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Release from the foxes

Hexagram 40 is Release: untying knots, removing artificial restraints and compulsions, and restoring complete, natural freedom of movement. Its moving lines talk about different kinds of captivity and release: simple ‘mistake’ at the first line, the release of a firm grip at the fourth, release from a looming, ominous presence in the sixth.

The second line is about foxes:

‘In the field, taking three foxes.
Gain a bronze arrow.
Constancy, good fortune.’

What kind of release is this? What kind of threat are the foxes, and why is it good to hunt them down?

The West and China alike are agreed that foxes are crafty beasts. Wilhelm says they’re flatterers influencing the ruler. Jack Balkin goes a few steps further and makes the possible meanings more explicit: first, he suggests the foxes are inner flatterers, deceptive negative emotions of ‘greed, ignorance and fear’; as a second possibility, he says, they might be cunning people out to undermine you.

Wu Jing Nuan provides an opening to a more natural understanding of the foxes: they might be changelings, and capturing them gives you security and power. Chinese foxes were predominantly animals of ill omen, who might take human form to seduce and deceive, or who might (and this may be an older tradition) bring illness, and cause madness through possession.

Foxes cannot resist humans directly; their power is all in trickery and deception. So when you take the foxes in the open field, they are wholly exposed and made harmless. In overcoming them, you gain a bronze arrow, with its direct flight, ‘straight and true’ – that is, you gain power to go straight to your objective.

In readings, getting the foxes can mean distinguishing between deception, or self-deception, and reality. It may mean exposing someone else’s deception, like exposing a fox in human form. It can also mean distinguishing between your own real motivation and misleading ideas that have you in their grip – like exorcising a fox spirit possession.

My most recent experience with the foxes involved a delightful character who ordered just about everything I have for sale with fake credit card numbers. He successfully stole not just the digital downloads – recorded interviews, the full I Ching course – but also personal service in an I Ching reading. He used a different name and email address each time, so I didn’t find out about the theft until the card number proved to be stolen and the chargeback notice came.

I received this line when I thought I’d just recognised a new reading order as being from him, and was asking about refunding the sale and declining the order. A good idea, obviously! So on the strength of this I went ahead, and later (when my card processor confirmed this was another fraud) also got his IP address blocked. One fox bagged, at least. Funnily enough, on his first order from me, the man had given his name as ‘Sly’.

Capturing the foxes releases Enthusiasm – that is, changing this line takes us to Hexagram 16. This is (amongst other things) the great motivating, creative power of imagination, which is double-edged itself: will it express and create great things, or get carried away with false enthusiasm? Taking the foxes releases Enthusiasm from delusion – like, for instance, releasing an entrepreneurial spirit from a fixation on ‘business opportunities’. Then you can give your imagination its head.

Here’s an intriguing quotation I found at a fox spirit website:

“Humans and beasts are different species, but foxes are between humans and beasts. The dead and the living walk different roads, but foxes are between the dead and the living. Transcendents and monsters travel different paths, but foxes are between transcendents and monsters. Therefore one could say to meet a fox is strange; one could also say it is ordinary.

Human beings and physical objects belong to two different categories; fox-spirits stand somewhere between the two. The paths of light and darkness never converge: fox-spirits stand somewhere between the two. Immortals and demons go different ways; fox-spirits stand somewhere between the two.”

Notebook from the Thatched Cottage of Close Scrutiny, Ji Yun, 1789

23 responses to Release from the foxes

  1. In hexagram 40 there is an atmosphere of precaution, as when bows are raised at, say, a rustle in the bushes as someone approaches, but relaxed again when they realise it is not the enemy (not really captured right in Wilhelm-Baynes’ ‘Deliver yourself from your great toe’). And then you have the duke shooting the hawk on the city wall, which seems to me to be a provocation, that the duke is outside the wall as an attacker and he shoots the hawk to signal his hostile intention towards those inside, as a prelude to taking the city. (I think this is a more likely interpretation than release from the hawk as an ominous presence, since no mere hawk is a threat to a duke, rather he kills it to announce his presence in a rather dynamic way. Doubtless this act will be followed soon by a hail of arrows showering into the city.) So in this scenario of city seige you could see the three foxes as spies from within the city that are successfully caught by the army outside.

