Hilary Barrett, I Ching

Hexagram 57 in the Sequence

September 16th, 2015

The Sequence – for all the remarkable patterns it contains – is about the simplest ‘tool’ you can add to your interpretive repertoire. No complicated operations are required to find the preceding hexagram, and no concept more profound than steps along the road: ‘You pass through this to reach here.’

To reach Hexagram 57, Subtly Penetrating, you pass through 56, the Traveller. The Sequence (a Wing full of insights – do not let dismissive commentators tell you otherwise) says,

‘The Traveller has no place where he is accepted, and so Subtly Penetrating follows. Subtly Penetrating means entering in.’

The contrast is clear enough. A traveller is ‘waterproofed’ against what he travels through: he doesn’t start thinking in the native language, or adopt the local culture as his own. The locals don’t accept him as one of them; he preserves his own ways and his own purpose, which is somewhere further along the road – not in this temporary halt. Neither the traveller nor his hosts will be much changed by the encounter. But with Subtly Penetrating, you are part of the environment; the environment is part of you. Full mutual permeability.

This doesn’t show why Subtly Penetrating would follow – but if you consider Hexagram 56 as a whole, especially its climactic fifth line, you see that this integration is what the Traveller is looking for. He wants to come home; 57 is how he can.

While it’s easy to relate to this through comparing a tourist with a local, it’s worth stretching the imagination to encompass the ancient perspective. Hexagram 56 refers to the story of King Hai, leader of a nomadic people, who spectacularly broke the rules of the place where he stayed and suffered the consequences. Hexagram 57 is named for those seals of office, received from the ruler as signs that you are trusted to partake in his authority. And that authority in turn comes from heaven – is part of the harmonious order of all things. So the move from Travelling to Subtly Penetrating is also a move from the nomadic to the fully civilised life – integrated and in harmony with heaven and earth.

This is actually a particularly interesting ‘corner’ of the Sequence, if you look at it in terms of paired hexagrams. 55-56 moves to 57-58. First there are two hexagrams with strong and clear historical resonance: the garrison city of Abundance, Feng, where Wu assumed responsibility for the mandate; the travels and misadventures of Hai, the nomadic king. Then a pair of doubled-trigram hexagrams, xun and dui – doubled wind/wood and doubled lake.

This pattern’s actually occurred once before: hexagrams 49-50, the revolution and establishment of the new dynasty, followed by 51-52, doubled thunder and doubled mountain. The theme there, I think, is of handling and integrating the tremendous change that has just occurred, by finding and holding to the unbroken line of what is sacred. The ‘trigram helpers’ (as Stephen Karcher would call them) come to support the change.

Again at 55-58, a hexagram pair describing major historical moments is followed by a pair of doubled trigrams. The theme for 49-52 is change and continuity; I think that for 55-58, it’s individual responsibility and integration into context. Hai’s behaviour at Yi, seducing the local ruler’s wife, was beyond the pale, but Wu’s at Feng was really no less shocking: he planned to overthrow a dynasty, and took it on himself to forego the prescribed period of mourning for his father.

Both Wu and Hai stepped outside the laws of their environment, breaking the harmony of individual and context. Both ‘took a lot on themselves’ – the nuclear hexagram of both 55 and 56 is 28, Great Exceeding, with its powerful image of the beam that buckles under the weight it carries. Where is the supporting structure that could sustain it?

small xunSo in this context, the work of 57-58, Subtly Penetrating and Opening, seems to be one of reintegrating and reconnecting – finding a place for individual identity and purpose. In Hexagram 58, that happens through explicit, lively interaction and exchange between separate entities; in 57, it’s ‘hidden away’, a matter of individual nature coming to expression and finding its place as part of the whole. That inner nature can be described as your seal – as in the ancient character xun – and the seal itself is how you receive your own mandate in life.

The Image says,

‘Wind follows wind, Subtly Penetrating.
A noble one conveys mandates and carries out the work.’

Mandates are not just a private communication between heaven and the individual, but how the world works; mandate flows through and between people and gets things done.

It’s no longer ‘the individual against the world’ (56) or ‘the individual who must carry the world’ (55) – it’s more that what you carry within you becomes part of everything, and everything carries the message – or meaning – or direction. ‘My seal’ or ‘the ruler’s seal’ – it’s the same seal. You don’t become less ‘you’; you simply notice that your essence is as much ‘out there’ as it’s ‘in here’. Subtly Penetrating means entering in.

(Afterword: I just noticed that the relationship between 49-52 and 55-58 is even more elegant than I’d realised.

Hexagrams 49 and 50 combine the trigram li, first on the inside and then the outside, with dui/xun. Then they’re followed by the hexagrams of doubled zhen and gen.

Hexagrams 55 and 56 combine the trigram li, first on the inside and then the outside, with zhen/gen. Then they’re followed by the hexagrams of doubled xun and dui.)

A Hidden Pattern in the Sequence of hexagrams

September 4th, 2015

The King Wen Sequence of hexagrams (who knows who really created it or how old it might be?) is a source of endless fascination. People keep on finding patterns in it.

