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Shadow hexagrams

I sometimes think of Stephen Karcher as the alchemist of Yijing interpretation, working away in his divination-laboratory and emerging from time to time with new techniques and tools of interpretation for diviners to test out. I’ll always try what he offers, and often find it immensely useful – though by the time I’ve spent a few years using a tool in my own style of reading, it generally seems to ‘wear’ into a different shape from the original.

One of his most recent suggestions is the idea of a ‘shadow’ hexagram. You find this in a nice, simple way, by counting backwards through the Sequence of hexagrams. So Hexagram 1’s shadow is 64, 2’s shadow is 63, and so on. I suppose you could say you are ‘pairing’ the whole Sequence with itself by inverting it in this way. Stephen explains how he uses this, in conjunction with the ‘Ideal’ hexagram, in this essay (pdf link, right-click to download):

“The Shadow Site gives you a hexagram that represents what is, at the moment, counter-indicated in your situation, covered by a sort of negative screen that can contain often painful memories. This screen or shadow is blocking transformative energy. If you completely release your awareness from these configurations by focusing on the Ideal, the necessary energy the Shadow Site contains will manifest itself spontaneously.

I had been pondering the possible meanings of what I call the Shadow Site, the reflection of a given hexagram in the Reverse Sequence of the 64 hexagrams, for quite a while. One of its functions made immediate sense to me when it was paired with the Ideal Form as a sort of negative mirror. This is the way Change seems to work, tactically pairing opposites with a situational rather than an abstract moral judgment on their innate qualities. Another realization came as I was working in depth with the Reverse Sequence in deep divinations as representing a kind of mystical re-birth, a union that can only be achieved through indirection or not-acting (wu-wei). From this came the awareness that whatever is shadowed is necessary for the completion of the transformative possibilities of the moment but cannot be reached through conscious action. It can and will manifest synchronistically, however, when there is no conscious effort directed towards it. This sort of indirection frees the quality in question from the linear flow of time and the karmic chain of cause and effect.”

(See the full essay for an example reading as well.)

The ‘ideal’ hexagram hasn’t quite gelled for me yet, or at least not as having any necessary connection to the ‘shadow’. But the shadow, in a series of readings now, has started to make a great deal of sense.

It turns out to be precisely the wrong way to conceive of the situation. In this it’s subtly different from the complementary hexagram (created by changing each line to its opposite), which is simply what the hexagram is not. If you are hiding your light, for instance (hexagram 36) then you cannot also be arguing (hexagram 6, its complement). You must decide which you’re doing, and find an overall balance between these two complementary approaches.

The shadow, though, is more specifically the wrong idea. This mindset will entangle you, have you going in circles and getting exactly nowhere. If you think of a situation and try to engage with it in the style of its shadow, you will be well and truly stuck – a very distinctive kind of ‘stuckness’, not so much ‘confronting immoveable obstacles’, more being perfectly ineffectual.

Funnily enough, this is also quite often the shape the issue has taken on as you grapple with it: it’s exactly what you’re wrestling with and finding insoluble.

This only becomes really clear in readings, when that particular form of ‘shadow stuckness’ is easy to recognise. But a few examples might help to show how this is taking shape for me:

The Shadow of hexagram 36, Brightness Hidden, is 29, Repeating Chasms. If you are in a situation where your light is threatened and needs to be hidden away, it’s not good to think of this as a test of faith, or to keep asking, ‘What am I supposed to be learning from this?’ Movement, now, does not ‘bring honour’ (as in the Oracle of 29); it would only get you hurt.

The Shadow of hexagram 58, Opening, is 7, the Army. If it is a time to be enriched by joining and exchanging with others, then it is not time to look for a single focal point, to ask yourself, ‘What is my objective here?’ It’s not about marching on an objective in an orderly way; it’s about receiving the gift that emerges from exchange and cross-fertilisation.

The Shadow of hexagram 59, Dispersing, is 6, Arguing. If the barriers and boundaries are all gone and the floods are washing over you, this is not time to define your position, argue your corner and look for ways to win. You have to allow all the ‘positions’ to be swept away, too, and let the flow of things find its course naturally.

And a story: recently, but before I received I Ching, the Symbolic Life in the post and started looking at shadows, I asked Yi for advice on how to approach someone to propose working together on a project. The primary hexagram was 46, Pushing Upward. I thought long and hard about the best way to go about this, how to start small, how to follow the advice of the lines – and finally made my approach.

