...life can be translucent

I Ching with Clarity

For some 3,000 years, people have turned to the I Ching, the Book of Changes, to help them uncover the meaning of their experience, to bring their actions into harmony with their underlying purpose, and above all to build a foundation of confident awareness for their choices.

Down the millennia, as the I Ching tradition has grown richer and deeper, the things we consult about may have changed a little, but the moment of consultation is much the same. These are the times when you’re turning in circles, hemmed in and frustrated by all the things you can’t see or don’t understand. You can think it over (and over, and over); you can ‘journal’ it; you can gather opinions.

But how can you have confidence in choosing a way to go, if you can’t quite be sure of seeing where you are?

Only understand where you are now, and you rediscover your power to make changes. This is the heart of I Ching divination. Once you can truly see into the present moment, all its possibilities open out before you – and you are free to create your future.

What is the I Ching?

The I Ching (or Yijing) is an oracle book: it speaks to you. You can call on its help with any question you have: issues with relationships of all kinds, ways to attain your personal goals, the outcomes of different choices for a key decision. It grounds you in present reality, encourages you to grow, and nurtures your self-knowledge. When things aren’t working, it opens up a space for you to get ‘off the ride’, out of the rut, and choose your own direction. And above all, it’s a wide-open, free-flowing channel for truth.

For I Ching Beginners -

How do you want to get started?

There are two different ways most people first meet the I Ching. There’s,

‘I’m fascinated by this ancient book and I want to learn all about it,’

and there’s,

‘I need help now with this thing (so I’ll learn whatever I need to know to get help with The Thing).’

Learning about the I Ching, or learning from the I Ching?

In the end, these two ways aren’t actually different. It isn’t possible to do one without the other, and people end up wanting both: the ‘learn about Yi’ people draw on its help more as their knowledge grows; the ‘learn from Yi’ people find they want to know more, once they’ve got the help they need.

But... they are different at the beginning:

To learn the I Ching

It has all you need to get started from scratch. Then if you’re familiar with the basics and want to develop your confidence in interpretation, have a look at the Foundations Course.

To get the I Ching’s help

(There’s help at hand to explain how it works.)

If you’d like my help, have a look at the I Ching reading services.

Not a beginner?

Welcome - I’m glad you’ve come. Clarity’s here to help you deepen, explore and enjoy your relationship with Yi. You might like...

And so you can get to know some like-minded Yi-enthusiasts and we can keep in touch, do join Clarity


Hello, and thank you for visiting!

I’m Hilary - I work as an I Ching diviner and teacher, and I’m the author of I Ching: Walking your path, creating your future.

I hope you enjoy the site and find what you’re looking for here - do contact me with any comments or questions.

Clarity is my one-woman business providing I Ching courses, readings and community. (You can read more about me, and what I do, here.) It lets me spend my time doing the work I love, using my gifts to help you.

(Thank you.)

Warm wishes,


What are New Years?

For this 15th episode of the I Ching with Clarity podcast, I asked the oracle to explain the whole idea of a 'New Year' to me.

'What's a creative way to imagine New Year? What's its deeper significance?'

Yi responds with Hexagram 57, Subtly Penetrating, changing at lines 2 and 5 to 52, Stilling:

changing to

A short episode, this one, with only my voice. (Back to listener readings next month! And you're very welcome to share one of yours - you can book a reading here.) I hope you enjoy it, and I wish you a very happy New Year, where nothing fails to bear fruit.

The genius of the Daxiang (part 2)

In my last post, I talked about how the Daxiang paints pictures of individual hexagrams, as a whole. In this one, I'd like to try a change of perspective, zooming in and zooming out, to see what comes into focus.

Commentary on the lines

The Image builds on and humanises the Oracle text, but it's also worth considering whether it might offer commentary on your moving line(s) - especially (though not only) if you have line 5 moving.

Hexagram 5 is the obvious example, our cue to look for more:

'The clouds are above heaven. Waiting.
A noble one eats, drinks and relaxes with music.'

Hexagram 5, Image

'Waiting with food and drink.
Constancy, good fortune.'

Hexagram 5, line 5

But wait: there's more…


'Heaven and earth do not interact. Blocked.
A noble one uses her strength sparingly to avoid hardship.
She does not allow herself honours and payment.'

12, Image

'Resting when blocked.
Great person, good fortune.
It is lost, it is lost!
Tie it to the bushy mulberry tree.'


