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The trouble with impetration

Jack Balkin (The Laws of Change) and Richard Rutt (Zhouyi) both explain the distinction between two kinds of oracle: impetrative and oblative. Since they give subtly different definitions, I’ll content myself with sharing what I’ve understood from them both.

An oblative oracle is one that’s given to you: an omen or synchronicity, such as a visiting crow, or significant bumper sticker or fragment of conversation, or an eloquent dream. It can show up at any time and for anyone who’s prepared to notice it.

An impetrative oracle is one you ask for, and where your action creates the sign you are seeking. If you crack tortoise shells, shuffle cards, toss coins or count yarrow stalks, you’re both asking for a sign and bringing it into being. Rutt calls it ‘inducing artificial signs that can be read as portents.’ Inducing and interpreting these signs would be the job of a diviner.

So you ask your question, and you take action to reveal your answer – or, you could say, to create your answer, to bring it into being at this time and place. Sometimes, this is exactly the right thing to do. Something moves you to ask, and when you do so it feels as though the universe breathes a sigh of relief: ah, at last she’s listening! A broken connection is mended; spirit has a voice and language to speak in, and meaning and message flow naturally.

But what if it isn’t time for that answer to come into being?

I don’t mean those times when we ask, don’t understand or just don’t like the answer, and keep right on asking. It’s certainly true that this can lead to more and more ‘noise in the signal’, as the questions asked wander ever further away from the real present moment.  But a single, wholly realistic and reasonable question, well-formed, not containing any hidden assumptions to divorce it from reality – a question where you’re visibly ‘doing it right’ in every particular – can still be out of harmony with the time. In a timely question, you’re stepping into the centre (of yourself, of the moment) to ask; in an untimely one, you’re stepping out.

Of course, it will still look as though you have an answer: there are lines, they make a hexagram. Sometimes that’ll be hexagram 4, or 29. Sometimes it’ll be virtually impenetrable, and sometimes (personal experience!) it’ll be brutally rude.

I’ve been thinking about this because, after a series of overwhelmingly timely readings, I’ve reached a stage where most of what I want to know now – like where I’m headed and what it’ll be like when I get there – is not timely. Or possibly just ‘wanting to know’ is untimely. I’d love to know where I am and where I’m going, and whether I’m doing it right; I have a badly inflamed case of ‘shoulditis’, in fact, which I’m treating with repeated applications of sitting meditation and meandering cycle rides in the autumn sun.

I asked Yi about the wisdom of continuing the conversation and about taking a ‘reading holiday’. It described continuing with readings as 61.1.6 changing to 29. Inner Truth Repeating the Chasms (also learning them, or so I’d hope).

‘Guided, good fortune.
There is another, no peace.’

If I think there’s something I need to be doing besides just being guided – like knowing where I’m headed, being sure I’m doing it right, etc, etc… – then ‘no peace’. That’s certainly true.

‘Cockcrow rises to heaven.
Constancy, pitfall.’

To quote my own commentary, which turns out to mean more than I thought it did (it’s disturbing when that happens):

The cockerel’s crowing rises to heaven; the cockerel does not, nor does his crowing cause the sun to rise. You are making noises you cannot match in reality. This has left inner truth behind: instead of trusting, you demand a response, trying to force a connection and define how things shall be. But there are limits to the changes you can create with your words. When you are overreaching yourself, persevering in your agenda will not help, and is likely to damage relationships.

Limits to the ‘changes’ I can create with my words, indeed…

How to navigate round this one and avoid becoming like the cockerel? Ah look… here’s another answer I can’t conjure into being by asking the question. It probably helps to keep the whole process as simple and open as possible: to wait for that inner nudge that there’s something you need to know, and then asking, ‘What do I need to understand about x?’ – or even just ‘What do I need to understand?’

31 thoughts on “The trouble with impetration”

  1. You know, for all I despise the religious connotations in Ricardo Andrée’s work (to each, his/her Dao…) the man has some good ideas for approaching consultations to the oracle. It particularly targets the matter of timing, not only as a way to prognosticate but also as a way to know if a moment or circumstance is the right one to consult the oracle in a specific and direct way. Not saying that I follow this myself, in any orderly way, mind you, but I think it might apply to your, hmmm, conundrum?

