Signs and Symbols: Dice

The combination of dots, planes, and faces – where did this strange artifact come from? And why are marked dice a symbol of good luck today?

The dice are a popular source of randomness in board games. A traditional dice is a cube with numbers from one to six inscribed on each of its six sides, which is thrown to demonstrate a randomly determined whole number from one to six. It is customary to place the numbers from 1 to 6 on the sides of the die so that the sum of the numbers on diametrically opposite sides equals 7. The result of a throw of a dice is considered casual because there are such undetermined factors as movements of the thrower’s hand and the position of dice before the throw. So the dice can be considered a prototype of a random number generator.

Asian dice (top) and Western dice (bottom)

The dice have the points in a particular order, as shown in the figure. On Asian dice, the order of the points is similar to the European, but the points are closer to the center of the face; one point is larger than the others, and four points are colored red. The black facet “one” and the combination of black and white on the facet “four” were considered unlucky, so red, the color of luck in Chinese culture was supposed to neutralize this omen.

Modern dice have a direct link to ancient divination tools – boiled bones of domestic animals.

Judging by the color, the nature of the cracks, the number of spots, and other signs and determine the fate of the questioner.

Divination with the help of bones was widespread in ancient China, Rome during the Republic and Empire, and later – among the barbarian tribes of Europe. Often used not one but many bones, which were stored in a special bag. From it, based on the nature of the question, several pieces were pulled out and, guided by the appearance of the bones, assessed the situation.

Here we should look for an explanation of the famous phrase of Gaius Julius Caesar, “The die is cast,” which translates as “The dice are cast”. Caesar used the talent of soothsayers to make a fateful decision about the conquest of Rome.

Over time, numbers, letters, words, and sometimes esoteric symbols began to be deliberately inscribed on the bones. Gradually natural forms began to give artificial geometric shapes – so the bones have become familiar to us cube shape. The cube shape is in itself very symbolic: in alchemy, the cube represents salt, the product of crystallization of sulfur and mercury; in China, the cube is the deity of the Earth, the cube is the Holy of Holies, in Islam Kaaba is the cube, stability, static perfection. The combination of a “living” material given a sacred cubic form with secret signs, combinations of numbers or words made the bones one of the most powerful predictive tools, which have not been forgotten by modern soothsayers either.

However, the dice were not only used for foretelling the future. Often they became an attribute of gambling. The most striking example – Roman soldiers who used dice to decide who gets the clothes of Jesus crucified on the cross. The Romans were passionate gamblers, especially during the heyday of the Roman Empire. So dice was also a widespread game. To this day, dice are still closely associated with gambling; they appear on casino logos as often as playing cards. Here’s a link to Playamo, you can verify the above.

In the ancient world, dice was considered to be the noblest game, because the opponent was not only human but the fate itself, which intervened, creating unpredictable situations. Game supplies in the eyes of the man possessed miraculous, magical qualities, helping in magical rituals, divination. People believed that the dice were controlled by the gods themselves, transmitting their will to them.

The Greeks entertained themselves by playing with two or three dice during festive feasts. Particularly fond of this activity were nobles and dignitaries, along with theatrical performances, games were considered a sacred act. Games organized and at memorial ceremonies, this tradition scared away evil spirits who intended to harm people, scare the living.

In the Middle Ages, gambling dice were ascribed to both diabolical and divine meanings. In an entertainment for monks invented by Bishop Vibald in the twentieth century, various combinations of dice facets denoted a virtue. The winning monk received the right to teach this wisdom to others. For others, the attributes of the game represented the creation of the devil, who wins people’s souls, luring them with the possibility of easy enrichment.

The knights of the Middle Ages played very often, honing their skills in specially educated schools. Entire guilds were created, although the law forbade gambling for money. Ladies often participated in gambling entertainment on a par with men, and the dice were decorated with exquisite carvings depicting people and animals.

The meaning of the symbol of dice in tattoos

 A tattoo with dice, as a rule, consists of the image of two cubes with dots – “points”, with a variety of backgrounds or without them. Rarely, by dice are meant tetrahedrons, octahedrons, and other figures: they are more related to the practical use in the games or divination of some cultures (for example, the Mongols during the rituals used tetrahedral, not hexahedral dice).

Dice is a symbol that has several meanings. Already in antiquity, dice with dots meant randomness, the immediacy of existence, and the volatility of life. But this meaning is more drawn to a fatalistic worldview; at the same time, a tattoo of dice symbolizes good luck.

It is believed that the number “seven” is the number of Fortune, so it is very consistent to activate this meaning by applying dice with exactly the variety of points that would form a seven: six and one, three and four, etc.

To choose the right variation it is necessary to know the numerological tradition of your country to prevent undesirable interpretations: for example, in China, a playing cube with four points on it symbolizes misfortune and even death.

In the old-school, the most famous tattoo style that emerged in the 19th century, dice is a traditional motif that in its meaning goes back to risk, hotness as well as a common “vice” of sailors (it is their tattoos that are the forerunners and examples of old-school) – gambling.

In the new school with its exaggeratedly bright colors and images from comic books and cartoons, the meaning of the dice tattoo has not changed, however, it has become somewhat ironic and light-hearted, which corresponds to the peculiarities of the style.

As we know, many tattoos are embedded in a system of prison “language. The image of dice for members of the criminal world denotes belonging to a gang of cheaters and swindlers, cheating people in games of money. The tattoo can also talk about the propensity of the owner to risky actions, rash steps, gambling entertainment, which helps to get fabulously rich or become a beggar.

It is not uncommon for incarcerated people to make tattoos in the form of an unfolded one-sided playing cube with five dots marked on it – one in the middle and four in the corners of the square. The image denotes “one in four walls” and carries the meaning of the fatal accident that led a person to prison, the longing for freedom.