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Reading Bones

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Reading Bones an Introduction to Osteomancy by SheloyaTo provide a bit of background for my Hoodoo Bones system, and to show the way to the next step for those who’ve bought or made their own set, I’ve decided to write a bit on reading actual bones.  There are many traditions from many cultures, but they all work well provided the reader is in tune with Eshu and Ifa or whatever the name is that they call them in their own culture.  By the way, the official terms for divination by casting bones are osteomancy and ossomancy.

In Yoruba and close cultures, they have diloggun, which is the reading of the cowrie shells, and other sorts of readings according to the Ifa system.  This is a very old and accurate system, and I encourage all prospective bone readers to at least learn the basic principles of it or amathambo, the southern African method of bone reading.  Then you’ll have a context for other diaspora or Hoodoo methods such as dice and domino divination as well as others.

Because I am of mixed African and Catawba ancestry, and I live in Israel, the Hoodoo way works best for me.  I live in an ethnically diverse area in the mountains of Elijah and near the sea, so I cannot ignore things in order to stay traditionally African.  You may get the most out of methods closer to your ancestry, but mind that you may also get more out of whatever your adopted heritage is.  It is not at all about race as in color, but about the combination of your genetic heritage and literally the earth from the environment that permeates your blood and flesh.  Especially if you eat naturally and usually locally, your body has joined with the ground you are standing on.  When you are working with natural forces, it is best to be natural, not overly traditional.

You may have a religion, but the Earth does not.  One must adapt to their environment in order to thrive and survive.  One must also not refuse connection with the local flavors of spirituality or the people around them who they serve.  If you put a barrier between yourself and the people you are reading for based on your own personal racist or elitist sentiments, you of course will not be able to give them accurate readings.

If you are learning to read bones, and would like to discuss it in a more private area than the site comments, go to Witch University.  It’s free, and you can learn a lot.

Selecting Your Bones

In the general Hoodoo method (traditions vary, mind you), the first time that you dedicate a set of bones, they should be the full or partial skeleton of an animal properly sacrificed to the Orisha of your head, or from your spirit animal who has died of natural causes or legitimate hunting.  By legitimate hunting, I mean someone went out to the woods, hunted it, and killed it, or it came to a human populated area and had to be put down.

You should avoid killing an animal that may belong to someone, including those who have new pups.  Also, be mindful of your local hunting laws.  If your animal is a feline or canine, you do not need to do the killing, and this is not recommended because even if they are stray, someone likely cares for them.  Simply wait until you encounter one who has died on the road.  If it is a chicken, go to a farm where these are raised and select your bird according to the offering/sacrifice rules of your Orisha, and have a priest of Ogun, a Jew trained in kosher methods, or a Muslim trained in halal methods do the deed.  Remember, we are all children of Yemaya regardless of our politics.

Cleaning and Consecrating the Bones

The best way to do the initial cleaning is to let nature do the job.  Bury them or leave them out in a place you know they won’t be carried off.  After six months or so, for sanitary purposes, you may want to bathe them in 35% or higher hydrogen peroxide.

After they are cleaned, they should be consecrated.  This varies by tradition, but as a general rule, Eshu, the ancestors, and Ifa should be called upon.  Then they should be passed through sacred water, sacred fire, sacred earth, and sacred air.  Then do the first reading to learn the animal’s name or what kind of name they would like to be called.

Reading and Rounding Out Your Set

The skeleton is your base set.  Each type of bone has its own meaning, and this varies by tradition.  However, generally, head bones belong to Orunmila, and the head is the container of the Ori.  So depending on the context, skulls or parts of skulls could refer to the Supreme God or to the state of the person’s soul.  Vertebrae belong to Eshu.  Just as the spine carries messages from the nerves to the brain and back, Eshu is the gatekeeper between the physical and spirit realms.  Humeri belong to Yemaya.  Phalanges and claws belong to Ogun.  Teeth represent specifically divine movement through a particular Orisha.   Canine teeth and upper beaks represent war or conflict.  Pelvic bones belong to Oshun and/or Yemaya.  The The baculum belongs of course to Shango.  Horn tips belong to Oya.  You get the point.

If your animal is a snake, you may have to go by where the ribs and vertebrae correspond to placement of various organs on the snake’s body.

In any case, when you throw the bones, you are looking to see how well your base set conforms to the actual skeletal anatomy of your animal.  The closer they are to it, the more okay things are.  It’s a “no news is good news” thing.  If they are more disarranged, this means there is an actual message that may be good or bad.

