Well, here I am getting started teaching week 1 of the I Ching Foundations Class, so it’s hard to think of a better title for a blog post…
Oh, I know quite a few things about Yi. I know some of its history and the stories behind its words, and how its components work together, and how to interpret what it has to say. Ask me what connects 48.3 to hexagram 29 in particular, or what to make of a reading where you receive it along with lines 1 and 5, and I could probably give you a sensible answer. Ask me about all the structural-interpretive tools I enjoy using, and I could probably write a book.
The first thing about Yi, the one I don’t know: why these words with this line?
Some millennia ago, some people somehow took patterns of lines and oral traditions of myth, history and omens, and put them together. They could look at
and know that this meant ‘Well’.
They somehow brought about a confluence of many streams of wisdom, and so they created something between a great work of art and a force of nature.
I play in orchestras, and I have trouble imagining how someone like Sibelius or Mahler conceives of new worlds of sound, never heard before, in his mind’s ear. But the mind that did this? I haven’t the beginnings of an inkling; I do not think I have the right kind of thinking apparatus. If I were in the least inclined to believe in visiting aliens, they’d come in very handy here.
As an aside – yes, I’ve read Wilhelm Book III and much more along similar lines, purporting to explain the line texts in light of line correspondences, trigrams and nuclear trigrams. This is a tremendously ingenious post-hoc patchwork of explanations: there is a wheel in 9.3 because the trigram qian is round; there is a wheel in 63.1 because wheels are associated with kan. The horse of 26.3 is there because of qian, the horse of 59.1 is there because of kan – and so on. Marvellously thorough and detailed work, but not (remotely) the answer to my question, ‘How was this made? How did they know to put these words with this line?’
We can imagine words and traditions gradually coalescing around lines. An obvious example would be the threads of Zhou history that found their way into the book – but which do look, pretty clearly, like threads woven into an existing fabric. Perhaps someone cast those lines at those moments and the divination stories became part of the tradition. We do something like this nowadays, after all, sharing and remembering the more vivid stories of our experiences with the lines. But this is still a long way from perceiving for the first time that
is the Marrying Maiden.
How is that done? I thought I would ask Yi. (Really, can you think of any other source to ask?)
I didn’t want to ask this one sitting at my desk – I took the beads outside so I could stand on the ground under the sky and ask.
Yi, what happened at this confluence of myth, tradition and gua? How were you made?
Small goes, great comes.
Good fortune, creating success.’
(A bird started singing as I reached line 4.)