Category:Throwing the Bones and Reading Other Natural Curios

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Wooden bowl containing shells, bones and nut kernels, South Africa, 1890-1924, from the Science Museum of London

Thrown, cast, and marked readings are inspired divinations performed by gifted psychic readers to answer life's questions for their clients.

In the traditions of some cultures, the bones, shells, and/or nuts that are to be thrown are left in their natural state; in other cultures they may be shaped and marked, much like dice, dominoes, or the cut cowrie shells used in Obi and Diloggun divination.

Among the Zulu sangoma diviners of South Africa, it is common to use a large set of bones and other natural curios, such as the eighteen items shown in the wooden bowl here.


Throwing the Bones

Reading 'possum bones in a circle cast in the dirt, as practiced by a traditional Alabama root doctor
A contemporary American bone reader's casting cloth
A contemporary American bone reader's casting of the bones on a goat skin.
Bone reading as practiced by a traditional African sangoma or diviner

In bone divination, bones of various sorts are ritually tossed onto a mat, an animal hide, or into a circle drawn in the dirt, and the resulting patterns interpreted. Throwing the bones is an ancient practice traditional to many regions of the world, including Africa, Asia, and North America. The number and type of bones employed, as well as the inclusion of other small objects, such as pebbles, shells, and hard nuts, varies quite a bit from culture to culture.

As a hoodoo practice, casting or throwing the bones has deep traditional roots in African culture, especially as developed among the sangomas or divining healers of the Zulu, Swazi, Xhosa, and Ndebele traditions in southern Africa. Trained as herbalists, spirit mediums, and diviners, they fulfill an important role in their culture, equivalent to that of a root doctor in the United States or an obeah practitioner in Jamaica.

The mingling of African traditions with Native American and European forms of divination has produced quite a lot of variation in hoodoo practices. Traditional items used in bone-reading by Southern-style root doctors and spirit-led fortune tellers who employ these ancient methods of divination include bones, stones, coins, stalks, or shells. Additionally, some who follow this style of divining with natural curios may also perform augury by inspection of natural botanical and zoological curios such as owl pellets.

Although there is no single system of bone or curio divination used by all African American practitioners, some old-timers read a set of chicken bones or 'possum bones, and do so only on the ground rather than a table-top, after the manner still practiced by some readers in Africa to this day. Others mix pebbles or shells or dice with their bones, as some sangomas do, and they might read on a mat or animal hide, or even on table-top -- but no matter what natural and man-made curios are included, the practice is still called "throwing the bones."

American conjure doctors and hoodoo bone readers consider it traditional to keep their divination bones in a basket, bowl, or bag on or near their altar when not in use and to cast them out onto a mat, a hide, or a circle to read them. Each bone may have a meaning, and the patterns among the bones may be significant as well. For example, in one family tradition, nine chicken bones are used, and each bone has a meaning: the wing bone signifies travel, the neck bone signifies poverty, and the wish bone signifies good fortune. In another family tradition, only 'possum bones are employed.

Mongolian Shagai

Among the Mongolians, four unmarked sheep astragalus or knuckle bones are thrown, each of which has four distinguishable sides, called Goat, Sheep, Camel, and Horse. Casting the four four-sided bonesproduces an array of 36 possible answers to any given question. The name for this system of divination is shagai, which literaaly means "ankle bone" but is often rendered in English as "Complicated Fortune Telling." In addition to functioning as a system of divination, shagai can also be played as a gambling game.

Marked Bones for Divination

Marked bones are often used in groups of two or four to obtain yes or no answers, as well as more detailed information. There is quite a bit of evidence to support the idea that gaming dice, often casually called "the bones," may have had their origin in marked bone divination, as there are still forms of divination in which the markings of the spots and dots on dice or dominoes are used to read fortunes for clients.

Some readers of chicken and 'possum bones also mark, paint, or otherwise indicate differences between the bones for ease of reading. For example, they may wish to use two similar-looking bones to indicate "male" and "female" people or to call attention to certain life conditions, such as love affairs, money matters, health concerns, or travel opportunities. Marking or painting the bones makes their identification quick and certain.

Contemporary Bone Reading Styles

Diviners who work with intuitive rather than mathematical systems of bone reading may create their own reading methods, drawing from a combination of established historical methods and personal inspiration. While some of these methods may resemble traditional African Sangoma-style readings, they are not Sangoma readings, which are rooted in Zulu tradition. Rather, these contemporary bone reading styles are based on the individual diviner's personal understanding of spirit and symbolism.

Other Forms of Bone Reading

In addition to being used in rites of throwing, bones are also ritually manipulated in other ways for the purpose of telling the future for a client.

For instance, in some cultures, cooked bones (most often the shoulder blade or scapular of a large animal) may be scraped clean of flesh and the marks upon it interpreted. In other cultures, certain specially selected bones, sometimes called oracle bones (usually scapulars or turtle pastron bones) may be burned in a fire or heated until they crack and the resulting chars and cracks examined in order to determine specific answers to questions.

Bones, as well as other body parts, may also be used as a means to communicate mediumistically with the dead and with spirits, through psychometry.

See Also


  • Divination and Fortune Telling by Throwing the Bones and Reading Natural Curios

AIRR Readers & Rootworkers Who Perform This Work for Clients

The Association of Independent Readers & Rootworkers (AIRR) is here to help you find gifted, sincere, and honest spiritual guidance, successful counseling, and professional magical spell casting and ritual conjuration. Every independent member of AIRR has been certified for psychic ability, magical skill, and ethical reliability. Every AIRR psychic, reader, seer, diviner, scryer, root doctor, and spiritual practitioner has completed a year-long program of training in conjure, hoodoo, witchcraft, rootwork, making mojo hands, and casting powerful magick spells. All of our psychics have served the public professionally for a minimum of two years -- and in many cases, significantly longer. Certified AIRR Readers & Rootworkers who will perform this type of work to help you find love, money, protection, and luck are listed below.

Pages in category "Throwing the Bones and Reading Other Natural Curios"

The following 13 pages are in this category, out of 13 total.











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