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More trigrams in the sequence (hexagrams 6, 7 and 8)

Last time I splashed out on books I bought not just the shiny new Ritsema/Sabbadini, but also Sarah Allan’s The Shape of the Turtle. And I am enjoying it no end. She writes about Shang myth, but there are many, many resonances in the Zhouyi. But finding one with the trigrams – much younger than these myths – was a surprise. Once again it seems they’re being used in the King Wen Sequence to tell a story.

We know that hexagram 8 alludes to the meeting Yu called after he conquered the floods – how he called lords and spirits together to create the new world, and Fang Feng came late, and was executed. And it is a small step back from there to imagine Yu’s severe self-discipline in Hexagram 7, the Army – and to see how the world is transformed into one of freely chosen relationships and delight in Hexagram 8 by his work of banishing demons. In the trigrams of Hexagram 8, rivers flow over the earth, and are associated with the foundation of the new world of ordered relationships after the chaos of the flood:
‘Above earth is the stream. Seeking union.
The ancient kings founded countless cities to connect those named as feudal lords.’

But before that (as the story was told between the 3rd and 1st century BC)…
Gong Gong contested with Zhuan Xu to become lord. In his rage he butted against Bu Zhou mountain and broke the connection of heaven and earth, so that they tilted. And he stirred up the flood waters and made them swell up towards heaven until they ’embraced the mountains and rose above the hills’. And Sarah Allan says that ‘it seems that those waters which surged to heaven and pressed the Hollow Mulberry in cosmic battle of sky and water were those which were later confined to the netherworld from which they watered the riverbeds.’

Hexagram 6: waters below heaven, Arguing
Hexagram 7: waters below the earth, the Army
Hexagram 8: waters flowing over the earth: Seeking Union

12 thoughts on “More trigrams in the sequence (hexagrams 6, 7 and 8)”

  1. I wouldn’t say we *know* that any hexagram alludes to a myth. It is an interpretation. Some interpretations are stronger than others. The linkage of hexagram 8 to Yu the Great is not one of the stronger ideas.

    I wish people wouldn’t depart too quickly from interpretation to fully-fledged fact. There is no need. It sets in concrete things best left fluid. This is one of the things I regret most about my own work, that despite the fact I tried to retain rigour in this regard, others came along and took it all way too stiffly, making facts out of interpretations.

    An interpretation is better left as an interpretation in the absence of the kind of evidence required for a fact. To elevate an interpretation to a fact closes the door to other interpretations.

  2. Sorry, ‘know’ was indeed the wrong word. But what do you think of this apparent reflection of the narrative in the trigrams?

  3. It doesn’t really come across to me Hilary. You probably need to explain it more.

    Because the trigrams aren’t as old as the hexagrams, at least on the basis of current evidence, this means that any element of structure seen in the King Wen sequence through the trigrams can only be a projection onto the sequence rather than something inherent in it (this is an unaddressed flaw in Danny van den Berghe’s work too).

    That said, projections (a form of interpretation) can be interesting in themselves.

  4. I know the trigrams aren’t (thought to be) as old as the hexagrams. But how old is the King Wen Sequence? It seems at least possible (doesn’t it?) that whoever created that order of the hexagrams might have had trigrams in mind.

    What I find very strange is the idea that the Sequence might also show an awareness of the myth layers – that at a time when people were thinking in trigrams, they might also still have been thinking about Gong Gong.

    Do you mean it doesn’t really come across, or that it is really too vague and impressionistic to be worth mentioning? 😉
    Anyway, taking you literally, and explaining more…

    Gong Gong contends/ argues. His indignation, very much in the spirit of hexagram 6, is represented by the waters swelling up to heaven. See trigrams.

    Not that it would be worth seeing said trigrams if Sarah A didn’t call these the same waters that ‘were later confined to the netherworld’. She says that in Shang belief waters ran everywhere under the earth. See trigrams of 7.

    And these waters fed rivers – which, thanks to Yu, flow over the earth in their proper channels. See trigrams.

    I don’t know how or whether hexagram 5 might fit in, much less 3 and 4.

