Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Bone Magic Series: Throwing the Bones + Build Your Own Bone Tarot

Bone Magic Series: Throwing the Bones + Build Your Own Bone Tarot

Bone throwing is one of the oldest forms of divination and can be found across multiple cultures throughout history. Because of this, there are multiple ways to practice throwing the bones and ways to interpret their meanings. If you come from reading traditional tarot or runes, you may find bone throwing frustrating and difficult. Unlike other forms of divination, throwing the bones is highly intuitive and bone sets are extremely personalized; no two sets or readers will be the same. Because of this, it's a highly effective form of divination, whether you are reading strictly for yourself or others.

What is Used in a Set?

There are a variety of ways to set up your "bone tarot" set depending upon the tradition(s) you may prescribe to or lack thereof. Most sets consist of bones, shells, stones, and small curios such as dice, coins, or other little trinkets while some are composed only of chicken bones, sometimes even painted to have different meanings. What the set is made up of is completely up to you and, honestly, not very important. However, the meaning behind each item and the item's relation to each other is important. How did they fall? Where are they located? Are they touching each other? How far apart are they? Together, the set works to answer the question the caster has asked of it.

How Do You Read Bone Tarot?

Again, there are multiple ways to read bones. You can work heavily with your ancestors for a more interpreted reading, relying on them to bring you inspiration while reading the bones. Others with a more scientific mind rely on a more analytical approach, connecting meaning to the pieces based on science and their placement on the cloth. Others still work with the spirits that live in the individual objects, listening to them as they whisper back details. Personally, I like to use a combination of these methods, using my prescribed meanings and the spirits to guide my interpretation of the reading. When you are first starting out, you may find a more analytical approach to be best, because its more like traditional tarot in that the location is associated with a specific question, body part, or event while each piece of the bone throwing set is also prescribed a predetermined meaning, such as a wing bone meaning travel. When it doubt, go with your gut.

Despite the different ways to read bones, many practitioners use some similar techniques. To begin with, a question is always asked. Bone throwing can provide a narrow or wide perspective, depending on the situation, and therefore the question needn't be perfectly worded or specific. Most people find asking a question about something that is weighing heavily on you that you may or may not be able to completely put into words is best. However, if you come with a specific and perfectly worded question, bone throwing will still work just fine and allows for a more focused reading. Once the question is asked, the reader shakes the bone throwing set and casts them. Where you cast them is up to you. Some cast on a hard surface or on a fur or cloth with nothing on it; others on a cloth with designated regions; while others still cast in a design drawn in the dirt. Again, where you cast is entirely up to you. I have thrown on cloth with designated regions and on blank surfaces. I like both methods and choose a surface based on the type of question I am asking. For vaguer questions, I prefer a mat with designated regions. This allows for a more focused reading. If my question is more specific, I tend to ignore the designated locations and focus on proximity and reading left to right. Once the bones are cast, they are analyzed and meaning is prescribed to their placement to offer insight into the question asked. Remember to record all your readings in your journal or Book of Shadows. Sometimes it takes a little while for the full message to come into view, so return to your notes for a couple of days after the reading and add to your notes.

Once cast, there are many ways to read the bones:

Left to Right- The bones are considered on a timeline from left to right, with the bones on the left representing the past, those in the middle the present, and those on the right the future or possible outcomes.
Distance from the Reader- Those closest to the reader represent the past, middle present, and those furthest away represent the future or possible outcome.
Non-Linear Orientation- The items are not read in a linear sequence, but instead interpreted as a whole based on their placement on the surface and to each other. This relies more heavily on spiritual guidance.

Of course, these are only a couple of ways to read and by no means the only ways. I encourage you to use your intuition while reading and change up how you read based on the questions being asked.

How to Construct a Bone Set?

