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Confidence in Change

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:

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,
Hilary”

From the blog

Possibly the most Frequently Asked Question about interpreting readings:

‘This line says one thing, but that one says the opposite! How can I make sense of the reading when it contradicts itself?’

It happens a lot: you ask how to go about something, and one hexagram says it’s fruitful to cross the great river, and the other says not. Or you ask what if you try this, and one line says it’s wonderful and the next says it’s a disaster. This is genuinely confusing…

until you realise that Yi may talk about contexts as well as experiences, and causes as well as effects. In other words, it can say, ‘If… then…’ – and it does this quite often.

‘If… then…’ in one line

Sometimes it does this even within a single line. Think of the ones that explicitly describe two different kinds of people:

‘A prince makes a summer offering to the son of heaven.
Small people are in no way capable of this.’

or

‘Small people use vigour,
Noble one uses a net.
Constancy: danger.
The ram butts a hedge,
Entangles his horns.’

If you are like the prince, then you can make this offering; if you are like a small person, then you can’t. If you are using vigour, then you are being more like a small person, and you look disconcertingly like that ram.

Then there are lines that depict two alternative scenarios, but without making the distinction between them quite so obvious:

‘People in the home scold and scold,
Regrets, danger: good fortune.
Wife and child giggle and giggle.
In the end, shame.’

or

‘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.’

If there’s scolding in the household, then expect regrets and danger but good fortune, but if the woman is giggling with the children, then there’ll be shame in the end. If your strength is in your cheekbones, then this means misfortune – but if instead you are like the noble one who goes decisively into the rain and suffers the indignity of a soaking, then nothing will be wrong.

(How interesting that the first four examples I come up with of these ‘bifurcating’ lines are all third lines…)

‘If… then…’ in two (or more) lines

Suppose that instead of 34.3 (the example above with the ram), you received 34.4.6…

‘Constancy, good fortune.
Regrets vanish.
The hedge broken through, no entanglement.
Vigour in the axle straps of a great cart.’

‘The ram butts the hedge.
Cannot pull back, cannot follow through,
No direction bears fruit.
Hardship, and hence good fortune.’

…and suppose you’d asked a ‘what if?’ question, like ‘What if I take this up with them?’ or ‘What if I lodge a complaint?’ Now you have an answer that says both you will break through the hedge and be free, and that you’ll get hopelessly stuck. So which is it?

Well… if you are at line 4, then you break through; if you are at line 6, then you get stuck. Or… insofar as you act like line 4 or line 6, here’s what you can expect. Having a well-constructed cart with especially strong connecting pieces is one thing, and barging in relying just on your own muscle and unfortunately-curly horns is another. ‘What if I lodge a complaint?’ ‘Well, it depends how you go about it…’

Finding the ‘if’s

It can be trickier than that, of course. Suppose you ask a similar ‘What if I…?’ sort of question and Yi gives you 28.3.4 as your answer:

‘The ridgepole buckles.
Pitfall.’

‘The ridgepole at its peak, good fortune.
If there is more, shame.’

Since these lines can’t both be true at once (Schrödinger’s Ridgepole?), they must be alternatives. Either the ridgepole will just about hold up, which would be good, or it won’t, and that would be disastrous. But where’s the ‘if…’ to these ‘then’s? How can you tell which line you’re occupying/embodying, and how can you avoid line 3?

Yi is still telling you these things – just through the broader context instead of in the words of the line itself. There’s the difference between third and fourth lines in general, for instance: their position within the structure, the stance or approach they imply. Also, there are the zhi gua – the individual hexagrams created by each line’s change: line 3 alone would change to Hexagram 47, line 4 to Hexagram 48. So instead of, ‘If you’re acting more like a ram, then…’, this reading’s saying, ‘If your perspective on this is more like line 3, and if you’re approaching/feeling it in a more 47-ish way, then…’

And beyond those two essentials, line position and zhi gua – both covered in the Foundations Course – you could also look at the full line pathways, or the associated lines in the nuclear story, or each line’s position relative to the hexagram’s component trigrams. If you’re ready to look, then you’re likely to find all the clarity and distinctions and in-depth explanation you could want within your reading.

Tram tracks bifurcating

Name and Nature

The name of Hexagram 27 translates literally not as ‘Nourishment’ but as ‘Jaws’ – not something we call it, because shark. But it does help to remember that it’s not specifically about nourishment (of whatever kind), but rather about the framework that makes nourishment possible. Just looking at the shape of the hexagram itself, this is visible: it looks like an open mouth.

|::::|

‘Food,’ it says, ‘goes in here.’ Something like this –

Baby bird's gape

 

This can be about all kinds of nourishment – material, emotional, social, spiritual – and hence many kinds of supporting framework: economy, society, friendships, mental habits, spiritual practice, an oracle.

Searching my own journal for Hexagram 27 as primary hexagram, I find it’s tended to nudge me to look at objective supportive frameworks – the forum software, for instance. As relating hexagram it’s been more subjective, more to do with the motivating power of hunger of all kinds. It can describe the hunger for beauty, or connection, or meaning (I found 27 relating in several readings about readings) – but even when it’s pointing to a desire that might be met in material, practical ways (like a steady income), it’s still more to do with the emotional need (eg for security).

(Aside: being able to search your journal like this is the best way to take a deep dive into a hexagram’s real meaning. This is why search features are such a big part of the Resonance Journal. Recommended!)

Oracle

‘Nourishment: constancy brings good fortune.
See the jaws,
Your own quest for something real to fill your mouth.’

First of all, this hexagram calls for constancy: steadiness, persistence (maybe with a hint of doggedness), loyalty to truth. Then, I think, it goes on to specify what kind of constancy.

‘Jaws’ is the name of the hexagram, and ‘see’, here and in line 1, is the same word as the name of Hexagram 20, so it comes with echoes of that hexagram’s themes. This is a clear and strong exhortation to step back from action and see what’s really happening. (There aren’t any other hexagrams that tell you to ‘see’ them, so this is quite striking.)

What are your desires? How are your needs governing your behaviour?

The need for nourishment is simple, powerful and primal. In readings, this may be pointing to any strong hunger, from emotional neediness to material survival fears to spiritual thirst. There could be someone looking for admiration, or for the rent, or even to fill the void by buying another gadget. However, the next line speaks of your quest for ‘something real‘.

The word ‘real’ is 實, shi, and the early forms of the character show a string of cowries (ie cash) under a roof. (No imaginary money here, only hard cash.) It means true, substantial, solid, and also a fruit or seed.

If you are still hungry, chances are that you haven’t found real nourishment. It’s interesting that the word means ‘fruit’, as the nutritional value of fruit is what gave us our instinctive craving for sweet things. Then we invented refined sugar, which can’t satisfy our hunger. And this, of course, is a perfect image for any amount of emotional or spiritual ‘junk food’. Receiving Hexagram 27 is a good cue to stop and ask about the real underlying need.

The Sequence (small scale)

Nourishment follows from Hexagram 26, Great Taming:

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

It could hardly be simpler or more literal: we need farmers and their ‘taming’ skill to feed us. And then, of course, you need to translate this image to the kind of nourishment in your own reading. What reserves do you need, what must you cultivate, what skills will you foster, so that ‘there can be nurturing’?

The Sequence (slightly larger scale)

Looking at the bigger context in the Sequence of hexagrams, you can see that this is a turning point. Starting with hexagrams 21 and 22, every hexagram pair of the 20s has had thunder as an inner trigram in one hexagram, and mountain as the outer trigram of its pair. The initiative of inner thunder encounters different situations, and outer mountain tries to absorb and contain them. The effect is one of experiments, trials and that wonderful euphemism, the ‘learning experience’.

And then in Hexagram 27, inner thunder and outer mountain come together: inner spark with outer stability, both experimenting and integrating. The combination creates a great mix of questions: ‘What to do here? How do I engage?’ joining with ‘What do I take in? How do I grow from this?’ to make ‘How can I find nourishment?’

Although in the larger scale of things, Hexagram 27 represents equilibrium in contrast to the imbalance of Hexagram 28, its inner workings (as represented in the moving line texts) are pretty fraught. Much as 13 is about trying to create Harmony among People, so 27 is about the search for complete, dependable nourishment. The question is, how can we have a structure that’s both strong enough to hold, and also flexible enough to work? The willow tree of 28 is one answer; the jaws are another…

Trigrams and Image

…because, if you think about it, your jaws are solid and yet mobile (and wouldn’t be much use to you if they were only one or the other). This is also portrayed in the component trigrams: thunder below, that moves (like the lower jaw) and mountain above, that doesn’t (like the upper).

The Image authors contemplated this landscape of mountain and thunder, and seem most of all to have heard how the thunder echoes:

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

The noble one joins thunder and mountain by coupling his impulse to act with reflection and discrimination. I imagine thunder as the desire to speak up, as hunger and thirst, and mountain as the conscious ‘container’ for those impulses.

