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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Book Review: Sacred Bones, Magic Bones

 Today I'd like to offer another book review, this one for Ness Bosch's 'Sacred Bones, Magic Bones'. As someone who has worked with bones for a long time the topic of this book immediately got my attention and I was curious to see what the author's take on the subject was. 

First, this book is not a simple look at bones in a spiritual context. Instead it weaves together several interrelated concepts, including animism and ancestor veneration. These are not treated as separate topics but rather as interconnected, as things that are part of each other. One cannot work spiritually with bones without acknowledging the spirits within them, nor the way they connect us to those who have gone before us. They give us structure both literally and figuratively. 

Sacred Bones, Magic Bones is divided into two parts. Part 1 includes 5 chapters which explore the history and beliefs around the subject. Part 2 includes 3 chapters which take a look at active practices. The second part builds on the first and offers readers a way to put the beliefs of part 1 into action in various ways. The two parts work well together and give the reader a feel that the whole book is building on itself. 

Part 1 begins by exploring bones from a physical perspective which I really appreciated. I find that many times pagan books ignore the practical aspects of a subject to focus on the spiritual, as if the two can't co-exist. This book instead begins with the practical, the physical components and function of bones, and uses that as a foundation to move into the esoteric. Once we understand how bones are what they are and do what they do we can begin to understand how they can be more than just a physical thing. Bones are discussed in the context of history, as a way to understand humans through preserved skeletons, bones, and burials; archaeology segues into anthropology and we learn about beliefs relating to bones across cultures, including the way that various animal bones have been used in folk practices. Next is a discussion of Gods connected to bones and the way that bones are connected to the sacred. Finally we wrap up with a section on modern bone traditions, showing that these beliefs and practices are still alive today. All of this lays the groundwork to establish the deep history of bones in a spiritual context.

Part 2 moves into the experiential and the poetic. These final three chapters explore active practices, stories, prayers, and magic around bones and worked with them. It is the house built on the foundation of part 1, inviting the reader to move in and make themselves at home. The book has included stories from the author's life throughout but part 2 seems to speak in the language of stories, making the impersonal personal. It feels more intimate than part 1, as if the reader has gotten to know the author as the book has progressed, and having gotten to know the story of bones is now getting to know the stories told by them.

Sacred Bones, Magic Bones is a deep dive into a subject that doesn't often get much attention. Bones can be a point of contention with those who don't believe in this type of spirit work or who have strong opinions on the ethics of sourcing materials, and in the same way in modern witchcraft those who work with bones may be mocked for embracing a dark stereotype. This book dispels those images and replaces them with a deep, reverential look at the place bones can hold within a person's spirituality.  

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