Master of the Wolves Charms: The Old One’s Guard

This offering has been a long time coming. Painstakingly birthed, laid to rest, and rebirthed over numerous Orthodox feasts, Balkan folk magical holy days, and stellar confluences; dragged clawing through the star-fallen chthonic and sun-devouring ouranic spheres; armed in teeth that have tasted fish, mammal, and bird; and nourished with the vital Red of communion and sacrifice alike—these charms are an expression of gratitude, and a fervent howling of further ingress, unto the mysteries of the Great Wolf Shepherd himself.

While little-known outside of the oral folk lineages in which his crooked gait wanders, the spirit known varyingly as the Lord or Master of the Wolves (in my first language, Gospodar Vukova), Wolf Herdsman, or the Wolf Shepherd, is an enduring figure across many parts of Central and Eastern Europe. My own pacts and understandings are grounded firmly within the Balkan context, most especially Serbian, though the pulse of his chthonic heart can be traced from Greece all the way up through Scandinavia. A dear mentor in Balkan traditional witchcraft was the first to introduce me to this enigmatic lord, who emphasized an approach that peers through the crossroads-pole masks of Veles, Dažbog, and numerous key Thracian cultic inheritances. He passed on his pact, through the wolf-saint he venerated the Master through, and in the capacity by which I have license, I’ve instructed our dear Key in similar ways.

His myths and stories are many, as are his myriad incarnations and forms. Much like the god Veles himself, the Master of the Wolves’ tales are retold and aspected through numerous chthonic saints, which include in the Balkans: St. Andrew, St. Demetrios, St. Sava, St. Michael the Archangel, St. Christopher, St. Blaise, St. Martin, St. George, St. Nicholas, and many more. Animal, man, god, and all between and beyond, he appears as a lame white wolf accompanying St. George, a lame old shepherd, an old white wolf, and various instantiations of each who shapeshift into the other. Ally to the Forest Mother and her spirits, wandering the landscapes as a poor shepherd, punishing oath-breakers and transforming the unfortunate into hungry wolves forced into his retinue (or in some instances, cursing a passerby to assume the office of the “Lord of Wolves” for seven years), and guardian of seventh and/or tenth-born sons; he is both the head of the furious horde and patron of the werewolf (vukodlak) sorcerers who make up his restless retinue. Even when he is not referred to by any particular honorific, the respect for this mercurial figure can still be felt in his abstract titles, common to the majority of his lands, including Latvia, Moldavia, Romania, Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece, and more: “The Old One”, “The One From Above”, “Lame Devil”, “The Unmentionable One”, “The Unclean (or Pagan) One,” “The One Made of Stone,” “The Hairy One”, “Old Grandfather”, and often only by “He”.

While the notion of a Master or Lord of Animals is well-attested across numerous Mediterranean and more broadly European sources, the Wolf Herdsman specifically is especially prevalent in the Slavic sources. In the Balkans, and especially in Serbia, Macedonia, and Bulgaria, he is most prevalently featured among the various customs surrounding the “wolf holidays”, varyingly located across the later months surrounding key saint feasts during which the dawning of the winter agricultural cycle is ever accompanied by a deepening respect for the threat of wolves. While the precise saint he is associated with will vary from village to village depending on the local custom, the practices are often largely similar. During these times, it is generally inappropriate to even mention the word “wolf” out loud, and they should be similarly described through titles such as “they” or “they from above [the mountains]”. Offerings, especially the first lamb or pig of the season, should be left out for the wolves at the far boundaries of the village, or at the first crossroads, in order to pay them off such that they do not threaten the precious livestock of the community. Should a wolf be killed for any reason, including defense of the self or one’s animals, the body should be carried from dwelling to dwelling in the village, apologized to, offered alcohol, milk, honey, and a meal, crowned in a wreath and mourned with the wailing of a child’s funeral, and then finally interred with utmost respect, such that the Master does not come to take vengeance for his child. It is also during these days that, in some parts of the Balkans, the Master is said to roam with his wild and hairy troupe, recruiting lost and restless dead into the fold and transforming them into wolves themselves, drumming up his shapeshifting sorcerers to go once more into the night and hunt down and punish any breakers of oaths. As such, much like St. Theodore’s Saturday, this is a period in which the settling of debts is of utmost importance; even the mildest broken promise should be rectified, lest a witch or wolf-sorcerer come to settle it on another’s behalf.

Yet this is also a time for his allied witches and sorcerers to enchant his tools. Indeed, anything which closes its “jaws” around sheep is intimately linked with him and with wolves themselves, including all manner of implements from sheep shears to barn doors and gates. The particular formulas and oral charms I have been passed down include those already documented in anthropological works, but the vast majority are those preserved by my mentor’s lineage. These charms, which you see before you, are born of much of that magic, personal ingress and devotion, and a deep love of this spirit, his associated masks, the deific forces his legends emerged from, and even his distant links to Hekate and Artemis via Hellenic and Thracian sources, especially in their preservation of the Great White Wolf Mother cult.