An interesting feature here is that the noble one isn’t only thinking about what he consumes, but also what he sends out into the world. I believe the Image authors were exceptionally skilful readers of the ancient text. Here, it seems they saw how the line texts progress towards the top line, where you might become not only a consumer but an ‘origin of nourishment.’

Lines

The line texts make clear that balanced, successful nourishment is not straightforward. Just reading through them, one after another, you can see they have as much to do with rejecting nourishment as receiving it. They don’t describe a stable status quo – it’s much more often about rejecting what’s available and yearning after something more and different.

Lines 2 and 4 talk about unbalanced nourishment/jaws – a word that means something is toppled, upset, turned on its head. (Brad Hatcher uses ‘top-heavy’ in one line and ‘subverted’ in the other.) In the context (looking to the hilltop, and the tiger’s gaze), this seems to be about the unbalancing power of desire – more wanting than the existing framework can contain.

Lines 2 and 5 speak of ‘rejecting the standard’ – the standard, 經 jing, is the word that subsequently came to mean ‘Classic’, as in Yijing – the canonical works. Its original meaning: the warp threads of a loom, around which everything else is woven. Traditional interpretation says that this is someone turning away from the right path – and that may be so, but they’re certainly rejecting what’s normal or paradigmatic or ‘just how it’s done’. The jing is what holds everything together in its current pattern: without it, the weave will unravel and the pattern will vanish.

There’s an unusually straightforward pattern to the lines: the lower trigram is ill-omened, the upper trigram is favourable – even ‘rejecting the standard’ and ‘unbalanced nourishment’ become auspicious. What might be behind this? Perhaps the different natures of the two component trigrams?

Thunder is active by definition: moving, hankering, aspiring to something distant. It can’t simply be present – there’s no such thing as thunder that isn’t in motion. ‘Seeing’, the name of 20, recurs in line 1 – but whereas in the oracle you were ‘seeing the jaws’, becoming aware of what’s present, now you’re looking at someone else. To expect your nourishment to come from elsewhere, and push away what’s available here and now, is destabilising and disempowering.

Mountain is still and solid – and this is the outer world, so there’s scope for real, effective action here. Lines 4-6 have progressively more ownership of nourishment. The tiger has claws and teeth to match his intense desire, so he’s supremely capable of feeding himself – yet not on the same level as the less spectacular humans of line 5, who can make their dwelling in one place because they will grow their own food…

‘Rejecting the standard,
Dwelling here with constancy: good fortune.
Cannot cross the great river.’

An old meaning of ‘dwelling here with constancy: good fortune’ is ‘divination for a settlement: good fortune’. Here is the steadiness advocated by the oracle, now associated with settling down and staying put.

It’s interesting that this also begins with ‘rejecting the standard’: settling down is not the same as accepting convention. Perhaps it has overtones of ‘opting out of the rat race’? This is the only line that doesn’t mention ‘jaws’/’nourishment’, and I imagine that could be because it feels confident that it’s settling in a good place, where rain will fall and the crops will grow, and we can trust in heaven and care for one another (see the fan yao, 42.5). We’re not equipped to cross rivers, but being here will be enough.

And then line 6 is at the ‘origin of nourishment’ – ‘origin’ 由 representing a sprout in a field, or a sprouting seed. It’s a perilously exposed position – everything’s up to you, there is no safety net – but auspicious and empowered. This one can cross rivers, carrying all he needs with him.

Simple

Two lines in Hexagram 7, the Army, talk about carting corpses:

line 3:

‘Perhaps the army carts corpses.
Pitfall.’

and line 5:

‘The fields have game
Fruitful to speak of capture:
No mistake.
When the elder son leads the army,
And younger son carts corpses:
Constancy, pitfall.’

The core meaning is surely intuitively obvious: an army with cartloads of corpses is not doing well. It’s like a much grimmer version of ‘having baggage’ – and in readings, that understanding works well.

Not so simple

But then Steve Marshall brought out The Mandate of Heaven, with its fascinating insights into the allusions to Zhou history in the text of the oracle. He pointed out that the word ‘shi’, corpse, could be singular as well as plural, and so this looked like a reference to the story of King Wu taking his father’s corpse with him in a war chariot when he set out against the Shang.

The enigmatic ‘Questions of Heaven’ poem is the earliest source for the story:

‘Wu rose up and slaughtered Chou [the last Shang king].
What need had he to worry?
He bore a body into battle.
What need had he for haste?’

(‘Shi’ can be translated equally well as ‘corpse’ or the ‘spirit tablet’ that would house Wen’s spirit, but Marshall follows those who read this as the more outrageous action of taking the body itself.)

The idea is that, before the prescribed three years of mourning for his father were completed, Wu received clear omens that it was time to march on Shang – and so he had to set out, taking the desiccated, unburied corpse in its chariot to lend Wen’s spiritual authority to the campaign. The ‘sons’ of line 5 are Wen’s sons, Wu and probably the Duke of Zhou. Despite this egregious breach of filial piety, their campaign was successful.

So since the Zhou triumphed, and this is the oracle of the Zhou for whom this was an unambiguously Good Thing, why the bad omens?

Explaining the omens

Marshall himself referred to a (later) tradition that there were bad omens for this campaign from both tortoise and yarrow omens, but a bold general threw away the yarrow stalks and stomped on the tortoise shells, saying, ‘What do withered bones and dead plants know about good luck or bad luck!’ They marched on, and won anyway.

This, though, leaves us with an almighty puzzle about the lines. When we consult Yi and it says,

‘Perhaps the army carts corpses.
Pitfall.’

– are we supposed to spot the historical reference and not take the omen too seriously? Did we consult the oracle just so it could remind us that oracles sometimes get it wrong? (‘Don’t believe me; I’m a liar.’) The irony seems a bit much. (And the idea of stomping on the sacred tortoise, which comes from a 1st century AD source, seems anachronistic.)

Stephen Karcher incorporated many of Marshall’s discoveries in his Total I Ching, and his solution to this conundrum is simply to add text of his own, ‘borrowed’ from Hexagram 55:

“The Legions are carting the corpse.
‘Perhaps stay in mourning?’ Trap! The Way closes.”

So the bad omen becomes associated instead with not marching out with the corpse, ‘carrying your inspiration with you’. (Though he also incorporates the traditional understanding, and encourages you to be rid of old, dead ideas.)

I puzzled over this one when working on my own book, and settled on the idea that just because exceptional measures worked then, in the Golden Age, it doesn’t mean they’ll work now. I found an elegant literary parallel at work: carting the corpse is like carting a precedent of great emotional significance to you, and not a good idea.

‘The corpses used to be filled with vitality, but now they’re just dead weight. The mindset, strategy or emotion that used to be an inspiring source of strength is now a lifeless husk.’ (As you can probably tell, I also had in mind the fan yao, 46.3, with its once-lively empty city.) I found this refinement of the original ‘gruesome baggage’ idea also worked well in readings, so I’ve got quite attached to it.

Perhaps it is simple, after all

But then came Stephen Field’s Duke of Zhou Changes, in which he says that the occasion on which Wu carted the corpse into battle was the first of two marches on the Shang, one from which he turned back because of bad omens.

Marshall knew of this story and didn’t find it credible – but since then, David Pankenier has correlated it very exactly to astronomical signs.

In this version of Zhou history, Wu marched east to the Fords of Meng in 1048BC, only two years after his father’s death. He followed the path of Jupiter, as it moved east across the night sky. But then Jupiter suddenly paused and went retrograde, and when they arrived at the Fords they were met by atrocious weather and bad omens from both tortoise and yarrow. Wu rejected the urging of his bellicose generals and retreated back to the Zhou homeland. Two years later, there were spectacularly favourable celestial omens, similar to those that first gave his father Wen Heaven’s Mandate, and he marched out and conquered.

Oh.

So perhaps those cryptic lines in ‘Questions of Heaven’ are suggesting that Wu didn’t need to be in such a hurry, after all? And two-part structure of 7.5 makes more sense:

‘The fields have game
Fruitful to speak of capture:
No mistake.
When the elder son leads the army,
And younger son carts the corpse:
Constancy, pitfall.’

On the one hand, talking about the prospect of a successful campaign is no mistake. On the other hand, carrying your idea through with constancy, actually marching out with the corpse, is a bad idea.

I started realising just how beautifully this version of Zhou history resonates with the Yijing text when looking at the Sequence, and specifically the set of 10 hexagrams that revolve around the axis of hexagrams 11 and 12. I have a course to finish writing on that… but for now, suffice to say that the oracle of Hexagram 12,

‘Blocking it, non-people.
Noble one’s constancy bears no fruit.
Great goes, small comes.’

looks to me more than anything like the terrible experience of marching all the way to the Fords with the best of intentions, only to find that stars and natural omens and both oracles are all against you, so there’s nothing for it but to turn back.

Also, perhaps this is relevant to lines 6.2 (zhi 12) and 6.4?