To help you to read more accurately, or for confirmation of what it is your base set is trying to say, or to boost their energy, you may want to add other objects, shells, or bones from other animals.  A rattlesnake’s rattle, for instance, can tell you whether or not there is a warning of danger.  An Oya’s mirror can tell you whether the reading is about the past and present or the future.  A piece of Obsidian (which belongs to Aganju) may tell of what lies ahead during travel or a journey.  Add whatever objects you and your guardian spirits deem necessary.

Caring For Your Bones

Your bones should be kept in a safe place, and not handled by people you don’t trust.  You should keep one of them with you as often as possible.  If you tend to lose things, keep it in the “you” section of your altar, but touch it often.

Aside of consecrating the bones themselves weekly, you should cleanse and purify your hands before touching them.  Never ever touch them with dirty hands.  Don’t leave them laying around in the bathroom or something unless you have to take them with you to protect them from someone you don’t trust.

Burying Your Bones

At some point, the bit of personal energy of the animal that is left in your base set or other bones you have added may tell you that it is time to let them rest.  At that point, you should give them a nice funeral.  Seriously, if you have made a lot of money from them, or gained some status from them, the expense and grandeur of the funeral should match this.  They should have a stone marker of their burial with their name on it.

Frequently Asked Questions Concerning Divination Bones

Can I buy a set of bones or do I have to acquire and treat all bones and artifacts myself?

Technically, you can buy a ready made set of bones, but it just won’t be the same.  Some fur traders and scientific supply stores have full skeletons, and if you ask for a specific type, they will get it for you.  The problem is that you wouldn’t know what kind of life the animal had or whether or not it was properly killed.

So if you’re going to buy, it is best to buy the whole animal and then you can say what is and is not to be done with the bones.  If your animal is a cow, then if you buy the cow, you get to say which bones or parts of the bones you want reserved, without an argument or uncertainty.

If your animal is more exotic, like a wolf or a bear, then you may have no choice but to buy from hunters or specimen supply stores.  In such a case, you will need to apologize to the animal spirits for anything wrong that was done to them by a human, and give them offerings.

My animal is very exotic, endangered, or extinct.  Can I use replica bones?

Yes you can, but they should be well crafted.  They should be made of a resin or polymer clay that contains some earth from the animal’s native land, or wood from an old tree or bush from there.  The head “bones” should come from near the roots.  The vertebrae should be from the trunk.  The limbs should be from the branches.  Take care when harvesting wood from a live tree.  You may kill it or make it vulnerable to disease.  I would use wood from a tree that has already fallen or has been freshly cut down for a good reason, such as to make way for younger trees to grow.

Can I use human bones?

Not without explicit permission from the person.  Animals in the wild and on farms are used to being prey or life and death competition.  You may at some point actually encounter the bones of an animal who resents having them used after their death, but those who’ve walked this path a ways have also encountered animals who didn’t want their bones thrown in the garbage.  Some have felt, while eating an animal, that one in particular, especially roosters or “alpha” members of their herd or group wanted some amulet made from their bones.

Humans usually definitely don’t want their bones harvested, but then some do.  Some people donate their organs so that others can survive physically, and some people may well donate a part of themselves to help others survive emotionally and thrive spiritually.

Another thing to take into account is that humans are your own species.  There is such a thing as being way too in touch with your mortality.

Some well regarded priests and nuns of eastern faiths do donate their skulls or other bones to use as spiritual tools.  Usually this is done so that their body becomes a statue to the deity of their head.  They are giving all, including their body, to their deity.  One should consider that when this is done, the area they are housed in becomes a sacred shrine.  You may have heard stories about how some westerner unwittingly bought a Tibetan or Indian priest or priestess’s skull and now will not let anyone touch it, underwent a personality change, etc.

Humans and possibly other intelligent animals can consciously direct their energy, so any human (or dolphin or whale, or…) artifacts should be handled with the utmost care.  It is not something you should do to be cool or out-goth your friends or something.

If your path is that of a warrior who is in actual wars, this is a good reason to accept a human bone that comes to you.  In this case and ONLY in this case are you to accept a part of your actual enemy that has become dislodged during the battle.  Taking trophies on purpose is illegal though.

If you are afraid that some bones may go into the wrong hands and be disrespected, you may acquire or purchase them to bury or enshrine.  Ask the spirit what you should do with them.  Even though some may have asked to have their bones preserved and repurposed before their deaths, they may be ready to rest now.  Respect that.