The ten charms at rest, crossed with sheep shears and a wolf’s jawbone blade.

The charms emerged out of a number of mutual explorations Key and I undertook in the past year, and took almost the whole year to fully create. As the visions came and the materia needed was confirmed with divination, the first roots began to sprout on the Orthodox herb-picking Midsummer feast of Sveti Jovan Biljober, when the birthing powders were made. Further materia was divined on and cultivated through the blessings and permissions of Ilija Gromovnik, Ognjena Marija, and Blaga Marija, a trinity of saints-as-Slavic-gods integral to the overseeing of spirit-ensoulments in the Balkan witchcraft tradition as I’ve been taught it. Following their summer feasts, and the collection of some of the rarer materia out in nature, we proceeded to construct the bulk of the charms upon Key’s visit in October, in anticipation of the particular Wolf Holidays I adhere to culturally: those cold days following the Mitrovdan feast with the honouring of the Mitrovske Zadušnice. The final—and in many ways, most important—of the four Zadušnice ancestral celebrations. Many of the wolf taboos emerge here as well, including the importance of caring for livestock through the oncoming winter, for women to not spin wool (and the Fates to not be invoked thereby), and for children to not venture out past nightfall.

It is on this day that we hear of many of the legends surrounding the wolves having their annual meeting with their Lord—in the guise of whichever regional saint is most associated with him—and then dispersing to carry out their orders. Some families also make a česnica, a ceremonial Christmas loaf made on Christmas Eve (January 6th for me, given the Julian calendar), and offer it directly to the wolves as a gesture of peace during this time. In my training, a meal is offered for the wolf spirits (in my mentor’s village, this includes the very physical wolves who stalk the mountains surrounding his home!) at the edge of your farm, at the first crossroads out of the village, and at a place where the devils gather: the nearest threshing floor, watermill, garbage dump, or cave. We carried out our offerings, baked a česnica, poured out koljivo and wine, and fed our spirits well. Calling upon the Master and his wolf, vukodlak, and devil brethren alike, we created the next most important powder, and ensouled the fossilized wolf bones which would animate as one under the auspices of their tutelary Mother.

The intention of these charms, constructed by the Master’s watchful eye, is to house a group of his warrior-wolves to defend their allied sorcerers against malefica. These are immensely protective charms, bearing the souls of wild and cunning assassins, a set of spies in the dark and a silent dagger in the shadow. They investigate and overturn plots before they congeal into reality, stalk the dreams of those who slander, break oaths, and lie while asleep, and repay insult, evil eye, and curse with adamantine force. Ultimately, their chief abilities lie in protection and anti-malefica, though it is crucial to note that each leather bag holds within it the pulsing heart of its own spirit—for those they protect and watch over, these are fully enspirited allies that may be petitioned, worked with, sent out to do their bidding, gather intelligence, and watch over the rest of one’s existing spiritual court as another layer of guardianship. The importance of protecting one’s magic and spirits, especially by secrecy and taboo, cannot be overstated, and so these wolves are themselves an excellent addition to the front line of defense for one’s existing pacts as well, hiding and obscuring workings and alliances from being scryed and divined on, and purposefully feeding false information to those who would attempt to peer beyond what is permitted.

Each wolf was selected and enthroned by my and Key’s efforts through a rigorous divinatory process that took place over the entirety of the Wolf Holidays. The spirits were tended to and more deeply incarnated over the feasts of Dimitrije (Demetrius of Thessaloniki) Kozma i Damjan (Cosmos and Damian), Arhanđel Mihailo (Archangel Michael), and Nikola (Nicholas). Once constructed, the bags were interred and rebirthed, and unchained briefly to hunt down and swallow the sun on Winter Solstice. Their final offering was given on Orthodox Christmas Eve: one last taste of freshly-made česnica, and a full bottle of a favourite drink for the Master.

Ten were made in all, though only nine will be available for on here, as the very “Master” of this group will remain on our own joint shrine to the Master of the Wolves as familiar and mother to the pack. These spirits were chosen for their compatibility, loyalty, sense of justice, and verified power; each having been tested individually in the carrying out of tasks and the successful manifestation of results. If you are interested in taking in one of these warriors, we ask that you keep in mind that these are very much living spirits. They can be carried with you for protection, or left at home on a compatible shrine to assist you remotely. Speak to them with respect, offer them a candle, a shot of strong brandy, vodka, or gin, and invite them to assist you in what ails you, either preventatively or actively. If you have a store or are public in any way about being a sorcerer, they would be an excellent ally to set over your business, and to patrol the boundaries of your public image to best shield you from the Eye.

One among the fold, resting over an icon of St. Nicholas.

