As I’ve probably mentioned from time to time, I’m working on an enlarged and improved version of the Words of Change Yijing glossary, to be included as part of the upcoming journal software. This gives me the perfect excuse for lots of completely engrossing research and exploration into Yi, while poor old Justin is solving problems like ‘how to manage imports when the user’s corrupted the text template.’
Of course, the problem with research into Yi is that there’s no end to it. Also, that I’m supposed to be writing a glossary, but keep finding things that don’t belong in one. For instance… for the entries on ‘marriage’, I need to include sections on the different experiences of men and women, on the ‘not a robber’ formula, on the basics of marriage as metaphor – but I really don’t need to talk about how fascinating it is to read the marriage story alongside the Mandate story through the sequence of hexagrams.
It is, though…
On the one hand, marriage is a cosmic ordering principle – you can see that clearly just in the hexagrams that open the Upper and Lower Canons. First 1 and 2, pure yang and pure yin, then 31 and 32, hexagrams of betrothal and marriage. The Sequence into Hexagram 31 hammers home the point:
‘There is heaven and earth, and so there are the ten thousand things.
There are the ten thousand things, and so there is man and woman.
There is man and woman, and so there is husband and wife.
There is husband and wife, and so there is father and son.
There is father and son, and so there is ruler and minister.
There is ruler and minister, and so there is higher and lower.
There is higher and lower, and so there is a place for rites and justice to operate.’
But on the other hand marriage – just like the Mandate of Heaven – is not only a principle: it’s a story, full of doubts and triumphs and emotional tensions.
The story of the Mandate (Cliff’s Notes version): the Shang regime were once true, ethical, in harmony with the ancestral spirits and through them with Heaven, and so they had its Mandate to rule. But then they became corrupt; they forfeited the Mandate. The Zhou people under Wen’s leadership became worthy of the Mandate and were empowered to overthrow the Shang. The story begins somewhere in the first decade of hexagrams – 7’s Armies are Zhou armies – and reaches its zenith at hexagrams 49 and 50, the revolution and founding of the new regime.
But the Mandate story really begins with a marriage: the Shang-Zhou marital alliance from which Wen himself (or possibly his son Wu) was born. We first hear of this story in the 5th line of Hexagram 11, Tai, the sacred mountain where the king makes offerings to heaven to inaugurate his new regime, and the joining of heaven and earth in its trigrams:
‘King Yi marries off his daughters.
This brings fulfilment, good fortune from the source.’
This line changes, aptly enough, to Hexagram 5, Waiting. It’ll be some time before this marriage comes to full fruition: it’s next mentioned in the second great marriage hexagram: 54, the Marrying Maiden, otherwise known as hexagram ‘minus 11’. (That is, 54 and 11 are one another’s ‘shadow hexagrams’.)
But speaking of long waits… the longest structural arc of the Yi is the one that casts the Vessel, from 3 to its complementary hexagram, 50, with those intriguing patterns springing across the breadth of the mould. Mandate story reaches its culmination in the Vessel; marriage story makes its tentative beginnings – its first mention in the sequence – at 3.2:
‘Now sprouting, now hesitating.
Now driving a team of horses.
Not robbers at all, but marital allies.
The child-woman’s constancy – no children.
Ten years go by, then there are children.’
So there will be children – the connections that began amidst difficulty and hesitation in hexagram 3 are to come to fruition – but only after a long, long wait. Reach out to feudal lords now (marital alliances are a crucial way of doing this), and perhaps one day there might be a kingdom.
In hexagrams 49 and 50, the climax of Mandate story, the old is overturned and the new regime is inaugurated:
‘Radical Change puts away the old;
The Vessel grasps renewal.’
For some time now, I’ve thought of hexagrams 51 and 52 as the work of processing and integrating a colossal change and its emotional-cultural-spiritual aftershocks. In all the change, the sacred continues – you can even find, with the breakdown of ossified certainties, that it has become more alive, more immediate. ‘Not losing the sacred ladle and libation,’ maybe even rediscovering it.
After the Zhou conquest, the Shang people didn’t disappear. They had to live together with the Zhou, and the offerings to their ancestral spirits had to continue. Two cultures and two spiritual realms – families in spirit – had to be integrated. Perhaps this casts light on 51.6:
‘Shock twists and turns,
Watching in fear and terror,
Setting out to bring order: pitfall.
The shock does not reach your self,
It reaches your neighbour –
There are words of marital alliance.’
Interesting that when, amidst this turmoil, a military, ‘fix-it’ approach would be disastrous, we can instead talk over the connections forged by marriage.
Next come the big ‘marriage’ hexagrams, 53 and 54, which link back to 11/12 and forward to 63/64.
(About those links… 54 is both shadow and nuclear of 11, and 53 of 12. Line 5 of both 54 and 11 mention Yi marrying off his daughters. 53 and 54 are the nuclears of 64 and 63 respectively, and the ‘Not Yet’ of 64’s ‘Not Yet Across’ is present in the character for ‘maiden’ in the name of 54: a ‘maiden’ is a ‘not-yet woman’. And the Zagua firmly groups 54 with 64: ‘woman’s completion’ versus ‘exhaustion of the male’. A whole mix of different kinds of link – and I expect there are some I’ve missed.)
They’re beautiful hexagrams, these, with the splendid journey of the geese flying out into transcendence, the store of promise as Yi’s daughters marry, with the moon almost full. But they’re also full of doubt, tension – despair, even (53.3, 54.6). This is the only change of Heaven’s Mandate within living memory, but everyone knows of children who die young, or husbands who leave and do not return – marriage promises that are bleakly empty.
This reflects the anxieties of 63-64 – ‘beginnings, good fortune; endings, chaos.’ The Xia started well but lost the Mandate; the Shang did the same. And now the Zhou have taken it up… now what? And here is the book’s final mention of marriage (the only one after 53-54):
‘A wife loses her carriage screen.
Don’t chase it.
On the seventh day, gain.’
– sounding a note of cautious optimism and reassurance about loss.
Where does this quick gallop through the Sequence leave us? It seems to me that the Change Book portrays change by weaving together many threads of it: history, shared experience, myth, structural links. And the marriage and Mandate threads are twisted together all through the book. How does change happen? Through Mandate, says history: change comes as an unyielding, unavoidable heaven-sent destiny, bringing war. Through marriage, say both experience and the Shang-Zhou history: the overcoming of suspicion and obstacles between different people, and the creation of a fertile, enduring union.