The Gifting of the Bones: Using the Animá Runes

by on February 15th, 2009
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The Gifting of the Bones:
Tools of Perception, Tools of Choice

By Jesse Wolf Hardin (


Excerpted from the practitioner’s Manual for the Gifting Bones – a unique Animá Nature-Informed Runic System



Reaching into the Gifting Bones bag, one reaches deep into the soul and soil of authentic self, place and purpose…..

They rest not just in graveyards but in everyday places, resisting time’s slow decay with unblemished shine and undiminished pluck.  They make their homes beneath ours, under the very foundations of our concert halls and workplaces, our roads and schools, their testimony barely hushed by a layer of dirt, lying ready for the annual Spring flood to bare their impossible whiteness in the wash adjacent to the children’s favorite playground.  Long hidden from civil sight, these tributes to life and reminders of death periodically escape their internment, sticking like gothic signposts out of acequia clay or estuary muck, from steaming bog, boreal or backyard mud as out of the fertile soil of our collective imagination.  Truth is, there are bones everywhere, and bones never lie.
These bones are the revered remnants of our ancestors as well as the pink-hued fossil bones of ancient dinosaurs, the delicate structures that gave shape to fish and frog and the huge thighbones of those easily-domesticated herbivores that our kind regularly feeds upon.  Femur, scapula and vertebrae vibrate with a cellular memory of clinging muscle, of wing and fin, leaps and jumps, the test of carriage and stretch of growth.  Composites of the minerals of an enchanted planet, bones can ring like stone when jangled together, singing witness to decades, centuries or eons past.
It is no wonder that paleontologists and archaeologists look to them to tell the story of changing forms and passing time, species distribution and cultural development, or that forensic scientists study their composition for the code that describes a missing person’s age, their life, their time and means of demise.  And no wonder, perhaps, that for thousands of years people of myriad races and places have gathered tiny telltale bones into cryptically woven cloth or drawstring sacks made from the scrotum of a jaguar or the hide of a deer.  Often they would be handled for a lengthy mindful period before being removed, rolled between sure, wrinkled fingers and then tossed gently onto the earthen floors of African clay lodges and fur-covered Siberian yurts, rolled out onto embroidered hemp or smoke-tanned hide in front of druidic rock sanctuaries and vine-laced jungle huts.  With attendant songs and prayers they would be poured from the wrinkled hands of shamans and Medicine Men, Medicine Women and curanderas, seekers and healers, acolytes speaking in hundreds of different tongues about similar personal and community needs, the evident lessons of nature and ways of spirit.  They might begin by lighting a smudge bundle of Western sage, Central American copal or Siberian cedar, with the intent of washing away negative energy, preoccupation and the distracting dialogue of imposing minds.  Further preparation includes setting aside expectation and control, focusing hearts and wills on but a single quandary or concern, and opening up to any potential gifts or unexpected revelations.  They may practice “empty mind” with eyes skyward or closed, careful not to physically or psychically influence the fall of the bones lest the message be hopelessly skewed or irretrievably lost.  In the design of the bones’ fall, in the different patterns they make each time they drop, or in the position of the icons carved into their sides, the soothsayer looks for indications or insights.
Regardless of the apparent result of the toss, the bones have likely always been a reminder of the imperative of choice, while bringing to light the fluctuating variables of the situation, calling attention to relevant criteria and outstanding priorities, and emphasizing the responsibility to understand, decide and do.  No matter what the particular concern or focus of the person reading the bones, the hoped for effect would be a powerfully moving intensification of awareness and clarity, informing conscious decision and consequential action.
In other cultures and other times, the tools for this purpose could be made of natural stone instead, to much the same effect.  Among the best known examples are the Nordic or Viking Runes, a bagful of stones inscribed on one side with ancient ritual symbols, and popular to this day.  Runic or scripted stones in fact represent the earliest example of symbolic writing in northern Europe and Scandinavia, carved onto rock columns, boulders or monoliths.  The word stems from the Gothic runa, meaning “mysterious” and “secret.”  The influence of these symbols on preliterate humankind was immense.  With their power to convey meaning they served as natural cairns for the storage and dissemination of insight and intuition.  If a particular symbol evoked the spirit of a certain animal, characteristic or skill, then its blind choosing could be said to infer, suggest or predict that characteristic’s immanent manifestation.  The development of the runes paralleled that of the I Ching in China, where yarrow stalks were originally tossed and spread instead.  Both of these oracle systems remain popular to this day.
The eyebrow raising results of drawing or casting are more than chance and any correlations more than coincidence, their being affected by existing energetic patterning and momentum as well as by the person doing the pull or toss.  They do not, however, prophecy a predetermined outcome.  Intuitive and instructional tools serve personal growth and planetary healing by helping us to focus on the primary energetics and dynamics of present time, all of which are influences on or factors of every single situation.  They inform process and means, exciting our involvement and response, empowering us to help create unfolding reality.  And they illuminate patterns that – when extended out into the future – fairly predict upcoming events.   Of these, the nature-informed Animá Gifting Bones have in our experience been one of the most if not the most unfailingly telling.