Why might you 'rest when blocked'? The Image explains - to avoid hardship. And also, perhaps, to hold fast to what matters and keep it alive: tie it to the bushy mulberry, and don't let yourself be sucked into the realm of a spiritually inert regime by accepting its rewards. Image and line text seem to dovetail.


'In the centre of the earth there is a mountain. Integrity.
A noble one reduces what is too much and increases what is diminished,
Weighing things up to even out their distribution.'

15, Image

'Not rich in your neighbour:
Fruitful to use this to invade and conquer.
Nothing that does not bear fruit.'


It might come as a bit of a jolt that 'Integrity' (or 'Modesty' or 'Humility' or 'Authenticity' depending on translation) is invading its neighbour for the sake of 'riches'. But perhaps the Image shows this in a different light, as a balancing, Robin-Hood-style redistribution of wealth?


'Above the mountain, there is water. Limping.
Noble one turns himself around to renew his character.'

39, Image

This Image works as commentary on lines 1, 3, 4 and 6 - all the lines that contrast 'going on, limping' with coming back (always a better idea). Don't just trudge mindlessly on and on; turn yourself around and renew your strength.

20.6 and 63.4

You'll most often find the Image working as commentary to the fifth line - but it's always worth a look, for any line. The Image of Hexagram 20…

‘Wind moves over the earth. Seeing.
The ancient kings studied the regions,
Saw the people,
And established their teachings.’

20, Image

…might cast most light on line 6:

'Seeing their lives.
The noble one is without mistake.'


And the Image of 63 -

'Stream dwells above fire. Already across.
A noble one reflects on distress and prepares to defend against it.'

63, Image

really seems to come into play with line 4:

'The leaks are plugged with clothes of silk
For the whole day, on guard.'


The Image and hexagram relationships

What if we zoom out, and compare the Images of different hexagrams? We know that contrasts and stories are a key part of how the Zhouyi as a whole creates its meaning - not least through large-scale trigram patterns in the Sequence. What did the Daxiang authors make of this?


There are a few striking, eye-opening contrasts between the Images of contrasting hexagrams. The one I first noticed, that sent me looking for more, was the opposition between the Images of complementary hexagrams 32 and 42:

compared to

'Thunder and wind, Lasting.
A noble one stands firm and does not change his bearings.'

32, Image

'Wind and thunder. Increasing.
A noble one sees improvement, and so she changes.
When there is excess, she corrects it.'

42, Image

The Image of Hexagram 42 might seem to go without saying - of course you would change whatever can be changed for the better. But the message comes into clearer focus if you read it alongside its opposite, Hexagram 32, and realise that such flexibility is a response to the time, not a universal good.

Some other examples…

Hexagram 19, Nearing -

'Above the lake is earth. Nearing.
A noble one teaches and reflects untiringly,
Accepts and protects the people without limit.'

19, Image

is the opposite of 33, Retreat -

'Below heaven is the mountain. Retreat.
A noble one keeps small people at a distance,
Not with hatred, but through respect.'

33, Image

And they naturally have opposite attitudes - limitless acceptance, versus distancing the small people.

24, Returning -

‘Thunder dwelling in the centre of the earth. Returning.
The ancient kings closed the borders at winter solstice.
Itinerant merchants did not travel,
The prince did not tour the regions.’

24, Image

is the opposite of 44, Coupling -

'Below heaven is the wind. Coupling.
The prince sends out mandates and commands to the four corners of the earth.'

44, Image

This one calls for more thought! The opposition is clear - closing the borders, versus sending messengers out far and wide - but how does it reflect the qualities of Returning and Coupling? Perhaps Returning is inwardly contained, and Coupling expansive and uncontainable. Well-buried thunder sets the rhythm of earth's seasons; wind joins with heaven, becoming a powerful heavenly mandate, not to be limited (as the woman is not to be married).

Jiao gua: swapped trigrams

Of course, Hexagrams 32 and 42 aren't only complementary - they're also jiao gua: the same trigrams, but swapped. So what about other pairs of 'swapped trigram' hexagrams - is there more to discover here?

One or two good ones, yes. For instance…

'Mountain rests on the earth. Stripping Away.
The heights are generous, and there are tranquil homes below.'

23, Image

'In the centre of the earth there is a mountain. Integrity.
A noble one reduces what is too much and increases what is diminished,
Weighing things up to even out their distribution.'

15, Image

Mountain and earth combined seem to suggest a kind of redistributive justice - perhaps because mountains (and bedrock) are always becoming earth.

And what about mountain and thunder?

'Below the mountain is thunder. Nourishment.
The noble one reflects on his words in conversation,
And is discriminating about what he eats and drinks.'

