A small daily throw will help reinforce your knowledge of your pieces, and will help you learn to interpret groups.
Practice, Practice, Practice
I have spent a lot of time practicing and working with my set. There are very few people who will pick up a set of bones and just be able to read with it. You must practice regularly to master this art. There is no substitute for time spent working with your set. Even if you are one of the lucky few who can read intuitively right off the bat, practicing will make you a better reader and will enable you to forge a bond with your set. My bone set is like an old friend. It is Hobbes to my Calvin – a basket of inanimate objects to outsiders, but a living being with its own spirit and personality to me. It is my constant companion and is never far from my thoughts. That bond was forged by spending hundreds, perhaps thousands of hours working with it — from stumbling along trying to figure it out, to authoring books and teaching others, to this day where it is still revealing new sides of itself.
Try to do something with your bones every day. For some of you, this need not be said. You are excited and delighted to have a divination system that you can tailor yourself to reflect your unique view of the world. For those of you who did not take to the bones like a duck to water, practice is the key to learning how to create, build, and use your bone set.
Practice need not take up much of your time, though more time spent will result in faster results. Starting out, spend some time just calling your spirits and asking them what you need to know today. Then reach into your basket, box or bag and pull out one piece. Note what it is and see how it appears and expresses itself in your day. If you have a little more time you can pull out a handful of bones and do the same thing. This will help you to learn to interpret groups as well.
I used to tell students to write a quick note to themselves, and then check back at the end of the day to compare events with what they threw and interpreted, but recently I had a student tell me that she got more out of it if she left the throw out, and then referred to the throw itself rather than the notes to review the day. I thought this was an excellent idea. I obviously like to write, but not everyone does, and looking at the actual throw with 20/20 hindsight can be more enlightening than reading notes and trying to remember what the throw looked like. I have also recommended snapping a quick photo with your phone to document what you threw, but nothing matches seeing the actual throw again.
Reading for Others
When you feel ready, seek out opportunities to read for others. Friends and family are obvious potential clients, but you should seek out opportunities to read for strangers as well. There are groups on Facebook where readers can volunteer their time, and you might want to try them. Bone reading classes and groups offer other opportunities to practice with other students. Doing readings for each other may be a part of the class itself, or students may get together on their own time and swap readings. I have seen it done both ways. Be sure to ask the teacher before you register if students will be doing readings for each other if practicing is one of your primary reasons for taking the class.
If none of these methods appeals to you, you can practice on your own. Do several types of practice readings for imaginary clients. While this won’t help you with the spiritual aspect of listening to your ancestors, it will help you to learn to interpret groups of bones. This is one of the main skills needed to read and getting comfortable with it is important. It is painful to be doing a reading and seeing a group of bones on the cloth and have no earthly clue as to what they could be saying. If the client is paying for your time, you cannot sit and puzzle over a group for several minutes trying to figure it out. Practicing reading groups of bones, even if the readings are not for real people, will make this a smoother process. Also practice what you would say if this happened in a reading with a real client – I recommend explaining each piece to the client and asking if they mean anything to him or her. I still come across puzzling groups from time to time, and I see them as a key moment to engage the client in a dialogue.
Practice throwing your bones to get a good spread on the mat. If you use your hands to drop them, practice finding the best height to do so from. This will change as your set grows and pieces are brought in and taken out. After making changes to your set, practice casting until the height becomes natural to you. Use your body as guide – is your sweet spot upper chest height? Lower chest height? Are your arms straight out or bent at the elbow? How much of a bend – slight or sharply angled? Find markers so that you can reliably reproduce your throws from your chosen height.
If you cast from a basket bag, or some other sort of container, practice getting them spread out over a decent sized area of the mat. Do you want to pour them out from a specific height and let them go where they may? If so, you must find the height to pour from that will give you the best result. (See the previous paragraph on hand throwing.) I personally sprinkle my set from a basket lid with a gently curved lip, moving the basket back and forth across my reading surface as I sprinkle. The jangle of the bones as they come out is a pleasant plus.
Decide how you will use your reading surface, and practice how you will manage pieces that don’t land within it. I currently use a piece of goat hide, and pieces that do not land on the goat hide or occasionally get stuck in the basket are interpreted as having nothing to say. I quickly pick up the pieces that fall outside the mat and quietly put them back in the basket.