One more hint

More and more, I’m finding Yi has a lot of answers hidden in plain sight. In this case, 7.3.5 changes to Hexagram 48, the Well:

‘The Well. Moving the city, not moving the well.
Without loss, without gain,
They come and go, the well wells.
Almost drawn the water, but the rope does not quite reach the water,
Or breaking one’s clay jug,
Pitfall.’

This is a beautiful hexagram, but also highly unusual in having an omen of misfortune in its main oracle text. It specifically describes the misfortune of almost making it, but not quite. 48 is not quite 49: we need better preparations, a fully-lined well, a longer rope and a new jug before the Revolution.

Line 3 of Hexagram 37, People in the Home, is full of noise and emotion:

‘People in the home scold and scold,
Regrets, danger: good fortune.
Wife and child giggle and giggle.
In the end, shame.’

What’s the story behind this?

Traditional interpretation…

Read any traditional translation – Wilhelm/Baynes, Lynn, or Tuck Chang – and you find a clear, if slightly anodyne, message: disciplining the family severely brings regret but is ultimately fortunate, especially compared with laxity, which leads to shame in the end.

The word I’ve translated ‘danger’ can also be translated as ‘harsh, severe’, so a variant would be ‘repenting this severity is good fortune’ (Balkin) or ‘too great severity brings remorse’ (Wilhelm/Baynes).

So overall the line advocates the middle ground: repenting an excess of severity is good, but if respect is lost, you’ll regret that too, so better to err on the side of harshness. The general assumption, of course, is that discipline is imposed, more or less successfully, by the husband. (I think it’s more important that the wife has joined the children, when here in the home it is her constancy that bears fruit. It sounds as though she’s abdicated her adult responsibilities.)

…and modern uncertainties

Contrast this with the very honest, perfectly unadorned translation by Margaret Pearson:

‘The family goes “shyow-shyow.” Remorse and danger, but good fortune.
Wife and children go “shee-shee.” In the end, distress.’

She adds a simple footnote:

‘It is unclear which emotions are associated with these sounds. The first may indicate anger or joy; the second may be happy.’

And this does seem to be the truth of the matter. ‘Shee-shee’ is probably laughter, but the first word seems to mean just ‘noise’, and perhaps ‘shout’. So translators are forming their own ideas of what this means, and then replacing the noise-words with ‘scold’, ‘giggle’ etc. The traditional idea of scolding and laughter comes from this being a yang line at a yang place, hence doubly strong and perhaps too harsh, and being part of two fire trigrams – the lower trigram and also the upper nuclear trigram – and hence perhaps over-heated.

Modernist translators, for whom these things aren’t a factor, sometimes come up with different pictures. Rutt has ‘a household complaining’ and ‘women and children chuckling and giggling’. Field, splendidly, has ‘the family squawks and bellyaches’.

Two especially interesting – very different – pictures come from Minford in the second part (‘Bronze Age Oracle’) part of his book, and Redmond.

Minford translates the noises as ‘wails and moans’ and ‘giggle and snigger’ and interprets, ‘The contrast is between a family that suffers, but learns from its suffering, and a spoilt, wealthy family whose frivolity leads to ruin.’

Redmond goes along with Wilhelm/Baynes and translates ‘regretting harsh scolding is auspicious.’ In the scene he reconstructs, a male authority figure is too severe, the wife and children giggle nervously, and he regrets having frightened them.

This is all intriguing, but how are we to know what to make of the line in readings?

I suggest we use our experience, and have a look at the wider context.

Understanding from experience

Most of the experience I can draw on with this line is confidential, but there is one personal example that seems to act as a really good metaphor for all the rest. You may already have read this story in WikiWing (if you’re not a member, you can join here), but here it is again anyway –

I’d cast 37.3 as a weekly reading, and the ‘main event’ of the week came as I was cycling home one afternoon. I glanced briefly over my shoulder and pulled out gently onto an empty road – and a horn BLARED right behind me. A double-decker bus had come to a screeching halt almost on top of me, and its driver was leaning on the horn, swearing and gesticulating.

My first reaction – after the cringeing terror – was to be angry with the driver; my next was to laugh it off. Presently this sequence of reactions reminded me of the line, and I thought I should probably learn something from this, like ‘pay more attention before pulling out’. (A little later, I also got round to being grateful to the bus driver for a) swearing and honking to be sure I got the message and b) having good reactions so I wasn’t a smear on the tarmac.)

‘People in the home honk! honk!

I think that first ‘shyow-shyow’ is just the noise made by something in your ‘home’, your space, that you hadn’t realised was there. The home can be a shared space, a relationship, a work project or just a mental space: in all cases, there is a factor here you need to know about, and it will make noise to ensure you notice it.

Often this means someone will literally start shouting, but it can also be any message that interrupts your thinking. It could be a financial reality that intrudes; it could also be emotional, a matter of someone else’s perspective you weren’t aware of. Other people or other factors in the home do not fit with your ideas and beliefs. Just because the bus is silent (one of those modern dual-fuel ones!) doesn’t mean the road is empty; just because X hasn’t said anything before now doesn’t mean he is happy with this.

Literally or metaphorically, there’s a bus. This may come as a shock (the trigram change is from fire to thunder), and you may wish it wasn’t there, or that you hadn’t blithely put yourself in its way. Nonetheless, there it is. You should, in fact, be glad to know about it; you do need to take it into account now. You might be able to “shee-shee” at it and trundle along for a while longer unscathed, but ‘in the end, shame’.

Understanding from context

(To show where some of the above comes from, and flesh it out a bit more…)

Line 3

To start with, this is the third line of People in the Home, and third lines are often fraught. Specifically, they often mention danger (the word occurs far more often in line 3 than any other position). This is because they’re just at the threshold between inner and outer trigrams, or inner and outer worlds: the place where your ideas are about to come face to face with outer realities. Sometimes line 3 is nervous and unsure about this impending transition; sometimes it’s too full of itself to notice. Anyone who’s taught the oldest year group of a junior school will recognise the mindset.

So at line 3 of Hexagram 37, your idea of your home space isn’t going to be enough any more; you need to become aware of everything in your environment. This line says ‘Danger, good fortune,’ something Wilhelm often translates in other lines as ‘with awareness of danger, good fortune’. I think that might be a good fit here.

Actually, this isn’t unlike Bradford Hatcher‘s take on the line – that bringing things into the open, even heatedly, represents an opportunity to sort them out. Stephen Karcher in Total I Ching has a similar idea: time to ‘clean house’ of old habits and past mistakes, whereas ‘giggling’ amounts to just letting things go on as before. The protagonist of this line only goes really wrong if s/he fails to sit up and take notice. That’s the meaning of ‘shame’ – or ‘distress’, as LiSe translates it:

“If it is part of an answer: wrong or distressing emotions are involved. If you change them, then very often harm can be avoided. Not bothering is one of the oldest meanings: not taking care of things means distress is sure.”

That’s the key distinction here: between regret, which implies noticing you’ve gone wrong and changing tack, and shame:

“Rather than an intuition that it’s time to change direction, shame is often the consequence of not having changed direction. (‘Constancy brings shame’ or ‘Going on, shame’.) By continuing in unawareness, you run yourself into greater difficulty; shame can also mean being stuck.”

(from the Language of Change glossary)

Changing to 42

This line changes to 42 – but why would the Increase of People in the Home be so loud and uncomfortable? What’s the connection?

In my book, I suggested, ‘An influx of energy intensifies emotions, challenges the established ways and puts the relationships in the home to the test.’ The simplest way to see this is that it’s People in the Home, with more – more energy, more ideas, more purpose. If there are latent differences in the home, turning up the volume like this will magnify them.

42 says,

‘Increasing, fruitful to have a direction to go.
Fruitful to cross the great river.’

– so it is tremendously energetic, wanting to take purposeful action and commit to something new. And in practice, when it’s about larger-scale things than cycling home, the line does often seem to be about people with big plans and grand ideas. Which is all good, of course, provided you notice what wasn’t in your plans.

The line pathway

A ‘line pathway’ is a route between related lines that you can travel to explore the themes and implications of the line you cast. Beginning at the cast line, it first crosses to the zhi gua and then looks back towards the cast hexagram along the fan yao, the ‘reverse line’. 37.3 changes to 42, and 42.3 goes the other way, back to 37:

changes to

and

changes to

‘People in the home scold and scold,
Regrets, danger: good fortune.
Wife and child giggle and giggle.
In the end, shame.’

‘Increased by means of disaster work,
Not a mistake.
With truth and confidence, moving to the centre,
Notify the prince using a jade baton.’

Then we reverse things in another dimension, as it were, by walking round 42 to look at it from the other end and see Hexagram 41. 41/42 is a single pattern of lines –

||¦¦¦|

– seen from opposing directions; line 4 of one is line 3 of the other. So we wander over to 41.4…

‘Decreasing your affliction,
Sending the message swiftly brings rejoicing.
Not a mistake.’

Then back across the bridge, as it were, of changing the line. 41.4 takes us to 38, and 38.4 links back to 41. Looking both ways at once –

← →

‘Opposed, alone.
Meet an inspiring man.
Joining together in trust,
Danger, no mistake.’