  2. From the universal perspective, and so free of any local, particular, expressions, hex 40 covers tension release through reduction of, relaxation of, structure, as its compelement 37 covers tension release through the maintaining, rigidity in, structure. Local context grounds the universal by giving local colouring and so unique aspects of the universal’s local expression.

    The skeletal form of 40 (its 27-ness) is described by analogy to the characteristics of 38 covering issues of opposition and so ‘strain’, tension and its release through mirroring – others see themselves ‘in’ you (as soldiers take up arms only to realise they see one or a group of ‘themselves’ and so can relax) Notethat this identified 40 as the ‘skeletal’ form of 38.

    The listing of its full spectrum as a universal is given in the linemeaning section of:


  3. Steve – I really like your interpretation of 40.4. It makes perfect sense, and ties in well with the original Chinese, and with the hexagram theme.
    I don’t quite see though how your interpretation of 40.6 ties in with the hexagram theme of Release. A provocation isn’t really a release from something. In this form it to me doesn’t even seem like a part of a strategy.

  4. Yes, what Ewald said. Is the idea that releasing your thumbs, you’re relaxing your grip on a bow string? I know hawks aren’t much of a threat to dukes, but then nor are foxes – or little cracks on a hot bone, come to that.

  5. The hawk, as a bird of prey, is a threat to the small animals between the castle walls. I suppose there will be chickens, pigeons perhaps. The duke, as leader of the castle, is responsible for this. He therefore shoots the hawk.

  6. The shades of meaning of ‘jie’ as ‘to loosen; to untie; to release; to get rid of’ are quite wide. For instance, take a look at the compound in Mathews at 626-13, meaning ‘to raise a seige’.

    Why the duke shoots the hawk on the city wall is a question I have thought about for years. The hawk is without doubt a symbol of war, see for instance ode 178. People don’t shoot hawks without good reason. The duke is initiating an act of war against a fortified city he has raised a seige against. It is a symbolic act contained in a literal action. I think it is a mistake to think the duke is shooting a hawk on his own city wall.

  7. My English is not perfect, so I had to look up “to raise a siege.” Dictionary.com has, using Webster as a source: to relinquish an attempt to take a place by besieging it, or to cause the attempt to be relinquished. That sounds like a meaning that ties in well with to release, to get rid of, for jie. A siege is gotten rid of or is given up.
    I don’t understand how someone is initiating an act of war when he is giving up a siege? It doesn’t make sense.

    In ode 178, the flight of the hawk seems more of a symbol for the speed and effectiveness of the army, not of war itself. In ode 183, I don’t think the hawk is a symbol of war at all, actually. Anyway, what something is a symbol of depends on context, in my view.

  8. Regarding 40.6: Whatever else the hawk may symbolize, the bird is a very effective and dangerous predator. Hawks can be quite a nuisance if you raise chickens. In a feudal society, the main function (justification) for a noble (gong) was to protect the people with specialized military training, skill, and technology. Only a noble would be good enough at archery to hit a hawk (no mean feat). It was the duke’s job to protect his people from predators. So shooting the hawk fits as a kind of liberation (from threat and danger) which is the general theme of Hex. 40.

    Personally, I still find 40.4 more perplexing. Hilary has offered a good interpretation of 40.2. Would anyone care to explain the big toe/friends-you-can-trust conundrum?

  9. Good point, this is what comes of writing quick comments on blogs. ‘To raise a seige’ is indeed to abandon, or put an end to, a seige, I have written as if it meant to raise one up, and that is an error. My point though was only that ‘jie’ has a wide latitude of use, including seige scenarios. Irrespective of the title of the hexagram, I still see the duke shooting the hawk in the way I have described. But it is an interpretation, others are possible. There isn’t enough detail in the hexagram to be absolutely sure what is intended. If you think the duke is shooting the hawk because he fears for his chickens, and that makes sense to you, then so be it.