The first to catch my interest was Danny Van den Berghe’s discovery of a ‘landscape’ of trigrams (download the articles ‘King Wen’s Order’ and ‘The I Ching Landscape’ from here). There are 660 pages on Classical Chinese Combinatorics by Richard Cook. (I haven’t read that one; my maths isn’t remotely up to it.) Scott Davis has recently elucidated some beautiful patterns that combine text and structure in his The Classic of Changes in cultural context. (Huge, fascinating, and not light reading.) I’ve been captivated by sequence patterns myself – and no doubt there’s a lot more good work I’ve omitted to mention.

I’ve read claims that the arrangement of the pairs through the Sequence is random – that if you want regularity and pattern, you need to turn to an alternative arrangement such as Shao Yong’s. This strikes me as bizarre, since the problem’s almost the opposite: there are so many interwoven patterns and connections that it seems impossible to find a single pattern running through the whole sequence.

Except… that it isn’t. The King Wen Sequence makes a single, perfectly simple pattern that you can understand at a glance. You’ll find it in this unassuming little pdf by Gert Gritter, The Hidden Pattern in the Classical Sequence of the I Ching. In the course of reading it I went from ‘Oh, pretty…’ (on page 7) to ‘Wow‘ (by page 10) – I expect you’ll do the same. How could we have failed to notice this?

…and now, how do we use this in readings?

Hexagram 57 in readings

August 28th, 2015

(Continuing a series on hexagram 57, because it makes sense to approach this hexagram of all hexagrams incrementally!)

What does Subtly Penetrating mean in readings? Well… like any hexagram, it means what it says and what it is, and no amount of commentary changes that. But I have noticed a couple of messages that Hexagram 57 seems to give quite consistently.

First – and this is a big one – xun says this is a process and this is part of a whole. Very often, the querent is asking about what they conceive of as a single action or occasion or attainment, something they’ve separated out in their mind.

‘How can I achieve x?’

‘X is part of something much bigger. It doesn’t really exist as “x” on its own.’

The subject of your question is larger-scale and longer-term; it’s deeply interconnected, and imagining it as a separate ‘thing’ actually makes no sense.

(If you look at 57.5 –

‘Constancy, good fortune, regrets vanish.
Nothing that does not bear fruit.
With no beginning, there is completion.
Before threshing, three days.
After threshing, three days.
Good fortune.’

– that certainly is a specific moment of success, but it’s a lot like those people who become an overnight success after 30 years of work. It doesn’t come out of the blue – and also, it’s not the end of the work; it’s just part of the farming cycle.)

So the question might be about some specific health issue or part of the body, and then 57 would point you back to the whole. Or about making an announcement or sending a proposal, in which case 57 indicates that this has to be part of ongoing communication – and more than that, ongoing relationship and presence. And I’ve also noticed 57 coming up when people ask about ‘finding love’ or ‘finding happiness’ – which is a really strange use of ‘finding’, isn’t it? As if happiness and love were something like lost car-keys.

And secondly, 57 sometimes describes a process of being moved by the many influences and inputs in your environment, like the branches by the wind – how all that becomes part of who you are and what you do. Sometimes that leads us to try to please all the people, all the time, research everything, accommodate and fit in with everything and everyone – and we risk losing touch with the essential, with our own inner seal. It’s still important to have a ‘direction to go’, as the oracle says. So 57 can ask the question, ‘Do you know your direction?’

xunI don’t believe this casts your direction as your Chosen Purpose, in need of reinforcement against outside influences. It might not be chosen at all: those seals of authority on the table, in the character xun, originally depict someone kneeling; compliance and submission are core meanings of xun the trigram.

The direction isn’t so much something you decide on as an emergent property of the whole environment: something you can perceive through the mutual penetration of inside and outside. It comes from your inner seal, which represents your relationship to the whole. Perhaps seeing the great person (who can be a diviner) helps to reveal it.

In a reading I cast some 10 years ago, with 57 as the primary hexagram, the short answer to ‘Do you know your direction?’ was, ‘No, not a clue.’ I’d been playing in a concert – I’m an amateur orchestral ‘cellist – and had not done very well. Miscounted rests, wrong entries – ugh. What happened?

Being in an orchestra, at least for this amateur, is always 57-ish: being completely immersed in and penetrated by the whole, every part of my awareness connected and ‘tuned’ to pick up cues – from the conductor, principal violinist, other ‘cellists, other string section leaders, other parts moving and interacting with ours, currents of the music, memory of the music, muscle memory of how to play the notes in front of me, what sounds right, the vibrations I’m sensing in my fingertips (which sometimes tell me whether I’m in tune when I can’t hear the sound I’m making)… and so on.

When I’m playing well, all these influences flow together into a single ‘direction to go’, and I’m reasonably confident and competent. On that occasion… not so much. I was blown in all directions at once. For instance, the conductor had given cues (looked and gestured to show us when to start playing) in rehearsal, and then in the concert he sometimes did and sometimes didn’t. So I would think, ‘We come in here – don’t we? – but now he isn’t bringing us in – wait, perhaps I’m too early – oh, perhaps I should have come in three bars ago…’. That’s a classically 57-ish case of indecision. (And not the conductor’s fault: if I’d done sufficient practice, or listened to the music enough, those entries would have been ingrained in me, second nature – influences naturally becoming ‘direction to go’ in the moment.)