  5. This all seems very forced to me. Creative speculation is one thing, persuasive correlation another. The aim is surely to turn the former into the latter, and to discard ideas that don’t make it. At the end of the day, it all depends on what kind of criteria you apply to yourself in order to personally judge the veracity of what you are finding and presenting. I like to set the bar quite high.

  6. For me there are two distinct areas of study. The academic which must be rigorous, with its little sibling ‘imaginings’ who very often inspires new lines of academic exploration and the second zone which is of divination which must necessarily be imaginative and draw on experience.

    I found this bit of the blogg wonderful and I did not for a moment mistake it for a hypothesis.

    Please post more of these gems.

  7. Kevin — Should I infer that you are you saying my views are unimaginative and do not draw on experience? Should I feel sidelined as ‘academic’? I was asked my opinion, I gave it. Though you say you found Hilary’s blog ‘wonderful’, I wonder if you have even for a moment considered what she has said and thought about it. Strikes me you offer praise for praise’s sake, being patronising to me in the process. More thought, less merely being nice.

  8. There is another aspect of Chinese mythology that has not been discussed here, an aspect Steve Marshall doubtless understands better than I do, but which I will mention as an element deserving consideration.

    Compared to Greece or Egypt or Babylonia, the sources for Chinese mythology are very late and fragmentary. There was no Chinese Homer, Hesiod, or Ovid. There are no buried tales of Gilgamesh, no Book of the Dead. The Chinese had no epic poetry, the worldwide vehicle for expressing and recording mythological worldviews. The major source for Chinese mythology is “The Classic of Mountains and Seas,” probably compiled between the 3rd century BC and the 2nd century AD, a work full of textual problems that by no means qualifies as a unified encyclopedia of Chinese myth. The archeological record is much richer, but mute. We still don’t know how to interpret most of the mythological and religious artifacts recovered over the past 50 years.

    Some experts say there is in fact no Chinese mythology to study, no authentic common pool of mythological stories and figures known throughout China in ancient times. No authoritative pantheon of gods, no common tales of heroes and monsters, no agreed-upon, pan-Chinese religious context – except for scraps and pieces recorded centuries later by Han antiquarians to suit their own purposes.

    If this is true, then it is highly questionable to discuss the mythological content of the Yi at all, since practically no knowledge of ancient Chinese myth is available. The whole exercise is almost completely imaginary. There is hope for the future. Surely many important relics await discovery in China’s soil, and it is very likely an informed picture of Shang/Zhou beliefs and traditions will differ greatly from the groundless speculations being advanced today.


  9. One positive thing, Bob, about there not being a Chinese Homer, is that much Chinese mythology has survived in an unmediated fragmentary form, which actually makes it far fresher. And the Zhouyi is one of the sources in which allusions look to have survived, though this hadn’t in the past received much attention simply because few could show a reasonable linkage.

    In my own book I increased the small pot of allusions already suggested with a good solid handful of my own discovery that I felt could be justifiably linked to the Zhouyi, and left many other elements of myth unassociated. I did not want to colour passages of the Zhouyi with this kind of interpretation without a strong basis, since mythological colour can often be indelible and take generations to wash out when indiscriminately applied.

    Since then, Mr Karcher, who felt I missed an opportunity and did not go far enough, has wildly associated mythological motifs willy-nilly with the Changes and others seem to be following suit with lemming-like enthusiasm. A ragbag approach to Chinese mythology in relation to the oracle is being fostered — a plundering of formerly rich unspoilt motifs to create a second-rate collage and a questionable recontextualization. This amateurish propagation has undoubtedly done damage what had been a promising field.

  10. I am not going to get into a conversation here – inappropriate place.

    You opinions about me are incorrect – indeed arrogant.

    If you feel patronised those are your imaginings.

    Academic research is essential… I did not think that needed saying.

    I will talk no further here on this.

  11. I have received #8 at least twice in the past
    2-3 months. The last time was Saturday night.
    I had asked if my son and I should go to new york
    city on the weekend of the 4th.
    it had a moving line at #3 – which is – being with
    the wrong people – my son, age 14, is not a wrong
    person – it meant – I thought – that I should be
    seeing another person – that I would start gradual romantic relationship with someone I used to
    see and in fact – when I asked if I should see her
    on the weekend of the 4th – it came back with
    #14 – no moving lines.
    So it answered my questions pretty directly, I think.

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