If you’re a Divination witch, you find all methods of divination fascinating. Bone divination, also known as osteomancy, is a very unique method of divination. Unlike other methods of divination, like reading Tarot cards or candle wax scrying, bone divination is heavily based on animism. What’s animism, though? It’s a spiritual belief that considers that everything on the Earth has equal spiritual value. According to animist worldviews, the trees, fungi, and even inanimate objects have spirits we interact with. When we own a bone set for Divination, we understand it’s tied to one or various Animal Spirits. We have an ongoing relationship with them and they must be treated with the utmost respect. It’s a worldview shared by many cultures around the world. Animism usually coincides with ancestral worship.
So what’s bone divination or osteomancy, then? It’s using the bones of animals for Divination purposes. The bones are often mixed with other objects like shells, trinkets, coins, and feathers, among others.
One method is to throw, or cast, the bones onto a prepared surface after asking a question to the spirits. Then, they study the patterns the bones form to divine the answer. Some of the surfaces for throwing bones are marked to help interpret the patterns. Others are plain pieces of cloth that keep the bones protected and purified. This is not the only way to practice bone divination, though. You may pull a few bones at random or have a person who is getting a reading pull the bones and interpret those. You may also use a single bone that has more than one side to it to answer “yes” or “no” questions. There isn’t a single way to read bones correctly. You have to make the process your own. Osteomancy practitioners can change it up as their relationship with the Animal Spirit associated with the bones deepens.
We can’t say that osteomancy is a closed practice because it would be like saying bonfires are a closed practice. Bone divination has been practiced in various ways at different points in history and by vastly different cultures in all continents of the globe. However, some ways to interact with the bones or read them may be closed.
Even if osteomancy is open, that doesn’t mean we should approach this divination practice in a careless or naive way. For one, bone divination is an important aspect of African spirituality. This means that we may need to decolonize our ideas around the practice before approaching it.
1. Consider the source of your bones
The easiest way we can get a hold of a bone set is asking for them or buying them from a butcher or a slaughterhouse. However, these bones are not considered apt for osteomancy. This is so because of the horrid conditions these animals are kept in. Their spirits generally don’t desire to remain on this plane. They may also not have the desire to help members of the species that treated them with cruelty. You could use these bones to practice interpreting the patterns they form after you throw them. However, you’d be missing out on the connection with the Animal Spirit, the heart of bone divination. Some people hunt for animals to use their bones for divination. Of course, the ethics of this practice are dubious.
There are bone sets available in metaphysical stores and Etsy. However, do lots of research on the sellers before purchasing from them. If you can, ask your guides whether their way of sourcing the bones matches your own ethical compass.
The most ethical way to source bones is to collect them yourself. You may find bones during a hike, for example. You may also use the carcass of your companion animal. The carcass of an animal that you found dead, perhaps because it was hit by a car, is also an option. A natural death for the animal is generally your best option.
Retrieve the body and ask your local embalming shop to give you the bones from the carcass. It's advantageous to work with the bones of your pet. This is because you have the guarantee that the animal was treated with love and respect throughout most (if not all) of their life. Some people within the vegan community would be okay with this option. This is because no animal was exploited or mistreated for the bones to get to your hands. Likewise, animals that die of natural causes may also be interpreted as vegan by some people.
If you refuse to use animal bones but still want to give this divination method a try, you could use a set of fake bones or something else entirely, like cinnamon sticks. Linking this set of objects to an Animal Spirit is difficult. However, it is not impossible. This is especially the case if you already have a strong relationship with the spirit.
2. Prepare the bones
Once you have sourced the bones, it’s time to cleanse and purify them. You may expose them to the smoke of herbs and incense. You may also leave them in a tub full of table salt, marine salt or Himalayan salt overnight. Burying them for a few days can also do the job. You may also let them out to absorb Sun or moonlight. Don’t expose them to the Sun for more than a few hours, as they could become damaged. Sound cleansing is also an excellent choice to cleanse and purify them. Methods including water can be tricky, as too much moisture can damage the bones.
Once your bones are cleansed, it’s time to bless them. You can perform an elaborate ritual to bless them. Casting a circle and invoking the power of the elements is an option. You can also talk to the bones and communicate your intention to them. Anything in between is fine, too.
Carrying the bones you use for divination with you is a great idea. This way, the bones and spirit will get to know your energy better. Do remember that the bones will absorb your energy and hold onto it. Cleanse your bones if you’ve carried them with you on a bad day. Keep in mind that constant exposure to sweat can damage them.
If you feel the inclination to do so, you can decorate your bones in whatever way you like. This should be an intuitive process and there are no rules. Inscribe them with symbols that are meaningful to you. Paint them, draw on them, stick objects to them, etc. Only use acid-free glue on the bones. Otherwise, they could develop yellow stains.
Regardless of whether you decorate the bones or not, it’s a good idea to give each bone in your set a name. Get to know each and every one of them individually. Some people assign them genders. You may assign them to the Solar or Lunar polarity if you don’t subscribe to a binary view of gender.
3. Beware of cultural appropriation
While bone casting and bone divination are not closed practices by themselves, working with certain Spirit Animals is. Bone divination is not the only way to interact with Animal Spirits, though. An example of an Animal Spirit that may not be willing to work with anyone is the coyote spirit. This is a sacred spirit for Native populations in North America. They have a dual nature as both savior and villain. Another example is the Yaguareté-Avá, a sacred spirit linked to the Yaguareté. The Yaguareté is a feline species in danger of extinction. They are nowadays found in certain areas of Mexico and South America, especially the north of Argentina. The Yaguareté-Avá is a sacred animal spirit to the Guaraní nation. Don’t attempt to work with him unless you are of Guaraní descent. Of course, as it is a protected species, it would be very difficult to work with bones from an actual yaguareté. Procuring these bones would be illegal in most cases.
Keep in mind, this is just an introduction to this fascinating world of Osteomancy. In future posts, we’ll give you tips on how to build your relationship with Animal Spirits and how to interpret patterns from bone casting. We'll also talk about the kind of questions that are best suited for this Divination method.
Would you try this divination method? Tell us in the comments!
ReferencesJoiner Siedlak, Monique. Divination with Osteomancy: A Beginner’s Guide to Throw the Bones. Oshun Publications, 2021.