Finally, looking at 38 –

||¦|¦|

– from the other end would show you 37, with 38.4 the same line as 37.3. We’ve walked all the way round.

The sequence of this walkabout isn’t important – the interesting part is exploring the different perspectives to see what they can tell you about the original line.

42.3 might show something you’re aware of or a way you have of seeing things when you’re at 37.3. ‘Increased by disaster work’ or just ‘Increased by bad things happening’ – that’s the belief behind many interpretations of the line, that severity, or being made aware of problems, or bringing them into the open, will be useful to you.

The line goes on to describe how the ‘increase’ is possible: when you act truly and confidently and notify the prince. Field, for one, thinks that this notification is that the city needs to be moved – not a welcome message, but a useful one. In any case, it’s important to get the message to the centre, speak truth to power. And 41.4, the paired line, has the same core idea: send the message to make the necessary changes.

This pathway of lines connects the domestic space with affairs of state – two realms that were seen as naturally connected. You can imagine the message of change transmitted along the wire, out from the home and into the larger concerns of princes and messengers: there is disquiet, the disharmony is felt at the very heart of the home; this must be a sign that we need to change.

And on the other hand, you can imagine the message of change travelling back from 41/42 to 37/38. When it reaches the orphan, outside the home, it appears as an inspiring, vital connection. To join with and trust it is still dangerous, but not a mistake. (Perhaps it feels like decreasing an affliction.) But when it enters the ordered space of the home, it comes as disruption and is greeted with complaints – or a reluctance to take it seriously.

Car horn

I’ve treated myself to another new Yi book – Geoffrey Redmond’s I Ching (Book of Changes) – a critical translation of the ancient text – and it got me thinking about the different aspects of the book that are visible to different people.

The good…

To start, though, a sort-of book review. There’s a lot to appreciate about Redmond’s work: a sense of humour and unpretentious straightforwardness that permeate the book; how widely-read he is (not just the ‘obvious’ people like Rutt, Kunst and Shaughnessy, but also SJ Marshall and Bradford Hatcher); his desire to make ordinary sense of the lines, and rejection of unnecessary character substitutions.

So far I’ve found the chapters surrounding the translation – on the Zhouyi’s composition and ideas – particularly interesting. I’m still reading through the translation  itself, and it has quite a few intriguing little, ‘Huh, never thought of seeing it that way…’ moments. 9.3, for instance: ‘Like the cart scolding the wheel, husband and wife quarrel.’

He says that the book is meant for ‘reconstruction of the early meanings’, not for divination, ‘but it can be used for this purpose, though with some exercise of imagination.’ (Damn, just as we were hoping for a text that would enable us to divine without use of imagination…)

Still, he also writes sensitively about divination. He’s done readings himself (and scholars willing to admit to this in public are still a fairly rare breed) – not with any expectation that Yi will speak and reveal the unknown, but with an active interest all the same. He has given some thought to what divination implies about the world (‘the nature of the Zhouyi itself implies a deeper reality that can be accessed through the use of the book for divination’), and what it might have been like 3,000 years ago, and includes a section to explain the ‘quality of the time’.

(Then he does rather spoil this impression of divinatory knowhow by giving a perfectly accurate table of yarrow/16-bead vs 3-coin probabilities, only to say, twice, that he prefers beads because they mean fewer changing lines overall. This while looking at a chart that shows 3+1 possibilities for changing lines in one method, and 2+2 in the other. Odd.)

Also interesting is what he writes about oral traditions, the beginnings of writing, and what gives words charisma. He adds the intriguing idea that some of the words of the text are not so much ‘what the oracle says’ as what the diviner must recite: yuan heng li zhen not a prognostication but an invocation; ‘no blame’ perhaps said to ward off blame.

…and the ridiculous

Redmond is apparently privy to a whole lot of knowledge about what the Zhouyi definitely doesn’t contain.

‘Of the wisdom for which I Ching has been admired, not much is to be found in the Western Zhou text.’

The division into Upper and Lower Canons ‘has no thematic significance.’

‘There is no sign of literary creativity in the work.’

I wonder how he knows?

He does actually explain the beliefs that give rise to this kind of thing. For instance, yuan heng li zhen is an invocation to be recited at the beginning of every divination, and hence ‘when incomplete or omitted from the written text, it would be assumed.’ It would follow that the differences in what’s in fact in the written text – all four characters together, or none, or a subset, or with interpolations – are accidental, barely real at all. Hexagram 4, for instance, where the phrase heng li zhen is interrupted by the passage about an importunate diviner whose repeated questions interrupt the flow of divination – nothing to see here. Certainly not a sign of literary creativity, anyway…

His core assertion is this:

‘The unit of meaning is not the chapter, nor entire line text, nor the sentence, but the phrase. Put bluntly, the Zhouyi is a collection of scraps. Thus a line of text often assembles phrases without evident thematic relationship.’

and again,

‘Confusion is greatly reduced once it is recognized that the fundamental unit of meaning in the Zhouyi is not the chapter, nor paragraph (of which there are none), nor even the line, but the phrase. Phrases within the judgments or numbered lines are only sometimes related to each other.’

I’ve spent uncountable hours asking myself questions like, ‘Why would a harmonious gathering at the ancestral temple mean shame?’ Redmond doesn’t actually assume all such questions are pointless (for 13.2 he suggests the gathering might be to atone for an error, which is not a bad idea), but he does give himself a ready-made answer.

Confusion might be reduced this way, or at least interpretation might become a whole lot less time-consuming, but meaning is reduced too – and I’m not sure he doesn’t create almost as many translation and interpretation problems for himself as he solves. 51.2, for instance:

‘Thunder comes, harshly.
Many thousands of cowry shells for the funeral.
Ascend nine times to the burial mound.
Do not pursue, in seven days will be obtained.’

There are some intriguing ideas here: the thousands of cowries as a funeral offering, giving ‘funeral’ instead of ‘lost’; nine ascents of a single burial mound instead of nine hills. But as to what might be obtained after seven days, it’s impossible to say.

Or 62.6:

‘Not meeting but passing.
Soaring birds in the distance, ominous.
Truly called a calamitous mistake!’

Redmond says, ‘It is hard to make any connection between the phrases here’. Really? Hard to connect ‘not meeting but passing’ with ‘soaring birds in the distance’ when line 5 was about a successful hunt with arrows? But then if the unit of meaning is the phrase, the preceding line certainly can’t help.

What you see depends on where you stand

That’s always true – Yi interpretation just makes it more obvious than usual.

‘The unit of meaning is the phrase’ for Redmond. If two phrases in a line don’t make sense together, that doesn’t matter – we don’t understand because there’s nothing there to be understood.

He theorises that the Zhouyi was put together by compilers who were presented with a collection of divinatory phrases and sayings gathered from across the realm, and told to arrange them somehow among the hexagrams. (‘To be fair to the compilers, given that they had to work with a collection of randomly chosen phrases, they made the best they could with the material they had. To give an analogy, putting the phrases together into an organized book would have been comparable to taking documents out of a paper shredder and trying to make sense of them.’) All the phrases had to go somewhere, after all.

For Stephen Field, the unit of meaning seems to be the hexagram. He finds more myth and history in the hexagrams than anyone, so that his Hexagram 23 becomes a step-by-step story of Wang Hai, and 46 becomes the history of Danfu’s ‘Great Climb’ to a new Zhou homeland. This means he has a tremendously coherent concept of each hexagram. But there are also things he doesn’t see – notably, he seems to see the book more as a compilation of stories and divination records than as a working oracle, so that for him it doesn’t matter if the omens make no sense in relation to the stories.

For Bradford Hatcher, I think it’s also the hexagram: he often tells people that they need to remember which hexagram they’re reading in order to understand a line text. But he draws the line there, and is likely to mention apophenia and/or pareidolia when anyone starts finding meaningful patterns in the Sequence. (Which always means I have to stop and look them up again…) And many authors who comment on the Sequence would agree: if you can’t say why 35 follows 34, that’s because there is no reason why. Every hexagram had to go somewhere.

Stephen Karcher clarified that we need to be aware of the pair as a unit, not just the hexagram.

And at the opposite extreme from Redmond is Scott Davis, for whom the Sequence as a whole conveys meaning. It was Davis who introduced me to the possibility that the text of one hexagram can refer to others and their position within the Sequence. Since that had never occurred to me before, I’d never thought to look for such things, and – in a couple of decades of staring at the book pretty much every day – had never seen any. Now Davis has stirred me from this oblivious state, it’s amazing what becomes visible. (Redmond, we can be fairly sure, isn’t going to translate ‘in seven days return’ and start counting 7 hexagrams forward from 24; he already knows that the division into Upper and Lower Canons has no significance!)

