Casting Bones: How To Read and Throw Bones
Casting Bones, also called throwing bones, is a type of cleromancy divination involving the casting of lots. It connects you to the spirit realm or helps you communicate with your ancestors, deities, or spirit guides.
You may have noticed Calypso used bone throwing (crab claws) for divination in the movie Pirates of the Caribbean to help locate the Flying Dutchmen. The interpretation of the patterns and configurations of the bones is a highly intuitive process that requires a personal understanding of meanings and symbolism.
Every bone casting set is different and will be unique to every practitioner! This is what makes it so fun! Remember, if you’re uncomfortable using animal bones in your practice, that’s completely okay, and I’ll give you various options throughout this article.
Please note that I make every effort to ensure this information is correct and accurate through my own experiences and referencing sources throughout AND at the bottom of this article.
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What is the Meaning of Casting Bones?
Casting bones is a type of divination used to gain insight and guidance from the spiritual realm. Depending on your beliefs, the spiritual realm may include your ancestors, deities, spirit guides, or the Universe! Casting bones usually involves a set of bones, shells, or other small objects thrown onto a flat surface or scattered on the ground.
The patterns and arrangements of the bones are interpreted to provide insight into a particular situation or question. The practice of casting bones has a long history and is found in various forms in many cultures around the world.
The most important thing to understand about casting bones is its emphasis on animism. Many cultures believe bones contain the soul or spirit of the animal they came from.
The [Sami (descendants of the nomadic people who inhabited northern Scandinavia for thousands of years)] ‘believe that if the bones of a bear are carefully preserved, the animal will come to life again and allow itself to be hunted and killed once more’…
…Fishing and hunting customs confirm that the bones of the prey are honoured by returning them to the wild to assure the continuance of the species.Dictionary of Symbols
Cultures and History of Casting Bones
The spiritual practice of casting bones has a long and rich history spanning many cultures and spiritual traditions. Bones were often chosen for their symbolic meaning and likely handpicked based on cultural or personal significance.
The precise origins of bone reading are difficult to trace, but it’s believed to have originated in ancient Africa and spread throughout the world over time. I’m intentionally highlighting as many cultures as possible so you can see the elements of animism and commonalities throughout history. If I missed any, comment below and I’ll research and include them!
Sangomas or inyangas play an important role in many South African communities’ cultural and spiritual heritage. They are honored for their ability to communicate with ancestors and the spirit world. Sangomas often use dance, music, and trance states to communicate with the spiritual realm.
The practice of bone reading, or throwing of the bones, is a particularly important skill for sangomas. It involves interpreting the patterns and symbols formed by a set of specially selected bones, shells, or other objects, which hold messages from the ancestors and spirits.
Each item is personal to the sangoma and is specifically collected, often because the healer feels led to the object. In the case of bones sangomas carefully select them on prior understanding and knowledge of the lifestyles of the animals from which they are extracted…
…For example a hyena can represent a thief in the night and its bone can tell the whereabouts of a stolen object.Google Arts and Culture via Makgopa & Komai Koma, 2009
Chinese Oracle Bones
Over ten thousand oracle bones were unearthed in 1899 from a site in Anyang China. These bones consisted of mostly ox shoulder blades and turtle shells and included written Chinese text.
Oracle bones were a method of divination used by professional diviners for the Shang dynasty rulers. These readings answered a variety of questions about war outcomes, harvesting, and birth predictions.
Interpreters would carve a question into one side of the bone and small grooves on the other. A hot metal rod was then thrust into the grooves until the bone cracked. A reading would then be performed, based on the pattern of the bone crack.
The earliest form of Chinese divination, dating back to before the start of the Shang Dynasty in 1600 BCE, made use of fire and bones.
A heated rod was used to pierce the bone or shell, which was then placed in a fire. A seer interpreted the resulting pattern of cracks. At first the shoulder bones of oxen, sheep, or horses were used, but later tortoise shells became more common…A History of Magic, Witchcraft, and the Occult
The I Ching divination system is believed to stem from Oracle Bone divination practices, and typically uses coins or yarrow. If you’d like more in-depth information on Chinese oracle bones, I highly recommend reading this article from National Museums Scotland.
There is limited information regarding Arabic scapulimancy, but there are a few translations from Arabic to Latin that can give us some deeper insights.