Misinformation and Mudslinging

Update November 6, 2014: Since I wrote this article, many more bone readers seem to have come out of the woodwork.  Some are coming from older traditions, and some are using my innovation, Sheloya’s Hoodoo Bones, while others have made or discovered their own ways.

Of course, some were quick to start calling everybody frauds, without actually looking into each reader to see if their methods were sound.  Even though I was one of the main writers responsible for reviving this style of divination on the internet, I think this is very bad form.

You see, even though I helped to bring it to the attention of more diviners and rootworkers, I certainly didn’t invent osteomancy, nor do I or have I ever claimed that my way is the only way there is.  African and diaspora spirituality covers a very wide range, and we live in many different climates and environments, and come in many different mixtures.  So there is no one way that is the only way for everyone.

I can’t tell you who is real and who isn’t specifically, because I don’t spend a lot of time looking for others to berate or belittle.  I can tell you though, that it doesn’t matter how they came into the knowledge, as long as they have it.  I don’t care if they got it from reading my articles, someone else’s, a book, a video, or a friend or mentor.  It is truly irrelevant, so long as it’s spiritually and metaphysically sound.

My only real worries when it comes to this is whether or not the diviner knows their method well, is a good spiritual counselor overall, and most importantly, if they respect the Spirits/forces of Nature they are working with.  A lesser, but still important concern, is with the trending aspect.

The bones require someone who is very aligned with Nature, and this is whether we’re talking about literal bones or tiles/runes.  One has to be able to visualize in more than two dimensions, consider multiple possible time streams, and differing perspectives, all at once.  It requires a certain level of maturity, experience, and consciousness that one is helping people to get through real life issues.  One can neither afford modernist over-idealism, nor postmodernist cynicism.

I suppose this may be one reason why some traditional adherents and conjurers may panic when looking around and seeing a proliferation of bone readers.  Moreso than the tarot or other more straightforward methods using the Odu Ifa, Bible verses, etc. one has to be more than a reader.  One must be a seer.

Seeing what has become of the Nordic Runes, I share some of their concerns.  I will stop short of calling someone who is sincere and has the technique a fraud, but I will express concern with any traditional or culture/ethnicity heavy method being taken too far away from its origins.  In order to truly understand the Nordic Runes, it definitely does help to have some Nordic ancestry, as well as Nordic traditions passed to one through heritage.

Crossover and overlapping is fine, but stripping of the culture from the method is not fine at all.  This has happened in far too many cases, where people apply whatever meaning they like to a rune, despite its actual meaning, and don’t understand that they’re also magickal, not just symbols.

So it is my hope that as bone reading becomes more popular, those who stay with it take the time to speak to the elders and traditional practitioners of established, living faiths with unbroken or less broken lines.  One may be good enough at reading to give a reading, but one needs to be good enough at life to give a good reading.

Bone Reading of the Day for March 25, 2011

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Bones of the day March 25, 2022Today’s reading is fairly straightforward.  Oya’s mirror is up, so we’re talking about the future.  Eshu’s protection face is up and he is touching the Sankofa symbol, and Death is facing both, which means that someone will be protected from death because of something they learned in their past.

The sun is at the center, and note that Oba, Oshun, and Oya are triangulated with Oya in the water level of the water quadrant.  This represents a balanced individual who is in tune with the Orishas or at least Nature.

The war horn and Osu are in the fire area, which means this person will have to fight their hormonal whims in order to get the good thing they’re going to get from Eshu.  It is a very hopeful reading though.  Whoever this is out there reading this, if it’s you, then you’re on the right track.

Vodun Tips: If you ask the Orishas for help, do not presume to tell them how to help you.

Bone Reading of the Day: March 12, 2011

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Click here to read previous Bone Readings of the Day.

Learn how to read Sheloya’s Hoodoo Bones.

Buy a set of bones.

Bones of the Day for March 12, 2011Where the last reading was a more general message to the world, this one is more personal.  If you are the person this reading is about, please contact me for further assistance for free.

This reading says that there is a battle between mother and daughter that will soon come to a head.  There are many issues involved, but they mostly revolve around spirituality and fertility.  They are both basically Christian, but the daughter seems to have some issues about the church.  One of the issues is jealousy from other women in the church.

The mother is very strong and very wise, but does not quite understand what the daughter is going through.  The daughter is extremely beautiful, to the point that some men don’t know how to deal with her, especially her father who sees his little princess blossoming.  He wants to protect her from bad men and bad decisions, but isn’t sure what to do.  He is caught in the middle of powerful forces: the mother’s worry and fears, the daughter’s growing independence and estrangement from the church, and the outside forces that threaten to harm his child and his wife’s soul.

