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, â€˜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