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,’
‘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.
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.
From the blog
As I was saying in my last post, Hexagram 61, Inner Truth has a hatchling in its name, and a crane with her young in it second line. Its paired hexagram is Hexagram 62, Small Exceeding -
is the pair and complement of
- and this has its own calling bird:
'Small exceeding, creating success, Constancy bears fruit. Allows small works, does not allow great works. A bird in flight leaves its call, Going higher is not fitting, coming down is fitting. Great good fortune.'
Hexagram 62, the Oracle
This bird flies through lines 1 and 6, too, where it doesn't fare so well. I've mentioned this in a previous post, 'Clarity and the flying bird', because those two lines change 62 to 30, Clarity, whose name also means the oriole. (I neglected to mention there that the name Hexagram 30, li 離, actually shows the bird and the net that catches it. Good for the bird-catcher; not good from the perspective of the bird, over in Hexagram 62.)
As I mentioned there, the lines of Hexagram 62 itself draw a picture of a bird in flight, as we see it from below:
Yi doesn't just tell us about the bird, it shows us with its lines.
And then, of course, those lines can move. Scott Davis points out how 56.6 also features the ill-fated bird...
'The bird burns its nest. Travelling people first laugh, afterwards cry out and weep. Lose cattle in Yi. Pitfall.'
Hexagram 56, line 6
...and this line changes to Hexagram 62:
The upper trigram of Hexagram 56, li,
represents all kinds of things with hard outsides protecting soft insides - tortoises, armour, gourds - so it makes sense that it should also describe a nest. And here the uppermost line is changing, the nest is burning away, revealing the image of the flying bird. Moving lines make moving pictures...
And then there is the 'good wine-vessel' to share - apparently a quite new image for the second half of the line. And yet...
The wine-vessel in question is a jue, used for pouring wine in rituals for the ancestors. Yet oddly, Schilling suggests the word could be read instead as 'sparrow'. How come? Here's a quotation from Karlgren's dictionary:
"The cup had the form of a bird (see Couvreur) and our tsiak here and 雀 tsiak small bird are etymologically the same word, hence [爵 is] sometimes used for 雀."
Karlgren (1923) as cited in Wenlin
I find it hard to see how this...
... is especially bird-shaped, but still... interesting coincidence?
The jue vessel in 61.2 is hao, 'good'. Here is the character hao, as it was written on oracle bones:
'Maybe increased by ten paired tortoise shells, Nothing is capable of going against this. From the source, good fortune.'
Hexagram 41, line 5
'Maybe increased by ten paired tortoise shells. Nothing is capable of going against this. Ever-flowing constancy, good fortune. The king uses this to make offerings to the supreme being: good fortune.'
Hexagram 42, line 2
That's Yi repeating itself, word for word, in the paired lines 41.2 and 42.5.
They're 'paired lines' because 41 and 42 are a pair of hexagrams: the same pattern of lines, but inverted:
41.2 and 42.5 are the same line in that pattern, just seen from the opposite perspective:
Because they're the same line, they have the same text; because of the contrast between them - between Decrease, offering, giving things up for the sake of something higher, and Increase, blessing, a time of plenty - there are subtle differences. Specifically, they use words from the beginning and end of the yuan heng li zhen formula that opens the whole book: yuan for Hexagram 41, good fortune at its source; zhen for 42, constancy's good fortune. As is often true, the first hexagram of the pair shows potential that is realised in the second, where the king can take advantage of this supremely auspicious moment.
Paired text in paired lines is an obvious sign of how carefully the Yijing is crafted. But it's the exception, not the rule - well, it would be a boring oracle if all its paired lines quoted one another. But why emphasise the pairing for these two lines in particular?
I believe this is a playful invitation for us to remember what else is used in divination and comes in pairs: tortoise shells - carapace goes with plastron, and also, plastromancy typically involved pairs of readings on the same issue. ('If we attack the hostile tribe, we will win.' 'If we attack them, we will maybe not win.')
(Aside - and another gem - Bradford Hatcher pointed out that tortoises are mentioned in three places in the Yi: in these two lines, and in Hexagram 27, line 1. Each of these hexagrams has a hard 'shell' of yang lines and a soft, yin interior.)
There are ten pairs of tortoise shells here. Generally speaking, numbers in the Yijing are more qualitative than quantitative: three days are a short time; ten years are a long time. Ten pairs of tortoise shells are a Very Emphatic Oracle: 'nothing is capable of going against it.'
However, with the Yi, I always wonder if there's more I haven't seen. When I counted ten pairs of tortoises hexagrams forward from Hexagram 41, I found myself at Hexagram 61, Inner Truth. And both 41.5 and 42.2 change to 61.
Hexagram 61 is about fu: trust, truth, the quality of presence and spiritual connection that makes this the perfect moment the king can use for offerings to the supreme being.
And let's look for a moment at the two lines that reach back ten pairs through the Sequence of Hexagrams to Decrease and Increase:
'Calling crane in the shadows, Her young respond in harmony. I have a good wine vessel, I will share with you, pouring it all out.'
Hexagram 61, line 2
'There is truth and confidence as a bond. No mistake.'
Hexagram 61, line 5
There is the bond that reaches across the 20-hexagram gap, and there is the call of the crane, so well-hidden in the shadows, and wine poured out, from one vessel to another...
...an invitation extended to us, through the structure of the oracle, to respond and share.
