Guide to Bone Casting
These old bones will tell your story
These old bones will never lie
These old bones will tell you surely
What you can’t see with your eye
Some called her witchy woman
Some said she was insane
Some said she was a prophet
Still everybody came.
Dolly Parton song These Old Bones
Osteomancy, (Bone Casting) and Astragalomancy and Cleromancy (Casting lots - small objects, dice, bones, shells) and Curiomancy (divination using the energy or significance of small, random objects) are all words for the earliest divination techniques known to man, and they have been practiced all around the world in various forms for centuries. Nearly every culture has some history of bone reading – from the Zulu Sangoma in South Africa to the chicken bone rootworkers of the Ozarks in America & Babalowas of Nigeria & Cuba & Latin America. The Inuits of Alaska carved walrus tusks. The ancient Egyptians and Greeks tossed knucklebones and carefully marked sheep vertebrae. The Chinese in the Shang dynasty & the Celts burned their bones before reading them in a practice called Pyro-osteomancy. The Norse marked Ogham staves. Mongolians read 4 sided carved sheep astragalus or knucklebones in a practice they call Shagai, which translates to "Complicated Fortune Telling". The methods of reading and items of inclusion vary greatly.
You do not need to be from Africa or part of IFA or practice Hoodoo or Voodoo to read the bones. You do not need to study under an old Conjurer or Modern-day fortune tellers Rootworker or be in contact with your ancestors if that's not your thing. Personally, I use the bones for fortune telling rather than divination, as for me it's not a cultural ritual that I perform, but instead, I use the bones more as a tool. Symbols, patterns, interpretations.
Bone casting itself is no more dangerous than your Tarot deck or your pendulum or runes or scrying ball. As readers, the important and ethical thing that in my opinion should be taught is the definition of our role and having a clear understanding of what we are doing, so that we do not ourselves, wittingly or unwittingly, become predators of the weak, using our influence and talents to mystify & dazzle them with predictions & promises & hope, in order to profit financially from their vulnerability & stroke our own egos.
This method of Bone Casting is just another method, and there are so many methods. This is mine, which I've drawn from the practices of countless others of many different origins. I use it a lot and have had great results with it and it's just a hella lot of fun. It's not watered down, it's not sanitized or fluff, it's interesting, very versatile and it works.
Here’s basically how it works:
You collect small objects over time, things that hold a meaning to you or that you can assign a meaning to, and there are a lot of small bone associations (wishbone from a chicken, for example, meaning a wish granted). Some people collect only black cat bones, some only chicken bones, 'possum bones, some exotic bones. Other items, trinkets & curios include things like buttons, crystals, coins, keys, jewelry bits, runes, shells, etc. A butterfly pin might be associated with freedom and a need to fly away from a situation, or a metamorphosis. A safety pin might indicate something you cling to for a feeling of security, etc. Dice & dominos are often incorporated with different meanings attached to the numbers.
The surface you throw on can vary greatly. I make Casting Cloths with spaces allocated for different things like strengths, weaknesses, obstacles, etc. Coming from a Tarot background, I've found this helpful, and just something extra that adds to the readings, although it's so completely different from Tarot - I don't recommend trying to read bones the way you read Tarot. It will just drive you nuts.
With Tarot, there is always a question asked. Here, although many do ask a question, I have found it better to not ask a question at all, but to have the bones read the person - meaning, the bones will show whatever the person needs to know. Some people handle this as in, the bones will answer what ails you.
So, you gather a handful of your items, and you throw them onto your reading surface (ground, animal hide, casting cloth - the surface is often called the "map"). And here, you can just throw them or you can add your own theatrics & rituals such as burning sage, blowing smoke, lighting candles, shaking rattles, making offerings, chants, dressing up in tribal attire, calling on your ancestors, etc…. whatever you’re into - whatever reflects your own culture or religion or belief system. Endless possibilities, here. The practical effect of these theatrics is that it puts both you and your client in the “now” and completely focused on your session, so, it’s not just all about showmanship & woo woo. Me personally I love creating ambience but I’m not big on the woo woo, but by all means give it all you got and make it special for YOU.
How and where the items land determines the reading. On this page, I will list the typical interpretation methods (that I use) including where to begin, what it means when the items land in groups, or overlap, or when certain items are at a diagonal or pointing toward another object, how to tell time, what is the present focus, how to mark bones, how to determine if some things are moving toward you or away from you, how to tell when something is masking another situation, which items to remove from the throw, how to assign meanings to numbers on dice & curios, etc.
Another option I've played with before is to do a draw and placement as one would do a Tarot reading. To do this, all you do is, for example, draw 3 items from your bag, and lay them out one by one next to each other. If you're doing a "past, present and future" reading, then the first item would represent the past, the middle item would represent the present, and the third item would represent the future. You can do this with any number of spreads (such as, yes or no spreads, relationship spreads, etc).