    Something to explore, I suppose. It is in the sticky in the forum, the second, bottom link…

  2. At the moment there is really no conundrum – obviously not time to ask; probably/hopefully/maybe I’ll notice the difference when it is. Thank you for the suggestion, though.

    And it is really good to be able to welcome suggested reading and then actually have time to read it instead of saying ‘Oh, that looks interesting…’ So your timing is excellent 🙂 .

  3. I usually don’t ask questions and just see how the oracles play out against the turn of events.They often influence the course of events.This approach probably requires less casting more reflection. Or I might move the counterpoise a little eg as in changing the line proportions.Sixteen token is open to this kind of manipulation eg 2266 / 16 as in coins. Would I be right in assuming 61 – 29 is an asymmetrical cast ?

  4. Yes, that was cast with my usual bead set with its assymetry between 6s and 9s. What do you feel you’re changing/ making possible when you change the odds of your casting?

  5. Come to think of it 61 – 29 is a red flag for health issues for me bearing in mind a history of gastritis and problems with the swallow.
    Youre changing the type of casts you will get : more yin moving lines which I

  6. I was out shopping earlier and using one of those coin operated computers amid distractions.

    I have got 61-29 a few times which played out as a health warning.

    I suppose I got a little tired of moving yang line biased casts and felt like a change.I switched over to symmetrical casting about a year ago (yarrow 48 and coin methods).

    If something gets out of ‘synch’ with the Q & A approach and there’s a loss of rapport or harmony or flow then ‘no question’ works as an alternative.It’s more difficult and less useful than q&a, but it does have its charms.
    My last cast was 29.3.5 – 46 (18 coins ) and I’m still wondering what its about.
    My grocery bill today was $ 29.03 A reminder ? An oblative ?
    ( Although there was 50c off so I only had to pay $ 28.53 )
    Sometimes I meet people on town wearing one of those American football jerseys wirh big numbers on the front and back and its usually ‘ negative’ like 23 or 44 and that freaks me out.

  7. I wonder how 61/6, the relevant line here to my way of looking, ever came to be seen as a cockerel crowing to high heaven, when the Chinese indicates that it is the sound of a startled pheasant’s wingbeats. How is it possible that the sound of a cockerel crowing could ever have been regarded as a bad omen, since it happens every morning to no ill effect. Whereas the image of a startled pheasant might be regarded as the image of exaggerated concern, since a pheasant panics and takes to the sky regardless of the scale of the threat, as anyone walking through bracken knows when suddenly a pheasant takes flight with its alarmed and alarming display. Hence, an image of being melodramatic, I would say. The ‘pitfall’ is that of thinking one’s concerns matter more than they do. I usually take this line to mean that one is making a big fuss over nothing.

  8. The issue of whether or not a question is timely is an interesting one. In a sense all questions are timely, since the oracle is quite capable of telling a person to wait or that they are being impetuous. One learns to know the time after many years of not knowing the time and consulting the Yijing about it. Much Yijing consultation amounts to this kind of groping in the dark, wanting to know too much too soon, and the like, but it cannot be said to be untimely to ask about it, since if one knew the time one would never need to ask about it.

  9. Hi Steve,

    I can see how the ‘exaggerated fuss about nothing’ could apply to my reading, though it doesn’t seem to fit so clearly with the connection between 61 and 60.

    the Chinese indicates that it is the sound of a startled pheasant’s wingbeats

    – anything more you can say about that?

    And yes, I suppose you could say that it’s a ‘timely’ moment to learn that one has the time wrong…

  10. Peter – yes, I’ve been using questionless (or ‘what do I need to be aware of?’ – near enough the same thing) readings for some time as a way of retuning the set, as it were. Possible to do too many of those, too, of course. I suppose there’s still no answer without there being some kind of question.

