Nelson emailed me after the last newsletter to say he’d been getting a lot of readings around Hexagram 50. So here are some thoughts on what’s going on in the Vessel, which I hope might help with a variety of readings.
The name of Hexagram 50 is ding: the sacred vessel, a massive food container of cast bronze, used in ritual to share food among humans and spirits. If you search Google images for ‘Zhou dynasty dingâ€™, you’ll see a series of images that give you a good sense of the sheer weight and presence of these treasures.
A ding is for holding and cooking food: it contains and transforms. It also means ‘grasping the new’, establishing a new order on a firm foundation of understanding. And it is part of opening communication with the spirits, so they can be present and involved in the transformation.
Within the safe space of the Vessel, disparate raw ingredients are brought together and changed into a significant whole. There is a theme of total, alchemical transformation running through the hexagram’s many layers of meaning. Raw ingredients become nourishment for humans and spirits; in the constituent trigrams, wood becomes fire; the ding itself was the culmination of advanced metal-working.
The commentary (Tuanzhuan) says first of all that the Vessel is a symbol. It’s not just that the Vessel itself is powerfully symbolic; it’s also that its way of working is like that of a symbol, that ‘cooks’ the raw stuff of experience into significance. The trigrams, wood within the fire, show gentleness and inward penetration nourishing ‘clear eyes and quick ears’.
This can’t happen, though, without the preceding hexagram: 49, Radical Change. In the Zhou story that runs through the Yijing, this would be the moment of overthrowing the ruling Shang dynasty; the Vessel represents founding the new one. You can’t establish truly new ways of relating, understanding and being unless the old ways have been taken apart. So when your readings situate you between Radical Change and the Vessel, it’s a time when routine and reactions are to be overthrown. Anything in your life that runs on ‘automatic pilot’, without the enlivening presence of awareness, is like the brittle old regime where the spirits were absent.
The Vessel is both the occasion for transformation and the space for it. 50 as the primary hexagram sometimes acts as ‘Vessel’ for the change represented by the second hexagram, allowing it to become real. The noble one â€˜sets the situation straight and consolidates his destiny’: this is more than just a time for good ideas, it’s a time for establishing the right context for them to become reality. We don’t just have an enticing recipe here, we have maybe 800kg of precious metal to cook it in.
In readings, Hexagram 50 talks about containing and transforming. It can signify investing money rather than buying a house; the role of a university as a container for people and ideas; a marriage as a safe space for clashing ideas and personalities to be held and changed. It can also describe the workings of the oracle itself: how a reading contains your ideas and experiences, transmutes them into symbol, and allows them to become something else.