Blog – I Ching with Clarity can be translucent Tue, 23 Aug 2016 16:46:55 +0000 en-US hourly 1 New service: I Ching chat Tue, 16 Aug 2016 17:33:10 +0000 I’ve just opened the (virtual) doors for a new I Ching chat service

What this is

A 30 minute chat on anything I-Ching-related – a line you’re stuck on, a reading where you could really use a fresh perspective, an image or hexagram that keeps coming back, even a knotty problem that you can’t seem to resolve into a simple question to ask. That kind of thing.

When I let the main I Ching reading service grow to the size it seemed to want to be – a month or so of in-depth exploration with weekly calls – this left a bit of a gap if you wanted some individual help with a reading but didn’t want a month-long, deep-dive intensive. I started offering I Ching chats for Change Circle members, and since this has worked well, I’ve decided to extend the offer to everyone.

How it works

First you book a time, then you pay, and then you’re taken to a page where you can send me the details of what you want to talk about. That seemed the best order to do it in, to ensure you don’t pay unless you’ve booked a time that suits you.

On the day, I’ll call you – by phone or Skype, whichever. Skype is preferable if you have it, because the sound quality’s better, but phone works too.

Three reasons not to book an I Ching chat

1. You’re completely new to the I Ching

Confident expertise isn’t required, but you do need to be reasonably familiar with casting your own readings, so we can spend our 30 minutes focussed on what you wanted to ask about, not distracted by technical details.

(Of course, if what you want to ask about is a technical detail, that’s OK!)

2. You’ve got a lot going on and need comprehensive help

If you want really in-depth help, especially if you think it might take more than one reading, then you probably need the full I Ching reading service instead. In a small chat like this, I think less is more.

3. You’re a Change Circle member

If you’re a Change Circle member, this service is included as part of your membership. So use the Change Circle booking link – not the regular shop page, which would ask you for payment after booking. (If you're not a member, you're welcome to join - you'll be able to access the members-only booking page immediately.)

Here are all the details and the booking link for I Ching chats. If you have any questions, please ask!

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Hexagram 43 is in the news… Mon, 15 Aug 2016 13:14:11 +0000 …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 the Yellow River. It took six to nine months for the water pressure finally to breach this dam, and when the water burst through it created cataclysmic flooding downstream, changing the course of the river and creating effects that lasted for years.

The authors of the study note that this doesn’t just show that there was a great flood at about the right time to correspond with the myth of Yu the Great and the founding of the Xia dynasty, but that it was the right kind of flood, one that would take decades to tame, that might well require re-dredging of watercourses rather than just mending breached levees.

(Incidentally, the date is close enough to the one David Pankenier gives, in his wonderful Astrology and Cosmology in Early China, for a sign in the heavens that prefigured the Xia: in February 1953BC, all five visible planets clustered exceptionally closely together on the pre-dawn horizon.)

I find the correlation to the whole Chinese flood myth really startling.

There was a great earthquake that caused landslides…

“Long ago Kung Kung fought with Chuan Hsu to be God. In his fury he knocked against Pu-chou Mountain. The pillar of Heaven broke and the cord of earth snapped. Heaven tilted towards the northwest, and that is why the sun, moon and stars move in that direction. Earth had a gap missing in the southeast, and that is why the rivers overflowed and silt and soil came to rest there.”

(Questions of Heaven, as quoted by Anne Birrell in Chinese Mythology)

(Gong Gong, aka Kung Kung, is the original villain who caused the flood. There’s also a version of the story in which he commanded a monster that devoured mountains and turned all the land to swamps.)

…and one of these landslides created a dam, and there was long-term flooding when the dam was breached.

Gun stole the self-renewing soil from Heaven and tried to block up the floodwaters, but he failed. His son Yu, with his new strategy of not just building dams, but also clearing ways for the water to flow, eventually succeeded.

Well… it’s hardly surprising that the story-tellers were unimpressed by Gun’s strategy of holding the water back behind great dams. In fact, it makes you wonder about the original story. In the version we have, Gun is a Promethean figure, stealing the soil from Heaven to respond to the people’s distress, and punished for his efforts. However, he also has a great deal in common with Gong Gong: both rebels against the ordained order, one instigating the flood, the other making it worse. (Mark Edward Lewis in The Flood Myths of Early China says the two ‘may indeed be derived from a common mythic ancestor’, though in Warring States accounts of the myth Gun’s intentions are clearly good.) So I wonder about the self-renewing soil and the great dam across the Yellow River that held back the floodwaters for a few months.