But with 10 years’ hindsight, I think that other aspect of 57 was also present, and Yi was challenging my idea of this concert as a single occasion I could isolate and ask about. It’s part of an altogether longer story, one that extends back through everything I’ve picked up along the years, and all the practice I have or (ahem) haven’t done, and also out into the future. Ten years on, I’m still a member of the same orchestra, and still learning.

The elusive hexagram 57

August 23rd, 2015

‘No one can tell me,
Nobody knows,
Where the wind comes from,
Where the wind goes.’
AA Milne, ‘Wind on the Hill

Xun has to be the most elusive hexagram. It’s awkward to translate (you need one word that means penetrating, interpenetrating, subtly, imperceptibly, gently, submitting…) and really tricky to pin down in readings. But then this is only its nature: it’s made of the wind trigram, doubled, and the wind isn’t known for being easily pinned down.

Most hexagrams can be read partly as verbs, partly as nouns. Hexagram 19 – Nearing, and an Approach. Hexagram 37 – the home and its people, and also home-making of all kinds. But Hexagram 57 feels like pure verb, or sometimes like pure adverb: not even a thing you do, but a way you might do many different things. Hopefully this comes across in how I described it for my book:

‘Subtly penetrating, creating small success.
Fruitful to have a direction to go,
Fruitful to see the great person.’

Subtly penetrating means becoming part of something, or someone. It describes all-pervading influences, like the wind shaping the landscape.

You penetrate subtly by feeling your way into things, yielding gently to their nature. You shift your own ideas and expectations, and come to understand the situation from inside, on its own terms. And so, as you allow things to shape you, you also reach a place where you can shape them.

The old Chinese character for ‘Subtly Penetrating’ shows a stand bearing the official seals a ruler would bestow on those he trusted. Someone who bows down and accepts a seal is submitting to the order of things, entering in and receiving his place within it. Then his seal, sign of personal authenticity, endows him with influence and the power to ‘make his mark’.

Whatever penetrates subtly becomes influential – not by acting on situations or people to change their nature, but by becoming part of their nature and acting in them. Because it never acts as an antagonist, it never creates resistance and permeates everywhere…”

It’s about getting inside, being inside, being part of something and having it be part of you. This can be a way of understanding (non-analytically), or a way of influencing. I think of it as the opposite of waterproofing: becoming mutually permeable with your environment, and hence completely at home.

That experience can show up as synchronicity. Many years ago, someone at the I Ching Community asked what a string of synchronicities was and received hexagram 57: life inside the current, where the inner nature of things is apparent.

Xun is also your own inner nature becoming apparent. LiSe’s description of this is brilliant:

“The blueprint or the seal that one carries, decides all what one is or does. It penetrates every action like wind or roots can enter anything. It has no name, often its existence is not even known, but it is always there and directs everything one does or thinks. It decides the way one listens or looks to the world.”

We have a tendency to think of inner nature and the influences of the environment as being in opposition – not necessarily conflicting, but as two separate and contrasting things: ‘Am I being myself, or am I being influenced? Is this part of my true nature, or a product of conditioning?’ But this self-evident distinction evaporates like dew when you consider that your identity and authority, the way you show who you are and ‘make your mark’ on the world, is the seal bestowed on you as you submit to your place in the whole.

(Of course there are other hexagrams in which the distinction between self and environment is very real – essential thinking-material. 64 hexagrams: 64 different ways to see the world.)

Xun the hexagram shares its name with the doubled trigram that composes it: xun, the trigram of wind or wood. The elusiveness continues. Other trigrams have multiple associations but are identified primarily with one thing: fire; lake; mountain. Why, for xun, do we have to cope with ‘wind or wood’? Granted, you can see the similarity of movement between the draft under the door and the roots coming up through the tarmac… but still, they’re clearly two different things.

Except that, in fact, they aren’t. To demonstrate, let me ask you a question: is it windy, where you are? Have a look.




So you just looked for the wind – and unless you’re in a pitilessly barren urban environment, I’m guessing you looked to see how the plants are moving. You looked for xun, for wind-wood – as a single, indivisible thing. (Try looking at plants without seeing the movement of the air…) Xun is the trigram ‘blowing-in-the-wind’ – we just call it ‘wind/wood’ for short, and because we’re used to labelling things with nouns rather than verbs.

Here’s a very tiny snippet from module 2 of the Foundations Course (the one that’s becoming available now in Change Circle), on xun the trigram – click the big ‘play’ button first, then the ‘full screen’ one at the bottom right –

So there’s a quick summary of that adapting-is-influencing, outside-is-inside way of xun. In the hexagram it’s doubled: both inner and outer trigram.

‘Wind follows wind, Subtly Penetrating.
A noble one conveys mandates and carries out the work.’

The authors of the Image conveyed a great deal within their modest little formula. 隨 風 , wind following wind – that’s ‘following’ as in the name of Hexagram 17 (another hexagram about that ‘current’ we sometimes experience as synchronicities), and so it’s a word pregnant with meaning. (It isn’t used in any other hexagram’s Image.) Inner nature – or received mandate – naturally and inevitably flows outward, where it translates into work done. The mysterious intangible becomes wholly practical and tangible.