What we’ll see depends on where we stand and what we can imagine seeing. Of course that works both ways, and there’s such a thing as an over-active imagination. But let’s keep our certainties to a minimum…

Scott Hilburn rhino comic

 

From the I Ching Community

Possibly the most Frequently Asked Question about interpreting readings:

‘This line says one thing, but that one says the opposite! How can I make sense of the reading when it contradicts itself?’

It happens a lot: you ask how to go about something, and one hexagram says it’s fruitful to cross the great river, and the other says not. Or you ask what if you try this, and one line says it’s wonderful and the next says it’s a disaster. This is genuinely confusing…

until you realise that Yi may talk about contexts as well as experiences, and causes as well as effects. In other words, it can say, ‘If… then…’ – and it does this quite often.

‘If… then…’ in one line

Sometimes it does this even within a single line. Think of the ones that explicitly describe two different kinds of people:

‘A prince makes a summer offering to the son of heaven.
Small people are in no way capable of this.’

or

‘Small people use vigour,
Noble one uses a net.
Constancy: danger.
The ram butts a hedge,
Entangles his horns.’

If you are like the prince, then you can make this offering; if you are like a small person, then you can’t. If you are using vigour, then you are being more like a small person, and you look disconcertingly like that ram.

Then there are lines that depict two alternative scenarios, but without making the distinction between them quite so obvious:

‘People in the home scold and scold,
Regrets, danger: good fortune.
Wife and child giggle and giggle.
In the end, shame.’

or

‘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.’

If there’s scolding in the household, then expect regrets and danger but good fortune, but if the woman is giggling with the children, then there’ll be shame in the end. If your strength is in your cheekbones, then this means misfortune – but if instead you are like the noble one who goes decisively into the rain and suffers the indignity of a soaking, then nothing will be wrong.

(How interesting that the first four examples I come up with of these ‘bifurcating’ lines are all third lines…)

‘If… then…’ in two (or more) lines

Suppose that instead of 34.3 (the example above with the ram), you received 34.4.6…

‘Constancy, good fortune.
Regrets vanish.
The hedge broken through, no entanglement.
Vigour in the axle straps of a great cart.’

‘The ram butts the hedge.
Cannot pull back, cannot follow through,
No direction bears fruit.
Hardship, and hence good fortune.’

…and suppose you’d asked a ‘what if?’ question, like ‘What if I take this up with them?’ or ‘What if I lodge a complaint?’ Now you have an answer that says both you will break through the hedge and be free, and that you’ll get hopelessly stuck. So which is it?

Well… if you are at line 4, then you break through; if you are at line 6, then you get stuck. Or… insofar as you act like line 4 or line 6, here’s what you can expect. Having a well-constructed cart with especially strong connecting pieces is one thing, and barging in relying just on your own muscle and unfortunately-curly horns is another. ‘What if I lodge a complaint?’ ‘Well, it depends how you go about it…’

Finding the ‘if’s

It can be trickier than that, of course. Suppose you ask a similar ‘What if I…?’ sort of question and Yi gives you 28.3.4 as your answer:

‘The ridgepole buckles.
Pitfall.’

‘The ridgepole at its peak, good fortune.
If there is more, shame.’

Since these lines can’t both be true at once (Schrödinger’s Ridgepole?), they must be alternatives. Either the ridgepole will just about hold up, which would be good, or it won’t, and that would be disastrous. But where’s the ‘if…’ to these ‘then’s? How can you tell which line you’re occupying/embodying, and how can you avoid line 3?

Yi is still telling you these things – just through the broader context instead of in the words of the line itself. There’s the difference between third and fourth lines in general, for instance: their position within the structure, the stance or approach they imply. Also, there are the zhi gua – the individual hexagrams created by each line’s change: line 3 alone would change to Hexagram 47, line 4 to Hexagram 48. So instead of, ‘If you’re acting more like a ram, then…’, this reading’s saying, ‘If your perspective on this is more like line 3, and if you’re approaching/feeling it in a more 47-ish way, then…’

And beyond those two essentials, line position and zhi gua – both covered in the Foundations Course – you could also look at the full line pathways, or the associated lines in the nuclear story, or each line’s position relative to the hexagram’s component trigrams. If you’re ready to look, then you’re likely to find all the clarity and distinctions and in-depth explanation you could want within your reading.

Tram tracks bifurcating

Name and Nature

The name of Hexagram 27 translates literally not as ‘Nourishment’ but as ‘Jaws’ – not something we call it, because shark. But it does help to remember that it’s not specifically about nourishment (of whatever kind), but rather about the framework that makes nourishment possible. Just looking at the shape of the hexagram itself, this is visible: it looks like an open mouth.

|::::|

‘Food,’ it says, ‘goes in here.’ Something like this –

Baby bird's gape

 

This can be about all kinds of nourishment – material, emotional, social, spiritual – and hence many kinds of supporting framework: economy, society, friendships, mental habits, spiritual practice, an oracle.

Searching my own journal for Hexagram 27 as primary hexagram, I find it’s tended to nudge me to look at objective supportive frameworks – the forum software, for instance. As relating hexagram it’s been more subjective, more to do with the motivating power of hunger of all kinds. It can describe the hunger for beauty, or connection, or meaning (I found 27 relating in several readings about readings) – but even when it’s pointing to a desire that might be met in material, practical ways (like a steady income), it’s still more to do with the emotional need (eg for security).

(Aside: being able to search your journal like this is the best way to take a deep dive into a hexagram’s real meaning. This is why search features are such a big part of the Resonance Journal. Recommended!)

Oracle

‘Nourishment: constancy brings good fortune.
See the jaws,
Your own quest for something real to fill your mouth.’

First of all, this hexagram calls for constancy: steadiness, persistence (maybe with a hint of doggedness), loyalty to truth. Then, I think, it goes on to specify what kind of constancy.

‘Jaws’ is the name of the hexagram, and ‘see’, here and in line 1, is the same word as the name of Hexagram 20, so it comes with echoes of that hexagram’s themes. This is a clear and strong exhortation to step back from action and see what’s really happening. (There aren’t any other hexagrams that tell you to ‘see’ them, so this is quite striking.)

What are your desires? How are your needs governing your behaviour?

The need for nourishment is simple, powerful and primal. In readings, this may be pointing to any strong hunger, from emotional neediness to material survival fears to spiritual thirst. There could be someone looking for admiration, or for the rent, or even to fill the void by buying another gadget. However, the next line speaks of your quest for ‘something real‘.

The word ‘real’ is 實, shi, and the early forms of the character show a string of cowries (ie cash) under a roof. (No imaginary money here, only hard cash.) It means true, substantial, solid, and also a fruit or seed.

If you are still hungry, chances are that you haven’t found real nourishment. It’s interesting that the word means ‘fruit’, as the nutritional value of fruit is what gave us our instinctive craving for sweet things. Then we invented refined sugar, which can’t satisfy our hunger. And this, of course, is a perfect image for any amount of emotional or spiritual ‘junk food’. Receiving Hexagram 27 is a good cue to stop and ask about the real underlying need.

The Sequence (small scale)

Nourishment follows from Hexagram 26, Great Taming:

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

It could hardly be simpler or more literal: we need farmers and their ‘taming’ skill to feed us. And then, of course, you need to translate this image to the kind of nourishment in your own reading. What reserves do you need, what must you cultivate, what skills will you foster, so that ‘there can be nurturing’?

The Sequence (slightly larger scale)

Looking at the bigger context in the Sequence of hexagrams, you can see that this is a turning point. Starting with hexagrams 21 and 22, every hexagram pair of the 20s has had thunder as an inner trigram in one hexagram, and mountain as the outer trigram of its pair. The initiative of inner thunder encounters different situations, and outer mountain tries to absorb and contain them. The effect is one of experiments, trials and that wonderful euphemism, the ‘learning experience’.

And then in Hexagram 27, inner thunder and outer mountain come together: inner spark with outer stability, both experimenting and integrating. The combination creates a great mix of questions: ‘What to do here? How do I engage?’ joining with ‘What do I take in? How do I grow from this?’ to make ‘How can I find nourishment?’

Although in the larger scale of things, Hexagram 27 represents equilibrium in contrast to the imbalance of Hexagram 28, its inner workings (as represented in the moving line texts) are pretty fraught. Much as 13 is about trying to create Harmony among People, so 27 is about the search for complete, dependable nourishment. The question is, how can we have a structure that’s both strong enough to hold, and also flexible enough to work? The willow tree of 28 is one answer; the jaws are another…

Trigrams and Image

…because, if you think about it, your jaws are solid and yet mobile (and wouldn’t be much use to you if they were only one or the other). This is also portrayed in the component trigrams: thunder below, that moves (like the lower jaw) and mountain above, that doesn’t (like the upper).

The Image authors contemplated this landscape of mountain and thunder, and seem most of all to have heard how the thunder echoes:

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

The noble one joins thunder and mountain by coupling his impulse to act with reflection and discrimination. I imagine thunder as the desire to speak up, as hunger and thirst, and mountain as the conscious ‘container’ for those impulses.