New story: earthquake, landslide, dam, breached dam, flooding. Original story: broken mountain, flooding, dams, failed dams, flooding. Not, at 4,000 years’ distance, so different.

As for Hexagram 43 – it, along with 44, contains one of Yi’s clearest references to Yu the Great, with his ‘thighs without flesh, moving awkwardly.’ (His decades of hard toil wading through floodwaters took their toll.) We shouldn’t forget that, although we can only recognise these allusions thanks to the later, fuller versions of the myth, the Yi must contain the earliest written references to Yu and his work.

In Hexagram 41, the lake trigram was contained below the mountain. Now it emerges as upper trigram – higher than heaven – and stays in that position right through the decade of the 40s: the lake higher than heaven, above the earth (‘set aside tools and warn against the unexpected’!), drained by the rivers, and transfigured by fire.

And the name of Hexagram 43, Deciding or Breakthrough, 夬, is written with a water radical added – 决 – to mean the breaching of a dike.



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The original two-pane reading is back Tue, 26 Jul 2016 20:45:41 +0000 Short version: here it is, with my apologies. (I didn’t know anyone still used it!)


A few years ago I commissioned Ewald Berkers (creator of the I Ching Community’s indispensable hexagram search) to make us a new online I Ching.

I did so because the old reading, the one in two frames, created a lot of confusion for beginners. It always shows two hexagrams even when you’ve only cast one, so people get the impression that that an unchanging hexagram is ‘casting the same hexagram twice’. And it displays the complete changing line texts of both hexagrams, leaving newcomers far from sure what’s actually part of their answer.

The new reading cleared up the confusion: an unchanging hexagram just appears as one hexagram, and only the relevant text is displayed. Also, since it casts one line at a time and displays the answer on a new page, it’s just a little slower to use, which in my book is a Good Thing. (And it can be saved and exported to pdf and linked to…)

I left the old frames reading around in case anyone wanted to use it, though I didn’t really expect anyone would. And then when I created the redesigned site, I called on Ewald again to make his reading script work with it (as a WordPress plugin)… and pretty much forgot the two-pane reading still existed.

Well… I live and learn…

I’ve already had about 20 requests to put the old reading back. So, in response to popular demand, here it is. Restyled a little to match the new site, and with the links corrected, but otherwise unchanged.

I’ve included a link to this on the main free reading page – tucked away at the bottom, under the ‘introduction for beginners’.

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Guide to the new website Sat, 23 Jul 2016 11:13:27 +0000 As you can see… we have a new Clarity website. I really hope you like it! Here’s an explanation of the changes and a guide to the new site.

Why change the design?

Because the old one was old  – some nine years old, in fact – which means it wasn’t at all adapted for browsing on smartphones/ tablets. (You may have found it disappeared from Google search results on your phone – that would be why.) So that had to change… and while I was working on that, I’ve also tried to make it look a bit less like 2007.

In the process I get to do something I always wanted: fill the site with images of the natural world, showing what Yi is and what it’s made of. When I started out, ‘site full of images’ meant ‘site no-one can actually load over their dial-up connection’ – but times have changed, and there’s no need for a site about the Yi to look like a site about a bank.

The new header image shows the sun emerging from behind clouds – which is (probably) what the Chinese character yi originally represented. Yi is change as in ‘a change in the weather’ and ‘the emergence of light’ – something I didn’t yet know in 2000 when I named the business ‘Clarity’.

‘Life can be translucent’, says the header. That’s my idea of what Yi does – it opens up ordinary life so meaning shines through.

What’s changed?


Not a huge amount has changed. What I’ve done is to move things round and consolidate all the learning material in one place. So instead of a private free course for members and a bunch of public pages that sort-of more-or-less duplicate its material, there is a single free beginner’s course. You’ll find it (unsurprisingly) under ‘Learn’.

There are still bonuses for free members. The difference: you don’t have to seek out a separate download area to find them, you only need to be logged in when you look at the course pages. On the same page, people who haven’t joined (or aren’t logged in) will see messages saying ‘Sign up to get this download’, while as a member you’ll just see a link to download it.

If you’re on any page and not seeing what you think you should (eg if you’re a Change Circle member not seeing the full Foundations Course), click ‘log in’ at the top right.

Log in link top right

You’ll be redirected back to the same page afterwards, now displaying the right version for you.


You no longer have to click over to ‘Learn’ to see what’s available there. Any main page is available from any other page – just mouseover/ tap on the main menu.

