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Basic Dice and Domino Divination

DiceDice and domino reading is common throughout the African diaspora. Other traditions exist, and these are covered in some of the books listed for reference, but for this article, we'll focus on African and diaspora styles. Different places have different traditions and different associations with different numbers. Some things are fairly consistent throughout the varying styles though.

One is that dice and dominoes are divination tools that are aware of their limitations. They are not and never were a replacement for Ifa Oracle related or other Motherland traditional forms of divination. They can however, serve as a step before you go to a babalawo or nganga ndoki, to see if the matter can be solved by tightening up one's behavior or observances. Ever present as Ifa/Orunmila is in all forms of divination though, the dominoes and dice will specifically tell you when you should just go on and get an official Ifa reading because a prescribed ebbo is needed to resolve the situation.

In Obeah, dice and domino readings are a bit more complicated than in some more widely known systems. The dice an Obeah sorcerer uses are connected to them and answer based on their current level of knowledge including their understanding of mathematics. This means that normal correlations may not be quite the same, and it can even be that certain combinations may refer to specific passages of various texts that they have memorized, or whether or not a total is happy (yes there is such a thing as a happy number) may foretell an ultimate outcome.

A normal set of dominoes used for divination in most systems is a double six set, but an Obeah person will often use a double nine set. This doesn't make any other styles better or worse, just different.  I'm mentioning it because this way you'll have some idea of the background of various readers.  Use of the double nine set is usually an islands thing, so you'd know whoever taught them was probably Caribbean or islands Creole.

Numbers and Meanings

Traditions vary, but if someone is an Orisha follower, numeric correspondences may be:

Blank domino or dice double 1 = Olodumare, the Supreme Being, the Divine Parents, indifference, distance, neutrality, emptiness, chaos, endless possibility, limitless, infinite

1 = Eshu, singularity, wholeness, completeness, non division, unity, individuality, alone-ness, lonliness, personal-ness, uniqueness

2 = Ibeji, duality, reflection, balance, a couple, an important union, even-ness, opposition, an adversary

3 = Eshu (esp. domino or dice roll 3|3), Ogun (2|1) as the punisher or agent of physical manifestation, enforced balance, justice, retribution, payback, stabilization, endurance, a lucky streak, mastery, naivete

4 = Obatala, Olorun, Olofi, Orunmila (esp. domino or dice roll 4|4), Ifa, Ogun in physical and developmental matters, the combined Orun and Aye, transcendence, integration, being squared, calm, stagnation, stillness, peace, harmony, boredom, apathy

5 = Oshun, Aje Shaluga, Aje, love, bonding, romance, loyalry, family ties, influence, control, manipulation, flirting, sex, the sex organs, sweets, flow, prosperity, money, currency, fun, fanciness, flair, joy, decadence, blind allegiance, enslavement, practical usefulness, real action or activity, getting things done, accomplishment, achievement, exaltation

6 = Shango, Jakuta, fire, motivation, compulsion, desire, lust, blind ecstasy, confrontation, rage, anger, passion, crazed, charisma, extreme attractiveness, out of control, lightning, sudden disaster or destruction, destruction due to mindlessness

7 = Yemaya, Olokun, Yembo, Osanyin (also domino 3|7), the sea, production, reproduction, gestation, life, the living, creation, creativity, motherhood, nurturing fatherhood, protection, natural cycles

8 = Ibeji (esp. 2|4), Obatala (esp. domino 8|8), good luck, unexpected good fortune, something good coming from an unknown or unexpected source, something good that comes from seeming bad luck, or the opposite of these in context...something bad coming from something that seemed like a good idea at the time.  Divine order, natural consequences, ripple effect, cascading consequences, far reaching consequences, look at the other side of things

9 = Oya, Olokun, Yewa, Iku, death, sweeping destruction, total loss, utter destruction, destruction that takes down the good and the bad or whoever is near, a situation to completely avoid, warning to disassociate or not depend on things remaining stable, instability, a warrior woman, a strong woman, a woman finding her strength, your mom is angry or upset with you, destruction at the hands of a woman, destruction due to a classically feminine impulse or reaction, things breaking down, things will end no matter what action is taken

10 = Yewa (dice or domino 6|4, or domino 9|1), decay, degradation, festering, fermentation, blossoming, entropy, a situation that should be left to come to its natural conclusion or fruition, a situation that is suffering or worsening due to neglect, something brewing that one cannot see, things going on behind one's back, a rescue or blessing happening because of a good deed one did that one has forgotten or did not expect to profit from, something bad happening because of a seed of ill will one sowed long ago, "reap what you sow", or "sleep in the bed you made"

11 = Logun Ede (dice or domino 5|6, domino 8|3), androgyny, balance between masculine and feminine, a situation will be easy to handle "your feet won't even touch the ground", one will be carried through a situation without effort, in context it could be a warning that something one thinks will be easy will not be so easy