An interesting feature here is that the noble one isn’t only thinking about what he consumes, but also what he sends out into the world. I believe the Image authors were exceptionally skilful readers of the ancient text. Here, it seems they saw how the line texts progress towards the top line, where you might become not only a consumer but an ‘origin of nourishment.’

Lines

The line texts make clear that balanced, successful nourishment is not straightforward. Just reading through them, one after another, you can see they have as much to do with rejecting nourishment as receiving it. They don’t describe a stable status quo – it’s much more often about rejecting what’s available and yearning after something more and different.

Lines 2 and 4 talk about unbalanced nourishment/jaws – a word that means something is toppled, upset, turned on its head. (Brad Hatcher uses ‘top-heavy’ in one line and ‘subverted’ in the other.) In the context (looking to the hilltop, and the tiger’s gaze), this seems to be about the unbalancing power of desire – more wanting than the existing framework can contain.

Lines 2 and 5 speak of ‘rejecting the standard’ – the standard, 經 jing, is the word that subsequently came to mean ‘Classic’, as in Yijing – the canonical works. Its original meaning: the warp threads of a loom, around which everything else is woven. Traditional interpretation says that this is someone turning away from the right path – and that may be so, but they’re certainly rejecting what’s normal or paradigmatic or ‘just how it’s done’. The jing is what holds everything together in its current pattern: without it, the weave will unravel and the pattern will vanish.

There’s an unusually straightforward pattern to the lines: the lower trigram is ill-omened, the upper trigram is favourable – even ‘rejecting the standard’ and ‘unbalanced nourishment’ become auspicious. What might be behind this? Perhaps the different natures of the two component trigrams?

Thunder is active by definition: moving, hankering, aspiring to something distant. It can’t simply be present – there’s no such thing as thunder that isn’t in motion. ‘Seeing’, the name of 20, recurs in line 1 – but whereas in the oracle you were ‘seeing the jaws’, becoming aware of what’s present, now you’re looking at someone else. To expect your nourishment to come from elsewhere, and push away what’s available here and now, is destabilising and disempowering.

Mountain is still and solid – and this is the outer world, so there’s scope for real, effective action here. Lines 4-6 have progressively more ownership of nourishment. The tiger has claws and teeth to match his intense desire, so he’s supremely capable of feeding himself – yet not on the same level as the less spectacular humans of line 5, who can make their dwelling in one place because they will grow their own food…

‘Rejecting the standard,
Dwelling here with constancy: good fortune.
Cannot cross the great river.’

An old meaning of ‘dwelling here with constancy: good fortune’ is ‘divination for a settlement: good fortune’. Here is the steadiness advocated by the oracle, now associated with settling down and staying put.

It’s interesting that this also begins with ‘rejecting the standard’: settling down is not the same as accepting convention. Perhaps it has overtones of ‘opting out of the rat race’? This is the only line that doesn’t mention ‘jaws’/’nourishment’, and I imagine that could be because it feels confident that it’s settling in a good place, where rain will fall and the crops will grow, and we can trust in heaven and care for one another (see the fan yao, 42.5). We’re not equipped to cross rivers, but being here will be enough.

And then line 6 is at the ‘origin of nourishment’ – ‘origin’ 由 representing a sprout in a field, or a sprouting seed. It’s a perilously exposed position – everything’s up to you, there is no safety net – but auspicious and empowered. This one can cross rivers, carrying all he needs with him.

Simple

Two lines in Hexagram 7, the Army, talk about carting corpses:

line 3:

‘Perhaps the army carts corpses.
Pitfall.’

and line 5:

‘The fields have game
Fruitful to speak of capture:
No mistake.
When the elder son leads the army,
And younger son carts corpses:
Constancy, pitfall.’

The core meaning is surely intuitively obvious: an army with cartloads of corpses is not doing well. It’s like a much grimmer version of ‘having baggage’ – and in readings, that understanding works well.

Not so simple

But then Steve Marshall brought out The Mandate of Heaven, with its fascinating insights into the allusions to Zhou history in the text of the oracle. He pointed out that the word ‘shi’, corpse, could be singular as well as plural, and so this looked like a reference to the story of King Wu taking his father’s corpse with him in a war chariot when he set out against the Shang.

The enigmatic ‘Questions of Heaven’ poem is the earliest source for the story:

‘Wu rose up and slaughtered Chou [the last Shang king].
What need had he to worry?
He bore a body into battle.
What need had he for haste?’

(‘Shi’ can be translated equally well as ‘corpse’ or the ‘spirit tablet’ that would house Wen’s spirit, but Marshall follows those who read this as the more outrageous action of taking the body itself.)

The idea is that, before the prescribed three years of mourning for his father were completed, Wu received clear omens that it was time to march on Shang – and so he had to set out, taking the desiccated, unburied corpse in its chariot to lend Wen’s spiritual authority to the campaign. The ‘sons’ of line 5 are Wen’s sons, Wu and probably the Duke of Zhou. Despite this egregious breach of filial piety, their campaign was successful.

So since the Zhou triumphed, and this is the oracle of the Zhou for whom this was an unambiguously Good Thing, why the bad omens?

Explaining the omens

Marshall himself referred to a (later) tradition that there were bad omens for this campaign from both tortoise and yarrow omens, but a bold general threw away the yarrow stalks and stomped on the tortoise shells, saying, ‘What do withered bones and dead plants know about good luck or bad luck!’ They marched on, and won anyway.

This, though, leaves us with an almighty puzzle about the lines. When we consult Yi and it says,

‘Perhaps the army carts corpses.
Pitfall.’

– are we supposed to spot the historical reference and not take the omen too seriously? Did we consult the oracle just so it could remind us that oracles sometimes get it wrong? (‘Don’t believe me; I’m a liar.’) The irony seems a bit much. (And the idea of stomping on the sacred tortoise, which comes from a 1st century AD source, seems anachronistic.)

Stephen Karcher incorporated many of Marshall’s discoveries in his Total I Ching, and his solution to this conundrum is simply to add text of his own, ‘borrowed’ from Hexagram 55:

“The Legions are carting the corpse.
‘Perhaps stay in mourning?’ Trap! The Way closes.”

So the bad omen becomes associated instead with not marching out with the corpse, ‘carrying your inspiration with you’. (Though he also incorporates the traditional understanding, and encourages you to be rid of old, dead ideas.)

I puzzled over this one when working on my own book, and settled on the idea that just because exceptional measures worked then, in the Golden Age, it doesn’t mean they’ll work now. I found an elegant literary parallel at work: carting the corpse is like carting a precedent of great emotional significance to you, and not a good idea.

‘The corpses used to be filled with vitality, but now they’re just dead weight. The mindset, strategy or emotion that used to be an inspiring source of strength is now a lifeless husk.’ (As you can probably tell, I also had in mind the fan yao, 46.3, with its once-lively empty city.) I found this refinement of the original ‘gruesome baggage’ idea also worked well in readings, so I’ve got quite attached to it.

Perhaps it is simple, after all

But then came Stephen Field’s Duke of Zhou Changes, in which he says that the occasion on which Wu carted the corpse into battle was the first of two marches on the Shang, one from which he turned back because of bad omens.

Marshall knew of this story and didn’t find it credible – but since then, David Pankenier has correlated it very exactly to astronomical signs.

In this version of Zhou history, Wu marched east to the Fords of Meng in 1048BC, only two years after his father’s death. He followed the path of Jupiter, as it moved east across the night sky. But then Jupiter suddenly paused and went retrograde, and when they arrived at the Fords they were met by atrocious weather and bad omens from both tortoise and yarrow. Wu rejected the urging of his bellicose generals and retreated back to the Zhou homeland. Two years later, there were spectacularly favourable celestial omens, similar to those that first gave his father Wen Heaven’s Mandate, and he marched out and conquered.

Oh.

So perhaps those cryptic lines in ‘Questions of Heaven’ are suggesting that Wu didn’t need to be in such a hurry, after all? And two-part structure of 7.5 makes more sense:

‘The fields have game
Fruitful to speak of capture:
No mistake.
When the elder son leads the army,
And younger son carts the corpse:
Constancy, pitfall.’

On the one hand, talking about the prospect of a successful campaign is no mistake. On the other hand, carrying your idea through with constancy, actually marching out with the corpse, is a bad idea.

I started realising just how beautifully this version of Zhou history resonates with the Yijing text when looking at the Sequence, and specifically the set of 10 hexagrams that revolve around the axis of hexagrams 11 and 12. I have a course to finish writing on that… but for now, suffice to say that the oracle of Hexagram 12,

‘Blocking it, non-people.
Noble one’s constancy bears no fruit.
Great goes, small comes.’

looks to me more than anything like the terrible experience of marching all the way to the Fords with the best of intentions, only to find that stars and natural omens and both oracles are all against you, so there’s nothing for it but to turn back.

Also, perhaps this is relevant to lines 6.2 (zhi 12) and 6.4?