Site search is also available directly from the main menu, and so is a contact form under ‘About –

Contact form in the menu under 'About'

That’s on every page except the forum, where you’ll just see a link to the contact page. Please use one of these if/when you find bugs!

Finding forum things

Mouseover/ tap on ‘Community’. Here you’ll find a complete list of forums and – once you’re logged in – the forum search options, notifications, private messages and links to profile and settings. On a computer, you mouseover and then click what you want; on mobile, you tap a submenu to open it and then a link to access it.

the 'Community' menu

So everything that was under the ‘Talk’ tab is here, and so is most of what you used to access by clicking the ‘account’ link in the top right-hand corner. The exception to that: the log in form and the link to your main account page for Clarity as a whole (not just the forums) are still at the top right:

'Your account' link top r for the whole site, 'forum settings' link under 'Community' just for the forums

Go to the ‘Your Account’ link at the top right if you want to – 

  • see everything you’ve purchased
  • change your password
  • change your registered email address (for forum notifications and product orders)
  • change your username (that’s for future posts – it won’t affect what’s displayed on your previous posts)
  • delete your whole account at Clarity

 Use the ‘Forum settings’ link under the ‘Community’ menu if you want to – 

  • tweak how you appear on the forum – profile picture, the avatar by your posts, etc
  • change your forum signature
  • change any of your forum preferences: skin, subscriptions, friends, private messaging etc
  • access your bookmarks (CC members)

To access what you’ve purchased…

Log in, and then –

You can look under the relevant tab: access Reading Circle, WikiWing, Yi Academy etc via the ‘Community’ menu; access the Foundations Course via ‘Learn’ and the ‘Treasure Chest’ extra articles via Learn > More tools – or from the ‘Change Circle’ home page under ‘Community’.

You can also click ‘Your Account’ in the top-right hand corner of every page for… well… your account, which includes a list of direct links to ‘active resources’.

Using the forum on your phone/ tablet

I’ve had the menu adapted to be mobile-responsive in the forums too, so you may be quite happy using the forum just as it is. But if you’d prefer something simpler, there is a mobile skin you can choose as your default instead. To try it –

  • At the bottom of the ‘Community’ menu, tap ‘Forum settings’
  • In the left-hand menu under ‘My Account’ tap ‘General settings’
  • In the very last section of this page, ‘Miscellaneous options’, you’ll find a dropdown menu for ‘forum skin’. Change that to ‘default mobile style’ and tap ‘save’ at the bottom of the page.

This gives you a rudimentary, very quick and simple version of the forum: no links to the rest of the site, no ‘post thanks’, no settings page or hexagram search. Its main menu is the blue square grid icon at the top right.

To change back, click ‘full site’ at the bottom of any forum page, and then make your way back to the settings page again to switch your default skin.

If you find a bug…

Then please oh please let me know. Click ‘About’ in the main menu and try out that nice, new contact form! Or visit this page at the forum where kind people are already posting about bugs/ questions.
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Change is coming… Thu, 21 Jul 2016 12:29:32 +0000 or ‘Where did Hilary go?’

For the last several months, I’ve been working on redesigning the website – which has been so time-consuming that really only Change Circle members have seen much of me. It has all taken just a bit longer than expected…

But we are almost there. All that’s left to do is the actual changeover to the new design. This is a bit more complicated than it sounds, so I’m getting a tremendously helpful expert to do the heavy lifting.

What to expect on Saturday…

Saturday 23rd is Changeover Day, and there will be some odd moments: bits of the site looking different from other bits, links that lead nowhere, and so on. But everything should be working again normally within 48 hours or so. First the blog, then the main site, then the forums and finally your ‘account’ and ‘profile’ pages will be changed to the new design.

…and afterwards

I expect I’ll spend the following few-days-to-a-week doing the remaining technical chores and chasing down any unexpected bugs. (Just imagine me staggering blearily about, waving a fly swatter.) If you could let me know about any issues you find during this time, that would be brilliant – thank you.

And then I’m going to have a holiday. Not something I normally do, but I think I need one. (Error 404, brain not found. Error 418 is also a distinct possibility.)

And then, when I’m back, I’ll invite you to have a look at the new ‘I Ching chat’ option. This is a quite different animal from the full reading service: it’s just a thirty minute chat to help you get ‘unstuck’ on a specific reading sticking point. The same service has been included in Change Circle for a while now, and since that’s worked well, I thought I’d try making it generally available. More information coming with the new site…

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Book of stories: what follows Tue, 19 Jul 2016 12:23:14 +0000 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.]]>
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.