The following is a literal translation of Arabic text from The Scapulimancy of Giorgio Anseimi’s Divinum opus de magia discipline by Charles Burnett.
“If you see from the place of the bed a black path with redness entering the seat of the free-born woman or the mother of the child, then the husband opposes his family.”
The bones of animals, such as sheep were often used and sometimes inscribed with symbols or marks to enhance their divinatory power.
Less well-known forms of divination from animals include scapulimancy, or divination by sheep shoulder blades, an Arabic tradition imported into Europe in the twelfth century…
…The logic behind this form of divination, as explained in Arabic treatises translated into Latin, is that the divinely placed secrets of the upper world are brought down to earth in rain and transferred through grass to herbivorous animals like sheep.Witchcraft and Magic in Europe
The ancient Greeks were always seeking knowledge from the gods through divination readings (casting lots) and signs from natural phenomena, animal symbolism, and more. Greeks were eager to win the approval of the gods and made every effort to avoid enraging them.
Specialist [Greek] diviners observed the flight of birds (ornithomancy) – a bird flying high, and with outstretched wings, was a good omen; or the livers of sacrificial animals (hepatomancy) – any abnormalities were a bad sign.
The gods could also answer a question by the way diviners drew lots or cast knucklebones, or by indicating letters on an alphabet board with a swinging rings suspended on a thread [similar to Ouija and pendulums boards].A History of Magic, Witchcraft, and the Occult
Amazonian Yanomami Tribes
The Yanomami tribe, who live in the rainforests and mountains bordering Venezuela and Brazil, avoid burying their dead because they believe it will stop their soul from resting in peace.
Instead, the family members consume a soup containing the ashes and crushed bone powder from a recently deceased loved one, along with fermented plantains. This will ensure the spirit of their loved one will be at peace.
The Amazonian Yanomami tribe believed the soul resided in bone marrow, so they ate the marrow of deceased relatives to ensure their spirit lived on. For this reason, bone marrow symbolizes immortality and resurrection.Signs and Symbols: An Illustrated Guide to Their Origins and Meanings
How to Make Your Casting Bones Divination Set
Some pagans, witches, and other spiritual practitioners will choose to simply buy a bone throwing set. This can be excellent for beginners or if you want to quickly acquire a casting bones set. Over time you can add and subtract any pieces you choose.
However, most spiritual practitioners choose to create their own set over time with pieces they are drawn to or resonate with them. I find this works best for me since I intuitively know the meanings of each piece because I picked them out myself!
Remember, casting bones is connected with the deeply spiritual belief of animism, so some practitioners will only use bones they find naturally. For example, some practitioners would avoid using bones from a store-bought chicken rotisserie due to the horrible living conditions the chickens had to endure before their death.
However, I also know many witches who choose to incorporate store-bought chicken rotisserie bones due to their spiritual representations of life. I reference this in greater detail in the article Egg Cleanse Meaning and Powerful Ritual Interpretation.
Remember, this is YOUR spiritual practice, and you should choose whatever resonates with you.
What to Include in Your Bone Casting Set
In addition to bones, you can include other small objects in your Bone Casting set. These might include stones, shells, or items with personal significance like a piece of jewelry or small coins.
Assign each object a spiritual meaning and use them to add variety and depth to your Bone Casting reading. Whatever you choose, make sure they’re small enough to toss onto a surface and easy to distinguish from one another.
You should think about the questions or themes you’ll be doing a bone reading on, and then choose pieces based on that. For example, maybe you’ll be asking about love, finances, protection, family, health, etc. Make sure you have something to represent these meanings in your Bone Casting set.
Bone Casting Set Ideas
Here are some ideas to help get you started! Feel free to get creative!!
- Small crystals
- Elder Futhark Runes
- Cinnamon Sticks (perfect for someone uncomfortable using bones)
- Ogham Alphabet
- Pieces from a Monopoly set
- Hag Stones
- Evil Eye
- Pentagram symbol
- Small crystals
- Norse Symbols
- Items representing the Elements Fire, Water, Air, Earth, and Spirit
- Small pine needles
- Wine corks
- Items representing your Deities
- Bind Runes
- Small animal figurines or teeth illustrating their corresponding Animal Symbolism and Meanings
- Small Bells
- Sacred Geometry symbols
- Pine cones
- Nuts or Seeds (like an acorn or avocado seed)
- Fake bones with meaningful symbols on them
- Wood burn sigils onto small pieces of wood
- Crayons or colored pencils
- Choose pieces with significant color meanings
- Theban Alphabet symbols
- Small locks
- Puzzle pieces
- Pagan, Witch, and Wiccan Symbols
- Paper clips
- If you work with the Fae in your practice, include items that bring their energy into your set
- Safety pins
- Forks or other small utensils
- Pieces that incorporate the energy of the Moon
Is Casting Bones in the Bible?