27, Image

'Above the mountain is thunder. Small Exceeding.
A noble one in actions exceeds in respect,
In loss exceeds in mourning,
In spending exceeds in economy.'

62, Image

Thunder echoing under the mountains or carrying over them - either way, it translates into a kind of self-conscious carefulness. With thunder contained below the mountain, the care is about what you put into circulation, with consequences that come back to you; as it rises above them, the care is more to do with what's irrecoverable - done, or lost, or spent.

And yet…

For every example I've given here of a relationship between Images - whether for complements or exchanged trigrams - I can find half a dozen where there's no apparent relationship at all, or where the connections simply come from trigram associations. There doesn't seem to be any systematic effort to point up contrasts between hexagrams.

So I'm coming to the conclusion that, unlike the creators of the original Zhouyi, the Daxiang authors focussed their attention on one hexagram at a time; they didn't contemplate the web of relationships. Sometimes, those relationships still come through in the texts, making the Image more resonant, even revealing hidden mysteries - but I have the feeling that's simply because the relationships are intrinsic to the hexagrams, and these writers really knew their hexagrams.

The Image in readings

At the end of all this, how do you use the Image in readings?

At its simplest, it's just good advice. Here is how the ideally responsive person would engage with the energies present here; this is what works.

Sometimes, people at the I Ching Community suggest inserting your own name into the Image text - 'A noble Sally keeps small people at a distance,' 'A noble Jack treads no path that is without ritual,' and so on. This may sound comical, but it's really not a bad idea. You're meant to put yourself in the shoes of the 'noble one' and do what they would do.

This still works for the other Image protagonists - ancient kings, princes and so on - though the model they offer might be more remote, and you might find yourself emulating them from a respectful distance. (I won't be establishing temples any time soon, nor yet founding cities to connect feudal lords or developing teachings for a whole nation, but I might be dedicating my work to spirit, looking after friendships, or looking for blog post topics.)

Two provisos, though -

Just as the moving lines take precedence over the primary hexagram in general, they also take precedence over the Image's advice. You might not be in a position to follow it. The noble one of 32 stands firm and does not change his bearings - unless, for instance, he's at line 1, in which case it's definitely time to rethink.

You might not have asked for advice at all. In a predictive or descriptive reading, it's good to remember that the Image shows an ideal response, not necessarily what to expect! Not every experience of Stripping Away is generous and tranquil; not all Great Exceeding is without fear or sadness. So if your reading is a prediction/ description, the Image might be a lot less relevant, except as 'here's what would help'.

But in general, this is a lovely Wing, tremendously helpful and almost always approachable. Look to see if it answers your questions about the Oracle text ('what am I supposed to do about this?'), and also whether it works as a commentary on the moving line(s). It offers you a new way of getting inside your reading, by understanding the trigrams, not as some kind of substitution cipher, but in relationship and as a way of being.

I Ching Community discussion

The genius of the Daxiang (part 1)

Introducing the Image

Sometimes we explain things to ourselves by comparing and contrasting - like the Zagua. Sometimes we tell stories, like the Xugua (Sequence of Hexagrams). And often, we paint mental pictures. The Yi is overflowing with pictures, of course - not least the ones created by its component trigrams. This is where the Daxiang, the 'Great Image', comes in.

We can all understand hexagrams in terms of their component trigrams, but the authors of the Daxiang were masters of this - especially of reading the trigrams as a relationship. I think it was Wilhelm who started a tradition of giving the Image equal billing with the original Zhouyi text (the Oracle/ Judgement and moving lines), and he had good reason. I think this is the most original and substantial of the Wings.

The format for the Image is simple: it names the component trigrams, and the hexagram, and then reads the trigrams as action - the ideal way to respond to such energy, or to embody it. Sometimes there will be a hint, in the way it describes the trigrams, of the relationship the authors were seeing there: 'Joined mountains, Stilling'; 'Thunder bursts forth from the earth, Enthusiasm'; 'Earth's centre gives birth to wood.' These are worth noticing!

The protagonist of the Image is normally the junzi - literally, the 'noble young one', not only a 'noble man' but also an ideally responsive learner. Then there are seven Images that instead feature the 'ancient kings', who not only find the best response in the moment, but also bequeath us their wise, harmonious patterns for living. And there are two with the 'prince', one with the 'great person', and one with 'those above'. (There must be a very good reason for each of these choices, but I've yet to grasp most of them.)

Moving pictures

The intriguing, unspoken part of the Image is how each trigram picture translates into that ideal action. Some examples…

17, Following

'At the centre of the lake is thunder. Following.
A noble one at nightfall
Goes inside for renewal and rest.'