‘…So then I could tell them
Where the wind goes . . .
But where the wind comes from
Nobody knows.’
A.A. Milne



Change Circle changes & the Yijing Foundations Course

August 15th, 2015

For updates…

If you’d like to be kept updated on these changes, subscribe to the associated forum thread.

Where I start from…

Yi is pretty extraordinary.

I know, this isn’t exactly breaking news. But I keep noticing it all over again: partly because I keep looking at more complex structures and finding more meaning and beauty than ever (the fractal oracle?); partly because I’ve been looking more at the simplest questions (like ‘why do these lines embody this concept?’) and finding myself completely overwhelmed; and mostly simply because I see it at work in readings.

Yi engages people in real conversation. It offers not only answers to questions, but a deep awareness of being truly connected. When you have confidence in your readings, so you know from experience that something as random as tossed coins or shuffled stalks will speak to you personally – well, then you know you’re fully at home. In the end, the conversation isn’t only a Q-&-A, to-and-fro: it’s a state of being.

So… the ever-present question for Clarity is how I can help people towards this experience. I write stuff, I sometimes do individual readings, I help develop and sell the Resonance Journal, I provide courses and classes – always based wholly on personal readings, because there is no way to learn the art of conversation with Yi except by talking with it (also not news!) – and I run Change Circle.

Change Circle is for people who want to get into this conversation and explore it together – something that’s easier to do freely in a private space, where you don’t have Google looking over your shoulder indexing every word! It’s also a natural place for study, because if you’re interested in going deeper with Yi then you’re also interested in learning more about it – that’s almost tautological.

Which is fine… except that it’s left me spreading myself rather thin, trying to look after course or class people in one place and Change Circle people somewhere else. Balls get dropped.  And it occurs to me that I’m creating a lot of unnecessary complication.

So I decided –

I’ll give everything to Change Circle people

Starting with the new Foundations Course, and continuing with all the Yijing learning materials I create in future (modules on more advanced techniques are in the works), everything to do with learning Yijing divination will be included in Change Circle membership.

You won’t have to decide between membership or a course or an ebook – you just come in under the Change Circle roof and find it all waiting for you there, with as much or as little support as you want, from me and the community as a whole. Reading Circle, WikiWing, the Foundations Course and its forum, more advanced modules to come (developed inside the Wiki so you can access them as works in progress), and the option of chatting with me for half an hour each month about any Yi-related puzzles you may have.

What the changes will look like

The course I currently have on sale is going into an honourable retirement; the Foundations Course is just better all round. (As well it should be – it’d be pretty sad if I couldn’t produce something better now than I wrote about a decade ago…) The ‘Words of Change’ mini-glossary will be retired, too, because the enlarged-and-improved Language of Change is also available inside Change Circle.

So the Clarity ‘shop’ will contain:

  • personal readings (sometimes) for £150
  • the Resonance Journalstill only £20!
  • the Foundations Course on its own (for anyone who’s completely allergic to forums and tutoring and just wants to study on their own) for £50
  • WikiWing membership – pay what you want, starting at all of £1/month
  • the newly expanded Change Circle membership – pay what you want, starting at £10/month

(Later, I’ll add a special version of Change Circle membership with personal support/ tuition for a limited number of people. Later still, as I complete the more advanced course, I’ll probably raise the price of basic membership. And one day I’d also very much like to provide tuition, support and certification for people who want to read for others professionally.)

When they’ll happen: 1st September

– or as close to that date as I can. (Technology may happen to me at any stage, of course. It often does.)

Why I’m telling you this now

Because the price of Change Circle is going up substantially to reflect all the new additions – it’s currently £40/year – and existing members will be ‘grandfathered’ in at the original price while still having full access to everything. Whatever price you pay when you sign up for Change Circle is the price you will continue to pay for as long as you remain a member.

So… you might want to join now. Or ask me any questions you have to help you decide whether to join now.

ripening blackberries

(To stay updated on these changes, subscribe to the associated forum thread.)

Review: Stephen Field, The Duke of Zhou Changes

August 9th, 2015

Field coverI’m really the wrong person to review this book: it’s a scholarly work, and I’m not remotely qualified to write a scholarly review. So here is a diviner’s take, instead. It comes as a sort of ‘whinge sandwich': appreciation beginning and end, nitpicking in the middle. (Don’t take too much notice of the filling; it’s a lovely book.)

Wonderful scholarship…

First, as a diviner, it’s good to be able to rely on someone else’s scholarship! Better background knowledge makes for better readings. And Stephen Field undoubtedly knows his ancient Chinese onions. I have two other books of his – the fascinating/bewildering Tian Wen and Ancient Chinese Divination. This book, like those, is one from which I can learn a lot.

This starts with the introduction. Its table of contents is available as a pdf from the publisher’s page – and yes, any self-respecting Yeek will be salivating over this, and rightly so. The section on the bagua is especially fascinating. (The Luoshu writing representing calendar reform following the precession of the equinoxes, for instance, with the turtle as a constellation emerging from the ‘river’ of the Milky Way…) There’s a wealth of information here – historical and cultural background – that I’ve not found elsewhere, not even in Rutt’s introduction.