How ever socially inconvenient it may be, this is the time when the father’s counsel and strength is needed the most.  He is the only thing on this earth protecting his daughter’s tail from disaster, and he needs to not be afraid to put his foot down.  He should be aware of the dark side of femininity, and that women often say and do things that they regret later when they are angry or pushed by outside forces.

Women are very socially dependent, so the father and mother may have to suck it up and get the daughter to a church that is more friendly to her…like one with more young people.  The danger is that some of these places are full of fundamentalists who think any connection with African spirituality is the negative sort of witchcraft.  So they may have to let go of their denomination and dogma, for the daughter’s sake, and get to a more Universalist type of church.

Some African Methodist Episcopal churches are also less anti-African spirituality than others.  So if you’re really afraid of too much beyond egalitarian feminist or “I’m okay, you’re okay” new ageyness, try A.M.E.  You may also wish to see if there are any Gnostic churches or study groups in your area.

Be in an Eshu mind before you go church shopping, so that any nastiness lurking beneath the surface will make itself known to you.  When you’ve found the right place, he will give you a sign.  Perhaps someone in the church who is wearing red and black will be overtaken with holy joy and laughter, or an old man at the church will tap you with his cane.  Something will alert you that Eshu is there and wants you to stay.

Sheloya’s Hoodoo Bones System

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Hoodoo Bones also called Voodoo RunesSo you bought or made a set of Hoodoo bones, and now you want to know how to use them?

They’re about the same level of difficulty as Nordic runes.  It will take you some time to learn the symbolism if you have no experience with Vodun or African mysticism, but once you get it, you’ve got it.

I (Sheloya) invented this system, but it is inspired by old traditions such as Hoodoo shells and bones, Yoruba and Lukumi diloggun, amathambo, and Nordic runes.  In fact, you could consider Sheloya Bones a kind of primer for osteomancy.  This will get you used to this style of divination, but ultimately you may add other artifacts to your collection of bones, or replace them entirely.

Bones or Bones?

For the sake of clarity for those who are new to the internet, this system is an innovation, and not itself ancient, though it is inspired by other ancient systems.  This is something new.  If you were looking for information on the old ways, click here for an article on what I was taught about osteomancy from mixed Hoodoo, Obeah, and African Yoruba/Bini/Fon/Igbo diaspora practices, and click here for an article on Throwing the Bones from the Association of Independent Readers and Rootworkers.  Click here for an interesting article on Umuthi and amathambo, which details the signs that someone needs to study divination.  Click here for an article written by someone who is deciding whether or not to undergo an initiation/training process.  Click here for Dr. Corbeaux’s blog entry on black cat bone readings, and to order one if you like.

You can discuss bone reading with others at Witch University‘s Skulls and Bones Society.

Now, if everyone is clear and understands that my bones are tiles that are to be used either alone, or with the addition of other bones or objects, and not osteomancy by themselves (except when they are made with bones or bone fragments inside, which some may be), let us continue.

If you do ever replace the whole set with your own objects, you should clean your blank bone with salt water before gifting the set to another mystic…which brings me to the first instruction.

What to Do With Your New Bones

The first thing you should do before you use your bones is consecrate them.  How you go about this depends on your personal belief system, but the ritual should include:

  1. asking Eshu for access to the spirits
  2. calling upon Ifa to bless the bones and give you the wisdom to make accurate readings
  3. understand that you must tell the truth about what you see, and vow to do this
  4. pass each bone through the smoke of incense
  5. sprinkle each bone with a little saltwater
  6. mark the blank bone with your blood or sweat (preferably from your forehead or navel area)
  7. thank Ifa and Eshu
The Blank Bone

Blank Bone

Thereafter, you should try to keep the blank bone on your person as much as possible.  Don’t worry that the blood or sweat will rub off.  Your energy will remain with it.  If you tend to lose things or are somewhat absentminded or cluttered, you should just keep the blank bone in a safe place like on your altar or wherever you keep the rest of them.  Just remember to hold it from time to time.

Over the course of the next week or month, you will want to open the bones/runes to all your known Orishas or deities.  Have them present when you give offerings or do rituals.  Invite all of the spirits you commune with, including those of your ancestors, to feel free to speak through them.

It is important to remember that Vodun is not a representative faith.  All things are connected, and when through the ritual, you give energy to the bones, they become a kind of being.  They should be respected and treated as if they are a person who speaks to you and to others through you.

They also like to be clean and cared for.  Always handle them with clean hands, and keep them in a bag so they don’t collect dust, or wipe them down with a moist cloth with plain water occasionally.

