...life can be translucent

Bad hexagrams, problem cards

I don’t do tarot readings, or know anything worth mentioning about tarot, but I still like reading what wise tarot people write. They seem to have a creative, flexible, improvisatory approach to divination that I think Yi people could learn something from. And a lot of the problems/ questions/ possibilities in tarot reading are things I can recognise in my experience with Yi.

For instance… the notion of ‘bad hexagrams’ (12, 29, 23, 47, maybe 51, 39…), and the notion of ‘problem cards’. Hopefully we learn early on not to take a literal-minded approach to interpreting these, fearing that Hexagram 29/ the Death card mean someone’s going to die, and so on. (Bradford Hatcher’s ‘positive and negative hexagrams‘ thread helps.) We learn a sense of proportion (47 might mean ten years of black depression, or it might mean you can’t get out of your parking space after work); we learn to pay attention to the actual content of a reading – the imagery, the advice, the dynamics of it – rather than ignoring the whole lot and rushing to the ‘good’/’bad’ omen.

To me, those – the sense of proportion, paying attention to the whole reading – are the basics. Reading Rachel Pollack’s blog, it occurs to me that maybe we can go beyond them.

She compares tarot’s ‘problem cards’ to the Furies, which rise up out of the ground to hunt those who ‘break primal laws’ (interesting thought in itself). Although in the end they are turned to positive purpose by Athena, who makes them into guardians of the city, this does not make them ‘safe’. And this is an important point about ominous readings: however ‘mature’ our approach to them, they are still ominous and untamed; it doesn’t help to bounce glibly to a ‘nice’ version. She gives the example of the Death card, and ‘Death-of-the-old-self’. I suppose a Yijing equivalent might be 23, and ‘stripping away the old, dead things that are no longer of any use, clearing space for new life.’ Yes, this is true, and the loss is going to hurt. (Except for the sage, perhaps: I think that for the sage, the loss doesn’t hurt, like erosion doesn’t hurt a mountain.)

So Rachel suggests a process of exploring the fearsome cards through tarot-inspired reflection. This is something I think we can borrow from here in Yi-land.

To start with, identify the gua that are frightening to you: they’re not the same for everyone. See exactly what it is about them that’s frightening.

(An example for me: Hexagram 29, for all I know it is a journey of the ‘connected heart’, commitment, learning, leaps of faith… , still comes with a fear of drowning. Yi’s used it for me several times to indicate the onset of winter depression, and I’m certainly afraid of that: being sucked down into depths where I might never reach the bottom, might never escape. So yes… 29, beautiful but still scary hexagram…)

Rachel suggests asking a series of questions about your Fury-card, and drawing other cards from the pack to answer them. What the card asks of you, for instance, or what lies beneath it, and also what justice it calls for. This is the moment where I don’t feel I can ‘follow along’ with Yi: partly because the Yijing doesn’t really lend itself to a group of mini-readings like this, but also because the Yi may have answers to some of these questions built into its structure.

For instance – the question, ‘What lies underneath it?’
There are various kinds of ‘underneath’ available in Yi. There’s the previous hexagram in the Sequence, showing you in simple terms where it came from. (You fall into the depths of 29 after your supporting structure is overloaded in 28.) There’s also the ‘ideal’ or ‘earlier heaven’ hexagram, found by locating the component trigrams of your hexagram in the Later Heaven bagua, and replacing them with the trigrams from the same positions in the Early Heaven bagua. (For Hexagram 29 that reveals an underlying ‘ideal form’ of Hexagram 2. So original form of the Repeating Chasms, and/or the ideal mindset to have when experiencing it, is one of earth, receptivity and willingness. I’d need some time to think about that one…)

‘What does it ask of me?’
Here I’d suggest looking at the nuclear hexagram. That can show you the inner work a hexagram is doing. At its heart, Hexagram 29 asks that I find balanced, reciprocal ways to be Nourished (27).

‘What justice does the situation demand?’
Hm… thinking of justice as the restoration of balance and wholeness… how about looking at the complementary hexagram?

These are – obviously! – not a tried and tested recipe, just some initial ideas for exploring further into bad negative hexagrams that are hard to enjoy. I’d be inclined to use some combination of these structural relationships alongside a single, wide open personal reading, maybe along the lines of, ‘How can I best relate to this gua?’


6 responses to Bad hexagrams, problem cards

  1. I may be a Johnny-come-lately as far as this is concerned, but it *is* my own discovery:

    Since the Yi is based on/around/in the twin forces of yinand yang and there permutations, one into the other, it came as a pleasant surprise to me to note that all gua resolve back – via their ‘nuclear gua’ and in either one or two iterations – into 1, 2, 63 or 64. (An example: 29’s ‘nucleus’ is 27; 27’s nucleus is 2. Or 12’s nucleus is 53 and 53’s nucleus is 64.)

    … So, ultimately, ALL gua relate to one or other state (“Empty of desire, perceive the mystery. Filled with desire, perceive its manifestations” sez Grandfather Lao) or to a moving beyond or returning from out of those states as such.

    Just me solsticely ha’p’orth.


  2. Great stuff! Thank you for the analyzes and the comparison! (Re-shared at fb Tarot community page)

    eta: i had linked to the tarot community page (non-commercial page i administer on fb), but couldn’t post it as it seems it was flagged as spam

  3. Mike – yes, that’s a structure I enjoy very much, too. Especially the way 1 and 2 are their own nuclears, unfolding into themselves, while 63 and 64 contain and give rise to one another in an endless cycle. Nice connection to the Daodejing.

    Lena – thank you for the share, and sorry about the paranoid delusions of the spam filter!

  4. Having worked with Tarot as well as I Ching for many years, I add my thoughts here. When a Tarot “problem” card emerges in a spread I am doing, I have learned to celebrate my newly emerging willingness to actually look at that pattern in myself. Nothing can change until one is willing to look at it. And I’ve heard that demons fear the light — because it renders them helpless!

  5. Good thought! I have tried telling myself that a hard reading is a sort of backhanded compliment, a sign that I’m ready to take on the difficult stuff… not quite sure, though…

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