If you already work with one of the saints mentioned above, it would be appropriate to keep the charm by their icon or statue. They may share a space with other chthonic spirits, provided that your personal divinations do not reveal any potential conflicts. Veles, Apollo, Artemis, Odin, Hyrrokkin, Hekate, and many other such deities are a welcome and natural ally. We recommend a weekly offering of at least a glass of water and a candle, asking that any omens may be filtered and expressed through the bubbles and flame. Allow the spirit to warn you ahead of time of dangers, and divine with them if these are already resolved and do not need to be addressed further, are on the horizon and require additional magical support to unmake, or are already present and are being dealt with. Ask if additional offerings are needed, or if the wolf warrior advises for a different approach. If they request through divination that other spirits in your court be called upon to assist, provide offerings for them as well, and allow the wolf to lead the charge and organize the defense on your behalf.

While protection and curse-breaking are undoubtedly the main areas of expertise for these spirits, they are ultimately fully independent and realized familiars of their own. They can teach and guide their sorcerers in the cunning of shapeshifting, the donning of second skins, the mysteries of the Furious Horde, and the hunting and consumption of ghosts. If one is not already experienced in these matters by training in witchcraft, it goes without saying that each subject must be approached with the sincerest caution, and under the strictest guidance of one’s patron spirits, mentors, and divining arts. Given what we have already noted about the Master, it cannot be underemphasized that these are spirits who abhor oath-breakers, and cut out the tongues of those who blaspheme the truth, or worse, abusers who believe they speak truth out of their own ego-driven needs to remain righteously victimized, and justified in their behaviour thereby. Suffice to say, do not request petty revenge of them, or conflate one’s ego and desire to seem mighty and powerful with a call to study under the banner of the wolf spirits. These spirits demand a level of agency, accountability, and self-knowledge to exercise their protection, and have little patience for those who wish only to lord over some malformed desire to be venerated and feared without any effort or discipline to cultivate right relationship with spirits, and with the very love of learning magic itself. They will vacate their fetishes and return to their Lord if those to whom they are pacted attempt to harness them for a puerile end. In this way, while one does not need to necessarily always be in the throes of a devoted practice to work with them, they should at the very least be comfortable with spirit communication and divination in order to best work with these ferociously protective allies.

The materia that went into the construction of these homes numbers in the hundreds, ground down to small traces of powders incorporated into the main mass. They are housed in leather bags sourced from the Balkans after a similar design by a mentor of mine (so that they may be discretely carried or even worn by the belt during ritual) and adorned with a fossilized wolf paw each, dating back to around 20,000 B.C. These bones were found in a cave in Germany in the midst of a search for cave bear fossils, making this bear-turned-wolf hunt an excellent expression of the Master’s own close ally (and syncretized deific form), Veles. Some herbal and animal allies that join our wolves include goat, serpent, linden, and blackthorn; materia from our personal Sirius, Pleiades, Mars in Scorpio, and Mars in Capricorn blends as elected by Salt and vivified by my own stellar pacts through my witchcraft; the first blossoms of a pear tree grown by Salt in honour of the Master of the Wolves (pear being one of his holiest woods); special dews, honeys, incenses, and beeswax intended to court the favour of the djavoli (devils) and vile (fairies); pieces of a česnica baked with my personal 2022 Thursday Salt and the aforementioned vila honey, each stabbed through by a horseshoe nail rebirthed through the auspices of the Pleaides and Sirius, and additional exorcistic and goetic cunning with the aid of each of the Wolf Saints whose feasts we celebrated and nourished the charms with, in addition of course to the ever-wily St. Cyprian of Antioch. The forty-one beans used in divination to confirm their final ensoulment were also divided between the ten charms, a technique often used to remind the spirits the proof of what they consented to with respect to the pact of their working itself. Much in the same way, the bread, which accompanies in some form the majority of Balkan charms, recalls the joy of life, the rising of the unmade into the made with the yeast, and the fruition of promises and powers.

A bundle of rosemary was taken to the cemetery, with the appropriate guardians propitiated, and brought back to brush over and consecrate each aspect, named and unnamed, that would enter the bundle. Being fed the blood of communion and sacrifice alike, they are now awake and ready to stand guard over their new allies. While this list is only a small preview of all the work and materia that went inside, we hope it is sufficient to give an overview of the great work that went into their careful cultivation and ecstatic midwifing into this world. The Master being an important spirit to all of three of us, being a pact I have helped introduce through my cultural training and lineage that quickly became even more vibrant and rightly-feral in the hands of Salt and Key, we are truly proud that our first collaborative offering honours this enigmatic and darksome Lord in all his many faces.

If you are interested in taking in one of these spirits, and feel confident by your own discernment with your spirits that they would be appropriate to work with, you may purchase a charm for $300 USD below. You will receive additional information for the care and maintenance of this offering to your e-mail within a week of purchase, in addition to the tracking number for the shipping. Please ensure you specify your shipping address when purchasing. We hope that these spirits find deserving homes, where they may be honoured, their names uncovered through signs and omens, and a true relationship built in frenzied communion with the spirits of their new ecosystem.

All charms have been sold out as of January 11, 2023! Thank you all so much for your support!

Note: Much as with the majority of Balkan lore, it is rare to find genuine information about the Master of the Wolves outside of the languages in which he is revered. For those interested in learning a little more about this spirit in general, here are some we’ve found fruitful in English:

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.


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.