Why would thunder at the centre of the lake be 'Following'?

I've come across two basic approaches to this. Wilhelm says that this is 'thunder in its winter rest,' and hence, 'the idea of following in the sense of adaptation to the demands of the time grows out of this image.' This reminds me of the story of the Chinese dragon over-wintering at the bottom of the mountain lake, before it soars out in Spring and brings rain. Thunder at the heart of the lake is resting, and so too does the noble one.

Yet is the thunder really completely asleep? Wang Bi didn't think so - he says, 'This is the image of how the activation of delight takes place.' Thunder for activation, lake for delight. But then he needs some contortions to explain why the activation of delight would mean going inside to rest:

'This is the image of how the activation of delight takes place. When all follow one with delight, one can then practice wuwei towards them and not let them belabor one's bright mirror. Thus "the noble one when faced with evening goes in to rest and leisure."’

R.J.Lynn, The Classic of Changes

Bradford Hatcher has a much more satisfying understanding: thunder's 'movement under the surface' is like a pulse, setting the rhythm for outward action, and for rest.

(Thunder as outer trigram typically looks like action and initiative. Inside, though, it can be more like this inner clock - think of hexagrams 24 and 25, and maybe also 27 and 3.)

55, Abundance

'Thunder and lightning culminate as one. Abundance.
A noble one decides legal proceedings and brings about punishment.'

Fire and light inside, thunder outside - but the Image doesn't pause to mention that; it only says that they 'culminate as one', or simply 'arrive together'. We know what that means: the storm is right on top of you now - an 'abundance' of light, noise and downpour.

For the noble one, inner clarity is translating into outward action. Like all the legal imagery, this can be tricky for us to relate to. It helps to think of courts in their simplest, idealised function: to perceive the truth and act on it. Here, insight results in consequences; in Hexagram 21, with the trigrams swapped, it's the other way about.

46, Pushing Upward

'Centre of the earth gives birth to wood. Pushing upward.
A noble one with docile character,
Builds up small things to attain the high and great.'

This is a picture immediately understandable to anyone who's ever planted a seed in the ground. For weeks or even months, as far as you can see, nothing happens. The wise farmer will go along with this patiently, knowing the seedling grows by increments, roots first. (I once planted an acorn that had fallen on the pavement. The root was coming out of the bottom of the pot long before the shoot appeared.) Natural growth doesn't skip steps.

59, Dispersing

'Wind moves above the stream. Dispersing.
The ancient kings made offerings to the Highest and established the temples.'

Wind over water suggests the steam rising from the sacred vessel, nourishing the spirits. Dispersing's trigram picture captures it in the moment of evaporation, just as it becomes the offering.

This is one of my favourite Images, because it tells us that the ancient temples were built not with rocks, but with wind and water (feng and shui). It tells us as succinctly as possible that what lasts is whatever moves and joins with the flow. (These ancient kings could have taught Ozymandias a few things.)


The Image doesn't just recap the original Zhouyi; it builds on it. If the Oracle text leaves you wondering, 'What could this look like?' the Image will probably have an answer. It humanises, and often re-imagines. More examples...

23, Stripping Away

The Image has a creative response to the pure negation of the Oracle for Stripping Away:

'Stripping away.
Fruitless to have a direction to go.'

'Mountain rests on the earth. Stripping Away.
The heights are generous, and there are tranquil homes below.'

Hexagram 23, Oracle and Image

Yes, this is a political analysis: to keep the lower classes quiet, those above - who 'rest on' them - need to provide. But more profoundly, it's re-imagining the 'energy diagram' of the hexagram, where the last yang line is being pushed out by rising yin, stripping away the last of purpose and direction. This can be a picture of mountains eroding, pouring mineral-rich soil into the valley year after year - and the mountains aren't panicking about this, or planning how to put a stop to it. And so we're given the insight that willing participation in stripping away creates tranquility.

49, Radical Change

'Radical change.
On your own day, there is truth and confidence.
Creating success from the source, constancy bears fruit.
Regrets vanish.'

So says the Oracle of Hexagram 49, but how will you know when it's your own day?

'In the centre of the lake there is fire. Radical Change.
A noble one calculates the heavenly signs and clarifies the seasons.'

This one's less of a picture, I think, and more like an 'energy diagram'. Inner awareness shines through the lake of interactions and all social existence. (We're only one line away from Hexagram 17, with the pulse of thunder at the heart of the lake.) Or… the light of the stars is set at the heart of the calendar that runs society. This was one of a new king's most important duties: to have the calendar rectified through astronomical observation, and bring the human world back into harmony with heaven.

