The ‘powerful woman’ problem
In Hexagram 44, we are encountering, meeting or ‘coupling’ with a powerful woman.
‘Coupling, the woman is powerful.
Do not take this woman.’
To ‘take’ her means to seize, as one might seize a criminal, but in this usage it’s something like the old-fashioned English, ‘taking a woman in marriage’ – maybe with overtones of bringing her under control in the process! And that’s exactly what you should not try to do. Why not? The Commentary on the Judgement says,
‘Do not take this woman: it cannot last long.’
– which is pretty clear: she can’t be absorbed into your life, she won’t fit, not in the long run. This is the stuff of brief encounters, not an enduring relationship. (See this post for more about this ‘not fitting in’ of 44.)
In this post, I’d like to tackle two questions: how to recognise what the ‘powerful woman’ represents in your readings, and how you might respond to her. (And in the process respond to requests for me to write about 44’s moving lines.)
Who is she?
I’ve run a search in my own Yijing journal for all the readings with Hexagram 44, as both primary and relating hexagram, and also looked through some notes on other people’s readings, to help paint a portrait of this ‘powerful woman’. When people receive Hexagram 44, what are they encountering?
There was the story Mary ‘Midaughter’ Halpin told, in which Hexagram 44 predicted a storm and she only just brought her boat to shore in safety. There are readings about an addiction, or perhaps the addictive personality.
There was a logically-minded man ‘meeting’ the idea of someone taking divination seriously and having no idea what to do with this. But then there was also the querent who ‘met’ the realm of emotion, sexual desire and messy humanity invading the realm of abstraction created by (far too many) Yijing readings.
And there was someone receiving demands for debt repayment, and the tennis player encountering an opponent whose game he couldn’t read.
In all these cases, the ‘powerful woman’ showed up as an irruption of unmanageable reality, perhaps of chaos – something unplanned-for, disruptive, and also potentially creative.
I’ve received 44 as primary hexagram again and again when encountering people I can’t… quite… cope with in the way I’d imagined. (Another kind of ‘irruption of reality’!) I’d be trying to maintain a harmonious relationship with people who simply didn’t want one.
Tradition says the powerful woman seeks to dominate, and for some of these people that actually was their only priority. I was running round looking for ways to make friends, while they were simply looking for ways to defeat me. But others were simply in a fragile mental state, driven by powerful emotional needs of their own that had nothing to do with me or the issue I was concerned about. In one of these journal entries I wrote,
‘You can no more have a stable friendship with that than you can with a flood – so you just have to do the best you can – which isn´t always so great…’
I needed to understand that these people’s motivations were not the straightforward, rational ones I was attributing to them, and – above all – that the kind of harmonious relationship I was trying to create just wasn’t available.
(The mistake I was making in a lot of these situations is nicely summed up by the Shadow hexagram: 21, Biting Through. It looked to me as though there was a specific obstacle to relationship, that I could argue out like a lawyer and bite through; then things would fit together and work perfectly, like good teeth. This was not a useful way to conceive of the situation.)
As relating hexagram, 44 quite often represented an aspect of myself: some irreducible will, or intent, or desire that isn’t available to rational thought; an inner imperative that might change everything.
Sometimes it isn’t clear exactly whom or what the unmarriageable woman represents. There’s a reading about some software, with many attempts to imagine how I’d incorporate it into my way of working – as you might guess, that never happened. Likewise, there’s one about someone else’s organisational system, that wouldn’t work for me. So who’s who in these readings: was this about me meeting the software/ system, or the system meeting me? For the purposes of interpretation, it really doesn’t matter: the point is simply that this is not relationship material. That option doesn’t exist.
Her portrait in trigrams
The trigrams of Hexagram 44 show the wind below heaven, so I’ve been trying to visualise that:
Mary Halpin’s reading of the storm comes to mind, of course. With the whole force of heaven behind the wind, everything is really going to be moved.
What can you do with this?
Hexagram 44 represents the arrival of an uncontrollable, unpredictable great force. The Oracle text tells us we can’t marry this; it doesn’t tell us what we can do with it, probably because there is no dependable, universal answer. What do you ‘do’ with a tornado? Admire its power, stay out of its path if you can, and let it pass. That’s often the best message we can take from a Hexagram 44 reading, too.
However, the power of Coupling isn’t solely destructive. That much is clear from the name of the hexagram, which shows a woman giving birth – perhaps it means the heir, or the woman who gives birth to him. (Here’s Harmen’s article on the subject.) This could also be generative power: witness the fertility imagery in the line texts, the fish in the basket and wrapped melon.
