Kumalak and Favomancy

Over the past five years, my main form of divination that I most consistently consult, both for myself and on behalf of clients on Instagram, has been favomancy. A while back (and it has been a while, hasn’t it? Salt and I have been finding ourselves so busy with our schooling, magic, and work schedules over the pandemic, but we are looking to get back into writing on here more regularly) I wrote a brief article on Kumalak specifically, a form of favomancy (divination by beans) that is especially known from Kazakhstan to the Balkans. The chart or image that it produces is that of a steppe horseman, whose body, horse, and the conditions of his journey are analysed through the virtues of the elemental configurations of each square. Relaying past, present, and future, spirit-divined omens, and mathematical configurations with their own interpretations (be they certain numbers of beans in a row, the sum of both diagonals, notations on the vertical columns, or even more advanced shapes that can occur with practice), this chart is especially versatile for all manner of magical and mundane questions.

Yet with respect to favomancy as a genre of divination, speaking especially to the Balkans as it is my area of language access, there are a great many charts that are used depending on the region, the diviner’s preference or training, or the inherited tradition. Generally, regardless of chart style the actual layout of the divination will appear visually identical: a 3×3 grid with each square having between 1 to 4 beans. As I described in the Kumalak post, they are generated by whispering a bajalica or oral charm over the 41 white beans (or corn, coffee beans, pebbles, etc.) taken in the right hand, giving the question, then casting them onto a surface, usually a red cloth. The beans are then collected into a pile, after which they are pushed outwards to the sides such that three piles remain. The diviner subtracts four from each pile until a number equal to or less than four remains, and places these beans into each of the corresponding squares in the first row. The process then repeats until all nine squares are filled, pushing the leftover piles back into one group and separating them again each time guided by the spirits.

Regardless of chart style, the bajalica I learned to give can be translated from Serbian as: “Forty-one beans, forty-one brothers and sisters, as you know how to germinate, make green, and feed the world, likewise you know of the fate of (question)”. There are many other versions of this charm which replace, add to, subtract from, or rearrange the order of the verbs, but the basic framework of the bajalica can be found across Balkan languages, including in Bulgarian, Greek, and Romanian. This charm is repeated several times, with the individual words comprising it being continually emphasised and intoned rhythmically, until the required trance is obtained and the spirits flow through to command the beans to land firmly. The divining spirits then guide the hands to separate the piles and create the glyph of the chosen chart. Many other charms can also be found, including ones that are far more explicitly Christian, Muslim, and even those referring to the powers of Slavic polytheism.

Different diviners will have different means of dealing with the final leftover pile: some will subtract threes until one, two, or three remain as a kind of final verdict or judge; with one being fortune, two being misfortune, and three being middling fortune, or fortune but only after a long delay or hardship is resolved. Others might create a new layer to the chart, sometimes referred to as the “foundation”, out of every remaining group of four, and use these numbers to calculate how long it would take for the end result promised in the chart itself to manifest. Another technique involves taking three remaining beans (or having three beans set aside for this purpose on top of the necessary 41) to cast for quick yes/no checks. If the beans do not have any natural grooves on one side, these would be marked so that they can be differentiated depending on if they land marked side up or down. These extra “checks” to see if the rows have been interpreted correctly as they are worked through can be performed in myriad ways. A popular one I am also aware of involves casting one bean alongside a small piece of bread (an item few Balkan amulets and charms are made without, given that it represents fulfilment, joy, and prosperity/manifestation), a coffee bean, and a coin. Depending on which of the latter three the bean lands next to, the character of the question and the interpretation are further developed, with the bread symbolising health, vitality, and manifestation, the coffee bean symbolising misfortune and bitterness, and the coin symbolising wealth and trade. The distance between all four is also further interpreted throughout the session.

