Cunning Is As Cunning Knows: Folk Divinations of the British Isles

In the folk magical means of knowing found across the British Isles we encounter many forms of divination: some highly ritualised, others almost reduced to parlour games and folktales of their own. Yet the techniques and observances of the various folk healers, wise-women, conjure doctors, and village sorcerers collectively referred to as ‘cunning folk’ do speak of certain key principles and operating procedures still eminently applicable to modern practitioners.

We note reliance on simpler, more rule-of-thumb forms of astrology – moon phase, planetary hours – that do not require complex ephemeredes to calculate more precise elections. We can begin to compile comparative study of various dream incubation timings, tools, and techniques to consider a common grammar of such twilight visionary arts: from the dreaming rites of the Eves of Saint Agnes especially to those of Midsummer.

Other everyday tools take on divinatory significances through their cunning employ. The sieve-and-sheers techniques for naming guilty parties – coscinomancy in fancy magicians’ circles – is attested in several sources, which even preserve the activation chant or spoken charm which commences such oracular practices. Similarly, folk variations on the simple applications of book (i.e. Bible) and key for telling fortunes, pronouncing guilt, or even diagnosing witchcraft betoken a rich living regional specificities of the very human resort to such ‘Little Witchcrafts’.

In this class, contemporary cunning man, diviner, and historian Dr Alexander Cummins will present not only the history and theory of such practices – from throwing apple peels to gazing into crystal balls – but also offer notes from his own professional practice for folk diviners, seers, and wise ones today.


Dr Alexander Cummins is a contemporary cunning man and historian. His magical specialities are the dead (folk necromancy), divination (geomancy) and the grimoires. He received his doctorate on early modern magical approaches to the passions. Dr Cummins is the co-editor of the Folk Necromancy in Transmission series for Revelore Press and co-host of Radio Free Golgotha.

His published works include An Excellent Booke of the Arte of Magicke with Phil Legard (Scarlet Imprint, 2020), A Book of the Magi: Lore, Prayers, and Spellcraft of the Three Holy Kings (Revelore Press, 2018) and The Starry Rubric (Hadean Press, 2012) as well as contributions to collections by both academic and occult publishers on topics including talismanic objects, geomancy, planetary sorcery, cunning-craft, and nigromancy.

Dr Cummins gives classes and workshops online and in person. The Good Doctor’s work and services can be found at

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See all the events in the series – Dr. Al Cummins English Folk Magic Series