One more hint

More and more, I’m finding Yi has a lot of answers hidden in plain sight. In this case, 7.3.5 changes to Hexagram 48, the Well:

‘The Well. Moving the city, not moving the well.
Without loss, without gain,
They come and go, the well wells.
Almost drawn the water, but the rope does not quite reach the water,
Or breaking one’s clay jug,
Pitfall.’

This is a beautiful hexagram, but also highly unusual in having an omen of misfortune in its main oracle text. It specifically describes the misfortune of almost making it, but not quite. 48 is not quite 49: we need better preparations, a fully-lined well, a longer rope and a new jug before the Revolution.

Line 3 of Hexagram 37, People in the Home, is full of noise and emotion:

‘People in the home scold and scold,
Regrets, danger: good fortune.
Wife and child giggle and giggle.
In the end, shame.’

What’s the story behind this?

Traditional interpretation…

Read any traditional translation – Wilhelm/Baynes, Lynn, or Tuck Chang – and you find a clear, if slightly anodyne, message: disciplining the family severely brings regret but is ultimately fortunate, especially compared with laxity, which leads to shame in the end.

The word I’ve translated ‘danger’ can also be translated as ‘harsh, severe’, so a variant would be ‘repenting this severity is good fortune’ (Balkin) or ‘too great severity brings remorse’ (Wilhelm/Baynes).

So overall the line advocates the middle ground: repenting an excess of severity is good, but if respect is lost, you’ll regret that too, so better to err on the side of harshness. The general assumption, of course, is that discipline is imposed, more or less successfully, by the husband. (I think it’s more important that the wife has joined the children, when here in the home it is her constancy that bears fruit. It sounds as though she’s abdicated her adult responsibilities.)

…and modern uncertainties

Contrast this with the very honest, perfectly unadorned translation by Margaret Pearson:

‘The family goes “shyow-shyow.” Remorse and danger, but good fortune.
Wife and children go “shee-shee.” In the end, distress.’

She adds a simple footnote:

‘It is unclear which emotions are associated with these sounds. The first may indicate anger or joy; the second may be happy.’

And this does seem to be the truth of the matter. ‘Shee-shee’ is probably laughter, but the first word seems to mean just ‘noise’, and perhaps ‘shout’. So translators are forming their own ideas of what this means, and then replacing the noise-words with ‘scold’, ‘giggle’ etc. The traditional idea of scolding and laughter comes from this being a yang line at a yang place, hence doubly strong and perhaps too harsh, and being part of two fire trigrams – the lower trigram and also the upper nuclear trigram – and hence perhaps over-heated.

Modernist translators, for whom these things aren’t a factor, sometimes come up with different pictures. Rutt has ‘a household complaining’ and ‘women and children chuckling and giggling’. Field, splendidly, has ‘the family squawks and bellyaches’.

Two especially interesting – very different – pictures come from Minford in the second part (‘Bronze Age Oracle’) part of his book, and Redmond.

Minford translates the noises as ‘wails and moans’ and ‘giggle and snigger’ and interprets, ‘The contrast is between a family that suffers, but learns from its suffering, and a spoilt, wealthy family whose frivolity leads to ruin.’

Redmond goes along with Wilhelm/Baynes and translates ‘regretting harsh scolding is auspicious.’ In the scene he reconstructs, a male authority figure is too severe, the wife and children giggle nervously, and he regrets having frightened them.

This is all intriguing, but how are we to know what to make of the line in readings?

I suggest we use our experience, and have a look at the wider context.

Understanding from experience

Most of the experience I can draw on with this line is confidential, but there is one personal example that seems to act as a really good metaphor for all the rest. You may already have read this story in WikiWing (if you’re not a member, you can join here), but here it is again anyway –

I’d cast 37.3 as a weekly reading, and the ‘main event’ of the week came as I was cycling home one afternoon. I glanced briefly over my shoulder and pulled out gently onto an empty road – and a horn BLARED right behind me. A double-decker bus had come to a screeching halt almost on top of me, and its driver was leaning on the horn, swearing and gesticulating.

My first reaction – after the cringeing terror – was to be angry with the driver; my next was to laugh it off. Presently this sequence of reactions reminded me of the line, and I thought I should probably learn something from this, like ‘pay more attention before pulling out’. (A little later, I also got round to being grateful to the bus driver for a) swearing and honking to be sure I got the message and b) having good reactions so I wasn’t a smear on the tarmac.)

‘People in the home honk! honk!

I think that first ‘shyow-shyow’ is just the noise made by something in your ‘home’, your space, that you hadn’t realised was there. The home can be a shared space, a relationship, a work project or just a mental space: in all cases, there is a factor here you need to know about, and it will make noise to ensure you notice it.

Often this means someone will literally start shouting, but it can also be any message that interrupts your thinking. It could be a financial reality that intrudes; it could also be emotional, a matter of someone else’s perspective you weren’t aware of. Other people or other factors in the home do not fit with your ideas and beliefs. Just because the bus is silent (one of those modern dual-fuel ones!) doesn’t mean the road is empty; just because X hasn’t said anything before now doesn’t mean he is happy with this.

Literally or metaphorically, there’s a bus. This may come as a shock (the trigram change is from fire to thunder), and you may wish it wasn’t there, or that you hadn’t blithely put yourself in its way. Nonetheless, there it is. You should, in fact, be glad to know about it; you do need to take it into account now. You might be able to “shee-shee” at it and trundle along for a while longer unscathed, but ‘in the end, shame’.

Understanding from context

(To show where some of the above comes from, and flesh it out a bit more…)

Line 3

To start with, this is the third line of People in the Home, and third lines are often fraught. Specifically, they often mention danger (the word occurs far more often in line 3 than any other position). This is because they’re just at the threshold between inner and outer trigrams, or inner and outer worlds: the place where your ideas are about to come face to face with outer realities. Sometimes line 3 is nervous and unsure about this impending transition; sometimes it’s too full of itself to notice. Anyone who’s taught the oldest year group of a junior school will recognise the mindset.

So at line 3 of Hexagram 37, your idea of your home space isn’t going to be enough any more; you need to become aware of everything in your environment. This line says ‘Danger, good fortune,’ something Wilhelm often translates in other lines as ‘with awareness of danger, good fortune’. I think that might be a good fit here.

Actually, this isn’t unlike Bradford Hatcher‘s take on the line – that bringing things into the open, even heatedly, represents an opportunity to sort them out. Stephen Karcher in Total I Ching has a similar idea: time to ‘clean house’ of old habits and past mistakes, whereas ‘giggling’ amounts to just letting things go on as before. The protagonist of this line only goes really wrong if s/he fails to sit up and take notice. That’s the meaning of ‘shame’ – or ‘distress’, as LiSe translates it:

“If it is part of an answer: wrong or distressing emotions are involved. If you change them, then very often harm can be avoided. Not bothering is one of the oldest meanings: not taking care of things means distress is sure.”

That’s the key distinction here: between regret, which implies noticing you’ve gone wrong and changing tack, and shame:

“Rather than an intuition that it’s time to change direction, shame is often the consequence of not having changed direction. (‘Constancy brings shame’ or ‘Going on, shame’.) By continuing in unawareness, you run yourself into greater difficulty; shame can also mean being stuck.”

(from the Language of Change glossary)

Changing to 42

This line changes to 42 – but why would the Increase of People in the Home be so loud and uncomfortable? What’s the connection?

In my book, I suggested, ‘An influx of energy intensifies emotions, challenges the established ways and puts the relationships in the home to the test.’ The simplest way to see this is that it’s People in the Home, with more – more energy, more ideas, more purpose. If there are latent differences in the home, turning up the volume like this will magnify them.

42 says,

‘Increasing, fruitful to have a direction to go.
Fruitful to cross the great river.’

– so it is tremendously energetic, wanting to take purposeful action and commit to something new. And in practice, when it’s about larger-scale things than cycling home, the line does often seem to be about people with big plans and grand ideas. Which is all good, of course, provided you notice what wasn’t in your plans.

The line pathway

A ‘line pathway’ is a route between related lines that you can travel to explore the themes and implications of the line you cast. Beginning at the cast line, it first crosses to the zhi gua and then looks back towards the cast hexagram along the fan yao, the ‘reverse line’. 37.3 changes to 42, and 42.3 goes the other way, back to 37:

changes to

and

changes to

‘People in the home scold and scold,
Regrets, danger: good fortune.
Wife and child giggle and giggle.
In the end, shame.’

‘Increased by means of disaster work,
Not a mistake.
With truth and confidence, moving to the centre,
Notify the prince using a jade baton.’

Then we reverse things in another dimension, as it were, by walking round 42 to look at it from the other end and see Hexagram 41. 41/42 is a single pattern of lines –

||¦¦¦|

– seen from opposing directions; line 4 of one is line 3 of the other. So we wander over to 41.4…

‘Decreasing your affliction,
Sending the message swiftly brings rejoicing.
Not a mistake.’

Then back across the bridge, as it were, of changing the line. 41.4 takes us to 38, and 38.4 links back to 41. Looking both ways at once –

← →

‘Opposed, alone.
Meet an inspiring man.
Joining together in trust,
Danger, no mistake.’