The learning continues with the hexagrams, and especially with the stories behind them. Just a few highlights:

  • historical ‘who’s who’ clarity in Hexagram 54
  • a much fuller version of the story of Wang Hai, anti-hero of hexagrams 34 and 56. Interestingly, Field tells his story first under Hexagram 23, which he thinks refers to Hai’s dismembering.
  • in Hexagram 35, a detailed account of the story of Kang and his reward, and a clear connection with the ‘royal mother’ of line 2

In addition to these specific references, there’s also an underlying awareness of the authors’ culture and way of life. So we learn that the ‘thatch grass’ of 11.1 was also used to wrap offerings, that bronze was equivalent to gold and therefore a natural reward for the successful hunters – and there’s the clearest differentiation I’ve seen yet of the coloured knee-bands in 47.2 and .5.

and so on - more examples of this abundant food for thought later…

…but uninspiring interpretation

It’s not that Field is uninterested in divination, I think. Part 3 of the book is boldly-titled ‘practical applications’, and begins with recommendations for respectful ritual around the oracle book. Also, the question advice he gives is very sensible, and there’s a very full account of how to cast. (He gives three casting methods: yarrow, 3 coin and ‘8 coin’ – a modern method that always gives one changing line, also popularised recently by Karcher.)

Under ‘how to interpret a reading’ he tells you not how to interpret a reading, but which texts to read: ignore moving line texts altogether when there’s more than one line changing and read the hexagram judgements; with one line changing, read just that line and ignore the hexagram judgements. Not brilliant advice if you’re interested in the full subtle language of the Yi, but not disastrous if you want a simple answer.

So he does care about divination – but the book doesn’t reliably offer you usable interpretations that will deepen your understanding of a reading. Which is a shame – I would have loved commentaries that offered more insight into Yi’s nature as an oracle, a way to have powerful conversations that create change. I don’t mean commentary to ‘tell you what it means’ (ugh), but I do think it’s the interpreter’s job to draw out the connections that hold the text together and give you a sense of the hexagram’s underlying theme. That often doesn’t happen in Field’s book – it’s as if he doesn’t believe in a deeper theme at all.

Take the commentary on Hexagram 3’s name and judgement, for instance:

3. Tun, A Bunch
When pronounced tun, the name of this hexagram means “to accumulate,” or “to tie together (in bunches).” Note line 5 where this meaning is especially evident. When pronounced zhun, the graph means “difficult” and pictures a sprout before it breaks through the soil.
Hexagram statement: Diviners in the early history of this text determined that travel conducted as a result of this hexagram usually ended in misfortune. So they recorded the counsel, “Do not use this omen to go on a journey.” Similarly, when the king divined the proper time to enfeoff his nobles and this hexagram was obtained, the result was usually favorable. So the diviners recorded the counsel, “It is good to install feudal officers.”

Is that really how he thinks the text was assembled? Just random jottings of divination experiences? Isn’t there some significance to the contrast between enfeoffment and going on a journey, and some relationship between that and the name of the hexagram?

Another example: he translates Hexagram 30 as not ‘clarity’ but ‘lia bird’, and has some very interesting information about this bird. So… why would this one hexagram of the 64 recommend rearing cattle in its Judgement? Because ‘diviners in the early history of this text determined that keeping cows brought good fortune.’ There is no suggestion of any connection between the lia bird and cattle-rearing – it looks as though he’s chosen the translation for the hexagram name with no thought to its relation to its context. Which is the only sensible way to go about it, of course, if you believe that the text of the hexagram is nothing but a random collection of diviners’ records with no unifying theme…

An oracle, or some records of an oracle?

It’s important to recognise that diviners’ records certainly are and always have been part of how we understand hexagrams. It’s a tradition as old as the oracle. We’re part of it now: when you want help with a reading, you may well come to the forum to ask, ‘Does anyone have experience with these two lines changing?’ (And this is why we’re building WikiWing – a collaborative ‘eleventh Wing’ of distilled reading experiences) Field represents the very beginning of the same tradition by dividing the text into three columns: omen, counsel and fortune. For instance, 30.3:

Omen:  the setting sun’s lia-bird
Counsel: Unless you beat an earthen pot and sing, your elders’ lamentations will be substantial.
Fortune: Misfortune.

(The commentary has a really intriguing suggestion: this bird could be the three legged raven seen in the sun, in sunspots – visible to the naked eye at sunset – and you must beat on pots and sing to drive the raven away.)

The idea is that the original diviners see a sign, then record their experience or compose an interpretation in response, and make a note of how good or bad the outcome was. In a way, it’s interesting to see the text broken up in this way – it’s good to have a clear visual reminder of which parts are missing, because the absence of a ‘fortune’ from a line, for instance, can be quite eloquent.

However, it’s not especially easy to read in the correct order (you have to remember to read across the columns, then down), and in fact the text isn’t always given in the correct order – in hexagram 4, the second half of the ‘fortune’, ‘a good omen’ (aka ‘constancy bears fruit’), should come at the very end, after the questioner’s importunate interruption. That – I reckon – is a deliberate literary device, so that the questioner interrupts omen words that are normally spoken together. (I don’t suppose Field believes such things are to be found in Yi.)