The Gifting Bones Reveal Themselves

Since childhood I’ve been sought out for intuitive advice, with my elders sitting down to share what hurt or perplexed them and seeking my response.  Even in my brief outlaw biker phase, it was to me that the seemingly fearless came to, when the need arose to expose their needs and vulnerabilities and bare their souls.  Shortly after moving here and long before accepting a role as teacher, women and men from around the country mysteriously started to show up here at this special place as if on a personal quest or spiritual search, describing bizarre ways that they heard about either me or this enchanted river canyon, or else feeling drawn without knowing what or who they might encounter upon their arrival.  Throughout most of four decades I shared what I saw and felt in counsel sessions and then in workshops, intuiting truths, needs, factors and problems and offering illumination and guidance without any physical tools, props or aids.  As a kid I disliked the “Ouija Board” because of its commercial witchy appeal, and considered it all too easily deceived by the tension of muscles acting out our own unspoken wills.  Still, those times I came near someone else’s well-worn Tarot cards I invariably laid out an accurate mapping of my evolving situation, and the toss of square-holed Chinese coins always amazed me with the peculiar resonance of their reading.
Then in 1995, a friend and supporter asked for a special favor.  He wanted me to carve out of antler a modern “Celtic,” “channeled” system I won’t disparage by naming, and it was the first thing he had ever asked of me after years of tithing to and supporting the work of the Animá Learning Center.  It would have been easiest to simply have carved or cast the pieces as described in the accompanying materials, satisfying him but not my conscience.  The over 100 symbols were exhaustive, but my main objection was with many of their assigned meanings.  I couldn’t honorably make him a set that not only felt devised and patent, but that promoted such unsettling qualities as “transcendence” from earthly desire and “liberation” from the soiled and entrapping body, or that assigned corrupted “amorality” to the natural world.  For weeks I felt torn between my allegiance to truth and my desire to show my gratitude, no doubt prompting what proved to be a most illustrative dream.
Generally my dreamworld is inconsequential and mundane, causing me to expend very little thought on their interpretation, and I have not had and remembered more than two truly insightful or prophetic “power dreams” in my entire life.  That made it all the more powerful, when I arose an hour before first light able and excited to recall every detail of my sleep-time vision.  The vivid recollection began with the image of a large boned elder woman reaching into the soft fertile ground of what could have been a weathered riverbank.  I watched as she pulled out what seemed to be 18 cream colored pieces of oblong ivory or bone, about 3 inches long and polished smooth by what I believed was their frequent and intimate handling.  Each bore a black icon engraved on one side and a red symbol on the other, for a total of 36 distinctive images that she drew from and arrayed from left to right.  I awoke unable to recall those symbols (and in fact took weeks to design them), and yet I came out of the sleep state with a deep working understanding of each of their meanings and how to read and interpret them.  For the following several hours I wrote nonstop most of the Gifting Bones practitioner’s manual, impassioned and impelled.
One could describe these Bones as contemporary Gaian Runes, giving voice to the lessons of nature, earth and spirit – of the Anima, the animating and connective force of all life.  They invite conscious recognition of the ways in which other elements and energies affect us, and the often subtle but noxious ways we affect them.  In accepting the empowering gift of awareness and perspective that the Bones provide, we are called to commit to conscious, appropriate action in turn.  As soon as a situation is made wholly clear enough to see, we re-form into active rather than inert agents, become participants rather than ingredients, healers and co-creators instead of victims.
In Animá we teach that every moment is a “decisive moment.”  And the Gifting Bones demonstrate that there are no real quandaries in life, only choices.  The Bones can be thought of as a symbiotic set of perceptual potentials intrinsic to or applicable to the current situational context.  They are one way to bring to light any hidden variables in and around us, clarifying the nature of each inevitable choice we wittingly or unwittingly make… no matter what our culture or race, philosophy or practice, religion or beliefs, lifestyle or needs.

