Jack Balkin (The Laws of Change) and Richard Rutt (Zhouyi) both explain the distinction between two kinds of oracle: impetrative and oblative. Since they give subtly different definitions, I’ll content myself with sharing what I’ve understood from them both.
An oblative oracle is one that’s given to you: an omen or synchronicity, such as a visiting crow, or significant bumper sticker or fragment of conversation, or an eloquent dream. It can show up at any time and for anyone who’s prepared to notice it.
An impetrative oracle is one you ask for, and where your action creates the sign you are seeking. If you crack tortoise shells, shuffle cards, toss coins or count yarrow stalks, you’re both asking for a sign and bringing it into being. Rutt calls it ‘inducing artificial signs that can be read as portents.’ Inducing and interpreting these signs would be the job of a diviner.
So you ask your question, and you take action to reveal your answer – or, you could say, to create your answer, to bring it into being at this time and place. Sometimes, this is exactly the right thing to do. Something moves you to ask, and when you do so it feels as though the universe breathes a sigh of relief: ah, at last she’s listening! A broken connection is mended; spirit has a voice and language to speak in, and meaning and message flow naturally.
But what if it isn’t time for that answer to come into being?
I don’t mean those times when we ask, don’t understand or just don’t like the answer, and keep right on asking. It’s certainly true that this can lead to more and more ‘noise in the signal’, as the questions asked wander ever further away from the real present moment. But a single, wholly realistic and reasonable question, well-formed, not containing any hidden assumptions to divorce it from reality – a question where you’re visibly ‘doing it right’ in every particular – can still be out of harmony with the time. In a timely question, you’re stepping into the centre (of yourself, of the moment) to ask; in an untimely one, you’re stepping out.
Of course, it will still look as though you have an answer: there are lines, they make a hexagram. Sometimes that’ll be hexagram 4, or 29. Sometimes it’ll be virtually impenetrable, and sometimes (personal experience!) it’ll be brutally rude.
I’ve been thinking about this because, after a series of overwhelmingly timely readings, I’ve reached a stage where most of what I want to know now – like where I’m headed and what it’ll be like when I get there – is not timely. Or possibly just ‘wanting to know’ is untimely. I’d love to know where I am and where I’m going, and whether I’m doing it right; I have a badly inflamed case of ‘shoulditis’, in fact, which I’m treating with repeated applications of sitting meditation and meandering cycle rides in the autumn sun.
I asked Yi about the wisdom of continuing the conversation and about taking a ‘reading holiday’. It described continuing with readings as 61.1.6 changing to 29. Inner Truth Repeating the Chasms (also learning them, or so I’d hope).
‘Guided, good fortune.
There is another, no peace.’
If I think there’s something I need to be doing besides just being guided – like knowing where I’m headed, being sure I’m doing it right, etc, etc… – then ‘no peace’. That’s certainly true.
‘Cockcrow rises to heaven.
To quote my own commentary, which turns out to mean more than I thought it did (it’s disturbing when that happens):
The cockerel’s crowing rises to heaven; the cockerel does not, nor does his crowing cause the sun to rise. You are making noises you cannot match in reality. This has left inner truth behind: instead of trusting, you demand a response, trying to force a connection and define how things shall be. But there are limits to the changes you can create with your words. When you are overreaching yourself, persevering in your agenda will not help, and is likely to damage relationships.
Limits to the ‘changes’ I can create with my words, indeed…
How to navigate round this one and avoid becoming like the cockerel? Ah look… here’s another answer I can’t conjure into being by asking the question. It probably helps to keep the whole process as simple and open as possible: to wait for that inner nudge that there’s something you need to know, and then asking, ‘What do I need to understand about x?’ – or even just ‘What do I need to understand?’