If you’re looking at a reading and wondering, ‘Where am I in all this?’ then the Sequence will probably help. It shows you where you’ve been and how you got here – or how you can get to where you need to be. Sometimes Yi’s answer is one step ahead of you, as it were, and then the Sequence helps you catch up.

A couple of examples…

Nourishment needs Great Taming

A(nother) redesign-related reading, about embarking on changing the forum’s appearance myself. For the last redesign I paid someone else to make a matching template for the forums, and I was left with the impression that the forum appearance was Much Too Hard for me to take on. On the other hand, I didn’t want to throw money willy-nilly at things I could potentially do myself without too much trouble. In the end I asked a carefully time-limited question,

‘What about setting aside a week to work on the forum templates myself?’

Answer: Hexagram 27, Nourishment/ Jaws, with line 6 changing:

‘Origin of nourishment. Danger, good fortune.
Fruitful to cross the great river.’

I decided it was worth trying to be the ‘origin of nourishment’ and commit some time and effort to this. (And in the event I waded into the river and did get most of it done, though I needed help to sort out the menu.)

Nourishment follows from Great Taming, because,

‘Things are tamed, and so there can be nurturing, and so Nourishment follows.’

…which really hardly needs any commentary beyond farmers grow food; food feeds people. What kind of Great Taming might this situation call for? I think the clue was in the Image:

‘Heaven dwells in the centre of the mountain. Great Taming.
A noble one uses the many annals of ancient words and past deeds,
And builds up his character.’

Literal nourishment requires the cultivation of food; becoming the source of forum-coding ‘nourishment’ requires the cultivation of knowledge. The ‘many annals of ancient words and past deeds’ were to be found in the Vbulletin docs and across various support forum threads. I still had plenty to learn at the time of asking, but everything I needed was available.

Inner Truth arises from Measure

A friend kindly invited me round to visit… in what turned out to be probably the most expensive private home I’ve ever been in. I found the whole thing weirdly disconcerting, and wasn’t quite sure why. Perhaps something to do with finding someone who’s more or less ‘like me’ (we have things in common, and in some parallel universe I might have followed the same career) living in such a space. So to help me reflect and understand, I asked Yi,

What to learn from the experience of visiting this home?

Hexagram 61, Inner Truth, unchanging.

I could learn something about inner truth… something about what I trust, and why, and where and how I feel connected, and the nature of blessing. Hexagram 61 shows the inner space of a life, inside the home – and seeing that quite different space gave me a clearer view of my own.

Inner Truth follows from Measuring, and the Sequence says,

“Measuring and also trusting it, and so Inner Truth follows.”

Often, I read that as trust arising between people because of the ‘measures’ they share – language, standards, expectations. Here, it seems to be talking about how each person’s own set of ‘measures’, and how the truth of a person’s life arises from that framework: our individual limits, routine, expectations, mindset… everything that seems normal and natural to us, amounting to what we might call a ‘way of life’.

(A tiny example –

‘What would you like to drink?’
‘Water, please.’
‘There’s a water filter over there.’

There was a long moment when I stared dumbly and could not see a water filter. I was looking for a plastic jug, so I couldn’t see the large unit set into the kitchen wall. A mismatch of Measures.)

Our individual Measures become something we can trust and stand in for ourselves. The inner truth of my friend’s life is fundamentally not mine, and not something I can covet any more than I can want to be someone else. That tremendously driven working life is not for me – and actually, nor is the task of filling such a vast space with a sense of ‘home’.

Following and passing along

In readings like these, the Sequence provides a foundation for understanding the whole. It’s ‘here’s how you get here’ or ‘here’s where this comes from’ – a ‘handover’ of experience from one hexagram to the next. Given the context of the Sequence, I can make connections with what I’ve already experienced (the vBulletin manual, the invisible water filter) and move on to what Yi’s showing me with the answer.

The actual formula used in the Sequence Wing to describe how one hexagram follows from another is always translated with some simple variant on ‘and so x follows’ or ‘hence what follows is x’ – except, that is, by Ritsema/Sabbadini, who have,

‘To anterior acquiescence belongs the use of x.’

…which is interesting. A quite literal translation might (might – I am not a scholar of Chinese) be, ‘therefore receiving the use of x’. The important word is shou, 受, ‘receive’ or ‘accept’, which has roots in an image of passing something from one hand to another. When you cast a hexagram, it’s handed to you by the Sequence.


