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Category Archives: Interpreting hexagrams

Comments on whole hexagrams, individual lines and so on

A string sort of thing: hexagrams 3 and 40

The Image of Hexagram 3, Sprouting, says,

‘Clouds, thunder, Sprouting.
A noble one weaves warp and weft.’

or as Bradford Hatcher translates, ‘sorts warp from weft’.

What the noble one does is just two characters: jinglun, 經綸. Jing is the same word as in Yijing and literally means the warp threads on a loom, and by extension the structure that gives everything else its place to be. Jing already meant this invisible structure even before it meant ‘Classic Book’.

Lun means long, strong thread. The character has a fascinating etymology: silk thread, and a ‘reading from books’ component which Richard Sears says means reflection and soul-searching.

Jinglun together mean ‘statecraft’, and RJ Lynn translates,

‘Clouds and Thunder: this constitutes the image of Birth Throes.
In the same way, the noble man weaves the fabric of government.’

Imagery of thread and weaving is often used in Chinese writing to describe the human and cosmic order. A quotation from Lu Jia (228-140BC), copied from David Pankenier, Astrology and Cosmology in Early China (brilliant book – I read it while I was away):

“Heaven positions them [the myriad things] according to the host of stars, regulates them with the Dipper, envelops them with the Six Directions, reticulates them with threads and ropes, reforms them with disaster and disturbances, makes announcements to them with auspicious omens, motivates them with life and death, and makes them aware with patterns and revelations.”

Everything’s held together by these invisible threads. And on a more practical level, if you want to align your buildings with the stars, or even just to build their walls in a straight line, you will need to use taut strings to lay out the plans.

In the older imagery of Hexagram 3 there are literal bonds connecting the horse teams of lines 2, 4 and 6, and metaphorical ones binding feudal lords and marriage partners.

And when in line 3 there’s the risk of ‘losing the thread’ by chasing the deer into the heart of the forest, and the noble one ‘understands the signs of the time’ and prefers to desist, the character for ‘understanding the signs’ is made up of ‘on guard’ and ‘tiny-tiny’: originally the silk cocoon and the fine thread teased out from it. So this means seeing the smallest beginnings, the tiny threads that will be spun and woven into the stuff of experience.

So overall we can say that Hexagram 3 has a theme of bringing order out of chaos: drawing straight threads from the tangle, weaving them together, making sense of the world.

Contrast that with Hexagram 40, Release. One meaning of the hexagram name is actually ‘untie’, and the character may refer to a horn tool used for prising knots loose. The Zagua and Xugua Wings both characterise it as huan, 緩: slow, slack, relaxed, delayed, with etymology that suggests thread drawn slowly through a loom. And in 40’s Image,

‘Thunder and rain do their work. Release.
A noble one pardons transgressions and forgives crimes.’

the ‘crimes’ to be forgiven are, etymologically, evil caught in a net.

In the oldest text, there is the noble one bound and released in line 5, and in line 6 the hawk shot down with an arrow – an arrow flies when the tension is released from the bowstring.

So… taut threads let you weave and build, but releasing the tension allows free and purposeful movement.

Hexagram 3 is circumspect and circling: the sprout’s roots, the expanding network of feudal lords, the woven cloth, all created gradually from a core structure. ‘Don’t use this to have a direction to go; it’s fruitful to establish feudal lords.’ (The problem with a premature ‘direction to go’ shows in line 3.)

Hexagram 40 is free to move directly, clear and unhindered as the flying arrow: ‘With no place to go, to turn round and come back is good fortune. With a direction to go, [starting at] daybreak is good fortune.’ (No risk of getting lost for 40’s hunters.)

The intriguing thing is that these two hexagrams feature the same trigrams. Hexagram 3, Sprouting has thunder inside and water outside; Hexagram 40, Release, has water inside and thunder outside:

|:::|:      :|:|::

I have to admit, I don’t understand why these two trigrams in particular should be associated with thread – but I find myself captivated by the similarities between Hexagram 3 and the Miller-Urey experiment, and especially how scientists talk about it.

