancy, or even traditional elemental combinations and what they signify in divination, then this will come fairly naturally). There are, however, some special figures pertaining to particular row configurations, as well as column and diagonal combinations (all odd numbers in certain columns/diagonals, or all ones in the middle column, or the sum of the diagonals being equal, to name a few) which have to be memorized. One of the special figures figures that involves just the rows is “the three stars”: this is when wind is in every square of the top row. If this appears, the querent is considered to be so protected and blessed that reading further would be inappropriate; Kumalak is not needed to advise them when everything will turn out even better than imagined. Another is “the saddlebag”, which occurs when the first row is four, one, and four. The sand from each eye is weighing down the fire in the head so that it cannot express itself. When this figure is present, the client must rephrase the question and the reading must start anew, for their thoughts while asking were too muddled and imprecise.
The grid, when considered as an organic picture, is the steppe horseman; his journey determined by the weather, his mentality, resolve, courage, and physical strength, and his relationship with his horse, as well as their combined health. All of these factors play a role in the message conveyed to the querent, the news of whose question is embodied in the horseman, and it is the job of the diviner to read the individual parts as a unified whole. In the top row of the above reading, “wind in the head, sand in the eyes” tells the story of a sharp mind honed in on success (air) blinded by intrusive thoughts and fear of failure (sand). While wind in the head promises eventual mental success, sand in the eyes speaks of confusion not only for the querent (who may feel dragged down and fearful) but also in their friends who are paralyzed and unable to lend advice. This is a figure which speaks to trusting one’s intuition in the face of self-doubt, gossip, and deceit.
“Fire in the heart, earth in the hands” further confirms the omens of the first row. The passionate faculty of the heart is actualized in the concrete ability of the hands: this is the figure of someone who not only has keen foresight and creative talent, but also the practical savvy to realize their plans. In health, this signals a swift recovery, and likewise for work and love it recalls improvement in all aspects of ambition. As one of the very fortunate figures, when considered in light of the first row it becomes clear that the querent is someone who is dealing with impostor syndrome; someone bright but humble, who fears a failure that is not coming or is dealing with jealous individuals in their circles whose meddling will ultimately avail to nothing. While this figure can also indicate the presence of external allies pooling their resources for the querent, in this context it is specifically speaking to the querent’s own faculties and strength which overcomes the gossip and doubt of the previous row: these are the resources they have to draw upon.
Finally, “horseman of wind on horse of water” warns of obstacles: confrontation with superiors and colleagues, stubbornness in a lover, antagonism in clients, etc. The overly logical horseman is unable to move his timid and sensitive horse. There has been a transformation: where in the past, the querent experienced a transition from uncertainty to fortune, the future is marked with strife. The momentum of the earlier figures can carry them forward to success, but this cannot happen without directly and boldly confronting the conflict. The horseman would do well to listen to the anxieties of his mount; in the case of love or intimate friendships, the querent could be advised to allow the other party to fully air out their grievances and then work alongside them by reminding them of past stability, fortune, and passion. In business, however, suspicion may have to be countered with bravery; if the gossipers from the past have resurfaced and caused damage, then exposing them directly to the light and showing the horse that their illusions are just that—and that the path is clear—seems the best move. Ultimately, the reading is warning that while the querent has presently rekindled their resolve and moved past the deceits of the past, their shadows still lurk, and a confrontation is inevitable. The querent is reminded of their inner strength and the importance of asserting their needs and priorities, and advised to clear misunderstandings as quickly as they arise, to listen deeply where there are fractures, and to cultivate respect and influence among peers. To abandon all progress in the face of the inevitable conflicts of life would be to abandon the horse and the journey altogether.
Each of these figures need to be read together with each other, with the specific question in mind. Just as how in the Marseille tarot, the two women on either side of the man in the L’amoureux may be sisters, a wife and a daughter, a wife and a mother-in-law, a mother and a mother-in-law, or any other combination with differing attitudes towards the central figure (and relationships with the angelic archer above), so too is it the case here. The question is why the horseman has been generated, and so its essence is the breath of each limb. Where the first two rows explain the motivations, feelings, thoughts, fears, suspicions, and events which led to the situation in the future, they also are informed by the final row’s verdict. We can imagine each of the elements playing a role in the navigation of the journey, but ultimately it is the horse who undergoes it. I have provided basic thematic interpretations for the figures, but in the reading itself they each speak to the precise nuances of the client’s need, expanding on and clarifying the situation in which they find themselves. The warning of the horse and the resources of the heart and hands interplay in the ultimate verdict and the advice which was given.
If you are interested, your main guide for learning Kumalak will probably be the book and kit from Didier Blau. The French version is almost always in stock on Amazon and the English isn’t too hard to come by either. In addition to a short book which goes over the practice and all the possible row combinations and what they mean, the kit also comes with the 41 beans (be sure to count them yourself, mine had a few more, in case you lose some, I presume), the cloth in the picture, and a felt, green drawstring pouch you can assemble. However, you could always just use your own beans (including coffee) or small pebbles and paint/draw on board/cloth your own casting mat, and learn to read online. There are a number of websites and tutorials that rehash the information found in Blau’s book, including common grid layouts and the special figures, that are just a short Google search away.
It is important to note that different countries in which Kumalak is practiced have developed their own styles and folklore around the beans, with Kazakhstan being of course the most rich and developed in its approach. In my own practice, I have an ancestral spirit who presides over each Kumalak reading, and I have deepened my skills through their teachings as well as Balkan readers whom they have brought me into contact with. As such, my reading style will be informed by those who have passed their knowledge to me, and the cultural matrices in which they belong. I would, as always, highly recommend one to eventually consult with traditional readers to broaden their understandings of this living oracle. May the beans reveal to you stars, and the stars show you the ways.