Outside the Circle: Samhain Divination & Throwing the Bones

Outside the Circle: Samhain Divination & Throwing the Bones October 27, 2016

Samhain was one of the four main festivals of the Gaelic calendar, marking the end of the harvest and beginning of winter. As at Beltane, bonfires were lit on hilltops at Samhain and there were rituals involving them. The bonfires were also used in divination rituals. Seasonal foods such as apples, nuts and seeds were often used in these rituals. Playing pranks at Samhain is recorded in the Scottish Highlands as far back as 1736 and was also common in Ireland, which led to Samhain being nicknamed “Mischief Night”.

Many Pagans consider Samhain the most magical night of the year. It is a night of glowing jack-o-lanterns, tricks or treats, and dressing in costume. It is upon this night that the veil which separates our world from the Otherworld is at its thinnest, making it a Night of Power.

Shuffle your Tarot cards, toss your Rune stones, read your tea leaves, this is the time of year for telling the future, and my favorite form of divination involves bones. Bone divination consists of ritually tossed bones onto a mat 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.


Many who throw the bones, also use other objects (such as stones or dice) either alongside of or in place of bones. I only use the real bones in my castings.

One only needs to listen to the story Dolly Parton put to music in her wonderful song These Old Bones:

These old bones will tell your story
These old bones will never lie
These old bones will tell you surely
What you can’t see with your eye
Some called her witchy woman
Some said she was insane
Some said she was a prophet
Still everybody came

She paints an eloquent picture of a Granny Magic Tennesee Mountain Hoodoo practitioner. Skulls and bones have an appeal to witches who perform spirit work and are a necessary and simple way to connect with spirits of the dead and of animals. Working with bones is not just for necromancers and magicians. Practitioners who work with bones are a wide range of healers, diviners, shapeshifters.

My style uses chicken bones, and each bone has a special meaning — the wing bone for travel, the breast bone for love, and so forth. The bones are thrown on a table and they are read much as tea-leaves are, by the pattern made and by the directions they point. To preform a reading, the bones are held while a question is asked. They are then thrown lightly onto the map. The answer is found in the way the bones lie, what field they are in, and their relationship to the other bones. Crossed bones or bones pointing in certain directions can provide extra insight into the situation. The cloth, or “map”, is usually a piece of animal hide, fabric or, more traditionally, the bare ground.

A cross or x drawn could simply hold 4 sections, above=future, below=past, the middle the present.

My collection of bones, culled from many a feast, utilizing whatever I was drawn to, have all been washed, all gristle removed, and dried in the sun. You can even empower them with the moon’s cycle.

A wishbone-could symbolise wishes, dreams, hopes desires.

Leg bones-where are you walking, grounded, or going, coming from.

Back bone-where are seated, your soul.

Neck-what you speak, utter, put your power and honor, confrontation, truth.

Arm bones– what are you doing to reach for your goals, the day to day things, what do you hold. A wing taking flight, or what do you nurture, enfold.

Smaller bones-are the smaller things.

Large bones-big issues.

I even blend my bones with cards and see what happens there, too. Allowing different patterns and symbols to emerge. My bone reading is actually always a work in progress, and I have an Oracle I am writing on called “Acromion”, that blends runes, cards and my beloved bones. It’s really intuitive, and meanings will vary from with to witch. I found a pelican skull on the beach years ago, and I’ve been drawn to skulls, and all manner of bones ever since.

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