40, Release

‘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.’

In case we miss the point of that deceptively-simple Oracle text, the Image of Release shows us a specific way this freedom of choice can manifest in human terms:

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

This is another that's immediately relatable: we know what the atmosphere feels like before and after a thunderstorm. Pardoning transgressions, forgiving crimes, the noble one joins in the work of relieving tension and clearing the air.

11, Flow

Among all the examples I could have picked, I couldn't omit this one. It's another favourite of mine.

'Heaven and Earth communicate. Flow.
The prince enriches and completes the dao of heaven and earth,
Upholds and assists the order of heaven and earth,
To support and protect the people.'

This is more complicated than most Images - and much more 'energy diagram' than picture, as you can't very well picture energy within matter. You have to imagine the communication of heaven and earth - the yang energy flowing up freely into the open yin lines above.

Maybe this one features the prince instead of the noble one because of its remoteness and sheer scale: working directly with the powers of heaven and earth isn't an everyday idea for most of us. (What works for me is the anachronistic idea of the prince setting up hydro-electric power plants where the river pours down the mountainside.)

But let me show you what I love about this one. Here's the name of the whole hexagram, Tai, the name of a sacred mountain:

At the top is da, 'great', a human figure standing firm. Below that is flowing water, flanked by two hands. LiSe pointed out that the whole looks a lot like a mountain with a river flowing down it.

And here are the two characters for what the prince does for the people, zuo 'support' and you 'protect':

As well as 'support' and 'protect', they also mean 'left hand' and 'right hand'. So the Image authors here have unpacked the name of the hexagram itself to bring out its human element, showing where we come in.

I Ching Community discussion

A patchwork of hexagrams

Introducing the Zagua

The Yi became the Yijing, a Classic book, as it grew its Ten Wings: ten bodies of commentary and reflections on the oracle and its hexagrams. The Zagua, 'Mixed hexagrams', is the tenth and last of these: a short, simple, rhyming description of the hexagrams in pairs. (Za 雜, 'mixed', implies a multi-coloured patchwork.) Each hexagram is associated with just one or two words, and contrasted with its pair:

'Creative Force is firm; the Earth is open.'

'Seeking Union means delight; the Army means grieving.'

...and so on.

Why it's a favourite of mine

The Zagua is one of my favourite Wings. To start with, this is because it's the only Wing that describes the hexagrams in their pairs. Hexagram pairs are a vital part of Yi's make-up and how it creates meaning, both within the miniature ecosystem of the pair itself, and also on a much larger scale: you typically find the big, beautiful patterns in the Sequence by looking at pairs instead of individual hexagrams.

The Zagua takes a straightforward approach: it draws a single contrast between two hexagrams. Many of these are very simple and direct -

'Shock begins. Stilling stops.'

Others are less so -

'Biting Through means eating; Beauty is without colour.'

(I think the underlying idea here is that Hexagram 21 takes things in, whereas 22 is about what's projected outward.)

It's always easier to grasp something when you can see what it isn't. If it's hard to relate to a reading, a simple thought experiment can help: 'If I'd received the paired hexagram, what would that have been saying? What would I have thought? Well… that's what it isn't saying.' The Zagua makes this contrast visible.

And finally, it does this in a very economical way. There are no explanations, no added theories, decidedly no metaphysical commentary - just the contrasts. I imagine this Wing might have been a teaching aid, something a wise teacher dreamt up to help their students recall the hexagrams. (Group them in pairs, and there's less to remember.) We get to slip in - just a little late - at the back of the class.

Not everyone appreciates simple

In my admiration for the Zagua, I seem to be in a rather small minority. Wilhelm includes it in Book III as 'Miscellaneous Notes', where he splits the text for each pair between hexagrams, making the contrast between them invisible. Hexagram 7: 'The Army means mourning.' Hexagram 8, four pages later: 'Holding Together is something joyous.' This seems to be a tradition - Lynn often does the same.

No wonder people find the Zagua 'banal', as Rutt puts it:

'Western writers have generally found it banal, if not embarrassing. Legge concluded that it was a mere jeu d'esprit. Joseph de Prémare, however, "the father of sinology", writing in August 1731…, said the last Wing was "the most profound of all the commentaries included in the Yijing."

If it is indeed profound, the depths are obscure…'

Richard Rutt, Zhouyi

(This is the first I've heard of Joseph de Prémare, but I like him already!)