    61 to 29 as a health warning actually makes sense. 61 as primary hexagram often seems to act like a magnifier of the second: the inner truth of 29, being shaken to your core by 29.

  11. Hilary — The character ‘han’ is the red feathers of the pheasant, while the ‘yin’ character indicates it is a sound, while the rest of the phrase refers to rising into the sky. This is then regarded as an omen of disaster. It is reasonable to suppose it is the sound of the pheasant’s wings as it ascends. If it is to be regarded as a foreboding of disaster then that can only be because it is an exaggerated reaction to danger, whereas a cockerel crowing because it is dawn is a daily event, so how can it ever be an omen of disaster? One has to look at the images and ask oneself whether they really make sense, particularly when the Chinese indicates something quite other than traditionally supposed.

    Shaughnessy took it as the sound of the golden pheasant; Rutt had ‘a sound of pinions rising to the sky’ but didn’t identify it as a pheasant; Waley had ‘the noise of wings mounting in the sky’, regarding it as ‘particularly intriguing’, which is on p129 in the essay on my site, here:

    Others have a cockerel crowing, just following the old interpretation and persuading themselves it makes sense because others before them have said so. There is certainly an omen about ‘a hen calling the morning’, indicating that the house will be ransacked, which is used by King Wu in his harangue to the troops before the Battle of Mu, referring to Da Ji and her influence over Zhou Xin (Mandate, p 85), which is a similar idea but nothing really to do with the phrase in hexagram 61. As I say, an omen cannot really be cut out of the material of a daily occurrence, which is why the idea of a hen calling the morning instead of the cock is picturesque as an omen, though I doubt it was ever literal, rather always a metaphor for a woman controlling a man.

    There does seem to be a great blind spot with the Yijing sometimes, the weight of tradition obscuring a fresh look, which of course was what I was dealing with mainly in Mandate of Heaven.

    I don’t understand your reference to a connection between 61 and 60.

  12. An alternative interpretation of 61/6 could involve the story of the portentous pheasant that alighted on the handles of the tripod the day after Wu Ding had made a sacrifice to Cheng Tang.

  13. One minor correction: Rutt didn’t identify it as a pheasant in his translation of the line, but did indicate a pheasant in his notes, where I see he refers to the same Wu Ding story I have just mentioned as a possible way to see it, so clearly he too realised it was a pheasant.

  14. I started having I-Ching readings about 7 years ago. At first I would ask every now and then with regards to an important issue. After that I began asking more regularly and I noticed the readings seemed to be off, from what I had asked, at least that’s how it seemed. Then I began to notice that the events shown in the readings manifested closer and closer, from the time of the reading. Three days or so after the reading was when I noticed what the reading event was after it had happened. As I increased my questions I noticed the I-Ching was actually showing me the immediate future regardless of my question. Noticing this, I started having a daily reading after waking up, no questions asked. It now gives me a glimpse of the most important events of the day and how to best handle them.

  15. Steve – thanks for the sources. As for the connection between 61 and 60 – a matter of imagining that if you dwell at the heart of things (61), you get to say how it’ll work (60). So on the one hand you’ve gone to an extreme of fu trust in your rapport with the world, yet at the same time you’ve fallen out of trust altogether and into ‘articulating’ how it shall be. The kind of ‘law of attraction’ thinking that busily visualises the colour of the leather seats in the red sports car to come. (I suppose the line implies that if you keep that up long enough, you’ll probably get run over by the thing.)

    Don’t know about ill-omened cockerels, but I have distant childhood memories of stupid cockerels in stories – maybe like this one.

    Alan – I like your story very much: how you noticed what was really happening with your own readings, and responded.

  16. Wang Yang, I Ching Diviner, professor of preventive medicine Chongqing University , and author of The Authentic I Ching , made a comparative study of the attacks on Pearl Harbour and Twin Towers ( p 171 ).The attacks happened 60 years apart, a significant number in the Chinese calendar , the number of repeating cycle. He used an integrated mei hua – na jia – classical text method. He used the mei hua – 4 pillars of time to cast the hexagrams : 35.4 for Pearl H. which he interpreted as ‘stealth’
    and 61.6 – 60 for the WTC.
    He translates han yin as crowing rooster. He notes that aeroplane and rooster have the same sound , ji , and the Chinese like to make puns about the two words.