A baton being passed from one hand to the next

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Yi debugs a plugin Sun, 12 Jun 2016 20:48:23 +0000 I’m not sure what kind of geek it takes to appreciate this reading – probably something quite extreme – but I think it’s brilliant and wanted to share.

The background: a helpful programmer had fixed up a WordPress plugin for me, for use in the redesigned version of Clarity (still a work in progress). It all worked fine until I tried to add a sidebar to the page displaying the plugin output. Then the sidebar suddenly ceased to work as a sidebar – it was ‘displaced’ to the bottom of the page.

I set out to troubleshoot this through trial and error. Tried removing the plugin display from the page – sidebar displayed correctly. Replaced plugin display on page – sidebar displaced again.

So it had to be something about the code generated by the plugin causing the problem – but what? There’s nothing in the source code to say it has to display at full-width, or indeed to set any width at all. No funny css classes, either; it’s all very simple stuff: a heading, some divs, some paragraphs.

I have the same layout with the same right-hand sidebar on my new free reading results page, and that works… doesn’t it? I cast an online reading just to check the sidebar was where it should be on the results page. What to ask? How about, ‘Why doesn’t that sidebar work?’

Answer (with the sidebar in place next to it): Hexagram 8 with line 6 moving:

‘Seeking union without a head.

After a bit more puzzling, I found the problem. The code generated by the plugin ended with ‘</div>’, but there was no corresponding opening ‘<div>’. Seeking union without a head of its own, the stray tag had prematurely closed a wrapper div before the sidebar.

You wouldn’t necessarily think a 3,000 year old book could debug your WordPress plugin for you…


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Why is it called Change? Wed, 08 Jun 2016 11:03:36 +0000 (Background to this: the ‘Yi’ in ‘Yijing’ (aka the ‘I’ in ‘I Ching’) means ‘change’. Why would an oracle be called ‘change’?

A sensible explanation might be that the Yijing’s lines and hexagrams change, and maybe this was what made it different from its ancient sister-oracles that also used hexagrams. Change is what this oracle does and what it represents: 4096 kinds and qualities of change.

What follows is not a sensible explanation.)


Eternity isn’t time without end; it’s timelessness.

If eternity were an ocean of being, then all of time could float on its surface.

Eternal being is equally present in any moment in time. If time ran in a circle, eternity would be the point at the centre: equally close to every point on the circumference. (So if the soul is eternal, then talk of ‘past lives’ must be a bit of a misnomer. Another life might be ‘past’ or ‘future’ relative to this one, but they’re all present to the soul.)

So… why time? What does the creation of time really create?


(…growth – unfolding – stories to tell… )

Change is the embodiment of time, and it’s where and how we live.

Change does for eternity something like what language does for consciousness: it articulates it. It gives it a voice.

(Etymology of oracle: from Latin orare, to speak.)


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Book of stories: myth and legend Tue, 17 May 2016 11:20:57 +0000 This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series Book of Stories

If you think about it, some stories play a big part in our conversation even though we never tell them in full. With a story everyone knows, you don’t need to tell it, you only need to allude to it. So ‘No, he isn’t Prince Charming’ becomes a short way of saying, ‘This is not the story of Cinderella: he isn’t going to single you out, lift you out of your humdrum existence into a palace of happily-ever-afters…’ and so on. We do something similar if we talk about Londoners reacting stolidly to terrorism with ‘the Blitz spirit’, or if we call a source of temptation a ‘serpent’.

Alluding to our shared stories is a tremendously succinct way to invoke a lot of meaning in just a word or two. Naturally the Yi – possibly the most succinct book in the world – uses this.

Only this makes for tricky moments in interpretation, because story-sharing is a tenuous thing. Even in the examples I just gave, the ‘serpent’ won’t mean so much to you if you’re not from a Judaeo-Christian culture, and my idea of ‘Blitz spirit’ is already a lot hazier than my father’s might have been, because he was there to help clear the rubble. (He never mentioned any ‘spirit’, but I’ve inherited his fear of the sound of air-raid sirens.) In fact… if you’re younger than I am, or American, the Blitz probably isn’t a ‘shared story’ at all.

So if I can’t even be sure what stories I might share with readers of this post, what are my chances of knowing what stories might have been shared by the first users of the oracle? And in readings, when do I get to say, ‘Here Yi is clearly referring to this story,’ when is it better to stick with, ‘This would probably have reminded a contemporary reader of this story,’ and when am I just making stuff up?