Casting bones is not specifically mentioned in the Bible, but divination and the casting of lots are mentioned in several passages.
Leviticus 16:8 states casting lots were used to make decisions such as choosing the scapegoat for the Day of Atonement. “Aaron shall cast lots for the two goats, one lot for the LORD and the other lot for the scapegoat.“
…in the Yom Kippur ritual described in the Torah (Leviticus 16:8–10), [a scapegoat is a] goat ritually burdened with the sins of the Jewish people. The scapegoat was sent into the wilderness for Azazel, possibly for the purpose of placating that evil spirit, while a separate goat was slain as an offering to God.Britannica – scapegoat religion
In the New Testament, casting lots was used to choose a replacement for Judas among the disciples Matthias or Barsabbas (Acts 1:26). The casting of lots was seen as a way to seek guidance from God and trust His influence over the outcome.
How To Cast Bones
After you’ve put your Bone Casting set together, it’s time to start throwing them bones. Specific casting techniques and readings can vary by practitioners, but I’ll do my best to give you an overview. Alright, let’s jump into the specifics!
Cleanse Your Casting Bones Set
It’s important to begin by cleansing your bones. This will help to remove any negative energy the items may have picked up and creates a clean slate. This also guarantees the bones and charms are ready to receive your intentions and spiritual energy.
Remember to spend time with your bones to bond and create a deeper connection with them. It’s a lovely way to honor and acknowledge the history and spiritual meaning of the bones and charms.
Check out this article for a more in-depth description of Cleansing Techniques. The post discusses crystals, but all the techniques still apply.
How Many Bones Do You Cast?
When it comes to throwing bones, a spiritual practitioner typically uses between four and fourteen bones. However, this is a personal preference, and the choice is entirely yours! I’ve seen some spiritual practitioners have hundreds of items in their set.
I think it’s easiest to start with a small set or use Numerology meanings to decide on how many pieces you’d like. Numbers are how the Universe, angels, ancestors, and our spirit guides speak to us. Each number has its own energy, frequency, and vibration to utilize communication similar to crystals and colors.
What To Throw Your Bones On
Choosing the right surface to throw your bones on is essential for an accurate reading. I’ve heard of some traditions where bones will be thrown on a white cloth or at the feet of the person receiving a reading.
However, other spiritual practitioners prefer casting onto natural elements like the earth or animal hides. This gives your reading a direct link to Nature and enhances spiritual connections.
Remember to consider the texture, colors, and fibers when choosing a surface for Casting Bones. A soft or textured surface allows the bones to settle in a natural way without moving around too much. You can easily do this on carpet or a yoga mat.
Anyone feeling extra creative can create their own bone throwing cloth. I’ve always wanted to try cross-stitching or embroidering a piece of cloth with meaningful symbols or highlighting certain areas for your bones to land for additional interpretations and meanings.
Set a Sacred Space
A sacred space is a physical or mental space where you’re able to focus solely on your spiritual practices. Somewhere quiet where you won’t be disturbed, and you can focus your energy.
Regularly using the same space and creating a ritual around your divinatory practice can train your mind to enter a state of heightened awareness, and enhance your intuition and psychic abilities.
Personally, I prefer to light candles or incense and wear headphones while listening to specific binaural tones or music. Really, it just depends on my intention and what I’m trying to achieve.
If you’re a beginner, practice how you’ll cast your bones, because it’ll help you familiarize yourself with each bone or small item and its spiritual meanings. Every set of bones is unique, so you need to understand how each bone behaves when thrown.
Also, pay attention to how you’re throwing the bones by tossing them gently. You want them to spread out a bit, not clumped together in one spot. Alternatively, avoid casting the bones too hard; you don’t want pieces flung halfway across the room.
Once you become comfortable with the weight, shape, and feel of each item in your bone casting set, you’ll be able to conduct a much more accurate reading.