    Han yin is variously translated as Cockcrow ( WuJN ),
    Soaring ( feathers and dawn ) sound mounting tt heaven ( K and R ), and by Whincup as Flying cock or sacrifical cock ( in contrast to the protected chick of line 2 ) He includes the Wu Ding story where the flying cock is regarded as an evil omen portending the fall of a dynasty.

    The Twin Towers soaring to the heavens, a proud statement of our technological civilization, might just be, like the Titanic, a symbol of our civilzn. and a sign of its fall.

    The soaring sound could also symbolise the attack as an alarm call, an awakening, and a loud statement to the world.

    Jon Sandifer, Wang’s editor, comments that 61.6 reminds him of Icarus flying too close to the sun. Icarus can be taken as a sign of failed ambition, hubris, nemesis, retribution, pride, arrogance, overconfidence, out of touch with reality, and downfall.

    In c.1980, Brian Cleeve, an Irish seer, warned of an event to come which would be a sign of the last days of this era. It would be possible to televise it and that simultaneously with it, all ‘ machines’ as he put it, would stop.
    An Irish nun on a visit to NYC also predicted that the Twin Towers would fall, but I dont know the details.

    The idea also occurs in Tarot card the Tower.

    And finally I would like to draw attention to Erica Cheetam’s 1973 Prophecies of Nostradamus ( a simple literal translation of the words without attempting to impose too much meaning on the poetic imagery):
    She wondered if quatrain 1.87 might be an image of an attack on NYC : Earthshaking ( ennosigee- ennosigaeus as in spectacular or sensational ) fire from the Centre of the earth (terre – world ?) will cause tremors ‘ around ‘ ( tours : she wondered towers ? or skyscrapers ? ) the New City.
    The other two lines refer to two great rocks and Arethusa ( an anagram? of Ares, god of war, and the USA ).
    She also wonders if 6.97 and 10.49 also refer to attacks on NYC.

  17. Whincup translates hanyin as a ‘cock’, and says that it is a ‘sacrificial cock’, but then in referring to the Wu Ding story the ‘cock used in certain sacrifices’ becomes a ‘cock-pheasant’, a quite different bird to the one he’s just been talking about. So one is left wondering whether he thinks hanyin is a cockerel or a pheasant. Looks like he was hedging his bets.

  18. I looked for the character in Shuessler’s “Etymological Dictionary of Old Chinese” and, all context aside, I find interesting that ?-han, in Zhou times, perhaps all the way to Han times, meant “to support (figuratively).” He then cross-references the word to ?-gan, “stem, framework, skeleton; posts in a framework.”

    I suppose the bird associated meaning should be blamed to the Book of Rites: (1).???·?????“??????……??????????”???“??”?????????·????????“??????????” ??? ??“??????” ( Perhaps the result of being paired with ? (a character that does not appear in Schuessler’s–and makes me wonder about it’s ancient use as such–but ?-an does, literally meaning “words kept in mouth” (silence, muteness, etc.)) and all those feathers influencing the context to create an image of a “chanticleer,” to use Legge’s poetic rendition. Makes me think that the meaning of ?? seems to be more like an onomatopoeia, or at least something that evokes the sound of wings being flapped. Just a thought but, perhaps, ??? could carry a meaning of “wings being flapped in crescendo”… (a sound of distress and alarm that ties with Steve’s first comment above)

    To obscure things a bit more, current use of ? translates to “writing brush; writing; pen” (?? meaning “academics” from at least Tang times). Now, the whispering sound of a brush or a quill…

  19. That’s interesting that the Book of Rites thinks ‘hanyin’ is a chicken, but the bird association in hexagram 61 still remains, it is just a pheasant instead. Of course, it has always been a pheasant, it’s just been thought to be a chicken that’s all. Very old mistakes are still mistakes.