Examples (things I've learned)

The simplicity of the Zagua can be deceptive: there's a lot to learn from it, and there are definitely some contrasts I've yet to understand fully. Some of my favourites, though…


'Opposing means outside. People in the Home means inside.'

It was reading this that finally made the penny drop for me about inverse hexagram pairs (pairs that are the same pattern of lines, turned upside-down): they're the same landscape, seen from a different perspective. The home has an inside and an outside; where there's an 'us', there's also a 'them'. What you see depends on where you stand.


'Clarity is above, the chasm is below.'

Another example of two hexagrams in a single landscape, though of course this is an opposite, not an inverse pair. This reminds me of the Chinese mythical landscape: the suns carried through the sky above, and the dark waters flowing under the earth. You can't have one without the other.


'Following has no causes. Corruption, and then order.'

Not a direct, crystal-clear contrast, this one. Following has 'no causes' because it simply is: one moment follows another, everything is unfolding as it should, and we can align ourselves with this and Follow. There's absolutely no call to dig in and search for why this is happening, its origins, the point where we might best apply a lever to create change. Change is creating itself. Sometimes we experience this as perfect order and synchronicity, and sometimes as anything but - yet it is 'no mistake', however we perceive it.

Hexagram 18 has exactly the same sense of unfolding, one thing following from another, but now there are causes to be uncovered, so you can bring order from the mess.


Just one more -

'Great Vigour means stopping, Retreating means withdrawing.'

This one grabs me because it avoids the obvious contrast: not advancing vs withdrawing, but stopping. Great Vigour doesn’t move for the sake of moving, and won't be pushed around; it stands its ground.

I Ching Community discussion

Repeating Chasms

In this fourteenth episode of the I Ching with Clarity podcast, Sasha shares a relationship reading: Hexagram 29, the Repeating Chasms, with no changing lines:

If you've ever wondered what to make of an unchanging reading, this one could be helpful: we take our time exploring the hexagram's atmosphere, its context - where it comes from, what it isn't saying - and, most importantly, what Sasha recognises about it.

I also experimented with adding an 'interlude' mid-reading to explain how I was using the patterns of the extended Sequence to tell more of the reading's story. Let me know whether that's useful!

If you'd like to have a reading in a future episode - it's free, of course - please book here.


The Yijing mentions rain several times - in Hexagram 9, and then in 38.6, 43.3, 50.3 and 62.5. What does it represent?

Wilhelm, writing about 50.3, has a succinct answer:

'The fall of rain symbolizes here, as in other instances, release of tension.'

Wilhelm is (here, as in other instances) spot on. But can we learn more by digging deeper?

When it doesn't rain

The Yi's first explicit mention of rain comes in the Oracle of Hexagram 9 - where it isn't raining:

'Small taming, creating success.
Dense clouds without rain
Come from our Western altars.'

Hexagram 9, Oracle

And then the exact same phrase is repeated at the other end of the book, in 62.5:

'Dense clouds without rain
Come from our Western altars.
The prince hunts with tethered arrows,
And gets the one living in a cave.'

Hexagram 62, line 5

In a time of Small Taming, we're building up our capacity in a small way, but it's not there yet, like the clouds are not raining yet. The Western altars indicate a connection with the Zhou people, who were gathering strength like massing clouds.

Schilling takes this one step further:

'Clouds are also a symbol of fruitfulness. That they travel over the western altars without raining indicates that union with the Shang princess will not lead to offspring.'

Dennis Schilling, Yijing, Das Buch der Wandlungen

This historical interpretation fits nicely within the tradition that rain means 'uniting yin and yang'.

The most important thing to understand is that rain is something we want. Minford mentions that there are many oracle bone inscriptions about rain, and they're generally about trying to get some: dancing, making music and sacrificing for rain. Song 210 describes the rain we hope for:

'A great cloud covers the heavens above,
Sends down snows thick-falling.
To them are added the fine rains of spring.
All is swampy and drenched,
All is moistened and soft,
Ready to grow the many grains.'

Book of Songs, trans. Arthur Waley/Joseph Allen

So this is what Hexagram 9 is missing - and so too is 62.5:

'Dense clouds without rain
Come from our Western altars.
The prince hunts with tethered arrows,
And gets the one living in a cave.'

Hexagram 62, line 5

I recently realised that 54.1.2 had good reason to remind us of 10.3. So… why might this be reminding us of Hexagram 9? I think it's drawing a contrast.