12 = Olodumare, Obatala, Olofi, Orunmila, as double six it means total success or ultimate success, a holistic victory, a peak or good climax, manifestation, reaching a goal, in context it could mean Eshu winning by undoing someone or bringing a fast consequence, as 7|5 it indicates fertility or creativity, a good idea, a profitable venture, as 8|4 it is definitely judgement, divine intervention to rectify a situation

13 = Oya and Ogun as Physical Destruction (domino 9|4), Oshun and Ibeji giving a double blessing or two sided blessing (domino 8|5), Shango striking Osanyin (6|7) means getting punished for overstepping a boundary or stealing

You can see where this is going. Actual meanings when you actually set your hands to doing readings will depend on your pantheon and knowledge, and what various numbers mean to you. If you only ever intend to read for yourself, this is no problem. However, if you intend to read for others, you would do well to increase your knowledge at least of what has been written and published about known pantheons and numerical associations.

It will also be helpful to read books and websites by other experienced dice and domino readers. Even if someone is working under a different belief system, their wisdom and knowledge will be helpful for you and possibly unlock some associations in your mind that will prevent you from missing important details.

Books for Learning More

Though dice and domino reading pales in popularity to Ifa or the tarot, there are some who still find it useful. Most of the time, these are people with an affinity towards numerology, Kabbalah, astrology, and other methods that favor cycles and patterns.

Some very useful books are:

A good page on the matter of dice reading by a Santa I crush on is at: https://foxhugh.com/divination/dice-fortune-telling/

There's a neat little domino oracle online here: https://accesschinese.com/divination/domino/domino-ppf.php

You can use it to practice and to learn about what associations they have for some Chinese readers.

Your Dice and Dominoes

Again, traditions may vary, but generally, dice reading is done by the diviner blessing, tagging, and then tossing the dice.  Domino reading is done by blessing the dice and then having the seeker select a number of them randomly. In my tradition, when an issue is more complex than a yes or no or other simply answered question, or if spellwork is on the table, the seeker plays as the forces of their interests and I play the opposing interests, and by the end of the game, one can see how things may end up. The mistakes they make due to overlooking things or bad strategy in dominoes indicates the same sort of errors they will make concerning the issue.

In some traditions, different colors or groups of dice or dominoes are used to cover different topics. Usually this is because each group of dice has a different helper spirit or ndoki who speaks through them, or is primed for a specific deity.

Care and Feeding

Dice should be kept in a bag and/or box that has been blessed as a "home" for the ndoki who will inhabit them, or if they are part of another set (like members of your bones set), all those pieces or tiles need a safe, comfortable living space. Some of mine live in the bowl in the tray in the cosmetics case with the other bones.  Once they are inhabited, they are living beings. You will need to feed and maintain them. So imagine that though this being is bigger and older than you or me and doesn't actually have the same biological needs as such, its physical body is the dice.

They can take the normal damages of being held, tossed, and rolled, but other traumas should be kept to a minimum. They should not be left out to get dusty unless they ask for this. Some ndoki are kind of dust loving, and like to be a little dirty for some reason. These are exceptional though, and will tell you what they like rather forcefully. They will jump into dirt, maybe even into mucky wet dirt. Some like particular substances like coffee or foods. They will tell you what they like over time. You may accidentally find yourself touching them after eating particular things. Some of them may be staining.

I once saw someone's set of dice with an interesting purple hue. According to their reader, they liked purple cabbage, beets, red wine, and grapes. They specialized in helping people solve dilemmas, make difficult choices, and navigate their way out of trouble.

Another thing to consider, since they are living beings whose body are your dice, dominoes, or tiles, are that once the set is a body, they should never be separated. If one gets lost, you will have to go through a process of asking if they want to be retired/released.  If not, then they will need to be repaired with a new "limb".  You will need to ask what it will take for them to accept the new one.

They may like you or dislike you. They may run away from you. They may come to a point where as much as they like you, they are tired of being anchored in a physical body and want to "die". Same as with bones in osteomancy, you will need to give them a proper burial or interment that is in line with what they have given you in their lifetime.

If they got you through some rough times or provided you a living, you should invite some friends or maybe clients you have read them for, and make it at least a small ebbo.

They may take a liking to someone you know, and want them to learn and use them. They may want to travel. Some of them may get an idea of their other functions than divination tools, and want to be used in games. Play with them. Just treat them with respect.

Sometimes the box or container they came in is suitable. Chessex dice usually come in a nice container that is easy to decorate, and protective enough.  If not, a wooden box from the craft store is good. Padded makeup bags are also nice, cozy places that dice and dominoes like. Anoint them monthly with a compatible oil or tincture.

