Interview With Al Cummins

Al Cummins

Al Cummins

Alexander Cummins, PhD is a historian, poet, and consultant whose practice centers around religion, philosophy, medicine, and magic. In particular, his work focuses on folk magic, necromancy, and divination. He also runs the podcast Radio Free Golgotha with Jesse Hathaway Diaz, which we previously wrote about, and he recently launched a new magical and divinatory consulting service. I decided to take the opportunity to chat with him about divination, the services he offers, as well as share an overview of geomancy for those unfamiliar with this form of divination and wanting to learn more about it

Can you give us a overview of the different services you offer?

I perform divination to help clients gain perspective on a situation and create plans of action for ensuring success and overcoming difficulties. More specifically I read playing cards (mainly  for quick straightforward questions and solutions) and geomancy (a form of divination designed to  answer particular questions but also examine deeper patterns in the client’s life) as well as tarot. 

Based off these consultations, I can then recommend further magical work: candle spells, spiritual baths, ritual with particular elements and planets, charm bags and so on. I should also say, a lot of advice from divination includes very grounded and practicable stuff - matters of diet, exercise, sleep, and time management - as well as precautions to avoid certain unhelpful influences for a periods of time. 

I furnish clients with enough information and recommendations to do their own follow-up work, while also offering the option of taking on some of this work for them. I personally favour a combination of approaches, so I will often craft, say, a talismanic object or a bespoke incense blend or bath mix or whathaveyou, that the client then uses. For clients who don’t feel comfortable performing their own spells and rituals, or for those whose living situations makes that difficult, I will do altarwork and other kinds of sorcery on their behalf - using a personal concern like their nail pairings or hair as a link back to that person. 

In terms of wider services, I offer coaching and tuition in various aspects of divination, sorcery, ritual, performance, research and experimentation. I come up with regimens and syllabi based off what the client wants to working on. This usually includes divination and follow-up work too.

Such consultations cover classic diviner stuff like advice on career and relationships, but I also have my fair share of clients who consult with me over planning and developing their rituals, art practice, performances, and design projects.

geomantic consult in progress (photo courtesy of Al)

geomantic consult in progress (photo courtesy of Al)

Can you give us an example of what a typical client working might look like, and what is involved?

Sure. All my workings begin with a consultation involving divination, usually around a version of the question: “how can the client be best assisted in this matter?” I’ve found this to be invaluable - it lays out the necessary context for performing the work, lets the client and I know more about known and unknown underlying factors, and gives a good guideline of how much magical effort will actually be required. Sometimes apparently simple operations can have deep and tangled roots to be navigated, and conversely, complex results can often be manifested through small but strategic interventions at properly timed moments. Consults are incredibly helpful for designing such workings. 

So, to pick a very human classic, say a client comes to me for help finding a new lover. Depending on what comes up in the consult, I might recommend a candle spell or spiritual bath to attract some new love to them, or a road opening working of some kind to create more opportunities to meet new people, or even various forms of work to heal from a past traumatic relationship. They might be recommended to take a spiritual bath every Friday (the day of Venus) using particular infusions of herbs for love for a certain number of weeks, or make and begin carrying a charm bag, or burn Venusian incenses around their bedroom, or be recommended to start wearing some favourite item of red or green clothing more often, or to say a particular incantation or prayer every night, or a whole host of other options. If the working turns out to be a complicated difficult thing, or something the client can’t do in a shared living space perhaps, or simply isn’t confident enough to do it, I may perform more complicated ritual magic for the client. These usually feature taking the matter to my spirits, visiting places of power, making offerings, building objects, and conducting durational workings upon my shrines and altars.  I use candles, smoke, dirts, poetry, booze, bones, chanting, feathers, effigies, charms, books, stones, plants, images, inks, weird useful things I find in the street; whatever I know can work. Solutions really are tailored to the client’s specific needs and means.  

Geomancy is a form of divination that still remains relatively obscure among the general populace. Can you give us a bit of background on what geomancy is and how it works?

Geomancy is a system of divination that derives answers from odd or even numbers. Like the hexagrams of the I Ching, a geomantic figure is made of single or double lines; unlike the hexagrams, a geomantic figure only has four lines, meaning there are only sixteen possible geomantic figures. Each is associated with astrological forces and entities - for instance, the geomantic figure of Laetitia, Joy, is attributed to Jupiter and Sagittarius. 

A full geomantic chart, often called a shield, is made up of twelve summations of different aspects of your life - think of a Tarot spread with twelve different places for cards (or in this case, geomantic figures) to go - which use the twelve Houses of the Heavens from astrology: categories like Life, Money, Career, Friends, and so on. This twelvefold summation of your situation is then condensed into a three-part final answer to your question, consisting of two Witnesses and a Judge. This Judge figure is the final answer to the query, while the two Witnessing figures offer further details around the how the result comes to be and what it will mean.