Construction, Sides, Colors & Potentials

The Gifting Bones currently in production are lovingly made of fired porcelain clay, a natural material resembling the tone of bone or ivory.  While breakable if dropped from a height onto a hard surface, they are otherwise durable, and their natural tone resembles that of ivory or bone.  The type of material was certainly significant in my dream, yet we’ve strangely found the system effective no matter what it is constructed of.  My earliest set was made of stove-baked clay, and I’ve seen attractive models carved out of wood, bone and antler slices.  Readings seem accurate and powerful even when the pieces are cut out cardboard, the one requirement being that they’re all of the same shape and weight, and that any engravings be fine so that pieces can’t be differentiated and selected tactually.  It’s crucial that the person making the draw choose according to intuitive “feel” only.
Unlike with the Nordic Runes, there are two sides to each of the Bones.  The side that is placed face up is the primary influence and significator in the moment and situation.  The characteristics and influence of the reverse side should be noted, as it was likely dominant before, and may prove ascendant again later.  The side facing down exists not in opposition (such as “good” is to “bad”), but in response and balance, as the other half of a complete dynamic and potential.  The attention to both sides recognizes that there are no such things as dualities in unreconstructed nature, and that all elements and patterns in the natural world ultimately interact in ways that substantially benefit the whole.
The engraved symbol on one side of each Bone is filled with dark red, and the other side with pitch black.  Red is the color of passion, of blood spilled in a medicine woman’s moon hut, or issuing from the wounds of the determined or heroic.  It is overt, the catalyst in the alchemical brew, the wind that fills the sails, the pain that drives us forward and the bliss that rewards us.  The energy of the red sides tend to be more motive, directional and assertive, prompting movement, action and follow-through, embodying the quality of fire and hence of transformation.  Black, on the other side, speaks from the deepest and most secretive place within us, where power issues from receptivity, patience, form, relationship and loyalties rather than in transition and accomplishment, where the wisdom of the earth and ages is imparted through stillness, silence, and a great purposeful listening.  It is the core and essence where we withdraw to re-consider and re-collect, to be rested and nourished, root and swell, gestate and then sprout.  It is the place where giving is often best accomplished by allowing ourselves to be given to.