  20. Speaking of casts and questions I got 61.2 – 42 , calling crane in the shade, ( oct.4th , yarrow 48 +1or2 ) with no question or context. This blog could explain the cast as a priming, like a precog dream. The same could be said for Hilary’s cast as an additional context to her question.

    WuJN describes the bone pictographs of 35 Jin (Pearlh ) as ”two birds darting towards the sun at dawn. Jin augurs increase-advance and is coupled with the universal cycle of increase decrease, rise and fall” or accumulation dispersal reflected in the 12 monthly cycle of hexagrams.

    K & R give an additional translation of han , soaring , as a ‘firebird with red plumage’. Interesting in the context of the WTC.

    The red plumage reminds me of the story of ‘the man in the red bandanna’ who stayed behind and died to help survivors of the south tower, many of whom were immobilised by shock.

    The hijackers are also reported to have worn red ” bandannas” and ”headbands” and ”red sashes” around their waists.

    I am also reminded of the phoenix , the mythical sacred firebird with colourful plumage. At the end of its long life cycle it builds a nest which ignites and out of the ashes a new phoenix emerges. It is a universally known symbol of rebirth , renewal and regeneration.

  21. Sometimes it is interesting to make an Yijing reading for a world event. I received the top line of hexagram 2, the dragons fighting, the day before the tanks went in to Tiananmen Square in 1989. This told me how it would end. But I don’t see any point in doing readings for events in the past like Pearl Harbour and the World Trade Center. What is it supposed to show? Professor Wang Yang is just indulging his imagination over trivialities, a common preoccupation of xiangshu practitioners. Anyone can run with this ball. So we have the stunning insight that ‘airplane’ and ‘rooster’ are both pronounced ji, well so is the Chinese slang term for ‘penis’, so presumably this means that the phallic nature of the towers is confirmed. Surely one studies the Yijing to penetrate deeply into the true nature of the universe, discerning illusions proficiently, knowing what is actual, yet some seem to use it to generate ever more farcical fantasies.

  22. To be fair the classical text is only a small part of the authors methodology and I suspect he mentioned it half humorously. I can imagine situations where the other nuance you referred to might be interesting but certainly not here. I dont see anything farcical about reading signs of impending catastrophe into into flying cockerels or cock pheasants or yijing oracles or world events.

  23. Karcher & Ritsema include vertical support among the meanings of han. NYC firefighters have a saying : never trust a truss. Apparently the WTC was a truss construction from top to bottom and this may have contributed to the timing of the collapse. 19oct yarrow 53-37 Expect verbal flack.

  24. One can read signs of impending catastrophe into anything, not just the imagery of the Yijing. But unless one uses those signs (assuming one has discerned them accurately) to effect an action where action is possible (such as escaping the city), or to change one’s state of mind where it is not (such as from out-and-out panic to calm recognition that the world is just a dream, before the asteroid hits), then is is just an idle obsession with loose coincidences.

  25. Hi Hilary,
    here’s my little bit.

    I think a clue in this reading (61.1.6>29) lies in hex 27. It’s about nourishment, more than about timing.
    27 is nuclear of 61, and you are skipping it altogether. It’s a ‘dialog of beginnings and ends’ type of reading, which to me just means it’s not the proper way for you to feed yourself at the present moment. It wasn’t, but now you need something else. Maybe something inside you is refusing this usual way of eating, as if you had nausea. Can you confirm this?
    The paradox is, 27 is also the ‘yang operator’ in this reading. I’d read it as you trying to eat more to counteract nausea — which of course wouldn’t do.
    So, I ask myself ‘how does the yang principle act in hex 27’? (This is how I usually use the change operators.) Well, it is both looking for food (at line 1) and nourishing others (at line 6). This may relate well to your position as a yi reader for yourself and as a teacher/mentor/reader/blogger for others. This yang doesn’t have a yin counterpart (something to eat) here. And, of course, this turns into a load on your back (28), the ridgepole collapsing etc.
    What’s hex 61 about? Trust and center. No trust and no center here: so, no food. Moving from here leads to the unknown (29, kan), the scaring chasm. Maybe you can start by assuming it can represent winter and rest (position of Kan in the houtian). The right season for finding one’s center. The seed has to be protected until spring comes, but if you try to eat it now, you won’t have it anymore when you’ll need it.
    Remember that 27 looks like 23+24.
    Oh and, just noticing… there are 27 comments to this article before mine.

