What does the future hold? Consult with the ancestors about what's to come through a form of divination called bone casting. What will you learn by throwing the bones?
For a year now, we have been hearing the phrase “In these uncertain times.” Many of us are having difficulty coping with the seemingly apocalyptic crises we are facing. We are lonely. We are anxious. We are grieving.
There’s a part of us that believes in, and understands, the language of magic. If we are to heal wholly, we must engage all parts of ourselves in the process.
Ann Fiery, author of The Book of Divination, explains the timeless appeal of fortune-telling, reminding us that divination speaks to the universal need for resources, profound love, health, and happiness. We want more than anything to make the right choices.
From talismans to tea leaves to tarot, humankind has sought advice, solace, and support from oracular systems and seers. Whether one believes that communing with the divine or the spirits of ancestors is literal or a projection of our own subconscious onto exterior symbols, divination can help us make decisions and prepare for the future.
JoAnne Dodgson, who holds a doctorate in counseling psychology with a specialty in holistic healing, has been learning and living the ways of the Peruvian Ka Ta See lineage for more than 20 years.
“The elders describe bone throwing as the oldest form of divination on the earth,” explains Dodgson. “Throwing of the Bones Ceremony offers personal connection with the medicines of the spirits. The doctoring from the spirits begins before the ceremony takes place and continues to touch the lives of participants in the days and even years to come.”
Consulting the Ancestors
Bone casting is one of many skills of a sangoma, a traditional healer of the Zulu, Swazi, Xhosa, and Ndebele traditions in southern Africa. Sangomas are called to heal illness, social disharmony, and spiritual difficulties. They intercede between their patients and the spirit world to establish a balanced and harmless relationship.
In a typical session, the patient or the diviner throws bones on the floor, but it is the ancestral spirits who control the pattern. The “bones” may include animal vertebrae, dominoes, dice, coins, shells, and stones, each with a specific significance to human life. The healer interprets the metaphorical arrangement in relation to the patient’s afflictions, what the ancestors require, and what actions to take to resolve the problem. Diagnosis and Rx are accomplished in a series of throws.
Hoodoo (not to be confused with Voodoo, an established religion) is African American folk medicine. It’s primarily African, but Native American and European practices of divination have also found their way into hoodoo. Originating in the Mississippi Delta, its magical traditions of potions, powders, charms, and psychic readings are probably the greatest influence on North American bone readers.
Although healing remains the ultimate goal, bones are often read to answer life’s other burning questions. Timelines from past, present, and future may be brought into the equation. Readings are sometimes done for the new moon month, or the new year, forecasting everything from weather crises to political upheavals.
Tools of the Bone Throwing Trade
Any living ritual or ceremony changes with culture and individual practitioners. This is particularly true with the intuitive practice of bone reading. Contemporary hoodoo style readers often employ whatever Spirit sees fit to send them. Variations are endless and personal.
One urban reader finds his sacred objects discarded on city sidewalks and humorously interprets piles of everything from paper clips to pieces of glass. Another uses only identical chicken leg bones, painted in colors that form a code for him when thrown.
My bone throwing divination mojo bag includes, among the bleached bones, such symbolic relics as my great-grandmother’s thimble, a dried armadillo paw gifted by a friend, a top hat from a childhood monopoly game, and coral found on an Australian beach. A 2020 addition to the collection was (of course) a flattened Corona beer bottle cap. After invocation and smudging, I lay out the cloth in which my bones are wrapped. This casting cloth, or compass, is embroidered with a quartered circle and inked with symbols and written prompts.
JoAnne Dodgson describes her Peruvian tools: “My ceremonial bundle has been developed in the traditional ways of this ancient healing art. Each of the 70 bones is the home for a particular spirit and their unique medicines and gifts.” She casts the bones onto an animal skin painted with a turtle design and other symbols. The turtle’s shell is decorated with lines spiraling to the four directions, providing a labyrinthine path on a cosmological map.
A hoodoo root doctor may simply draw, with a stick, a crossed circle in the dirt, into which a handful of opossum bones are cast.
Throwing the Bones Solo
If you don’t have a teacher or tradition, trust that you can begin throwing without the intense study or memorization required of complicated systems like astrology, tarot, or I Ching. The qualifications are right-brain skills: strong intuitive abilities, imagination, divergent thinking, and an affinity for meditation or altered awareness.
You may want to start with Internet videos and a purchased kit consisting of instructions, bag, compass cloth, and bones. However, it’s best to create your own tools. You will always want to add found objects that speak directly to you. Establishing a relationship with your tools and the symbols of your guiding spirits ensures success.
As Dr. Dodgson says, “Throwing of the Bones Ceremony gives perspectives and guidance beyond a human point of view, awakening the heart, seeding potentials, and empowering transformation and healing to weave balance in our lives and our world.”
Bless your bones, and in turn, they will bless you.
Interested in throwing the bones and bone divination? Also read: “The Rise of Witches.”