The experiment involves passing electrical current through water vapour in an atmosphere thought to reproduce that of early earth. When the water’s recondensed, it’s found to contain amino acids – the building-blocks of life. Electricity –

|::

– acts on water

:|:

– and creates just the rudimentary beginnings of life. Creative impulse acting on the chaotic ferment tends to create structure.

Here’s a further article on some new, related experiments, which I don’t pretend to begin to understand. I’ll quote it anyway:

Saitta suggests that a potentially important aspect of electricity as a source of energy is its ‘directionality’ – that it can align atomic and molecular species within the electric field and promote chemical reactions in a way that is different from other sources of energy such as simple heating. The researchers propose that short-range, localized electric fields on the surface of minerals may have played a part in directing the chemistry that led to the molecules of life. ‘My feeling is that an electric field gives something else besides energy,’ says Saitta.

Directionality’ that ‘aligns’ the components with the field: there’s thunder at work. (It’s at work in the lake in Hexagram 17, too, energising what flows and creating synchronicity.)

In Hexagram 3, thunder acts on and through water and creates structure; in Hexagram 40 the free flow of water is translated outwards through thunder into creative, fluid action. (I’m not sure which experiment might correspond to that – maybe a potato battery?)

By the way – the quotation that inspired the title comes from Now We Are Six by A.A.Milne:

The Engineer

Let it rain!
Who cares?
I’ve a train
Upstairs,
With a brake
Which I make
From a string
Sort of thing,
Which works
In jerks,
‘Cos it drops
In the spring,
Which stops
With the string,
And the wheels
All stick
So quick
That it feels
Like a thing
That you make
With a brake,
Not string….

So that’s what I make,
When the day’s all wet.
It’s a good sort of brake
But it hasn’t worked yet.

A string sort of thing: hexagrams 3 and 40

Hexagram 43 is in the news…

…disguised as an archaeological discovery about Chinese pre-history. You might have seen the reports: someone has found clear evidence of a great flood in China. Here’s a good account of the discovery with a link to the full paper: in a nutshell, there was a great earthquake in about 1920BC which caused a landslide that completely blocked… Continue Reading

Hexagram 43 is in the news…
Book of stories: what follows

Book of stories: what follows

This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series Book of Stories

A few posts ago, I tried to list all Yi’s ways of telling stories:

  • those little one-line vignettes
  • allusions to the culture’s big stories – both history and myth
  • the individual steps of the Sequence of Hexagrams (‘Here’s how you reach this place.’)
  • the huge narrative arcs of the Sequence – ‘you are here’ on the grand scale
  • multiple moving line readings that unfold one line at a time
  • the ‘nuclear story’ within each hexagram
  • the stories told through the connections between readings

So I’ve written about the vignettes and the mythical allusions, and now we come to individual steps through the Sequence. Continue Reading

Hexagram 26: Great Taming

Hexagram 26: Great Taming

Hexagrams 9 and 26 are ‘Small Taming’ and ‘Great Taming’ – the same activity on a different scale. That activity is xu, 畜: rearing livestock, and farming in general. (Stephen Field actually translates these two hexagrams as ‘Lesser Stock’ – mostly goats – and ‘Greater Stock’, namely the horses, cattle and pigs mentioned in the lines of… Continue Reading

Hexagram 20: the Tower?

Hexagram 20: the Tower?

Hexagram 20 is called Seeing – but if your I Ching experience began with Wilhelm, then you’ll be familiar with the idea that the shape of the hexagram itself is a picture of an ancient tower: ‘A tower of this kind commanded a wide view of the country; at the same time, when situated on… Continue Reading

Contrasts of Hexagram 6

Hexagram 6 is called Conflict, or Arguing; its name also means bringing to court and calling for justice. Fittingly enough, it’s best understood through contrasts and oppositions. The authors of the oracle seem to have thought so, too: its Oracle is laid out as a series of contrasts: ‘Arguing. There is truth and confidence, blocked.… Continue Reading

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