Later, I found out that the shadow hexagram for 46 is 19: Nearing, or Approaching. That was exactly how I had been thinking of the situation, and what  had been asking myself: how to approach, how to modulate my approach when it received no response, and so on. All my thoughts about this fit neatly into the mould of 19.

I never did get a reply, so it’s becoming pretty clear that 19 was the wrong mindset. But this is highlighting for me another aspect of the Shadow: it is extraordinarily hard to get your thoughts free of it! How can approaching someone with a proposal not be – well – an approach?

I don’t have enough distance from this situation yet to learn all the lessons that dear old Professor Hindsight has to teach me. What I’ve realised so far, though, is that while Nearing has an overview of the whole picture and can ‘teach’ it to the other person, Pushing Upward is wholly present to what is growing, identifying fully with each stage of growth and not trying to anticipate what comes next. Perhaps I should just have said ‘hello’, tried only to begin a conversation, and allowed things to grow from there.

As I said, getting free from the Shadow way of seeing things is not easy. This, as I understand it, is where the Ideal is meant to come in:

“If you completely release your awareness from these configurations by focusing on the Ideal, the necessary energy the Shadow Site contains will manifest itself spontaneously.”

In The Symbolic Life, the presentation of ideal and shadow actually focusses entirely on that spontaneous manifestation, so the Shadow hexagram only appears as something that offers its blessings, or solves its problems, by itself.

So for 36, (Ideal 9, Shadow 29): “Accumulate small things and gather in your ghosts. The dangers you face will spontaneously dissolve.”

For 58 (Ideal 29, Shadow 7): “Confront the danger again and again and your inner world will organize itself.”

For 59 (Ideal 45, Shadow 6): “If you gather the resources for a great new project your words will spontaneously persuade others.”

And for 46 (Ideal 61, Shadow 19): “Open your heart and bring your inner and outer lives together and the spirit will draw near.”

21 responses to Shadow hexagrams

  1. Great Atricle Hilary – thanks. It seems that “gather in your ghosts” is a criptic summary of Hexagram 29’s essential connotation and mythological significance. “Accumulate small things and gather in your ghosts” serve to focus on the essence of Hex. 9 as the Ideal and 29 as the shadow. (I remember a quote somewhere in Wilhelm [I think] where it was suggested that the King Wen hexagrams should always be seen as transparent allowing the Fu Tzu mandala to shine through them. (Karcher’s Ideal hexagram is thus formed). So gather in your ghosts asks for participation in the Ghost River connection between the Sun Tree and the Moon Tree – the passage where the dead live and the risks of the living are also symbolized. It is advice not to hold back from your ghosts (of fear, for example) but to let them in – gather them in the Pit and flow to and with them and confront the challenges. This is a suggestion of what I make of this summary of 29. – Glen

  2. Thank you Ginnie for asking and inspiring Glen’s wonderful answer 🙂 .

    Here’s the thing I can’t explain – ‘accumulate small things and gather in your ghosts’ is, in Karcher’s work, all about Hexagram 9. His ‘Circles of Meaning’ for this one are,

    “Accumulate the small to accomplish the great; nurture, raise, support retain, hoard, shape; breeding animals, raising children; dealings with the ghost world, assembling the scattered parts of the soul; a festive procession, a protective shell or carapace like protection in the womb.”

    Travelling to ghost realms and retrieving the scattered parts of the soul is part of the shaman’s work, isn’t it? And I won’t pretend to understand what it is, much less why he sees a connection with Hexagram 9.

  3. Hi Hilary – the answer to this one is either very complicated or quite simple. I’ll try the simple answer. Like most things in Change, this falls under the rubric of yin and yang. We take these terms for granted, but in the “shamanic” Change (the oldest layers of the text) these terms do not appear as paired categories. That use of yin-yang was invented in the late Warring States period by the Cosmologists to provide an easy sorting mechanism. The oldest terms for yin-yang are Great and Small, and they in turn are directly connected to working with the ghosts (gui-yin) or the bright spirits (shen-yang). So when you see Great appear, you are operating on or with the shen; when you see Small appear, you are operating on or with the gui, the Ghost World.

    This is particularly apparent in 9 Small Accumulates and 26 Great Accumulates. In both caes you are gathering or collecting the energies involved to produce some sort of quantum shift in awareness. If yoiu look deep into the chu/accumulate character you find the graph for xuan/deep mystery. These two hexgrams are the collectors of ghost energy and spirit energy and the aim is to activate that profound mystery that takes us beyond the transformations of the yin and the yang.