How To Read Bones
Okay, everyone wants to know how to read bones, but every bone reading can differ for each spiritual practitioner. There are multiple ways to read bones, so feel free to choose whichever technique resonates with you!
Remember to record your bone reading in your Grimoire or Book of Shadows because sometimes it takes a bit for the message to sink in. I also like to film myself doing the reading; that way, I can say things as they come to me and simply write them down later.
Side note: I couldn’t find the technical terms for these methods; this is just what I call them.
Simple Bone Throwing Technique
This technique is best for anyone who wants to only use bones and keep the reading simple. This would also work if you’re using cinnamon sticks, matches, twigs, etc.
After you’ve thrown your bones pay attention to how they’ve fallen and their positions. If the bones touch or cross each other, this represents “yes”. However, if they don’t touch at all, it means “no”.
If several bones have crossed, that means it’s an even stronger “yes” answer. The further apart the bones are, the stronger the “no” meaning.
Intuitive Bone Reading
This is my favorite technique and the one I use most. After you’ve thrown your bones, pay attention to the positions and patterns they create. How do you feel? Are you immediately drawn to any items? Do any symbols (runes, oghams, etc) appear to you? Pay attention to any intuitive insights or messages that come to you.
Take your time to examine each bone’s positions, and think about the question or situation you are focusing on. Then, find the item that spiritually represents your intention and study the items that have fallen around it. Pay attention to the grouping of items!
For example, let’s say you used a coin to represent finances, and in this reading, you want to know about a money issue. After you did your Bone Casting, what other bones or items landed next to the coin? Whatever items are touching or closest to the coin, have the most impact on its meaning. The further away it is from the coin, the less meaning it has.
Past, Present, Future
This technique is very similar to the 7 Rune Stone Layout, so I’ll include an image of that below. Once you’ve thrown your bones, take a complete overview of the bones and items as a whole. Then imagine them broken up into different sections for the bone reading.
The top section addresses your current challenge or question. The left side represents the past, the middle section symbolizes the present, and the far right reflects the future.
Question and Answer Bone Reading
This technique works well for a Q&A session. Before you cast the bones, write down any questions you have on a small piece of paper. Feel free to write as many as you like, but write them on separate pieces of paper.
Place your first question somewhere on the border of the cloth you throw on. I typically put mine at the top center of the cloth, but this is my personal preference.
Cast your bones on the cloth and interpret the pieces landing closest to your question because they are the answer to your question.
I’ve also seen spiritual practitioners place all their questions around the edges of the cloth. Then they’ll do a single bone throw, and interpret a wider meaning based on where the bones or items land by each question.
What Should I Do If A Piece Breaks?
Unfortunately, this tends to happen when working with bones or delicate pieces, which can be heartbreaking. The answer depends on the spiritual practitioner (are you getting tired of me saying that yet).
Some practitioners believe this means the piece is letting you know it’s done doing readings. Feel free to bury it outside with Nature, or dispose of it however you like.
However, let your intuition guide you! Depending on the reading some practitioners continue to use the broke piece because it now symbolizes something else. The choice is up to you!
Ankarloo, Bengt and Stuart Clark, editors. Witchcraft and Magic in Europe, Volume 3: The Middle Ages. University of Pennsylvania Press. 12 March 2002.
Bartlett, Sarah. The Secrets of the Universe in 100 Symbols. Chartwell Books. 15 January 2019.
Burnett, Charles. The Scapulimancy of Giorgio Anseimi’s Divinum opus de magia discipline. Euphrosyne 1995 23: 63-81. January 1995.
Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “augury”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 7 Jun. 2017, https://www.britannica.com/topic/augury.
Chevalier, Jean. The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols. Penguin Books. 1 March 1997.
DK. A History of Magic, Witchcraft, and the Occult. 18 August 2020.
DK. Signs and Symbols: An Illustrated Guide to Their Origins and Meanings. 16 June 2008.
Gilbert, Robert Andrew and Park, George Kerlin. “divination”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 13 Mar. 2023, https://www.britannica.com/topic/divination.
Janzen, John M. Ngoma Discourses of Healing in Central and Southern Africa – Pengula: Divination By Throwing The Bones. The University of California Press. 1992.
Further Readings You May Find Helpful
Flying The Hedge – Bone Magic Series: Introduction