Drawing Your Gift

Make yourself comfortable on the floor or ground, spreading before you a cloth or hide that is special and meaningful on which to lay the Bones you draw.  To make way for instruction, the practitioner deliberately derails habitual ways of looking at self and world and suspends disbelief, the linear experiencing of time and the cultivated veil of logic, wordy and clamorous thought… and with this comes a clearing of the lens, an opening of broader and deeper bodily channels of perception and heightened attunement to the instructive world.  This “opening up” may make us feel vulnerable, and so is easiest practiced in a place that is familiar and private, either alone or with trusted, non-cynical friends.  In such a state it is possible to see in the tangle of roots at your feet, in the progression of shapes in the clouds, in the appearance of animals or the draw of the Bones, the keys to greater awareness and understanding.  In this state, one could draw from any of the dozens of variations of Tarot decks, toss coins for the I Ching or pull from someone’s sack of Runes and uncover information more incredibly relevant to the current situation that could ever be explained by mere happenstance.  In any other frame of mind/heart, one could indefinitely pull from the finest deck or corded bag and still get readings with scant discernible relationship to the moment in which they were drawn.
When ready to proceed, close or avert you eyes, slide your hand into the bag and begin to unhurriedly feel your way through its contents.  Intimately handling them for a period of time appears to increase the relevance of the draw.  Certain Bones may feel “warmer” than the others, stubbornly wedge between fingers, seem to beg for attention or otherwise call out to be the first one pulled.  When it feels right, grasp the piece selected between finger and thumb.  Remove and lay it down in one single motion the way that feels most natural, without looking to see which side you are placing up.  Pull a total of four, taking your time between, and laying them out next to each other, from left to right.
While I only talk about the first 4 positions, the potentials of each of the 18 have the capacity to inform and thus benefit any current situation.  If our focus was impeccable, and we drew out and laid down in order every single Bone, the first pulled would be the most relevant of all, and each one thereafter slightly less so until the last.  There are no entirely inapplicable potentials.
As alluded to earlier, every moment of our existence – no matter how seemingly rote or banal – is nonetheless a decisive moment, a moment of choice whether we act on it or not, a lived second helping determine not only our individual present and future but also the future of other people and species.  Our contribution and effect lies in what we don’t do as well as what we do.  Making the best choices depends on having the clearest view, from every side.  The Gifting Bones serve well in this capacity, as mirrors of the multidimensional present, the honest if not always preferred reflections of the real choices at hand.

The Four Primary Positions:

You can think of each of the primary four positions as windows into the truths of your relationships in the immediate moment.  The first position, for the first Bone drawn, speaks of the relationship between the complex and at times conflicting elements of your authentic and whole personal self.  The second position represents the relationship between you and the significant other humans affecting you in the present, whether they’re nearby physically or simply weighing heavy on your mind.  The third position encompasses and influences the other two, and speaks to your relationship to the greater natural world.  The fourth position relates to every other, but refers most directly to your immediate relationship with the contiguous and continuous but ineffable whole, with the enlivening Anima and connective Spirit however you might envision it.  Each Bone is cast before you as a stone into the water, revealing an endless progression of ripples, concentric circles radiating from the center/self, overlapping each other, propelling each other forward to the far shore.


The Gifting Bones are a bag of ever-accessible potentials, born of our primeval connection to the Anima, to spirit by whatever name you choose to give it, and to this living planet we are forever an integral part of.  They stand against convenient ignorance and willful forgetting, and for increased awareness, revitalized life and conscious choice.  Draw from them whenever needed, or simply to mark a significant moment or transition.  When falling apart, coming to a pivotal juncture, or simply finding oneself in a period of pronounced growth or transition. Whenever a situation can benefit from clarity, or a decision has to be made.  When you have mixed feelings or conflicting aims.  But do not disperse their message and power by using them constantly, nor waste their power dowsing for answers to trivial or self indulgent questions.  Let them rest and reset in the dark of their special bag’s interior, like aged bones ensconced in soil until their eventful uncovering and then – at the most significant time, in the most precipitous moment – are revealed in all their meaning.
Of course there are bones of a sort everywhere, all in their own way waiting to be read.  Living bones supporting our bodies as we walk, squat and make love, their structure enabling us to work, play and celebrate.  Real bones, and symbolic ones.  Bone flowers, their story blooming.  Antlers to pierce and open the heart.  A bed of bones.  An art display of bones.  An ecology of bones.  A rocking band of madly dancing bones.  A sensual touching of bones.  An invocation and song of bones…
    And a bag of Bones… Gifting.



Beautiful sets of porcelain Gifting Bones crafted by Resolute and Marble Man are now available from the Books Page of the Animá Center site.  We hope they will prove a true blessing to you on your path of awareness, healing and growth, illuminating the vital present and thereby helping you make decisions affecting not only your life but our collective future.  And may their use aid you in your heroic quest to become an ever more conscious gift to this giving, magical world… helping empower you to fulfill your personal most meaningful purpose.

Categories: Jesse Wolf Hardin – Essays & Tales, Practicing Animá Lifeways

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