It’s time to get into the nitty-gritty of bone divination and learn how to interpret the patterns the bones form. In a previous post, we have covered:
- What is Osteomancy?
- How does Osteomancy work?
- How can I acquire and prepare a bone set for divination?
Now, you’re wondering how to interpret the way the bones fall. Here are a few of the steps in the process towards interpreting bone patterns:
The first thing you have to do is assign meanings to each of the bones in your set. In our previous post, we suggested giving each bone in your set a name. We have also suggested assigning each piece to the Solar or Lunar polarity.
Joiner Siedlak distinguishes between primary bones, which work similarly to the Major Arcana. They represent major players in your life, be it people, conditions, or events. According to her, the most important piece in the set is the one that represents the self (or the person asking the question). Then, you should assign a piece for each important person in your life. It's also suggested you have:
- A piece for your spirit guides
- A piece representing the place where you live
- Your community
- Your health
- Your career
- Your finances
You may even use symbols that are already familiar to you, such as the planets in Astrology or a few of the Major Arcana. You can choose a few runes as well. You can assign the bones numbers and read their numerology. You can even mix up all the divination systems you know, with some planets, some Tarot cards, and some runes. You make the rules here!
Joiner Sidnak also says there are a few secondary bones that are used to give context to the primary bones. She suggests getting a bone for “no”, a bone for “yes”, and a bone for past, present, and future. It may be useful to have bones for different emotions. You may have bones for honesty and deceit. Here, you can also include colors taking into account their magical correspondences. You can also associate the pieces of your set to the elements.
You can mark or decorate the bones to suggest these meanings. Or, you can simply make a quick sketch or glue a picture of each bone on your Book of Shadows. Take note of its name, polarity, and assigned meaning. Your system of meanings can and should evolve over time.
Reading bones with one piece
Some bone pieces can be used on their own for “yes” or “no” questions, or any question with two possible outcomes. This is a great way to get started with bone casting if you feel overwhelmed by all the possible interpretations and ways of reading. It's also great if you found a single bone during a hike and want to get started with just that tool before committing to a full set.
Some of the suggested bones to do this are the knucklebones, scapula, and skulls. As is the case with a set of multiple bones, you can either inscribe the meaning on the bone itself in whatever way you see fit. Again, we recommend that you record the bones’ meaning in your book of shadows.
Where do you cast the bones?
The surface on which you cast the bones can also guide you on the interpretation of the patterns that the bones form. You may choose to work on a surface that’s divided into four. Then, you may go on to assign an element to each quadrant. You may also assign them a quality usually associated with the elements to each of them. Logic, or the mind, which is usually associated with air, would go on one quadrant. Emotions and intuition, often linked to water, would be placed on another. Passion, drive, and action, would be represented by another quadrant associated with fire. Assets, hard work and consistency to another, usually associated with earth, should be in the final quadrant. You may also place Spirit or the fifth element in the middle.
For example, if your bone related to your career falls on the quadrant representing emotions, and the bone appears stuck to another that seems to be blocking its way, it may reveal that your career is being held back by repressed emotions.
You may also use other spatial systems of meaning, such as the twelve house system in astrology. The twelve house system divides the human experience in twelve different areas, called houses. You may read more about them in our book, The Empowered Witch: A Grimoire for Beginners. If you use this system, it would be very telling if a bone representing good luck falls onto the tenth house of career and vocation.
Another option is to simply cast the bones on a non-decorated surface. You may keep multiple surfaces to cast bones onto and decide intuitively which surface fits the question best. You may also do more unorthodox things, such as preparing a surface with photos and drawings scattered all over it.
Deciding in which direction to read
You may read the bones from left to right, right to left, from up to down, or from down to up. This may even change according to the question. However, it’s important that you decide the direction in which you’ll read the bones before formulating the question.
If you choose left to right, for example, you may choose to read the point of the surface that’s most to the right as the past. You may also interpret it as what’s more urgent/closest to the self or the querent. If the bone representing a family member falls there, you may interpret that as follows: Healing the relationship with said family member would be the most crucial thing at the moment for the person asking.
Joiner Siedlak mentions that special attention must be paid if a bone falls very close to where the person asking is physically standing. If most bones fall more or less close to each other but there is one outlier, pay attention to that, too. It’s not accidental.
Even though there’s a lot of flexibility when it comes to the surface you use for bone casting, make sure it’s a somewhat soft place for the bones. Otherwise, they may get damaged, and we know a bone set is not a simple thing to acquire or assemble!
Tips for a bone casting ritual
- Cleanse your bones before and after a reading.
- Make a simple introduction of yourself/the person who’s getting the reading to the Animal Spirit and the nature of the issue at hand. If you’re doing a bone reading for yourself, still take the time to calmly express why you’re looking for guidance.
- Before casting the bones, it’s important to take at least five minutes to find inner peace. Practice breathwork or a grounding meditation. Stay present with the bones. There’s no rush.
- Follow your intuition to prepare the space where the reading will take place. Spray some water and herbs, play some music, take care of the lighting, etc.
- If the Animal Spirit refuses to answer the question or gives you a vague answer, respect that. There’s a reason for it. If you insist on having the answer to a question they have already answered or have refused to answer, you may anger them.
- Make an offering for the Animal Spirit after a reading, especially a long or particularly insightful one. If you do readings for others, you may tell them to use their intuition after the reading to tell whether an offering to the Spirit would be appropriate. They don’t need to come to you with the offering, they can respectfully leave it out in their own homes.
- It’s useful to take pictures of the patterns. Keep a log with the question asked, the pattern formed, the interpretation and the final outcome (if known).
Would you try casting bones? Tell us in the comments!
Joiner Siedlak, Monique. Divination with Osteomancy: A Beginner’s Guide to Throw the Bones. Oshun Publications, 2021.