One of my favorite forms of divination is bone reading, or throwing the bones. This ancient form of divination spans across many cultures throughout history. From the Sangoma healers of Africa and the Shamans of Native American tribes, to the Seers of Norse Paganism, bones have had an important role in divination, prophesying, and predicting the outcomes of situations all over the world for hundreds of years. In recent years it has been an instrumental form of divination that is used commonly by Root Workers and practitioners of Southern Conjure.
Much like tarot card readings, bone readings have countless techniques to decipher the messages. Some are very detailed and some are more abstract. Typically, the more bones within your set, the more detailed your reading has the potential to be. In Michele Jackson’s book, “Bones, Shells and Curios: A Contemporary Method of Casting the Bones” she goes into detail of how to work with bone sets that include over 50 pieces (Jackson 2014). This may seem a very large number, however, the additional pieces bring more clarity into the situation. For example, if you have a bone or curio that denotes femininity in your reading, that can be subjective. Does it indicate a literal woman, or an overall feminine energetic tone? If you add extra pieces to include a female child/baby, a young woman, middle aged woman, old woman and one that indicates feminine energy, then the reading will be more in depth. Having a large bone set has its benefits, but it isn’t a necessity either. Again, this is where the diversity of this tool comes in. For instance, my personal bone reading set consists of 28 pieces currently. That is not to say that I will not add more later, as I have added different pieces as the need has arisen.
There are many ways to acquire your set of bones. I chose to create my set myself, however there are many reputable bone reading kits that are available for purchase should you choose to go that route. One factor in making a decision to either make or purchase your set would be to determine what kind of reader you are. If you are a highly intuitive person who assigns your own meanings to your tarot cards, for instance, then you may be more inclined to create your own set and determine your own meanings. Many of the sets that are sold come with meanings assigned to the bones, however not all. If you are a more traditional reader and employ the guide that comes with your tarot deck or different books on tarot to decipher your readings, then you may want to purchase a set that has definitions assigned and instructions on how to interpret them. Or you could purchase one and assign your own meanings, or make your own and assign them according to suggested meanings from other bone readers. The possibilities really are endless! If you do choose to purchase a premade set and would like to determine your own meanings, Jane of Spirit and Bones has some amazingly beautiful sets available in her shop. Michel Jackson also sells amazing sets. Hers are more traditional to African culture and include meanings, should you choose to use them.
My bone pieces include curios in addition to bones. Curios can be any object or trinket, really. As long as it doesn’t break easily and isn’t too large it should work fine.
Here are several of my pieces and my meanings:
I use coins, one small and one larger illustrating a small fortune and a large fortune. A third coin which is much larger is a Lady Liberty coin and I use this to indicate justice in a situation. How and where it falls in the reading determines if justice has been served or needs to be served. I have an owl trinket that means wisdom or foolish pride, again dependent upon how it falls in the reading. A turquoise skull bead that I absolutely LOVE was chosen to assign to represent Spirit/Ancestors. One curio I found out when foraging is an old plastic Christmas tree light. I use it to suggest seeking, idea and solution. I am a fan of teeth (weird I know) and over the years I have collected quite a few from different animal species. These were obvious additions when I began creating my set. My Elk tooth denotes masculinity, endurance, a hunter or a man. I have a buffalo tooth that I use to indicate blessings, prosperity, abundance and gratitude. My camel tooth means preservation, adaptation, survival and humility. I also have several actual bones. A small chicken bone and a large chicken bone where the small one interprets as feminine, nurturing, intuition and woman and the large one means leader. My possum vertebrae that is intact indicates strength, flexibility and standing tall, especially in the face of adversity. The broken vertebrae represents just the opposite: weak, cowardly and spineless. These are just a few of my bones and curios and what I use them to indicate. Feel free to use any of these in your own sets, or completely make up your own!
As with all divination tools, blessing, cleansing and tethering them to your ancestors or spirit guides allows you to use them as a conduit to receive messages. There are many ways to do this. I cleanse my bones with smoke (I prefer cedar, copal and Mugwort) and then place them on my Ancestor altar for a couple of weeks so that they can absorb the energy of my Ancestors. If you do not work with your ancestors this closely or do not have an altar for them, then you can easily use the same technique on your deity altar or sacred space that you use to channel Spirit. Once you have done this, it’s time to get to know your set. Familiarizing yourself with your bones and interpreting the reading is very similar to working with a pendulum. When you begin working with a pendulum you ask certain questions (ones you know the answer to) and assign, “yes”, “no” or “unknown” to the different way the pendulum moves when asked these questions. I employ this same tactic when getting to know my bones. I ask a simple question such as “Do I live in (town I live in)?” and throw the bones a couple of times to see how they fall. I am looking for how the bones tell me “yes”. Personally, I like to take pictures on my phone and compare the throws to each other to see what similarities are prevalent, then I journal the results. As with all forms of divination, the more you use your bones the more proficient you will become at working with them.
I hope you have enjoyed this blog on Bone Reading as a form of divination. As always, feedback is always welcome and if you enjoyed this blog post, please smash that like and share, share, share! Be blessed, witchy boos!
Jackson, Michele. Bones, Shells, and Curios: a Contemporary Method of Casting the Bones. Lucky Mojo Curio Company.