    I hope this helps!

    warmest wishes


  4. Thank you! Completely new to me, and fascinating in good ways – especially since I’ve received 26 and 9 in a couple of quite elusive, liminal-type readings over the past week or so.

    Where does the association of ‘small’ with gui and ‘great’ with shen have its roots?

    (I think I’d enjoy the complicated answer.)

  5. Stephen:
    Your answer regarding “small” and “great” was very helpful and really opened up a new way of seeing those energies for me. I appreciate that
    you “speak” for the Shamanic viewpoint — especially since that approach is widely neglected by others.
    Also, Thanks Hilary !
    –for continuing to write thought-proving articles about Stephen’s work.
    I find both Stephen’s work and your commentary/experiences to be deeply valuable.

  6. The ideal and shadow for hexagram 2 Kun / The Receptive is interesting. The Ideal is 57 Xun / The Gentle, and the Shadow is 63 Ji Ji After Completion. It makes good sense when you think about it. When you are engaged in a process where the form of something is manifesting, we do tend to be feeling our way into. And focusing on completing something (hexagram 63) that really needs to unfold naturally in its own time is not condusive to its success.

    Personally I have found the concepts of Ideal and Shadow very usefull for understanding my readings and enriching my understanding of the nature of things in general. It is good that Stephen Karchers has shared this with us.

  7. just reading over this, how is the ideal hexagram arrived at? I’ve tried researching this:

    “King Wen hexagrams should always be seen as transparent allowing the Fu Tzu mandala to shine through them. (Karcher’s Ideal hexagram is thus formed)”

    but came up with nothing. Does anyone know how karcher gets the ideal hex?

  8. Yes… same way Diana ffarington-Hook does, in fact. (She does a lot with these.) If you have Wilhelm handy, look through the Shuo Kua section for illustrations of both arrangements of the trigrams (‘Earlier heaven’ and ‘Later Heaven’). In the edition I have they’re on pages 266 and 269.

    Now you imagine ‘mapping’ from the Later Heaven to the Earlier Heaven diagram. The hexagram you cast counts as ‘later’, manifest world, so you find its component trigrams in that diagram. Then find the trigrams in the equivalent positions in the ‘Earlier Heaven’ layout; the hexagram they form is the ‘Ideal’.

    So for instance, if you cast hexagram 6, water below heaven, you would find those trigrams in the North and Northwest. North and Northwest trigrams in the Earlier Heaven arrangement are earth and mountain, so the ‘ideal’ of Arguing is Stripping Away.

  9. Thank you Hillary for all the wonderful work you do.

    Thank you Stephen Karcher for your clarifying answer about the ghosts and spirits and for helping me to understand and work with the Yi.

  10. Thank you for chasing that down. I’ll have to see about editing the post – and my links page, come to think of it.

  11. Incidentally, I came back to the ‘shadow hexagram’ again for recent readings, and once again found it was the perfect image of exactly what the querent was trying to do and exactly how they were failing to make any progress.

  12. “The Shadow of hexagram 58, Opening, is 7, the Army. If it is a time to be enriched by joining and exchanging with others, then it is not time to look for a single focal point, to ask yourself, ‘What is my objective here?’ It’s not about marching on an objective in an orderly way; it’s about receiving the gift that emerges from exchange and cross-fertilisation.”

    I casted 58 lately, bringing in the shadow makes me better understand the meaning of 58, but I’m not sure how to fit in the Ideal: 29, Repeating Chasms? (I suppose 29 is indeed the Ideal?)

  13. Hi there,
    I’ve re-read and re-read your article here, as well as Stephen Karcher’s PDF on the the Ideal and the Shadow hexagrams. Thank you so much for posting and linking us to his works.

    I too have integrated the Shadow hexagram into readings and it opens up such a breadth of information… grateful for this discovery…
    However! I don’t understand how to find the “Ideal”… I don’t understand how to locate it in the reading… I’ve got Karcher’s book “”Total I Ching” and haven’t come across anything. You’ve written up a few examples so I imagine you understand how to reach it!
    Awaiting your reply and thanks again for your blog post,


  14. OK… first you need copies of the two bagua arrangements, the King Wen and Fuxi – both in the Wilhelm/Baynes, and the Wikipedia article on the bagua. Then locate the trigrams of your cast hexagram in the King Wen arrangement. Look in the equivalent places in the Fuxi arrangement to find the trigrams of the ‘Ideal’ hexagram. So a li trigram becomes qian, and so on.

  15. Wow. I must say this is blowing my mind the idea of ideal and shadow. Sounds like a wonderful shortcut to interpretation. Is that a correct understanding?

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