If you gain a friend or ally because of them, or make some money by giving someone a reading, thank them.

Your Tray

Ideally, when you throw the bones, it should be into a round tray.  This keeps them from rolling away.  You can also throw them on a quilt with a somewhat thin batting.  If you use a cloth, then roll up the edges.

Reading the Bones

The distance from the center of the tray matters.

The Center

  • fire
  • the soul
  • base matters
  • the glands
  • thermogenic mechanisms of the body
  • metabolism

Next Layer

  • Earth
  • land
  • day to day life
  • practical matters
  • the flesh and muscles
  • food digestion

Third Layer

  • water
  • the sea
  • motivation
  • emotion
  • currents and trends
  • the blood
  • hormones
  • liquid digestion

Fourth Layer

  •  air
  • cosmos
  • Orun-realm
  • intellect
  • spiritual matters
  • the brain

The direction matters too, but not necessarily from the top and bottom of the tray or cloth.  For this, one looks to the direction finder bone.

The Bones

Direction Finder BoneThe direction finder tells you how to orient the tray or what is the most important aspect of the matter.  If there is a bone touching it (with the picture side up), especially near the arrow, then this is the thing that is most important or pressing.  If there are no bones touching it or very close to it then this is telling you “this way is north”.  If it is on the edge of the board, the direction meaning is still the same.  If it is on the far edge pointing directly at the querent, then they are saying that it is extremely important that they pay attention.  If it is on the close edge and pointing directly at the reader, that is an extra push that you must tell the truth bluntly and with no “sugar-coating”.

Oya's MirrorOya’s mirror tells you whether  they are telling you about the past and present, or the future.  If the open side is up, it’s the future.  If it is down, then it’s about the past and present.  If the querant has asked about the future, but Oya’s mirror is down, they are saying that things that were done or happened in the past or are going on now, are what will affect the future.  The future is not open to their eyes unless they resolve the issues or at least accept this so they can move forward.

Orisha Bones

These are bones dedicated to specific Orishas/Lwa/spirits.  You’ll need to know something about them in order to get the subtler messages they may have.  Don’t worry though.  They will teach you what you might not learn from books, the internet, or another mystic.

The ones in the photos are not the only ones available.  They are just the ones I chose for this particular set.  The designs can also be simpler or more complex, and in a variety of styles.

Since some Hoodoo practitioners prefer not to call on African/diaspora entities, if your angels or other Spirits can embody objects, you may craft those instead.  Please be sure, just as in the case of having Orishas in your set, you give everyone their due, and treat their bone with the proper reverence.

Special note about the Eshu bone:

Some bones I’ve made with the protection face and ceremonial pitchfork on the same side, and some have one on one side, and one on the other.  Which way I do it depends on the mystic ordering it.

Some prefer Raphael as a Gatekeeper, and others the Cherubim in general.

Symbol Bones

The symbols used for the symbolic bones are standard Adinkra and well-known symbols in Africa and the diaspora.

  • eye = jealousy, possessiveness
  • sankofa heart = learn from your past or return to something or recover something lost in the past
  • Gye Nyame (the power of God) = God/the spirits have the matter in hand or you should stay out of God’s way in the matter
  • Akoben (war horn) = conflict, someone talking behind the back, someone slandering
  • coffin = death, ending, resolution, loss
  • )( overlapping = unity, joining, togetherness, oneness
  • ) ( separated = divorce, breakup, separation
  • fish = fertility, sex, pregnancy, a woman of fertile age, a mother, a whimsical woman, or whimsy
  • cowrie shell = money, prosperity, vested interest
  • spider = wisdom, planning, craftiness, trickery
  • African/Egyptian heart = power of love, marriage, wedding, motherly love, familial love, irrational attachment, love despite bad behavior
  • western heart = romantic love
  • ace of spades = death, extreme danger
  • dagger = backstabbing, double cross, scam, shady deal, hidden danger
  • peacock = pride, self confidence, arrogance, a boaster, a physically beautiful person, physical beauty, aesthetics
  • comb = beauty, self care, caring for someone, femininity
  • lightning bolt = anger, power, a fast change
  • star = hope, charisma, something or someone special
  • grid = family, society, a strong marriage, civilization, politeness
  • spoon = comfort, food, practical nurturing
  • leaf = herbs, plants, farm, growth, prosperity


You can buy a set or individual Hoodoo bones at Sheloya Mystical at: http://soulmindbody.net/store/2011/03/01/hoodoo-bones-voodoo-runes-or-african-runes/