Small Taming is a time of 'not yet': no rain yet, the Zhou star not yet risen, not time to act yet. Instead, it's time for small-scale cultivation, preparation, developing alliances and being patient.

Small Exceeding is a quite different time - still acting in a small way, but now crossing the line, sending and receiving the message, making the transition. In a very rudimentary way, you can see the difference in the shape of the hexagrams:

compared to

So… this makes me think that the prince in 62.5 is dealing with the lack of rain. (Schilling actually thinks he is shooting arrows at the clouds to make it rain.) It's line 5, after all: time for the prince to use his tools and his authority and do the small things that may have big results.

An important theme of 62 is getting the message rather than just 'passing by' - and it's hard to imagine a more decisive connection than a corded arrow. The prince acts with the trigram zhen - thunder, swift movement, initiative - becoming dui, interaction (and, of course, water).

Field sees this line as describing Wen's success in 'bagging' the Shang. But I prefer Wilhelm's story here, of a ruler seeking out helpers. After all, the imagery is quite odd: corded arrows specifically for hunting and retrieving birds, mostly waterfowl, and there aren't many cave-dwelling birds. (In China, there are swiftlets - good luck shooting one of these with an arrow.) Perhaps there's a lost allusion to a particular story here, maybe something like the story of Yao finding Shun.

Rain at last: 9.6

'Already rained, already come to rest.
Honour the power it carries.
The wife's constancy brings danger,
The moon is almost full.
Noble one sets out to bring order - pitfall.'

Finally, in the last line of Small Taming, it's rained. As Wang Bi describes it, making it rain is the 'domestication' the hexagram achieves, as the yin outer trigram controls the pure yang inner trigram qian. For reliable rain, you would need a yin force strong enough to 'hold its ground' against the rising vapours of qian. The inner trigram is like the rising air of a warm front, bringing rain. (It sounds as though Wang Bi was paying attention in my GCSE geography class.)

The rain is good news: now we have heaven's favour and can start to grow our crops. Schilling associates this line with King Wen's wife Tai Si giving birth to heirs. It's the same basic idea: growth begins here; blessing is promised in future. If the gathering clouds meant gathering Zhou strength, then the rain means it's time to start more active preparations.

What of all the warnings, though? Danger with the wife's constancy, and pitfall for the noble one who sets out to bring order?

The rain 'carried' de, like a cart carries a load. De is power, and also a quality - virtue, or something's unique nature and way of being. I think this is advice to honour the quality of the time. The rain's brought energy and potential - and so now is the time to plant, watch over the growing seedlings, and wait. The line changes to Hexagram 5, Waiting.

The wife's constancy means danger. To be 'constant' is to be loyal and persistent, holding to what you know to be true; the wife's role is to create the home, ordering and securing the inner space. Freeman Crouch thinks this wife might be King Wen, safeguarding his own kingdom. In any case, this is someone seeking to hold onto what's been gained, and this is perilous. (Though not necessarily wrong-headed - not everything that's dangerous in the Yi is wrong.) The moon's almost full: things are on the cusp of change. As Bradford Hatcher put it, 'All these will continue for as long as the moon stays full. These are not things to found dynasties on.'

(Aside: I don't buy the idea that zhen, 'constancy', really means nothing more than 'divination'. In an oracular text, you wouldn't need to write 'divination of danger for the wife' - just 'danger for the wife' would do. Either zhen is a completely redundant word, or it means something more than 'divination'.)

The wife's constancy is dangerous, but the noble one's zheng, 'setting out to bring order', is disastrous. This is a step beyond securing the home, though it seems to come from the same basic desire for more security: setting out on a military expedition to set the world to rights. But this line changes to the trigram kan - flowing water, like falling rain, and also the flow of change and its dangers. There are limits to what can be secured. The noble one is needed at home, tending the fields, responding to changing conditions.

Rain brings good fortune: 38.6

'Opposed, alone.
Seeing pigs covered in muck,
The chariot loaded with devils.
At first drawing the bow,
Then relaxing the bow.
Not robbers at all, but matrimonial allies.
Going on meets the rain, and so there is good fortune.'

Hexagram 38, line 6

Pigs, mud, chariot, devils, archer, robbers, marriage and rain - a bewildering kaleidoscope of omens, and a fitting culmination for a hexagram of 'seeing differently'. It's possible that many of these images are constellations: you see the muddy pigs and devil-cart in the heavens. Field says that the rising Heavenly Boar in autumn marks the beginning of monsoon season. Minford writes,

'The Lunar Mansion known as the Ghost Cart corresponds to the constellation known to Western Astronomy as Cancer. Immediately south of this, in Canis Major and Puppis, is a Bow and Arrow, pointed at Sirius, the Dog Star (the Heavenly Wolf). According to Wolfram Eberhard, in southern China … "ghost cart" was the name of a special kind of owl, an evil bird which attacked children. It also had astrological connections and could appear as a comet.'