For the main chart’s construction, 41 beans specifically are always used. This is a number with a long history in our folk magic, with numerous stories behind its origin. One folktale states that the Devil poked 41 holes into Adam while God was away searching for (not creating!) a living spirit to place inside his clay body, and that upon his return, he stuffed 40 of those holes with medicinal herbs so that the spirit will not seep out. Yet, since there is still one hole that has not been patched, Adam (and man by extension) was made mortal, succumbing to ageing. Hence, healing spells and folk remedies should include at least 40 herbs, or an herb in 40 parts, stored in flasks of rakija or baked into slava bread. Another tale, recorded from Bosnia [here], depicts the daughter of the Prophet, Fatimah bint Muhammad, as a gifted diviner of favomancy, and that she knew of a style that used double the amount of beans: 82. In order to conceal her art from her father who was about to walk in on her performing a reading for a friend, she hid half the beans in her dress, and as such only 41 are remembered. For some, this means that the readings themselves can only ever tell “half the picture”. For others, this means that spirits must necessarily fill out the missing shadows of the beans, and speak from beneath the ground where they grow from and from the skies where they reach to in order to give the clearest picture.

As for the charts themselves, we saw in Kumalak that the generated image is a steppe horseman. Here are a few other variants I have used just in the past month during readings:

The Bed

Woman’s head / Pillow / Man’s head
Woman’s heart / Hearth / Man’s heart
Woman’s legs / Threshold / Man’s legs

While this style seems on the surface to be concerned with matters of love, it is actually exceptionally versatile. The gendered language of the chart is due to its image: that of a woman waiting for her husband to return home from a journey. In all manner of questions, the querent is represented in the left column as the “woman”, and the subject matter at hand as the “man” on the right. Each square tells us something about the thoughts, internal vs. external motivations, preconditions, influences, and spiritual makeup of the querent, the subject matter, their relationship, and the potential obstacles and aids on the path to the question’s resolution. As such, it can be used even to assess the likelihood of a magical working succeeding, with the right column telling us about the journey and ultimate conditions/obstacles of the ritual, the left column describing the sorcerer’s ambitions, efforts, and existing alliances, pacts and resources, and the middle column depicting the ways in which each row’s theme crosses over from one to another, and how successful the translation is. Mostly used for love and familial concerns, I’ve made use of it for all sorts of topics, including workplace relationships, matters of employment, applications, sorcery, spirit pacts, and more. The beans themselves are not read elementally as in Kumalak, but rather numerically with their own unique attributions for this style.

The House

Mother’s Inheritance / Chimney / Father’s Inheritance
Mother’s Debts / Hearth / Father’s Debts
Fortune Departing / Threshold / Fortune Returning

We can see that the core features of the above chart are preserved here. Here, gendered language can be taken seriously in an ancestral reading, regarding the mother and father’s sides literally. More commonly, the mother squares are taken as the ancestry itself, and the father squares as belonging to the social community the client is participating in. Naturally, these can easily be understood as spiritual ancestors and spiritual/initiatory communities. The fortune squares, linked to the threshold, tell us of how the blessings and negative omens actually manifest, and the chimney, hearth, and threshold vertically tell us of the health of the situation, the stability of the querent, and the innate gifts, abilities, and destiny or purpose. This chart is used to understand spirit allies, inherited gifts and curses, the will of local as well as ancestral spirits, and the talents and merits of the querent. The beans can be read numerically or elementally, depending on the reader and their spirits.

“Gazing into beans”

Income / Head / Hand
Affairs / Heart / Expenses
Departures / Foot / Returns

I’m never quite sure what to call this one. It is, at least in my experience, by far the most common chart used in Serbia where I’m from. Generally, this is not even referred to as a chart or style, but simply as the method of of divination by favomancy itself, just as how tarot or playing card readings may be called “gazing into cards”, and reading by tea leaves or coffee beans “gazing into tea” and “gazing into coffee” respectively. The beans themselves are not read elementally, rather numerically, with the odd numbers being positive (three being better than one) and the even numbers being negative (four being worse than two). One is generally representative of news, communication, movement, and beginnings; two referring to trouble, indecisiveness, imbalanced states, fortune undulating, and two-faced people and situations; three referring to fortune, luck, love, and happiness; and four referring to misfortune, sorrow, being overwhelmed, juggling too many responsibilities and projects, and being burdened.