Finally, looking at 38 –

||¦|¦|

– from the other end would show you 37, with 38.4 the same line as 37.3. We’ve walked all the way round.

The sequence of this walkabout isn’t important – the interesting part is exploring the different perspectives to see what they can tell you about the original line.

42.3 might show something you’re aware of or a way you have of seeing things when you’re at 37.3. ‘Increased by disaster work’ or just ‘Increased by bad things happening’ – that’s the belief behind many interpretations of the line, that severity, or being made aware of problems, or bringing them into the open, will be useful to you.

The line goes on to describe how the ‘increase’ is possible: when you act truly and confidently and notify the prince. Field, for one, thinks that this notification is that the city needs to be moved – not a welcome message, but a useful one. In any case, it’s important to get the message to the centre, speak truth to power. And 41.4, the paired line, has the same core idea: send the message to make the necessary changes.

This pathway of lines connects the domestic space with affairs of state – two realms that were seen as naturally connected. You can imagine the message of change transmitted along the wire, out from the home and into the larger concerns of princes and messengers: there is disquiet, the disharmony is felt at the very heart of the home; this must be a sign that we need to change.

And on the other hand, you can imagine the message of change travelling back from 41/42 to 37/38. When it reaches the orphan, outside the home, it appears as an inspiring, vital connection. To join with and trust it is still dangerous, but not a mistake. (Perhaps it feels like decreasing an affliction.) But when it enters the ordered space of the home, it comes as disruption and is greeted with complaints – or a reluctance to take it seriously.

Car horn

I’ve treated myself to another new Yi book – Geoffrey Redmond’s I Ching (Book of Changes) – a critical translation of the ancient text – and it got me thinking about the different aspects of the book that are visible to different people.

The good…

To start, though, a sort-of book review. There’s a lot to appreciate about Redmond’s work: a sense of humour and unpretentious straightforwardness that permeate the book; how widely-read he is (not just the ‘obvious’ people like Rutt, Kunst and Shaughnessy, but also SJ Marshall and Bradford Hatcher); his desire to make ordinary sense of the lines, and rejection of unnecessary character substitutions.

So far I’ve found the chapters surrounding the translation – on the Zhouyi’s composition and ideas – particularly interesting. I’m still reading through the translation  itself, and it has quite a few intriguing little, ‘Huh, never thought of seeing it that way…’ moments. 9.3, for instance: ‘Like the cart scolding the wheel, husband and wife quarrel.’

He says that the book is meant for ‘reconstruction of the early meanings’, not for divination, ‘but it can be used for this purpose, though with some exercise of imagination.’ (Damn, just as we were hoping for a text that would enable us to divine without use of imagination…)

Still, he also writes sensitively about divination. He’s done readings himself (and scholars willing to admit to this in public are still a fairly rare breed) – not with any expectation that Yi will speak and reveal the unknown, but with an active interest all the same. He has given some thought to what divination implies about the world (‘the nature of the Zhouyi itself implies a deeper reality that can be accessed through the use of the book for divination’), and what it might have been like 3,000 years ago, and includes a section to explain the ‘quality of the time’.

(Then he does rather spoil this impression of divinatory knowhow by giving a perfectly accurate table of yarrow/16-bead vs 3-coin probabilities, only to say, twice, that he prefers beads because they mean fewer changing lines overall. This while looking at a chart that shows 3+1 possibilities for changing lines in one method, and 2+2 in the other. Odd.)

Also interesting is what he writes about oral traditions, the beginnings of writing, and what gives words charisma. He adds the intriguing idea that some of the words of the text are not so much ‘what the oracle says’ as what the diviner must recite: yuan heng li zhen not a prognostication but an invocation; ‘no blame’ perhaps said to ward off blame.

…and the ridiculous

Redmond is apparently privy to a whole lot of knowledge about what the Zhouyi definitely doesn’t contain.

‘Of the wisdom for which I Ching has been admired, not much is to be found in the Western Zhou text.’

The division into Upper and Lower Canons ‘has no thematic significance.’

‘There is no sign of literary creativity in the work.’

I wonder how he knows?

He does actually explain the beliefs that give rise to this kind of thing. For instance, yuan heng li zhen is an invocation to be recited at the beginning of every divination, and hence ‘when incomplete or omitted from the written text, it would be assumed.’ It would follow that the differences in what’s in fact in the written text – all four characters together, or none, or a subset, or with interpolations – are accidental, barely real at all. Hexagram 4, for instance, where the phrase heng li zhen is interrupted by the passage about an importunate diviner whose repeated questions interrupt the flow of divination – nothing to see here. Certainly not a sign of literary creativity, anyway…

His core assertion is this:

‘The unit of meaning is not the chapter, nor entire line text, nor the sentence, but the phrase. Put bluntly, the Zhouyi is a collection of scraps. Thus a line of text often assembles phrases without evident thematic relationship.’

and again,

‘Confusion is greatly reduced once it is recognized that the fundamental unit of meaning in the Zhouyi is not the chapter, nor paragraph (of which there are none), nor even the line, but the phrase. Phrases within the judgments or numbered lines are only sometimes related to each other.’

I’ve spent uncountable hours asking myself questions like, ‘Why would a harmonious gathering at the ancestral temple mean shame?’ Redmond doesn’t actually assume all such questions are pointless (for 13.2 he suggests the gathering might be to atone for an error, which is not a bad idea), but he does give himself a ready-made answer.

Confusion might be reduced this way, or at least interpretation might become a whole lot less time-consuming, but meaning is reduced too – and I’m not sure he doesn’t create almost as many translation and interpretation problems for himself as he solves. 51.2, for instance:

‘Thunder comes, harshly.
Many thousands of cowry shells for the funeral.
Ascend nine times to the burial mound.
Do not pursue, in seven days will be obtained.’

There are some intriguing ideas here: the thousands of cowries as a funeral offering, giving ‘funeral’ instead of ‘lost’; nine ascents of a single burial mound instead of nine hills. But as to what might be obtained after seven days, it’s impossible to say.

Or 62.6:

‘Not meeting but passing.
Soaring birds in the distance, ominous.
Truly called a calamitous mistake!’

Redmond says, ‘It is hard to make any connection between the phrases here’. Really? Hard to connect ‘not meeting but passing’ with ‘soaring birds in the distance’ when line 5 was about a successful hunt with arrows? But then if the unit of meaning is the phrase, the preceding line certainly can’t help.

What you see depends on where you stand

That’s always true – Yi interpretation just makes it more obvious than usual.

‘The unit of meaning is the phrase’ for Redmond. If two phrases in a line don’t make sense together, that doesn’t matter – we don’t understand because there’s nothing there to be understood.

He theorises that the Zhouyi was put together by compilers who were presented with a collection of divinatory phrases and sayings gathered from across the realm, and told to arrange them somehow among the hexagrams. (‘To be fair to the compilers, given that they had to work with a collection of randomly chosen phrases, they made the best they could with the material they had. To give an analogy, putting the phrases together into an organized book would have been comparable to taking documents out of a paper shredder and trying to make sense of them.’) All the phrases had to go somewhere, after all.

For Stephen Field, the unit of meaning seems to be the hexagram. He finds more myth and history in the hexagrams than anyone, so that his Hexagram 23 becomes a step-by-step story of Wang Hai, and 46 becomes the history of Danfu’s ‘Great Climb’ to a new Zhou homeland. This means he has a tremendously coherent concept of each hexagram. But there are also things he doesn’t see – notably, he seems to see the book more as a compilation of stories and divination records than as a working oracle, so that for him it doesn’t matter if the omens make no sense in relation to the stories.

For Bradford Hatcher, I think it’s also the hexagram: he often tells people that they need to remember which hexagram they’re reading in order to understand a line text. But he draws the line there, and is likely to mention apophenia and/or pareidolia when anyone starts finding meaningful patterns in the Sequence. (Which always means I have to stop and look them up again…) And many authors who comment on the Sequence would agree: if you can’t say why 35 follows 34, that’s because there is no reason why. Every hexagram had to go somewhere.

Stephen Karcher clarified that we need to be aware of the pair as a unit, not just the hexagram.

And at the opposite extreme from Redmond is Scott Davis, for whom the Sequence as a whole conveys meaning. It was Davis who introduced me to the possibility that the text of one hexagram can refer to others and their position within the Sequence. Since that had never occurred to me before, I’d never thought to look for such things, and – in a couple of decades of staring at the book pretty much every day – had never seen any. Now Davis has stirred me from this oblivious state, it’s amazing what becomes visible. (Redmond, we can be fairly sure, isn’t going to translate ‘in seven days return’ and start counting 7 hexagrams forward from 24; he already knows that the division into Upper and Lower Canons has no significance!)

What we’ll see depends on where we stand and what we can imagine seeing. Of course that works both ways, and there’s such a thing as an over-active imagination. But let’s keep our certainties to a minimum…

Scott Hilburn rhino comic

 

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