Some may feel good with a card depicting some deity, mandala, or other symbol, but somewhere inside the bag they are kept in should at least be the symbol of your ancestral gatekeeper, drawn or embroidered with your hand. This keeps their behavior manageable and also protects them from dissipation.
If you've been dabbling already before reading (as most people do, being honest), and have a set already in use, you should consecrate them and give them a home as soon as possible. Do not wait. Read the instructions to follow, then get up and do it now.

Consecrating and Crystallizing the Be-ing of Your Dice and Dominoes

This ceremony should ideally be done as the moon is visible but waxing unless you have neglected this. If you have neglected consecrating, do this as soon as you read this article, with plenty of apologies...but don't be overly negative. This is something like not knowing what pregnancy was and suddenly having a baby. You didn't know so it's not about fault, but if you don't care for your baby properly they will die or be dysfunctional.

You will need:

Instructions:

  1. Prepare the food offerings and arrange them nicely on your altar, work table, or outdoor workplace.
  2. Have the incense and charcoal or incindiery devices ready.
  3. Have your dice, tray, bags, etc. handy.
  4. Begin by calling your gatekeeper to open the way. Light or apply the incense for the gatekeeper.
  5. Wait until you feel the air change, vibration, or what you usually feel when the way is open.
  6. Call the ancestors and then other deities, but don't light their incense yet.
  7. Pick up the home bag and/or box and ask that the gatekeeper make it a good home for the dice or dominoes and the spirit that will inhabit them. Get some of the smoke into the box and/or bag.
  8. Pick up the pen and let it get into the smoke. Then proclaim that with permission, you are marking the bag and/or box with the symbol of the gatekeeper to recognize and honor his/her place as the messenger of the deities.  Then mark them.
  9. Repeat the same putting the cloth, tray, and/or broom through the smoke asking may they serve their purpose well, and mark them.
  10. Pick up the dice or dominoes and hold them in the smoke. Ask that your gatekeeper allow a benevolent spirit to become one with them and bring you messages from the spirits and deities in a way that you can understand them.
  11. Light the incense for the other deities one by one, and holding the dice or dominoes in their smoke, ask what you want them to do for them.  For example, if you are an Orisha follower with some connection to traditional Yoruba Vodun, "Orunmila, Master of Law and Propriety, and Embodiment of truth, I ask that although this method I am using is less popular than the standard Ifa, and I am not a babalawo (unless you are, then you would say even though you have the standard, you would like greater knowledge and perspective from using other methods) please make these dice/dominoes speak only the truth, and when needed, direct people back to helpful traditional practices."  Be respectful and thorough regardless of your traditions.
  12. Take the dice or dominoes outside or to a window where you can see the moon and introduce them by their name.  Give them the first name you think of. It doesn't matter if it makes any sense to your rational mind.
  13. Gently place the dice or dominoes in their home. Then close the ceremony.

For that night, sleep with them in your room near you as if they are a baby you must keep watch over.  This "infancy" phase may last up to a lunar month. Do not over-guard them or else they become spoiled and their "attitude" may be unbalanced.

Feeding Dice and Dominoes

Again, traditions vary, and eventually your dice or dominoes may "grow on you" and tell you they want something different.  However, my standard is thus.
I am daily observant, and use my bones fairly often. So my dice, bones, and dominoes get a weekly feeding of a good spray of tequila, rum, aromatic tincture, 4711, or barber's cologne, depending what they've been through. The important thing is that they get some sort of quality alcohol, and this is likely because mine are very Ogun-ish because I use them for practical witchcraft matters a lot. My bones are also mostly glass, crystal, plastic, or polymer clay.

If you have a wooden set, yours may be more oil oriented. Use the good stuff. Invest in some good wood polishing oil or quality olive oil and essential oils. Wooden tiles for divination tend to like fresh scents that are cleansing because this is like having a regular bath. They should be oiled every three months if rarely used or every month if frequently used.

If your set is made of bone or teeth, they should be cleaned every few months with spirit soap.  You should give them a very light rub with beeswax or the special bone care wax at least once a month though.

Aside of what's needed for actual maintenance, they should be "cleared" or "reset" after each use unless you want them to hold onto an unresolved or pending issue longer than the session. A proper clearing could involve a spray of cleaning solution or incense smoke, a special prayer, or a wipedown.

Additional Notes

Though it is well known, it should be mentioned again that divination spirits tend to run hot. They are volatile in temper usually, and easily annoyed. Don't push them to hard, overuse them, or ask the same question fifty ways hoping to get a different answer.  If mistreated, the spirit will vacate and tell its friends and future ndoki how you treated them.

Treat them mindfully and respectfully, and they will serve you well for many years.

If you die, you may pass your dice or dominoes to students and descendants, but the new reader must retrain them. It is a good idea to make notes for those who may inherit your set in the case of your demise.

Please feel free to comment in the forums or the blog, and ask any questions you may have.  Blessings on your journey into dice and domino divination!  Ashe!

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