Minford, I Ching, the Book of Change

But in the end, the rain falls on us, down here on the earth, and that feels more important than all those ominous celestial signs. Wang Bi wrote, 'One places value on encountering rain, because it unites yin and yang. Once yin and yang are united, all suspicions will disappear.' As Wilhelm said, this rain brings the release of tension. It also seems to be a good marriage omen. Perhaps this is like Song 62, where Bo has marched boldly to war, and the woman left behind sings:

'Oh, for rain, oh, for rain!
And instead the sun shines dazzling.
All this longing for Bo
Brings weariness to the heart, aching to the head.'

Book of Songs, trans. Arthur Waley/Joseph Allen

38.6's rain brings union, and also seems to wash away misapprehensions, clearing the air for a longer view.

This line, by the way, changes the trigram li, fire, to zhen, thunder - not an explicitly watery trigram until you look at the character: 'rain' and 'moment'.

Rain washes away regrets: 50.3

'The vessel's ears are radically changed,
Its action blocked.
Rich pheasant fat goes uneaten.
Rain on all sides lessens regrets,
In the end, good fortune.'

Hexagram 50, line 3

Here's a truly revolutionary line: the vessel's ears (its carrying loops, but also literally 'ears', for listening) are being radically changed - the name of the paired hexagram, 49. It's all happening here… except that for now, nothing can happen. There's a 'closed for maintenance' sign hanging on this line: the vessel can't be used, the best food goes uneaten. How frustrating.

The frustration, of course, is very reminiscent of Hexagram 9: good things will happen, just not yet. But the rain (which might be coming from all directions, or just be coming soon) will change everything.

Wang Bi says 'rain is something that happens when yin and yang engage in intercourse free of one-sidedness and arrogance,' and that this is the eventual - much-blocked & delayed - meeting of lines 3 and 5. All commentators agree that this rain washes away sorrows, the regrets for the unused vessel and wasted food.

The line promises good fortune in the end. Rather like 9.6 (another change to the trigram kan), this is the turning point, just beginning a period of growth and change. (This line points you to Hexagram 64, Not Yet Across. Nothing's finished yet.)

Getting soaked: 43.3

'Vigour in the cheekbones means a pitfall.
Noble one decides, decides.
Goes alone, meets the rain,
And is indignant as if he were soaked through.
Not a mistake.'

Hexagram 43, line 3

In the other examples, we've seen rain bringing blessing and fertility, relieving tension and clearing the air. This line looks altogether different: this rain brings a soaking, and indignation. It's exactly the same event as in 38.6, though: 遇雨, 'meeting rain', 'getting caught in the rain'. Why the difference?

Line theory says the yang third line is humiliated because it's associated with the inferior yin line 6. Field suggests that the noble one goes 'hurry scurry' and gets wet because he's unprepared. All this is all very well, but it doesn't explain why being rained on should be a bad thing, only in this line.

And… actually, it isn't. This is 'no mistake'.

To go back to basics for a moment: rain brings a change of state. The frustration of 'not yet' ends in 9.6; tension and suspicion end in 38.6; blockage ends in 50.3. Rain brings change that gets things moving and working together, and the same is true of this line.

Vigour in the cheekbones - rigidity, firmness, preserving one's dignity - was disastrous, and the noble one's path is different. He decides, goes out and gets drenched. He may not be pleased about this, but he's also undergone a change of state, from isolated decision-making to wide open communication.

This line changes to Hexagram 58, the doubled trigram dui, whose actions include opening - even forcing open, in the face of resistance. (See Harmen on 'the salient', and how Samgirl described a Taoist practice she pursued in the face of her church's opposition: 'opening channels in me that have been closed for ages.') The noble one's been soaked through, fully exposed to the elements, and this is what makes things grow. This is a third line, after all, coming to the edge of the hexagram's inner space. Deciding isn't just an inner event: time to go out and meet some reality.

Rain's role

From these lines, I think a picture starts to emerge. It only rains in line 3 or line 6 - at the upper edge of a trigram, in its 'sky' line (if the trigram's three lines correspond to the three realms of earth, humanity and heaven). In other words, rain comes at the end, on the verge of a change of state. 'That's out of the way,' says the rain. 'Now we can begin.'

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