There's more than one way to engage with the trigrams that make up the Yi's hexagrams. The one that I find most engrossing - that most often shows me hidden beauties of the book, and most often makes for powerful, transformative readings (not unconnected!) - is to look at them in relationship.
When two trigrams are combined to make a hexagram, the result is more than just the sum of its parts. The trigrams connect with one another, interact, and paint a single picture. So to engage with the reading, you let your imagination play with the picture as a whole.
For instance, fire under the earth will feel quite different from fire under heaven. Perhaps fire under the earth is a charcoal burner's fire, earthed up and contained, in contrast to a campfire under the open sky. Or it might be sunset and darkness, with the sun 'inside' the earth, versus the constellations that appear suspended from the sky at night.
The trigram picture is often quite different from the hexagram's other imagery. Hexagram 28 is like a roof beam starting to bend, and it's also like the waters rising to swamp a tree. Hexagram 53 is like the flight of the geese, and like a river winding slowly towards the sea, and like a tree growing on a mountain. Each picture speaks to you in its own right, adding a new layer to your experience of the reading.
But sometimes, the trigram picture matches the hexagram, and everything fits together beautifully. For instance...
(This post's one of a series about the hidden gems of the Yijing. They may quite often describe things I've mentioned before, but I think they bear repeating.
The idea is to point to especially lovely or ingenious or playful ways that the Yi creates meaning and speaks to us - ways that we can easily miss, unless we look. With these posts, I hope to encourage curiosity about what else we might be missing.)
The oracle of Hexagram 4 reads,
'Not knowing, creating success. I do not seek the young ignoramus, the young ignoramus seeks me. The first consultation speaks clearly. The second and third pollute the waters, Polluted, and hence not speaking. Constancy bears fruit.'
And we tend to take a lot of notice of the part about the speaker not seeking the young ignoramus, especially since it usually feels like we're being put very firmly in our place.
But this is about the rest of the oracle - actually just three words, heng li zhen, translated above as 'creating success - bearing fruit - constancy'. These words are part of the mantic formula that opens the whole book, yuan heng li zhen: from the source, creating success, constancy bears fruit. Behind those meanings lie older ones: a successful, well-received offering, and a fruitful divination.
Only a select few hexagrams give all four words, but it's always interesting to see how they vary the formula. Some simply insert the name of the hexagram in place of yuan - Hexagram 31, for instance
'Influence, creating success. Constancy bears fruit. Taking a woman, good fortune.'
Hexagrams 58 and 62 do the same - and actually, so does Hexagram 4:
Except that the flow from heng to li zhen, from the offering to the fruitful divination, gets interrupted by the young ignoramus and her repeat questioning.
In other words, this passage doesn't just describe a disruption of the divinatory process through importunate questioning: it enacts it.
This kind of thing, using language to enact what it describes, gets modern literary critics very excited. But never mind them. The point is that this interruption to the familiar yuan heng li zhen formula (given in its entirety in Hexagrams 1, 2 and 3) makes us feel the disruptive effect of constant questioning - and then reassurance that, even when we're young and ignorant, constancy still bears fruit.
Lately, I've been noticing differences between approaches to the Yi. We might describe what we do in the same words - we all 'consult the oracle' - but what actually happens next is not at all the same thing. And I think these differences come down to how we conceive of the oracle we're consulting.
What is the Yijing, anyway?
The Yijing is (not) a skip
For some, I think it's basically a skip. You can tell, because their readings are like dumpster diving. Look into the depths of the skip with something in mind - maybe you want to build some raised beds and paths in your garden. And then the magic happens: you see what you need! Some lumber, or some paving slabs, or some crates you could take apart and reuse. Perfect!
Obviously, you will ignore most of the skip's contents, as most of it won't be relevant to you. You won't climb into the skip to meditate on its contents; you won't spend time contemplating the broken TV or that very dodgy-looking sofa, trying to understand why they're there or how they're meant to fit into your gardening plans. That would be ridiculous. It's a skip - full of stuff that got chucked in at random - so the skill is to be able to see what you need. Learn that skill, and the skip-Yi becomes a really useful tool.
Yi for me is... harder to describe. Here are two stories to give you an idea.
It's an ecosystem
As a teenager on my way to visit my great uncle Bill, I saw a field covered in starlings, with house martins darting to and fro above them. I watched this for a while, with no idea what was going on. Happily, I could ask Bill, who explained that the cranefly larvae were emerging. The starlings feasted on them on the ground, and the martins snatched them out of the air.
The birds were gathering for a reason, whether I understood it or not. Everything is connected. Bill was a naturalist who had loved, watched and learned from the countryside around him all his life, and so he could see what was there.
It's a symphony
Elgar was a great symphonist - not just for his melodies, harmonies and musical architecture, but especially for his orchestration: a real musician's musician, who understood orchestras and how they work from the inside. So his music is exquisitely well orchestrated: everything is idiomatic; everything is clear.
And yet a bright young thing was able to point out to Elgar where he'd slipped up: he'd written an entry for a woodwind player that was going to be completely inaudible - utterly drowned out by the rest of the orchestra.
Elgar simply pointed to what came next: a big solo for that same player. He'd written the inaudible entry to give them a chance to warm up.
Every note of the symphony is there for a reason, because the composer knew what he was doing. If each musician pays careful attention, gives all their skill to playing everything he wrote, the audience will hear something beautiful.
Of course, it's no use just to make blanket assertions about what the Yijing is. We need some examples - and I'll be posting about some of my favourites over the next few weeks.