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African Witchdoctor’s Divining Bones

I found these at my local flea market in La Porte, IN for $5. Overall condition is fair, but the components (the bones and the sack) are like new.

My wife and I share a curiosity about all things occult, but especially divination. These were particularly intriguing because they’re the first “bones” I’ve encountered outside a museum. There’s a small ~10 page booklet (that looks like it’s printed on rolling paper) that details a history of divination, instructions on how to read and interpret the bones, and most delightfully a short treatise on Mr. Adrian Boshier, presumably the man responsible for introducting the western world to the occult heart of Africa. From the back of the box:

Mr Boshier is an authority on the customs and beliefs of African tribes and has lectured widely on the subject in the United States and Europe. He  has undergone the lengthy training and rituals necessary to become a qualified Witchdoctor.

I’ve neither read the book about him, nor watched the documentary based on the book. My comments are based solely on the 150 words devoted to him in the booklet. The text *tries* to be informative and objective, but it was written in 1977. Are we surprised it comes off as racist?

Exploitive language aside, these are neat little tourist toys. Each bone has a unique persona and name: Lekhwami (The Old Man), Kgadi (The Old Woman), Silume (The Young Man), and Kgatsane (The Young Woman). Toss the bones on the ground after breathing on them whilst in the sack, interpret. You can then make subsequent castings from your hand to the sack. While there are a limited number of mathematical outcomes, it’s fine to interpret the same results differently, because the bones are a conduit for “listening to the spirits,” rather than a medium for the spirits themselves.

The bones themselves are modeled after ivory ones used by Boshier himself. They appear to be plaster cast from a mold.

The final page of the booklet is a touchstone of a previous age that survives today as Wikipedia notations: Suggested Further Reading. Therein are listed seven books ranging in dates from 1918 to 1971 and covering topics as broad as “Magic, Myth, & Medicine” and as narrow as, “The Teachings of Don Juan,” with authors like Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud. I probably won’t ever obtain physical copies of all these books, but man do I want to.

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