Inscription in the base of the Kang Hou Gui (British Museum)Scholars look at historical records and other ancient texts and find possible allusions. For instance, we can be fairly sure that the prince receiving horses in Hexagram 35 is Prince Kang, because of the inscription on this vessel. SJ Marshall read the history of the Zhou conquest and identified the name of Hexagram 55 with the garrison capital Feng; Stephen Field, because he’s also translated Tian Wen (‘Questions of Heaven’, a poem made up entirely of questions about Chinese myth and cosmology) is especially well-placed to recognise its characters and stories in the Zhouyi. (In fact his book is a superb source – the best I know – for both historical and mythical allusions, and gives far more detail than other sources.)

So the diviner sits on the back of the scholars, like the wren riding the eagle, and finds she can give people new stories to think in – an essential part of divination. On the face of it, the question for a diviner seems to be less ‘can I know this is a real reference?’ and more ‘will this help?’ But I’m still careful only to tell the stories I’m sure of, and ignore associations that seem to be simply the translator’s invention. Stories are powerful things – and people base their understanding and decisions on what the oracle says – and the only thing I can be sure will help, frequently in ways I can’t imagine, is what the oracle says. Diviner beware.

Here are some stories I would definitely tell as part of a reading:

The Zhou Conquest, of course, the book’s one big unifying story: the modest little Zhou people receiving the Mandate of Heaven to overthrow the Shang rulers. This is recent history for the book’s first users, rewriting their whole world, and it colours the ancient text vividly: crossing rivers, the struggle in the northeast, western neighbours, strange alliances, the long historical resonances of the marriage of King Yi’s daughters (no wonder 11.5 changes to 5!), and of course the big moments: 49, 55.

Linked with this story, there’s Prince Ji in 36 and his mirror image, Prince Kang, in 35. Then Wu in 55 also has his reflection from a much earlier time: the Shang progenitor King Hai in Hexagram 56 (and 34, and maybe also 23).

And reaching further back into mythical times, there’s Yu the Great, conqueror of floods and banisher of demons, limping on through 8, 39, 43 and 44.

A wren from the British LibraryI think those are the stories I would rely on, though there are plenty of other tantalising hints, and there must surely be much more that we’ve lost. Perhaps a contemporary reader would have known who was attacked by bandits in 5, or who shot the hawk in 40.6…

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Yijing, Book of Stories Thu, 12 May 2016 11:23:03 +0000 This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series Book of Stories

Opened book, open pathsStories are a big part of how readings work. When we’ve gone round and round the situation a few (dozen) times in our thoughts, and everything is stale and stuck, Yi says, ‘Imagine, it’s as if…’ – and everything changes. How I got here, where ‘here’ is, what paths might be open to me now – it all looks different.

Stories are a richly eloquent way for the oracle to say, ‘You are here’  and reveal a whole landscape that was hidden. And they’re a language we all speak – one we all think in, all the time. We don’t just live our lives, we tell them. I travelled into London at the weekend, and came home with a story to tell of getting lost on the Underground – my own woeful little travelogue. It has misunderstandings, helpers and guides, toil, suspense (would I still catch my train?), escape (Persephone?)… all packed into 40 singularly ordinary minutes. And the daily routine is no different – an endless stream of roles and sagas and casting questions.

Sometimes the story Yi tells echoes the one we’re telling ourselves; sometimes it twists it just a little; sometimes it blows it sky high. If I ask about a situation that feels like a burden of responsibility I must carry (so my story’s all about heroic struggle to bear the load), perhaps I’ll receive Hexagram 28 line 4 – bearing up under the weight, conscious of the dangers of too much stress and strain. Or there might be 7.3, or 40.3, each telling a rather different story about carrying a burden. Or I might get 59.1.2 – what if I have the whole story upside-down, and this thing I’m labelling a burden is actually what carries me and keeps me afloat?

Those are all examples of Yi telling tiny stories, little vignettes in a single line.

‘Shouldering a burden while also riding in a carriage
Invites the arrival of bandits.
Constancy, shame.’

A film studio would spin that out to at least twenty minutes, don’t you think? Misunderstanding, incongruity, consequences, reaction… Yi covers the lot in eight words, and we follow along with pages of commentary.

But Yi has so many other ways to tell stories. Trying to think of them all…

  • 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

…what have I missed?

(I might come back to these and look for examples of each kind of story-telling in readings.)

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