Anyway… divination records are certainly used as part of the Yi’s construction. But they are used, not just collected. The book was composed for use as an oracle, so I think it’s reasonable to credit its authors with some thoughtfulness and insight as they selected the dozen or so characters to sum up the essence of tun or li.

Whereas if you treat the book mostly as just a compilation of historical allusions and divination records – rather than something intended for future use as an oracle – you risk missing the point.

The lines of Hexagram 18, for instance, are written following the ancient pattern of divinations to ask which neglected ancestral spirit was responsible for a curse: ‘it is stem father x’s curse’. But in the text of the Yi, the names of the ancestors are all omitted. Field spends some time pondering which ancestor they might mean – when surely, if the authors had meant those who received this hexagram in divination to use it to identify a Zhou ancestor as the source of their problems, they could simply have left the names in? Perhaps they had something else in mind?

Also, if you treat the book as an oracle, then a line’s good or bad omens must be part of the line. That is, omen, counsel and fortune work together to say, ‘in this situation, acting this way is a good/ bad idea.’ But if this isn’t your starting point – if you don’t expect a line to carry that kind of message – then things start coming apart.

A couple of examples: 29.6 and 53.5.

‘Tie him up with braids and cords. Throw him into a thorny keep. For three years he is not bagged. Misfortune.’

In his commentary, Field develops the idea that the lines of 29 concern the imprisonment of Wen (then known as Chang). Of line 6 he says,

This omen shows the captive tied up with braids and cords and thrown into a thorny enclosure. The counsel attests that the captive will not be “bagged” (that is, converted) for three years. While the omen is bad, the implication is not. After three painful years, the prisoner is still not broken. Eventually – after three more years, Chang was released from prison.

‘While the omen is bad, the implication is not.’ That makes sense for a historical record – not for an oracle. (Oh… except for in lines like 28.6… but that’s a special case.)

In 53.5, the disjointedness extends to the translation. A ‘conventional’ one:

‘The wild geese gradually progress to the ancestral grave-mounds.
The wife is not pregnant for three years.
In the end, nothing can prevent it.
Good fortune.’

You see the logic: it’s good fortune because the wife will certainly become pregnant in the end.


‘The wild goose reaches the hills. The wife will not conceive for three years. In the end no one can overcome it. Good fortune.’

The wife will never conceive – so where is the ‘good fortune’ coming from? Perhaps his commentary will explain…

‘This omen shows a wild goose flying even higher to the hill. Another ominous scenario similar to those in line 3 is presented in the counsel text here. A wife is deprived of her future child when she is unable to conceive for three years. However, in this line the woman is unable to overcome her barrenness – perhaps a reference to the daughter of King Di Yi. Otherwise, the counsel refers to the hunters who are unable to bag the goose. Whichever is the case, the prognosis is good fortune.’

…or perhaps not. (Now a failed hunt is good fortune, too?) Anyway, this shows what a difference the translator’s idea of the book makes: if you don’t start with the assumption that the text is meant to be used as an oracle, then the line doesn’t need to hang together as a coherent answer to a prospective questioner.

But this gets us into the realms of literary criticism and how each of us ‘constructs’ the text – hard to imagine there could be any book more de- and re-constructed than this one – which is something I was very pleased to escape 19 years ago. Moving on…

…more to nitpick about

While I’m in complaining mode – I wish he’d consider translating fu as something other than ‘captives’. He does concede this once, at 14.5: ‘His confidence was mutual and awe-inspiring.’ He says firmly in the notes to this line that ‘this instance is the only one that retains the original meaning of “trust” or “confidence”.’

I imagine he allows this exception because he has associated Hexagram 14 with the Duke of Zhou and his willingness to sacrifice himself for King Wu, and there are no captives in this story. So 厥孚交如威如 – ‘his fu mingling thus awe-inspiring thus’ becomes confidence that is mutual and awe-inspiring. When I saw this, I turned with interest to 37.6, 有孚威如 – ‘having fu awe-inspiring thus’ to see if the same phrase would be translated in the same way. But no – no awe-inspiring confidence here, just ‘captives terror-stricken’. Which, as translation of the same words, seems odd.

So Hexagram 61 has to be called ‘score the capture’ rather than anything like ‘central trust’. Yet when he reaches the poetry of line 2, the crane calling and her young answering, he actually writes,

The image of this omen text is an appropriate representation of the original meaning of fu, “hatchling,” noted under the hexagram name above. A derived meaning of “hatchling” is “confidence” – the fragile chicks have total trust and dependence on the hen that hatches them. Here, it is a symbol of allegiance…

Lovely! Perfect! (Then isn’t there the smallest possibility that the name of the hexagram could mean something more than ‘score the capture’?)

And a final complaint for good measure – I wish the Harrassowitz Verlag could afford a proof reader. We have, for instance, one ‘sacrificial alter’ and at 19.6 ‘Ernest wailing.’ (Whatever can have upset the poor man?) Gah.

