Review by Solandia
The Tarot Gems are seven multi-sided dice of different colours, designed to offer a new method of choosing cards for a reading from a standard 78-card tarot deck. Michelle Mullin, a Tarot reader of more than seven years, wanted to design a simpler method for choosing cards in a reading - but without compromising its accuracy - and created the unique concept of the Tarot Companion Dice.
There are seven gaming dice in the Tarot Gems set: one sparkly gold Basic Spread die of ten sides, one black Major Arcana die of 24 sides, one grey Elemental Pyramid of 4 sides, and four Suit dice of 14 sides. The four suit dice are coloured blue, red, green and clear and correspond to the four suits of Cups, Wands, Pentacles and Swords. The Major Arcana die has 24 sides numbered 1 to 24 - 22-sided dice are not available on the market - and can also be used for runes. For tarot use, 22 is the Fool and the 23 and 24 simply mean roll again.
The dice are packaged in a satin lined, black velvet-feel bag, with a photocopied fifteen-page leaflet is attached to the string of the bag. The booklet explains the concept behind the dice, what each one is for and what tarot cards the numbers correspond to. There is also a special spread designed for use with the Tarot Gems, the Elemental Compass Spread, where you roll the black major arcana die with all four coloured suit dice at once.
The process for choosing the dice appears somewhat complicated at first, but is actually pretty straightforward. The gold die is rolled for the number of majors, the black die is rolled that number of times to select the majors to be pulled from the deck, and then the grey and coloured dice are rolled to make up the remaining number of minor arcana cards.
For example, to choose ten cards for a Celtic Cross reading, I rolled the gold die and got a 3. This means there will be three major arcana cards in the reading, so I rolled the black die three times to select those cards. The numbers on the black die came up as 2, 20 and 19, which equate to the High Priestess, The Sun, and Judgement.
In this reading, three major arcana cards means there will be seven minor arcana cards as well. To choose the first card, I rolled the triangular grey die for the suit Ė a 3, or Swords Ė and then picked up the clear die that also corresponds to the Swords suit and rolled an 8, which makes up the 8 of Swords. For the second card, I rolled a 1 with the grey die for Cups, then rolled the blue Cups die to for a 6, which means the Six of Cups.
This same process was repeated again five more times, until I had a total of seven minors and three majors. Michelle recommends pulling each card from the deck as you roll the dice, but you could also leave it to the end to see if there were any duplicates in the reading and so emphasis on a particular card.
There is one difference between choosing cards via shuffling and the dice: there is a different probability of certain cards coming up. The major arcana die, for example, is rolled to choose the number of majors in a reading and is numbered one to ten. This means that with the dice, thereís the same probability of having one or ten majors in a reading; whereas when shuffling and choosing cards from the deck directly, the probability of choosing more than one major decreases as the number of majors gets higher Ė ie. one is very likely, nine or ten is extremely unlikely.
The Tarot Gems are certainly a novel and satisfying tactile way to select cards for a reading, and offer several benefits over regular shuffling as well. Using the dice to select cards also reduces the risk of Ďleadingí the reading, and unconsciously (or consciously) choosing particular cards based on their familiar feel. That favourite deck of cards can be kept in order for reference, study or just easy organisation, with cards being pulled out as indicated by the dice rather than mixed up for every reading. Plus - expensive fragile decks that wonít stand up to shuffling can also be used for readings, without risking the edges or handling them too much The Tarot Gems are a fun and useful new accessory for any Tarot reader.
* Sets of the Tarot Gems are available from the creator, Michelle Mullin through Magical Omaha for US$34.99. While the price may seem high for a set of dice, she notes that they are high quality dice that will last and can be difficult to source.
Review by Lee Bursten
Although I usually avoid buying tarot-related products that donít fall into the categories of decks and books Ė for example, I resisted the urge to buy the Tarot Dice, which apparently are no longer available Ė I was intrigued by Solandiaís review of the Tarot Gems, and so I ordered a set.
The set of dice offers a method of choosing cards from a deck, which doesnít involve shuffling. Instead, you roll dice to determine the ratio of Majors to Minors in a spread, which Majors to choose, and for each Minor card, what suit that card will be and then what number, and you then draw those cards from an ordered deck and lay them out. The system is designed for a 10-card spread, although there is a simpler 5-card system described in the book as well, in which you roll the Major die and the four Minor dice together to produce one Major card and one card from each suit for a 5-card reading.
Itís a well-thought-out system, and the idea of choosing cards with dice rather than shuffling is attractive for various reasons. For one thing, it would certainly save wear and tear on the cards. For another, rolling the dice offers a pleasant tactile sensation, and you still get to handle the cards when you draw them from and return them to the deck. Included with the set is an explanatory booklet written in a helpful and friendly tone, but Iím afraid I didnít quite follow author Michelle Mullinís explanation of the philosophical difference between rolling dice and shuffling cards. But for someone like me who is accustomed to shuffling and laying out the cards without any ritual or preamble, the multiple dice tosses do help to establish a physical rhythm that may help the reader enter a meditative or contemplative frame of mind.
