...life can be translucent

The family of 54

Each hexagram of the Yijing contains a nuclear hexagram at its core. And since the nuclear hexagram unfolds from lines 2-5,  it’s the first and last lines, the ‘entrance and exit’ or ‘roots and shoots’ of the hexagram, that vary – so that four hexagrams can be formed around each nucleus.

These groups of four hexagrams form a ‘family’ that shares the core hexagram as siblings share DNA (like this one sharing Hexagram 37). Karcher reads them as a ‘cycle of seasons’, ordered by the development of the first and sixth lines: yang-yin is spring, yang-yang summer, yin-yang autumn and yin-yin winter.

I find it’s enough simply to be aware of these hexagram groups, so that you can take notice if Yi keeps showing you the same nuclear hexagram: the core challenge, the work you’re doing, the idea you’re bringing to expression, in all these different ways.

Hexagram 54, the Marrying Maiden,
is contained within hexagrams 11, 26, 18 and 46
|||::: |||::| :||::| :||:::
which differ only in their first and sixth lines.

The Marrying Maiden is a young girl, not yet a woman, married off as a second wife into her new home. This is the first wife’s marriage; it’s not about her; there’s no place for her desires, plans and priorities. If she tries to ‘bring order’ according to her own lights she will meet with misfortune; no direction she might set will bear fruit.

She embodies the none-too-pleasant experience of finding yourself in a situation, probably not of your choosing, where you come second and have no direct power. And yet – this is her home now. So being the marrying maiden also implies that you are plunged all unprepared into a situation beyond your measure, and compelled to grow into it.
As nuclear hexagram, 54 seems to imply that experience of being moved into a bigger space, becoming part of a bigger story – and if the story is bigger, it’s no longer just about you.

Hexagram 11 is Flow, the time when ‘small goes, great comes.’ There is a powerful current of creative energy, and frequently (especially when the hexagram is unchanging) people experience this as being swept up into the flow. Even if you were quite attached to those ‘small’ things now disappearing downstream, now you have to deal with events and experiences on a larger scale. You have been ‘married’ into a bigger world.

Hexagram 26, Great Taming, describes a more conscious, deliberate move to another level:

‘Great taming,
Constancy bears fruit.
Not eating at home, good fortune.
Fruitful to cross the great river.’

The big farmer tends and nurtures his livestock, not just for the sake of accumulating wealth, but as a springboard to bigger things: to grow beyond the domestic sphere and be of greater service in the world. So although the hexagram is about attaining mastery, it contains the hidden possibility that you are like the marrying maiden: as you venture out away from home and across the great river, you will no be longer ‘ruler in your own domain’, but entering someone else’s.

In Hexagram 18, Corruption, the marrying maiden’s experience – that feeling of being in a situation run by someone or something else, and not according to your own intent – seems a stronger presence. At line 1, for instance,

‘Ancestral father’s corruption.
There is a child,
The deceased elders are without fault.
Danger. In the end, good fortune.’

The child enters into the family’s story and inherits the corruption of the ancestors; he must needs work through the complexities and darkness of a situation not of his making. That the corruption is ‘not his fault’, like the complexes we inherit through our parents are ‘not our fault’, is supremely irrelevant.

This gives new meaning to ‘finding yourself’ in a situation beyond your measure. Perhaps this is the heart of the challenge for the marrying maiden, the work Hexagram 54 represents: really inhabiting the place where you are, whether or not you chose it or like it. You attune yourself to it; you don’t attempt to transform it into something else before you have become part of it.

The nuclear hexagram is a latent possibility; its meaning seems to emerge more strongly when the hexagram is unchanging and has nowhere else to go. This is the case with Hexagram 46, Pushing Upward – the ‘winter’ of the 54 family, when the seed of the nuclear hexagram has shrunk away and nothing on the surface hints at its presence.

Pushing Upward is a wholly positive, active hexagram: make the effort, set out, and you will make progress, step by step. You have the autonomy of a king (the one who faces south). And yet when this is unchanging, it suddenly asks – ‘So, you are climbing? Where to, exactly?’ And you may find yourself moving into a much bigger space or undertaking a more daunting task than you had imagined. Even the king can be a marrying maiden; it all depends on the scale of his surroundings.

One response to The family of 54

  1. Thanks for sharing these fascinating insights on the Marrying Maiden’s family of hexagrams. I keep thinking what an amazing and elegant gift the I Ching continues to be, independent of its era of inception and original cultural context. But that is thanks in large part to brilliant interpreters like you for inviting us to see the vistas and interwoven patterns these hexagrams contain. So grateful!

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