But a real feast of food for thought

The publishers say, “The general public will appreciate the narrative cohesion of the commentaries.” This member of it certainly does. Field tells stories with the hexagram lines, and many of these are of the eye-opening, ‘why did I never think of that?’ variety. 9.6, for instance: it’s a bad omen for the wife because her husband will go to war. Ah. (Though the lines of 9 – ‘Lesser Stock’ – are mostly about goats.)

Also, he regularly makes many lines in a hexagram tell one story. 63 lines 1, 2 and 4 all describe one carriage that gets temporarily stuck on a sandbar. Hexagram 40 lines 2-6 all tell the story of a hunting party waylaid by bandits. There are many more examples, and this generally works very well – I can see it coming in highly useful in readings with multiple moving lines for finding connections between them.

Admirers of LiSe’s work will be interested to know that Field agrees with her on 15, actually translating the hexagram name as ‘the wedwing': the bird that has to join with its partner to fly. (He goes on to associate this with the combined efforts of Wen and Wu, necessary to achieve the ‘completion’ of conquering Shang.)

Field is particularly good at pointing to mythical and historical references in the text, backing this up with his in-depth knowledge of the myth/history. There’s a wealth of detail about stories we already know from other sources (Wang Hai, Wu at Feng, Prince Kang, Yu) and also associations and allusions I’ve not come across elsewhere, or not in anything like this kind of detail. 46 as a migration in early Zhou history? 57 as the story of Wu’s illness?

Some of these associations are more convincing than others (what is there, really, to tell us that 8.6 is – definitely – about Fa making alliances after his father’s death?) but it’s all deeply intriguing and makes me look at the familiar words in a new way.

There is so much good stuff in here: the details of Hai and Heng in Hexagram 34; the specific conquest and post-conquest history in the lines of 50; ceremonies to ward off the evil of an earthquake in 51; 28 and 62 as ‘the old surpass’ and ‘the young surpass’ respectively, with 62 as the story of funeral, succession and inheritance. That last really fits well with the theme of the hexagram as I understand it: smallness in the face of great things, like ancestral might and virtue (didn’t Wu habitually refer to himself in speeches as ‘the small child’?), and the importance of facing, meeting and ‘getting the message’ from such encounters.

In the end, this book feels a bit like reading a wonderfully well-researched, in-depth and thoughtful biography of a close friend. I’m not sure whether the biographer has ever met my friend, but that doesn’t matter – I still want to read and re-read the biography.

Who’s this book for?

Not for beginners, I think – not for people who haven’t already settled into a relationship with Yi and a pattern of divination. (It would be a shame for a beginner to start with the fragmented ‘divination records’ view of the text, or with divination methods that restrict them to only ever reading one moving line.) And probably not for people who just want to get a reading they can use, maybe with a few helpful nudges for interpretation. This is one for Yeeks – dedicated students who love the oracle, are happy comparing translations and want to dive deep. If you’re interested in building up your reserve of stories and background knowledge from which to extemporise your own interpretations – just like those ancient diviners – then buy this one, and enjoy.

Where to get it

Yi and decisions: a cautionary tale

August 5th, 2015

Here is a cautionary tale about involving Yi in decision making, how this can get you tied up in an endless series of unpromising readings, and the tremendously simple way to avoid this.

Why is this a cautionary tale? Well, because I’ve managed to act out the full story twice in the past couple of weeks :shame:. That brought the pattern into excruciatingly clear focus for me, so I thought it worth sharing.

The story goes like this:

Prologue: decide, with guidance and encouragement from Yi, to make a certain change. Clarity prevails; all is well.

Chapters 1-5: Work out all the various ways I could do this. Ask about each one, and get a series of readings ranging from the unenthusiastic (eg 36.1) to the downright horrible (42.6).

Chapter 6: Finally, in exasperated perplexity, ask Yi, ‘So how am I supposed to do this?’ – and receive a perfectly clear and simple answer.

Chapter 7: Reflect quietly on this answer.

Chapter 8: Come up with a way of making the change that resonates with that answer. Ask Yi about that. Get a ringing confirmation from Yi that has distinct overtones of ‘at last!’ and ‘relief!’

You might have thought I’d have learned to skip chapters 1-5 by now. I’ve been practising and teaching and helping people with ways to hear the true question for a long, long time. Well… maybe it’s easier to hear for other people, or maybe it’s harder to hear when my mind, convinced that there’s a lot to work out here, has already taken off at a brisk gallop though the specifics of ‘how’.

Jack Russell chasing tailSo the moral of the cautionary tale is this: ask the simplest, most open question first, before you ask about specific options. This may seem redundant, because you (I mean ‘I’) may think you (/I) already know all the possible options, so you (/I – please take this as read…) could speed things along by asking about them directly. But no, this does not speed anything along, except maybe a cycle of frenetic tail-chasing. Whereas if you first allow Yi to speak to you about the true nature of the undertaking, then you gain a deep understanding within which you can become aware of the best option. Then you can go straight to that – which actually does save time, muddle and tail-hairs.

Now you have the (not very complicated) moral of the story, you don’t really need the cautionary tale itself. But you might enjoy it anyway – it includes some classic Yi moments – and it’s also a way for me to let you know what’s coming next from Clarity. Here goes…

I’ve decided to include all the courses and learning materials I offer, now and in future, under the Change Circle roof. That means raising the price for Change Circle – which brings up the question of what to do about WikiWing, which was never supposed to be a ‘premium’ offer, but a giant collaborative community undertaking. No-one should ever be priced out of that.