While I found the process enjoyable, I had two difficulties. The first is that the system breaks down, it seems to me, at the point when youíve chosen your cards and before you lay them out. After rolling the 24-sided die for each Major required, you draw that card from the deck and place it face down in a pile. Then you choose the Minor cards. This means that at the end of the procedure, you have a stack of ten face-down cards, and the Majors are all at the bottom of the stack. So you canít simply lay out the cards in order, because then all the Majors will be clumped together at the end of the layout (or the beginning of the layout, if you turn the stack over before you lay them out). Michelle suggests deciding where to place them in the layout without looking at them, but this seems to me very unsatisfactory, since the whole point of the dice is to avoid manually manipulating the cards when choosing them.
I finally decided to use the 10-sided die to determine the spread positions of the Majors (the Minors are already randomized because of the method of choosing them). So, I turn the pile face-up so that the Majors are on the top, and then I roll the 10-sided die to find the spread position of the first card. If I roll a 3, then the first Major goes in the third spread position. Then I roll again. If I roll a 7, then the next Major goes in the seventh position. If I roll a duplicate number, I roll again. I repeat this procedure until Iíve placed the Majors. Then I simply place the Minors in the empty positions in the spread in order.
The second difficulty is simply the amount of extra time the method takes. After practicing a few times, I was able to lay out the cards in about 5 minutes. At the end of the reading, it takes about a minute to return the cards to their proper places in the ordered deck. So in all, thatís 6 minutes youíve spent, over and above what you would normally spend in simply shuffling a few times and drawing the cards off the top. Many readers wonít want to take this time. I certainly wouldnít want to do it for every reading, but Iím intrigued enough with the system to keep a deck in order just for this purpose, and to use the dice when I have some extra time for a reading and when Iím in the mood for some preparatory ritual.
The four-sided die which is used to choose the suits of the Minors was quite perplexing to me, even with Michelleís instructions. Each face of the die has three numbers on it, arranged with two numbers above and one number below. Finally it penetrated my poor brain: when you roll the die, you look at the bottom-most number on any of the faces, and it will be 1, 2, 3, or 4. Through some mathematical magic, the bottom-most number on any of the visible faces will be the same. Michelle correlates the numbers 1 through 4 to Cups, Pentacles, Swords, and Wands, but I changed this to Wands, Cups, Swords and Pentacles, since thatís the sequence Iím accustomed to.
I found I was able to save time, both when drawing cards and when returning them to the deck, by separating the deck into five piles: Majors, Wands, Cups, Swords, and Pentacles. Then you only need to handle one small pile at a time instead of going through the whole deck to find or return a card.
The dice are well-produced, and a nice velour drawstring bag, lined with a blue satiny material, is included.
Response from Michelle Mullin to Lee Bursten
...I did some thinking about how to modify the Tarot
Gems method to suit your personal reading style better
- because of course, when I created the set, it
naturally followed my preferred process of choosing
cards and placing them in the reading by feel. It's just what works best for me!
As I noted to you before, this set was very much
intended to be a starter set for each reader to
personalize... and there are a ton of useful
polyhedral gaming dice on the market which can be
added to your set. For instance; I like to use the
Astrodice set along with mine sometimes! And I also
have some blank dice that I've customized!
My suggestion to you, taking into account your
preferred style of reading; would be to use a regular
cube die (6-sided), instead of rolling the gold 10 and
then the silver 4, which would save you an extra roll
for one thing...
You could roll the d6 with the suits being the numbers
1-4, the same as on the pyramid die and counting the
number 5 as the Major Arcana... (The fifth point of
the elemental pentagram - spirit) and rolling the
number 6 could mean to re-focus your question and roll
again because it looks sort of like an upside down
question mark to me -or -
Perhaps, since you mentioned that you usually select
fewer than ten cards - a 6 might mean that there are
no more cards for that reading...unless you already
decided beforehand how many cards you wanted to select
for the reading?
After selecting the Major or the suit of the Minor
with the d6, you could roll whichever of the main five
dice that corresponds to what you got, thus
eliminating the d10 and d4 dice entirely... This idea
would speed up the process for you a smidge and could
also give you the placement of cards in the spread as
you rolled each one in order.
This suggestion would also decrease the probability of
getting a Major Arcana to closer to 1 in 5, instead of
Majors and Minors being equally likely as Solandia
noted, and randomize the appearance of Major Arcana
cards throughout instead of you having to use the
work-around of rolling the d10 again to determine the
placements, saving even more time!
Lee Bursten is the author of the Zodiac Tarot, the Gay Tarot, the Universal Marseille Tarot Companion, and the Tarot of Dreams Guidebook, and is particularly proud of his appearance in the Quantum Tarot as the Knights of Wands and Swords.