Bone reading, also called bone scrying or casting the bones, is an ancient form of divination found in many cultures around the world.
West Africa, Asia and the Americas all have variations of bone reading in their indigenous cultures.
Let’s start from the beginning.
Bone Reading Around the World
The ancient Chinese used turtle shells and bones to predict the outcome of crops, advise military leaders on battle strategy and assist the royal family (for better or worse!) on matters of the national policy.
Slaves brought over their bone reading traditions from West Africa to the Americas, most commonly using chicken and possum bones to tell fortunes.
Throughout the Old Testament, a number of colorful Biblical characters used bone divination as a means to predict the future and advise patrons on matters ranging from the ordinary to issues of communal or tribal importance.
Okay. I want to try it! What do I do?
To begin with, you’ll need to find a set of bones.
Some brave souls use the remains of deceased animals they find on nature walks. Personally, this kind of scavenging is a little icky for me, but if you are knowledgeable about handling this type of material, which is potentially pathogenic and biohazardous, then you certainly can try to make yourself a set.
Less risky and more accessible are your own table scraps, such as poultry bones.
Speaking from experience, this process is time-consuming if you want to do it right and cure them properly.
How to Cure Bones
Start by cleaning all the goopy, icky parts off. You don’t have to get everything, just the big chunks. (I told you this was gross).
Fire up your cauldron (or a large pot) and boil them for 10-20 minutes.
Warning: If you are not using your fresh bones, your house will smell awful. Again, I suggest opting for fresh table scraps for this reason.
Clean the remaining flesh off the bones. At this point, you really need to get everything. Scrub them down.
Mix one part bleach to 32 parts water. This works out to be about 1/4 cup bleach to 1/2 gallon water. Soak the bones for no more than 1 hour.
Allow to dry in the sun for at least a day.
I have my bones! Now what?
Personally, my traditions really emphasize blessing my ritual items. I usually anoint them in oil, bless them in sage smoke, or leave them in a salt circle on the altar on the full moon. If none of these work for you, at least sprinkle a little water on them and say a little blessing.
My bones are all blessed and whatnot. How do I use them?
There’s lots of ways to use your bones!
The easiest is the yes/no method. Simply ask a yes or no question, take a bone, and drop it on a table or other hard surface. If it lies more horizontal, the answer is yes. If it is more vertical, the answer is no.
Scrying is a more challenging method, but also affords more leeway to ask complex questions that are not easily posed in yes or no form. If you’ve ever read tea leaves, the methods are similar. Drop a handful of bones onto a table from a height of about 20 inches. Take your time and concentrate. Remember how you used to lay on your back, gaze up at the sky and see shapes in the clouds when you were little? This is a lot like that. It’s rarely comes quickly. Some bone readers stare at the bones for an hour or more before the picture becomes clear, but the longer you look at, the more you see.
Finally, you can try personalizing the bones by painting shapes, symbols or numbers on them. I actually really love this because it allows for a lot of creativity and expression. Apply symbols that are broad but have personal meaning to you. From there, you can use them as you would runes or tarot cards. Ask a question, and draw a bone out of a drawstring bag. Apply the meaning according to your circumstances.
This article was originally posted on November 15th, 2015.