In this post, I wanted to talk a little about my own methods and share some resources on reading with bones. Before I begin though, I want to state that I am not an authority on bone throwing as a form of divination. I have been working on this form of divination for roughly 3 and a half years now. Each diviner, whether it be tea leaves, tarot, smoke, water, fire... you name it, will have their own personal methods. These are mine, they are by no means rules! But hopefully a way to inspire those I know who are interested in this lovely form of divining.
A heads up if you're squeemish: I will be discussing dead animals.
How I came to bone throwing
Before I began working with the bones as a form of divination, I had been quite fascinated by collecting animal bones and parts. Roadkill was a subject of photography for me in my late teens and early 20's (sadly, all lost). I always felt that it was unfair for an animal to get ground into the asphalt, no one there to care or honor their body. When possible, I pick up and care for roadkill or dead animals I find in my wanderings.
I came to this form of divination via cat yronwode of Lucky Mojo. In the radio show that she hosts, sometimes she'll read with cards and other times, she'd read with bones. I do believe she is the individual who brought bone throwing as form of divination to the internet. After listening for some time and becoming entranced by the stories of how she came by some of the items in her sortildge set, I was determined to start one of my own. Luckily around that time, miss cat wrote a book Called Throwing the Bones in 2012 and sells great little starter sets.
Finding your pieces
I found that buying a starter set and reading all that I could on the subject was best for me. I liked having the “foundational” set to get me going right out the gate. Once it arrived, I went through all my collection of small random objects, bones, plants, woods, stones, etc. I grabbed whatever spoke to me and added them in. If something didn't work, or didn't feel right I'd pull it out. Or, it'd find its own way out.
For some pieces of my set, I have collected my own roadkill and processed animal parts, or I have come upon animal parts already cleaned by nature. Various birds and small critters. Each has their own story and for each, I asked permission to use them. Most animals will be agreeable with kind words, offerings, respect and such like.
While buying already cleaned bones on the internet is really handy and great, there is nothing quite like processing a found bird or animal by your own hands. I have found that my connection to the animal is stronger and I understand them more, because I know where and how they lived and usually, how they died.
Magical plants and trees have been an interesting addition as well. Do not overlook your plant allies! They can lend a strong healing voice to a reading and can even help in remedial work post-reading.
Anything can be added as long as it fits and be mindful of pieces coming to you, because they will when you open yourself to this kind of work.
Your collection is usually never static. It will change over time just like we do - an ever evolving process.
I must admit, that it was quite frustrating at first to learn. You take a handful random objects, chuck them in a general direction and then attempt to read them based on their landing placement. If you come from a tarot background, this can be a total mind fuck. You'll want to assign tarot meanings as a way to compartmentalize the pieces and their meanings – I kind of did this in the beginning myself. I do not recommend it. Tarot is tarot. Bones are bones. They speak! But you must find your own way of listening.
Everything contains spirit
A common thread I have found among bone throwers is animism. Which is the belief that all things, plants, animals, rock, inanimate objects, contain a spirit. I find this mindset and belief basically necessary to reading bones in my own practice. Each piece contains its own wisdom, its story and all the pieces together create this collective, unique being. Like humans and many other things, no two are alike.
Things to keep in mind
Sometimes a piece will change its meaning.
Sometimes, a piece will decide to leave.
Sometimes a piece will always want to speak (usually of corvid origin, ahem).
Sometimes a piece will never speak.
Sometimes, a piece will break.
Sometimes, everyone wants to speak!
I have found that being flexible and open is necessary. Every cast is an invitation to discover something new and to hear the voice of spirit. The moment you become rigid, movement and flow of voice is lost.
Trust yourself, be fluid.
Your bone throwing set is a living breathing thing and it is good to treat it as such. A few ways I have bonded with my set is as follows:
Talking to them
Giving them my blood, usually menstrual
Sleeping with it under or by my pillow
Carrying a piece with me through the day
Periodically smoking and "watering" them (see in Care and Feeding)
Leaving pinches of tobacco and mugwort in their resting place
Working with them regularily
Care and feeding
I use a scarf my grandmother gave me to hold my bones. I have found a soft container is best and I feel that my set enjoys a warm gentle place to rest when not in use. You'll come to know the particularities, wants and needs of your set with time. If ever in doubt, just ask, be open, listen and experiment with what works.
I like to feed my set both periodically and before I begin a reading. Most often this comes in the form of homemade Florida Water, western red cedar smoke, wild mugwort and tobacco. Florida Water is a favorite. I just sprinkle this over the bones before a reading, stir them with my hands and talk to them, letting my breath warm and touch the bones while bundled up in their scarf. A pinch of tobacco or mugwort added to them while they're wrapped up and not in use is nice too. Western red cedar is a nice benevolent, clearing and blessing smoke, between uses or after a reading is done. Use what calls to you, listen to what they want.
Ancestors, helping spirits and the spirits within the bone set itself are key to call up before beginning a session. Before I throw, I rattle them around a bit, “wake up, time to wake up!” I will say them close to my face and allow my breath to touch them. I like to “warm” them, stir them alive again. They hear me and begin to stir... then with smoke and perfume I feed them, speaking aloud my question and situation. I then take a handful of bones and give them a gentle toss
Grounding and centering myself, light meditation, entering an altered state
Anointing a candle, lighting it and setting out a glass of water to open the way to spirit.
Calling upon my ancestors and helping spirits to aid me in receiving messages loud and clear
Speaking to my bones and allowing my breath to touch them as I speak aloud my question/situation.
Cast the bones and read away!
Currently I have my witchin' table, or, my divining table that I cast on. Basically an Ikea table covered in the stains of witchcraft. On it I drew a circle in chalk. This is where I do my casting. Goat skin would be my first choice, but I have yet to seek one out for my needs. Animal skin is a common casting surface among bone throwers as are mats made of natural materials, or cloths. Whatever suits your needs, it doesn't have to be fancy. A finger drawn circle in the dirt works just as well.
Book and Resources
Walking the Hedge - Introduction to Collection Divination - this is an oldie, but a good one.
If you have any questions at all, please leave a comment! I would love to know what you think or if you have anything at all to add. I hope this inspires you to begin your own set. It is a most rewarding form of divination that I think has the power and ability to help us learn to trust ourselves and the messages we receive through spirit. Which I think can be a huge hurdle in the realm of learning divination, no matter your medium.