Want to make your own "bone tarot?" Creating your own set is pretty fun, but a little time-consuming. Sure, you can buy a set online, and this is a great place to start, but building your own will create a stronger connection between you and the bones. I've talked to other witches who began by buying a set and removing the items that didn't resonate with them and incorporating items into it that did. There is no right or wrong way to do this, and I am still building my own set!

When you begin creating your bone set, start by setting the intention that you are open to receiving objects for use in divination. Then begin going through items you may already have. Check junk drawers and other places you stash random objects. If there is something small that you've never quite been able to let go of, it may be something that belongs in your bone throwing set. Remember, not everything has to be a bone! In fact, you don't need bones at all if that's what you want. Buttons, crystals, small pieces of driftwood, bottle caps, dice, small carved figures, pieces of cardboard tags, seeds and beans, and a variety of other small objects all work! If it speaks to you and feels right in your set, then it's meant to be. However, I do have a couple of things you should keep in mind.

First, you should have an object that represents you. Generally, this object is slightly bigger than the others. Next, the items in your set should mean something. Think about tarot and rune meanings. There is a card or rune that represents health, wealth, love, family, etc. You want a set to have the same sorts of representations so you can get a good reading. I also suggest you add objects that mean yes and no, evil, and decision (a coin is great for this), but you don't have to have these things.

Below is a list of items you may want to include in your bone tarot and some possible meanings for those objects:

feather- flight, travel, communication, messages from the dead
coin- yes/no
wishbone- luck, prosperity, good fortune
skeleton key- transition, open doors, opportunity, crossroads, decisions
quartz point- amplification, positivity, protection, versatility
amethyst- soul, afterlife, psychic ability
fossil- past, ancestors, perseverance
claw- past, present, or future depending on the size
white shell- purity, hope, innocence
curved bone- yes/no
sors bone- fate, destiny, external influences (this is not an actual bone in the body. Instead, its a term, originating from another form of divination, to refer to the smallest, thinnest, or rarest bone in your set. You do not have to prescribe this meaning to any of your small/thin/rare bones. I personally prefer to work with the bones function in the body to determine meaning.)
human finger- singling out an issue
white river rock- purity, innocence, food intentions
black river rock- banishment, bad luck, evil
barnacle- smothered, overwhelmed, chaos
alligator claw- luck, prosperity, opportunities, success
penis bone- love, fertility, luck
coyote bone- trickery, apprehension, fooled by appearances
bean- growth, fertility, opportunity
buckeye nut- abundance, fertility, luck, achievement, employment
hag stone- protection, spiritual transformation, messages
dice- numbers
button- connection, bonds
tooth- communication, truth, lies, rumors (depending on how it faces)

This list is just to give you some ideas and you should prescribe meaning to your objects based on your intuition. As you gather items, spend time holding them and meditating on them to figure out their meaning. Be sure to keep your notes on each item in your Grimoire or Book of Shadows. Items can be removed or added as you see fit, but always write down what you have removed or added an object so you know what your set contains and the meanings of each object. But overall, have fun with it and practice often. It's a truly magical experience to work with a bone tarot set and will flex that intuitive muscle.

And that concludes my series on Bone Magic! I hope this series has been informative and has inspired you to work with animal remains in your practice. Maybe you'll start constructing your own bone throwing set or set out to find your first animal skull. However you decide to work with animal remains, remember to keep their spirits in mind. Always treat them with respect and honor your contracts with them. Your magical practice will surely benefit.

Interest in the rest of the series? Here's what's to come!

Bone Magic Series


  1. I am very new to osetomancy and was wondering if you might clarify, what is a "sors bone"? I've been searching and cant find any information about it.

    1. I should probably clarify in the post what it is. Sors isn't an actual bone in a body. Instead it refers to the thinnest or smallest bone in your set. Sometimes it refers to the rarest bone in your set. Many people do not refer to it as such, but I figured I would include it after finding a couple of sources alluding to it. I prefer to work with the actual names of the bones and make connections based upon their function within the body. I find this to be easier than putting arbitrary meanings on bones.


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