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The clouds of Hexagram 9

Hexagram 9 says,

‘Small taming, creating success.
Dense clouds without rain
Come from my Western altars.’

The dense clouds without rain suggest that what we need is tantalisingly close, just not quite here yet.  Those ‘Western altars’ are probably a subtle reference to the Zhou, people of the West. Before they could receive heaven’s mandate, they spent many generations in Hexagram 9’s work as small farmers, cultivating their land and the ‘natural pattern of character’ – and the word ‘pattern’ here is Wen, the ‘pattern king’ who prepared the ground for his son’s conquest of Shang. So this looks like a hexagram of making ready to receive the mandate.

I’ve still barely started reading Shaughnessy’s Unearthing the Changes – but just a few pages in, he quotes a fascinating divination. Recorded in the Mozi (5th/4th century BC), these are said to be the words of a diviner of the Xia, interpreting the turtle shell omen for the casting of a ding vessel:

“So billowing the white clouds, now south now north, now west now east: The nine cauldrons being completed will be transferred to the three kingdoms.”

This omen predicted the transfer of power from Xia to Shang and Shang to Zhou. Shaughnessy says modestly that it’s ‘unclear’ to him why the omen would mention clouds, but in a footnote mentions a record of a cloud omen associated with a later discovery of an exceptional vessel, and speculates there may be an association between Yu’s nine vessels and the appearance of clouds.

And here in Hexagram 9, the clouds are on their way. They’re carried by the wind that moves above heaven, shaped by its power – heaven-powered, Mandate-powered winds.

These clouds are thick, not bright; the vessel hasn’t yet come to the Zhou, and it’s not yet raining. But according to Hexagram 50 line 3, when the great vessel is finally restored to use, this will be like the clouds finally bringing rain:

‘The vessel’s ears are radically changed,
Its action blocked.
Rich pheasant fat goes uneaten.
Rain on all sides lessens regrets,
In the end, good fortune.’


8 responses to The clouds of Hexagram 9

  1. On Shaughnessy, wait until he gets to discuss jing/48… 🙂

    But on this phrase about clouds, it should that the same phrase is repeated in 62.5. ????

  2. I wrote a better comment in the forum post as I can type Chinese characters there. In any case, I wasn’t asking for an explanation; I was trying to point at the only other occurrence of the character for cloud, where the same phrase is repeated, not just the character. Just the way my mind works: seeking repetitions in the text or lack thereof.

  3. As so many of the hexagrams, this one teaches that in the context of this situation things do not come in an instant. In some hexagrams we have a situation where we have to work for change, others we have to wait. In some hexagrams a situation is coming quickly, but usually it takes time and effort to bring about the changes. Confer also with hexagram 53, 5, and 3.


  4. Gene – yes – and it turns out that the movement of the clouds is an ancient image for change that happens over the course of centuries…

    Luis – I did wonder if you might have an explanation. (That’s the way my mind works: always asking, ‘Why did they do that?’)

  5. Never thought about it, to be honest, although Ed may be on the right track and associating nephelomancy with it. The ancient Chinese were very much into cloud divination after all.

  6. Hi, Luis. Could you say something about hex 14 changing into 9? I met again an ex after 5 years and I was wondering if he will accept to meet me again whenever we have time. He travels a lot for work, so it is hard to plan.

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