  10. Shooting the hawk as an image for raising (ie releasing his city from) the siege would make good sense, though, wouldn’t it?

  11. Actually I do not think the duke is shooting a hawk to save his or anyone else’s chickens. I think the duke is killing an unnamed predator to protect his people, and free them from fear. That is his feudal responsibility. Sorry I didn’t make that explicit. Steve is rather good at using wild metaphors while taking others dead literally. His book is full of hyperbole and non sequitors.

  12. You all seem to be assuming that this is a wild hawk. Actually it’s a falcon specifically, and falconry is an ancient art. Personally, I think the duke is killing a trained falcon that belongs to a high dignitary within the city, and that he is doing so from outside of the wall. This is how I see it. I don’t see it as a metaphor for anything, I see it as something the duke did. You are not obliged to share my views, which I have said are an interpretation.

    Bob, if you don’t like my book then take it back to the shop on the grounds that it insults your intelligence, I’m sure they will give you a refund.

  13. Too late, Steve. A couple of weeks after I bought your book as a mark-down from the Columbia Univeristy Press overstock catalogue, I donated it with some other books (Joseph Murphy’s “Secrets of the I Ching” and Diane Stein’s “The Kwan Yin Book of Changes”) to a Republican Party booksale to support our troops in Iraq. I think they were able to sell it – at least I never saw it again.

  14. Note to self: Resist sharing your interpretations in future because there is always someone out there who wants to put you down for it.

  15. Still, Steve, finding someone who’d describe Stephen Karcher as your mentor has to have some novelty value…

  16. Novelty? Surely you’ve noticed a number of key ideas in Stephen Karcher’s deeply original “The Total I Ching” find extensive development in Steve’s “Mandate”? Steve employs many footnotes – I noticed he admires James Legge’s translations much more than standard Chinese editions of the same texts – but I don’t recall Steve crediting Karcher for any of his seminal ideas. Clearly some influence exists, and I can’t help feeling Steve has learned a thing or too from the Jungian master. I wish I could be more specific – perhaps you know what I’m talking about? – but, as luck would have it, I gave my copy of “Total” to a local fund-raiser for the Slobodan Milosevic defense fund. I believe in supporting good causes!

  17. Ah, Hilary knows what time it is! She really has learned how to spot the foxes…

    By the way, you all might be interested to learn that the graph sun3 (Matt. 1487) – which we are calling “hawk” or “bird of prey” – has been attested on two Shang oracle bones – Yibian 3787 and Tieyun 191.4 – with the clear meaning of “octopus” or “cuttlefish”. See the standard Shima Kunio, “Inkyo bokuji sorui” (Tokyo, 1967). How does this advance your interpretation of 40.6?

  18. 40.6 – an intepretation:

    “A prince takes advantage of shooting a hawk, moving towards the heights. Potentially advantageous only if he hits the mark.” [If he hits the mark his preparation for his path upwards is complete]

    There is a link to line 6 of a hexagram with 23 (and so 43). The movement to yang indicates 23 focus. The characteristics of 23 is of housekeeping and the examples used are of a priest and so high servant of some ‘lord’ – as a duke is to a king – removing chaff and so maintaining stability, the last piece of structure in an ‘chaotic’ context .

    Since a hawk is an elicitor of tension so its removal is an act of tension release. This removal is done by a ‘high priest’ of the current dogma where the act will reinforce that position in the eyes of others.

  19. I was browsing my reading journal the other day, and I noticed that I once asked the question: ‘ What do you do when you have no direction to go? I suppose that I was feeling aimless and without direction in life at that time. I was amazed reading these words from the Release-oracle: ‘With no place to go, to turn around and come back is good fortune’. You should expect an abstruse resumé, but no, an answer very down to earth. I can’t remember if it was a great help at the moment, but now I like it, it is almost funny.

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