Practice Your Opening and Closing
I have a set speech that I use when I work with a client. It allows us both to get calm and grounded, it lets us commune with our deities, and it calls in our ancestors and spirits. I tend to end my readings in a consistent way as well. I came to both via trial and error. They work for me, and I now say them naturally. You should develop your own opening and closings and practice saying the key points of it out loud. You do not have to memorize a monologue, but there are things that you want to accomplish to set up the reading with the client. Memorize those things and practice how you convey them to your client. You can speak extemporaneously but know the points you want to cover. Practicing by saying your opening and closing out loud will reduce your anxiety when you are with a client and make you sound natural and relaxed. Your client may have had little to no exposure to the things you may ask them to do such as pray or call spirits. You want them to be at ease and confident in your knowledge and abilities so that they do not feel overly self-conscious or silly.
Practice is the key to mastering this art. There is no substitute for it. Even if you are only ever going to read for yourself, practice will make those readings insightful and useful, rather than confusing and frustrating.
I am always being taught by my bone set and my clients. But I also like to take classes and get readings from other readers whenever possible. If I see a class offered and I can attend, I take it. I have taken classes that only lasted a couple of hours, and series classes lasting several weeks. I also buy all of the books that I can find about bone reading. There is always more to learn.
I have a set way of doing things now that works for me, but taking classes lets me look at bone reading with a fresh set of eyes. I always attend the class with a beginner’s mind. Yes, I am an experienced bone reader, but I am not experienced at all in the teacher of the class’ method. I try not to say anything unless asked specifically – the class belongs to that teacher, and I am respectful of their space. I am not in the class to discuss how I read the bones; I am there to learn how that teacher does it.
I have never taken a class that did not pay dividends in knowledge gained. While I rarely incorporate newly learned techniques into my own style, I have done so on occasion. I also file them away in my mind and sometimes discuss them in my own classes as an alternative to the way I do things. I always try to give credit and be clear that it was not my idea. Taking classes makes me a much better teacher. I like being able to say, “Here is how I do this, but so-and-so does it that way, and I love it!”
I also try to get readings from other readers. I like to see their bone sets and observe how they do things. I try to be a good client by participating in the reading – nothing is worse than a client who sits stony faced and silent expecting you to pontificate on their life. Likewise, I try not to over participate by asking too many questions and taking up the readers valuable time by not letting them speak and get the reading done.
There are several books on bone reading now, though most of them are thin or pamphlet sized. Bone reading is not like tarot where you use most of the book to describe the possible meanings of each of seventy-eight cards both upright and reversed, making for a decent sized tome. Books on bone reading are usually concerned with the process or mechanics of how to do a reading. Pieces and interpretations are unique to each reader, so writing a tarot-like book would be impossible. The closest you can get is to describe the pieces in your own set as an example. I did this in my first book.
I have never taken a “bad” bone-reading class. Most of the teachers I have seen have extensive experience in divination and do not hang up their teaching shingle until they have a firm grasp of the method. If I feel iffy about a teacher’s experience level, I avoid the class, or wait a year or so to see if they are still out there. Of the classes I have taken so far, I have never been disappointed in the level of knowledge I have seen.
I strongly urge you to take classes and get readings as your time, budget, and circumstances allow. Our minds tend to work in a certain way – we have a set of internal rules shaped by our environment and experiences that we follow when we do things. This applies to our bone reading as well. Each of us is unique and seeing someone else read shows you things that your mind would not have come up with. Every time I teach, I have the student or students do some interpretations. There has never been a time when I did this that someone has not come up with an interpretation that I never would have thought of if I lived to be one hundred years old. That is why you should seek out other readers and continue to take classes. It helps you to step outside of your established way of doing things and see things from another point of view. You may well learn something that you can incorporate into your own readings to make them better and more accurate.
Once you have gained enough experience you might want to try your hand at teaching as well. You do not have to set up a big formal class with lots of students — you can start with a friend or relative who wants to learn to read the bones. The saying “to teach is to learn twice” is true. Teaching lets you review and see the strengths and weakness in your methods. It will make you think about your process and help you to clarify the steps that you take and let you see where changes could be helpful.
Never stop learning. Never stop seeking opportunities to get readings from, take classes from, or even just reach out in comradeship with other bone readers.