A few weeks ago, as I was cruising around online looking at Lenormand decks (the subject of another review), I saw someone describe themselves in their profile as “bonecaster”. Having spent many years among practitioners of non-mainstream faiths, I had seen the term before, but had pushed it aside. It sounded ghoulish and, quite frankly, intimidating. Like many Americans, I’ve always tried to think about death as little as possible. As I’ve aged, however, Death has come to visit more frequently, and I’ve begun discovering that, at age fifty, I’m going to have Death as a guest at my tea party of existence whether I like it or not, so I’d better get more at peace with her attendance. I found myself intrigued, and since I also associated bone casting with places where Hoodoo is practiced and have my first trip to New Orleans planned for this winter, I decided to look it up. What is a bone caster?
I actually ready several other books before I arrived at this book, many of them one-sixth the length and three times the price. What I discovered was this: bone casting is an incredibly personal form of divination, and while many talented bone casters can definitely read the bones, when they sit down to describe bone casting to someone else they discover that all they actually know how to do is describe their experience rather than prepare a new practitioner for their own. I came away from the first osteomancy book more confused than when I’d started; the second one I read shed a little light but mostly just covered the ethics of bone casting. A third tried valiantly to describe what was going on in readings but the illustrations were so small and chaotic that there was no hope of following them. And then, the sun broke through the clouds and Throwing the Bones: How to Foretell the Future with Bones, Shells, and Nuts by catherine yronwood shone through! (I’m not capitalizing her name because she doesn’t.) Within about three sentences I was in love with this book. At last! The information I was looking for! I found myself compelled to take notes. And I hate taking notes, but this was good.
I love anyone who uses the phrase “defiance of typographic convention” right out of the gate. I also love anyone who spends the opening lines of her book telling you that her book may not be for you. The author knows what she’s about, and is clear about what she’s about to do so you don’t waste your time. I sensed catherine was going to get to the point …something I’d been hoping for in the other books I’d read.
She is a scholar, but is also not afraid to let her voice shine though. She used the phrases, “‘Nuff said” and “augmented with keratinous dermal scutes” within lines of each other. I appreciated that as well.
The author starts off by proposing a new way of looking at nature that immediately made me more comfortable with working with bones. I collect seashells without a problem, correct? How is that that much different that working with bones? I marveled at how within a few pages I was re-examining my own beliefs about death and bodies. I had been raised to think of shells as lifeless. And what about nuts? Aren’t they part of a living organism too? Couldn’t we extend into that? Hoo boy, catherine, you’re rocking my world. Maybe things I think of as ghoulish aren’t ghoulish, it’s just the world I was raised in taught me they were. And if the possum jawbone used in this bone casting kit seems mysterious and worthy of reverence, why are the left-over bones from a fried chicken dinner going into the kitchen trash without being treated that way too? I suddenly realized the person I needed to sit next to the most at my Existential Tea Party was Death. My ideas about her were chaotic and all unsorted.
After bending my mind with a lot of new ideas, the author rid me of the misconception that bone divination was a uniquely African and Southern-American thing. It’s practiced all over the world in various ways, and she led me through intriguing explanations of practices from all over. As someone with an archaeology degree, I freakin’ LOVED this. It takes up most of the book. I like my divination practices to have roots firmly planted in historical information, and this book delivered just what I needed. She covers wishbones (yup, yup, that thing you do as a lark at Thanksgiving is a type of bone divination), i-ching, obi, and much, much more. I started seeing how throwing bones was linked to practices I’d already been doing for years. She even has a lovely tea leaf-reading symbolism dictionary at the back of the book to help you learn symbols that may also help you with osteomancy (the fancy word for reading bones). The practice of bone reading no longer sounded intimidating or foreign. It’s a lot less structured than, say, Tarot, but that’s part of the wonder of it. No two bone throwers will have the same throwing set, which you build over time. No two casters read identically. If you are the sort of person who likes little boxes with pre-prescribed meanings, bone casting is going to be a big jump into a new pool for you. But it is also thrilling.
Soon, assorted curios I’d been saving for “no reason” started assembling themselves on my writing table as the beginnings of a casting set. Bone dice and dominoes began trickling into my mailbox. I found myself picking up tiny items at the craft fair or thrift store and adding in foreign coins friends had brought me from their adventures. I began lurking on Lucky Mojo’s website (they publish the book) and drooling over painted bone sets on Tarot by Seven’s website. Hey, I’m a painter; couldn’t I try something like that too? Suddenly I was on etsy looking at bones that had been found by hikers and carefully cleaned. I took these items and went back to catherine’s book where she told me exactly what I needed to get started and how to make my way through readings.
There are now well over a hundred pieces in little wooden bowls all over my house. Shells, charms, bells, antler tips, rings, tiny porcelain bowls from a dollhouse, bits of root and crystal. A chipped bobcat claw, a coyote molar from a creature that lived its life wild and free. Arrowheads, a snake vertebrae, a chicken leg bone, part of a tiny skull. The meaning of each will be personal to me as I make my set; I’m hoping to learn even more about myself each time I toss them. There’s a connection to nature there and to the flow of time. I take care to honor all bones now. It turns out there’s magick in the little things everyone else throws away or forgets in the bottom of a drawer, and if you take the time to sit with them and a really great book by catherine yronwode, you can discover that magick for yourself.