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Reading the Bones & Developing Your Own System

A few years ago, I was challenged to learn a divination system that I had never dabbled in before. Having practiced for most of my life I found this pretty difficult. I received my first tarot deck when I was about eight years old, I got into pendulum work, oracle decks, runes and scrying shortly after. Some of these worked for me, some of them didn’t, but it made it difficult when faced with having to learn something completely new. So, I decided to create something.

What is a Bone Reading?

Essentially, bone sets are a collection of items that mean something to the reader and cast in a way to read fortunes. Traditionally, bone sets are built with the ancestors in mind. Typically, either the ancestors of the client, the reader or both are called upon and they are the ones who are speaking through the bones and the reader is the interpreter. That said, there is a lot of room for interpretation and personalization in bone reading. No two bone sets will be exactly the same, though there may be similarities.

What Makes Up a Bone Set?

Contrary to the name, bone sets are not all made up out of just bones. Often times they are a mixture of bones, curios, shells, beads and other trinkets that mean something specific to the reader. I had actually been collecting pieces for a divination set for years and quickly something like a bone set came together.

Shortly after I started doing more research on bone readings and found a lot of information on bone reading derived from more of a Hoodoo approach. While I learned a lot from this approach, a lot of the “traditional” pieces in these sets didn’t work well with me. As you can imagine, a lot of the pieces were very Southern Conjure oriented. Here I was, never having moved out of New England, holding a gator paw and just not connecting with it.

Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with traditional bone reading sets. In fact, I have a lot of respect for the roots of things. However, I have a very animistic practice built out of a relationship with my own genius loci and I suddenly felt very pulled to putting together a set that reflected my relationship with them. Pieces came to me from other people, some were collected from nature, and some I already owned. Ultimately your set will come together in a way that makes sense for you.

“Reading the Bones” Picture belongs to the writer.

How Do You Read the Bones?

This also varies a lot depending on the reader. Typically sets will involve a calling of the spirits/ancestors to speak through the set, a throwing (or casting) of the bones onto a specified surface, and then an interpretation of those items and where they fall in relation to other items.

Bone reading offers a lot of flexibility in interpretation a lot of readers love this, but for some it is too open ended. It can be a difficult system to learn as it requires a lot of inner dialogue and psychic intuition. I find that the best way to learn the system is to build it yourself. Spend time with the pieces and build relationships with the spirits that you are calling on. It is not a system that can be learned overnight and thrown together. Bone reading takes a long practice of spirit work and knowing how to communicate in order to be effective.

It is for this reason that I seldom read the bones for myself. The spirits I am working with and the pieces are too personal to me. There is too much room in the reading for me to impose my own feelings into it. For personal readings I will typically turn to something a little more cut and dry; like the tarot.

When learning how to read the bones I highly suggest the following:

  1. Communicate with the spirits you are working with often. Whether these be your ancestors, personal spirit system, genius loci or faery. It is important to have an established relationship with them in order to know that they will want to come through and work with you when doing a reading.

  2. Journey with the individual pieces in your set. As an animist this is particularly important as I feel that you need to connect with and ask the permission of each piece before including them in your set. Learn their origin and the stories that they have to tell. This will only enrich your readings as you will feel more like you are communicating with the pieces rather than simply seeing them as objects.

  3. Read for others often! This is important to do while learning. As I said above, reading for yourself is tough as it allows too much personal bias into the reading. Find friends that are willing to have you practice on them. This is the only way in which you will learn what pieces work with each other and how they interact.

Overall, I see my bone set as being alive. Bone sets are constantly changing and growing. Pieces will come into your life, some will move on. Your relationship to the spirits that you’re collaborating with may change. You need to be open to this and know that your relationship with your set is a working one and it will be a fully unique experience for each reader.

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