Income and Affairs on the left specifically should be prefaced with “problems with…”, in that they refer to issues in the querent’s life in the material and social spheres (in spiritual questions, this is extrapolated to the matters of spirit in each). Head and Heart discuss the mental and emotional states respectively, and Departures and Returns tell us of the efforts and rewards on the progression of the matter at hand. The Foot represents not only the journey, but also how whatever leaves in Departures and whatever comes back in Returns actually manifests, and how it is integrated into the life of the querent. The Hand and Expenses are always read together as a pair, with the former signifying the resources capable of sating the latter. In the case of the Hand, this is the only square where the beans are treated even more numerically, with four in this case being a positive omen of plenty. That said, four still retains its relationship with being overwhelmed and burdened. If the number in the Hand outweighs that of the Expenses, then the querent has the resources necessary to tackle any debts they accumulate along their journey, with more dramatic differences being generally considered more fortunate, with the reverse being true as well. That said, a three in Expenses is a highly favourable omen, as is a three in the Hand; this does not mean they cancel each other out or that the querent has “just enough”, but rather that they do not struggle with their debts as it is, and they have sufficient resources for whatever they must tend to in the present. A four in the Hand and three in Expenses, for example, suggests someone with so many resources that it suffocates them; a rich man with so many duties to tend to and employees and investors to report to that he is unable to enjoy his wealth (save for that he can live comfortably in terms of debts). Meanwhile, a four in the Hand with four in Expenses shows us that the querent is able to meet their significant debts with their equally significant resources, but that the balance is always threatened, and that at any point their situation may come crashing down. This is especially indicative of high-stakes gamblers, traders, and those who are self-employed or take commissions.

As always, in matters of spirit these squares will be interpreted in the appropriate translations. Furthermore, each chart style has its own significant omens that supersede other interpretations, much like the “Three Stars” or a row of all threes that I mentioned in the Kumalak article, as well as various other configurations involving the sums of the diagonals, horizontal combinations, and so on.

Given that the primary physical materia used for this divination style is generally organic (beans or corn), it is understood that the tools will themselves take on the quality of the reading and capture its essence. As such, a positive reading for love can be seen as a physical testament on behalf of the spirits as to the luck of the situation. These beans may then be cooked and fed to the beloved. Similarly, for wealth, they may be planted and grown to be later harvested, such that all daughter beans from the original reading would carry the same money-drawing power. Those for healing can be placed in a flask of rakija and used to spray down the sick person, incorporated into baths, and used as tokens of reminders to the spirits petitioned to heal that they have sworn to lend their aid and must work hard for that end.

Beans which have read on the nature of a curse can trap a portion of the curse, and as such should be handled carefully, disposed of at crossroads and burnt at graveyards, with care being taken to not inhale any of their smoke. If the beans have absorbed too much negative fortune, they are likewise disposed of. A reader will often go through many sets over the year, and special attention is paid to those sets given and consecrated directly to specific spirits to be their mouthpieces in this world, so that they do not get tainted by the nature ignoble questions. In the case of one of my mentors, whenever she sees a client she insists that they pick corn from her farm and bring it to her, picking off the 41 grains themselves. This way, the spiritual essence of the client is already inside the corn as they pass it to her, given their effort in the harvest and selection.

These are only a sample of some of the more popular charts one can come across by speaking with professional diviners, as well as the general protocols for the actual beans themselves. Of course, what is most important in any matter of divination is the light trance, offerings, and communion with the spirits overseeing the reading themselves. In time, diviners will receive their own charts with their own meanings assigned to the number of beans unique to their spirits, and these are often the ones that those I know make the most use of directly, and as such are also not the kinds that can be shared publicly. In my own practice, I will read for clients using whichever style best suits the question (or whichever my divining spirits recommend), and over time this has become a natural and fluid process. Generally, most diviners will use only one or two styles that are known, keeping those received from their spirits to themselves for more private matters. In truth, each chart is equally capable of answering any question one can think of; the decision ultimately rests on what one’s own spiritual faculties prefer to read with, as well as the preferences of their spirits in weaving and expressing the client’s story to them. The central image that the chart generates should always be one which speaks to both reader and client alike in lending assistance to the decryption of the question, its future, and fortune.