I love geomancy because it offers both grounded firm yes/no answers with complex and subtle qualifiers, as well as indicating areas of ones life to which one can pay attention to help achieve successes, maintain blessings, and avoid misfortune. The system partakes of the language of astrology without the actual astronomy of charting the stars in the sky, so it makes excellent use of Western magical concepts of the four elements, seven planets, twelve zodiacal signs, and so on. Crucially, it is interested in how these astral forces and influences can be brought to bear in specific and useful ways. Geomancy is concerned with keeping our feet on the ground. That said, while its advice is direct, it can also be a little gnomic in its oracles, giving us food for thought to chew on too. 

A Geomantic Working (photo courtesy of Al)

A Geomantic Working (photo courtesy of Al)

Is there a book (or other source) that you would recommend for people interested in learning more about geomancy?

I like John Michael Greer’s handbook for learning the basics, and Stephen Skinner’s text gives some of the fascinating world history of geomancy and related African and Arabic geomantic traditions. I knocked up a set of book recommendations and mini-reviews in this here article here: https://alexander-cummins.squarespace.com/blog/2017/5/16/an-earthly-garden-towards-a-geomancy-bibliography

What other forms of divination do you employ?

I do short focused reading with playing cards to answer concrete questions; broader more exploratory analysis or “general life readings” with Tarot; and geomancy for everything in between, from checkups on spiritual well-being to perspectives on navigating office politics or healing after a difficult break-up. The specific form of divination I use depends on what the client wants or needs.

As a slightly flippant rule-of-thumb, I sometimes say playing cards do the what of a situation well (“what’s going on?”, “what can I do?”), geomancy gives good how (“how can I achieve x?”, “how will such-and-such affect things?”), and Tarot begins exploring the whys of things.

What are some tips you can give people seeking divination to get the most out of it (i.e. good questions vs bad questions, or any other advice you might have)?

I think I have three little suggestions: be specific, be realistic, be responsible. 

General questions or check-ins are fine if the diviner knows that’s what you want, but if you have a specific concern or question (even/especially if it’s embarrassing!), say it. The longer you spend letting the diviner work out exactly what you mean by “yknow, work stuff” the less time you have in that session to be working towards solutions. Some divination proponents hold that a reading should be done totally blind, to prove the diviner has the chops. While I appreciate that perspective, and I do occasionally read for clients who don’t want to reveal exactly what I’m telling them about, I prefer being furnished with as much detail as possible usually. I’m not here to impress people with how prophetic I am, I’m here to help them weigh options and make good decisions. 

Secondly, being realistic. Even with the best divination skills and supportive spirits, not everything can be discerned and solved in a single reading. Relating back to specificity, breaking an Overwhelming Everything into smaller more manageable situations is an important step. And if that seems too hard, why not let “how can I break all this up into manageable chunks?” be your first question. 

Finally, professional divination should I believe be used to encourage and empower personal responsibility. It should not be a crutch for an abnegation of your freedom to make your own choices. “Should I leave my husband?” is not to my mind an especially healthy question - I don’t think it ultimately helps you to have someone else make a decision like that for you. “What will things be like if I leave my husband?” (perhaps with a comparison question of “And what will things be like if I stay?”) is I think a better question - it allows the client to weigh things up for themselves; the responsibility for the decision should ultimately rest with the client.

Of course, sometimes “what should I do?” is mostly a shorthand for “what is the healthiest/most beneficial/happiest course of action?”, which isn’t the worst kind of thing to ask, and I don’t like to be pedantic. I tend to politely edit a unhelpfully-phrased question from the client’s jist, and of course check with them they’re happy with that line of questioning before turning cards or casting figures.

Beyond that, generally being polite, attentive and at least doing an impression of a half-way decent human being tends to go a long way. Use diviners you trust and respect. Different diviners have different styles of bedside manner as well as of divination techniques - some are more direct or blunt while others are more gentle or subtle. Go with a diviner whose style and practices gel best with you. Don’t take any abuse, but also try not to shoot the messenger of bad or otherwise unwanted tidings. A responsible diviner is there to inform you honestly and fairly of the reality of things. That isn’t always easy, but the real good stuff of life generally isn’t, right? 

Where can people find out more about your services and elicit them?

Easiest way is through my website www.alexandercummins.com, where folks can also find free recordings of lectures and performances. Folks can book consultations here: https://alexander-cummins.squarespace.com/consultations. Other bookings, commissions and inquiries can be directed to consultantsorcerer@gmail.com