    Hope this helps,
    all the best

  26. Hi Tiziano,

    Thank you for drawing my attention to the 27 all over the place. Yes, the ‘inner work’ is decidedly about getting fed, and finding a way to be part of an ecosystem where I’m nourished and nourishing. (Which is exactly what happens through the process of 23 and 24!) That’s the source of the question, too. I find having yang pattern and nuclear hexagram matching to be encouraging if anything – a sign of intention and work to do being well aligned. Also maybe a bit of over-emphasis, making the need for 28 to balance it out and allow space for the 27 even more apparent.

    Anyway, what’s working for now is to make occasional readings without questions beyond ‘what to notice?’ No ‘what to do?’ or ‘how to do it?’. I’m left feeling better fed than I have for a while.

  27. I like the general topic and the han yin discussion.

    61.6 as WTC was produced by non – text based methodology and so was inappropriate to introduce here.

    As for the WTC collapse being a sign of something bigger to come, here is a summary of the thinking behind this :

    Mankind has almost completely ignored and lost touch with the spiritual reality of his situation thereby enabling dark spirits to enter his world ( the mayhem all around being the visible sign of this ) and his spiritual universe, and has thus raised the stakes : the outcome of the whole war between good and evil is at stake here. He has got himself into trouble way over his head.
    Instead he has focused almost exclusively on rediculous materialistic ambitions.
    And so his house is going to be totally ransacked.
    But there are clear signs ( eg the second coming ie the church reborn )that the damage is not irreversible and that there will be regeneration, accompanied by hardships.

    And as for all those who perish in the inevitable crash they always knew they were going to die anyway, and life goes on somewhere else.
    And if they have done well they may find themselves among agreeable and able companions where the air and scenery is good ( yet even then they cant quite relax because there are fake versions of this).
    And if they have done badly they may find themselves alone.
    And if they have done evil they may find themselves in a place where violence and cruelty are commonplace and where courtesy is not the rule, and from where it will be very hard to escape and where extinction is the end result.
    Or if you prefer another language heaven hell or purgatory.

  28. What about the Mary Celeste as a case of ‘blowing up the hatches’ in more ways than one, and as a classic case of overreaction to danger?

    There was a cargo of 1701, 30 gallon barrels of industrial alcohol,(or ethanol) rough weather, probable ‘battening down of the hatches’, leakage (9 barrels),and maybe a build up of fumes & poor ventilation.
    Later opening of the hatches may have caused a sudden change in athmospheric pressure and precipitated a terrific explosion of the fumes, with lots of smoke, but no soot or burning or damage to the main cargo.Or a spark from metal hoops may have simply blown the hatches.This kind of idea was later replicated in experiments.
    Whatever happened precipitated an immediate, blind, panic stricken and fatal evacauation.

    I said I dont normally ask questions but sometimes I do.
    The Yi seemed to have a say in this blog before, during , and so I wondered afterwards ? :
    (1 nov. yarrow 48 ) : – 17
    Ive got 55 – 36 for an actual existing alliance. And there may be a case for ‘taking things to extremes’.
    However I am intrigued by the bird associations of mingyi. I Like Whincups bright pheasant , WuJN’s bright bird ( who also discusses timing – direction ), and Marshalls Mandate discussion of crowing pheasant and mingyi bird ( as well as, alliance with yi tribe, solar eclipse, darkening of the light ).
    I also like the ‘winnowing’ aspect. I use chopsticks to cast, filed down smooth with a nice feel. Sometimes I grasp one end of the bundle and let the other end fan out and grasp where I will. If there is a clean break into two bundles it makes the split very easy.

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