And at the same time, I was turning over in my mind the question of how or whether I could ask for some kind of financial contribution from members of the free forum – without charging everyone, which I’m absolutely not interested in doing. I asked a series of questions about options without getting very far. Presently, looking at other forums for ideas, I came across the idea of a ‘supporter’ membership which is basically its own reward, though it comes with a few forum ‘perks’, like the right to use a signature or store more private messages. Asked about that; received an answer that suggested ‘almost there, not quite…’

Brainwave: what about adding WikiWing access to this ‘supporter’ membership? In reply to that I had 62.2.6 – ugh. I’d gone from ‘almost there’ to ‘completely missing the mark’. How did that happen?

At which point, in some exasperation, I asked,

‘Then what is the right thing to do with WikiWing? (Because in future I don’t want to limit access to people who are paying the higher price to be part of Change Circle, that’s absolutely not the original vision for the thing…)’

Yi answered with Hexagram 16, unchanging.

So – back to that original vision: this space where we all pool our experiences with each hexagram and line, and write an evolving new ‘Wing’ based on present-day divination experience. Something never possible before the internet connected our vast diversity of humanity and gave us the opportunity to connect and co-operate.

And then it dawned on me how spectacularly I would be missing the point if I made an offer along the lines of, ‘Become a supporter and get some sort of forum perks – er, how about access to the bookmarking plugin? – oh, and also access to WikiWing.’

Next question to Yi:

‘What about just offering WikiWing access on its own? So the offer is simply “become a contributor to WikiWing”?’


‘A thing of beauty coming
Brings reward and praise, good fortune.’

I don’t know about you, but that answer has a distinct feeling of ‘finally, she’s got it!’ The whole thing really does come together beautifully and naturally – unlike the cobbled-together set of forum perks I was contemplating before. If you’d like to contribute to Clarity, that’s probably because you value what the I Ching Community creates: the pooling of insights and experiences, the shared exploration and learning. Which means you’re already a natural WikiWing contributor. There’s nothing for me to ‘put together’, because it’s already a whole.

So that’s what I decided to do – not such a difficult decision after all – and here is the thread to introduce this ‘thing of beauty coming’ (!).

But what brought me to this point was the previous question – not asking ‘what if I do this? what about that?’ but being completely open in asking, ‘What’s the right thing to do?’

A little further along the line, I had another – erm… – opportunity to learn the moral of the tale. I was working out how to price things, and this time the ‘brainwave’ was to introduce ‘pay what you want’ (pwyw) pricing – which is exactly what it sounds like: usually the seller sets a minimum payment, and you can pay that, or whatever you choose.

‘How about using pwyw for WikiWing membership?’

46 unchanging.

I like that! The implicit question mark (‘pushing upward? where to?’) is a good fit, because I don’t know where this could lead. However, it also nudged me on, and a little later found myself asking – reluctantly, because this wasn’t my original idea at all,

‘And what about using it for Change Circle, too?’

Yi said 41.2.5 to 42: Decrease, its Increase, the blessing of offering,

‘Constancy bears fruit,
Setting out to bring order: pitfall.
Not decreasing, increasing it.’

‘Maybe increased by ten paired tortoise shells,
Nothing is capable of going against this.
From the source, good fortune.’


So how to go about this? And I set off on a string of readings which I will not bore you with here, asking about what kind of minimum to set and whether to have a ‘recommended’ price, and if so, what? – and so on. I went quite systematically and logically round all the possibilities, and received answers that ranged from ‘meh’ to ‘nope‘. What had happened to that beautiful 41 to 42 reading, and how was I supposed to get there?

So once again, four ‘how about this…?’ readings later, frustration brought me to the question I needed to ask in the first place:

‘Then how am I supposed to go about Pay What You Want?’

40 unchanging.

‘Release. The southwest is fruitful.
With no place to go,
To turn round and come back is good fortune.
With a direction to go,
Daybreak, good fortune.’

A classic of Yi-wit at my expense; I did my best to be amused.

Once I got thinking about the answer, it was eloquent on many levels. Release: this has to be truly what you want. If there is a ‘recommended price’ that I’m implying you ‘should’ pay, then there are still knots and tangles involved. Choosing the path that accords with my direction: what am I aiming for here, and what will help?

And also – what I was asking was basically, ‘How do I get to that 41 zhi 42 reading?’ – so it’s really not very surprising to receive the preceding hexagram in the Sequence in answer.

So I sat with Hexagram 40, read it and inhabited the feel of it, asked one more ‘how about this?’ question in harmony with that, and received another clear and unambiguous ‘Yes! At last!’ answer. (This one is to 8. Everything about it is a beautiful reflection of how natural and simple ‘pay what you want’ can be.)

Moral (maybe if I repeat myself enough I’ll remember this for next time…): when asking Yi’s help with a decision, ask the simplest, most open question first. Something like, ‘What’s the best way to do this?’ is fine. Absorb this answer into your thinking; use it to think up options. Then, if you even need to, ask about those.