As you read the lines, especially the wonder of line 5, 44 looks like a fertile chaos: there could be a baby; it could generate a whole new world, if it could just be contained and shaped with sufficient care. Maybe. Sometimes.
How could we respond to Coupling?
Be like the prince?
‘Below heaven is the wind. Coupling.
The prince sends out mandates and commands to the four corners of the earth.’
The prince uses this heaven-powered wind to transmit mandates that reach to the corners of the earth. Or perhaps ‘uses’ is the wrong word: perhaps he’s understanding the true nature of the energy involved and engaging with its power to bring creative change.
Perhaps you can align yourself with this wind – and also, perhaps you can’t. People aren’t generally advised to take their glider up in a tornado, after all.
There are signs of the prince’s kind of engagement in the line texts, too. (As so often, the Daxiang authors seem to have been inspired by the lines, especially line 5.)
The first sign of 44 as ‘mandate at work’ comes at line 3, which I believe alludes to Yu the Great and the injuries he suffered as he struggled to conquer the floods:
‘Thighs without flesh,
Moving awkwardly now.
No great mistake.’
This line isn’t about the honour of receiving the mandate for this work, nor the glories of success, but the whole miserable struggle inbetween: we see him stumbling and limping along (‘the image of someone starved and worked to death,’ says Stephen Field), and Yi only comments that this is ‘no great mistake’. (A joke on ‘Yu the Great’? Could be.)
Line 5 –
‘Using willow to wrap melons.
Containing a thing of beauty,
It comes falling from its source in heaven.’
– captures more of a sense of gifts from heaven. Literally, this is talking about using willow to shape a growing gourd for use as a bottle. As an image, of course, it looks like a successful pregnancy. (The willow in 28.2.5 is to do with sex and fertility, too.) The ‘thing of beauty’ is ‘structure, composition, rules’, and in the context of this line, which changes to 50, the Vessel, I reckon it refers to a new constitution.
It’s a very beautiful line – and, in practice, I’ve found that the gift that falls to you here is not necessarily something you have a use for – not as things stand.
When these two lines, 3 and 5, change together, you have the properly-tentative background of Hexagram 64, Not Yet Across.
Can you contain the Coupling power, bring it under control? That’s the first positive recommendation of the hexagram:
‘Held fast by a golden chock. Constancy: good fortune.
With a direction to go, see the pitfall:
A scrawny pig can be trusted to kick and struggle.’
That’s the only time we see ‘good fortune’ in Hexagram 44: when it’s being contained and held fast. If you identify with the impulse, let it become your direction, then you look a great deal like that pig. Stop and steady the ship; beware of unconscious desires that, left unchecked, might end up running the whole show.
In the I Ching Community some years back, this line described the attitude a man was taking to his very demanding mistress after his wife had given birth to twins. In the end, after some stopping and starting, he no longer responded to her.
The other line I think has to do with containing and controlling is line 6:
‘Coupling with your horns.
Not a mistake.’
This one, overwhelmed and probably not thinking too clearly, goes in with horns lowered to wrestle things into some sort of relationship. ‘Shame, not a mistake,’ says Yi, sounding (to me) pretty unenthusiastic; perhaps this is the best you can manage.
When those two lines change together, you have the paired hexagram, 43, Deciding. Someone is quite decisive and determined about how Coupling shall be. Will that work? Perhaps.
Use it as basis for a relationship?
And finally, there are lines 2 and 4, the two about fish traps. This is a fertility image and omen: a basket lowered into the river to catch fish. If you trap some, this bodes well for a marriage and future fertility – as in line 2:
‘In this basket there are fish.
Not fruitful to entertain guests.’
So the omens are good, or at least not actively bad; now, you need to hold onto the potential and not get ahead of yourself. Margaret Pearson thinks of this as the early stages of pregnancy, to be safeguarded with quiet and Retreat (Hexagram 33, revealed by this line change). SJ Marshall pointed out to us that ‘entertaining guests’ also means the bin rite, performed to introduce the new bride to the groom’s ancestors: you don’t want to go that far yet, just on the strength of a few fish. Drawing on both these ideas, I wrote in my book, “What you do not have is a guarantee of results. It is far too early to introduce your hope to a wider context and expect it to bear fruit. For now, it should have your inner space to itself, free from premature expectations. You can best care for any long term possibilities by not presuming on them.”
But in line 4 –
‘In this basket, no fish.
Rising up, pitfall.’
– there are no fish, so there’s no possibility of starting anything. As the fourth line, this one may have a positive, ‘What can I do with this?’ attitude; as the line joining with Hexagram 57, Subtle Penetration, it’s moved by a desire to integrate the new energy: ‘How can I use this, make it part of my plans?’
The short answer is that you can’t, because you don’t have a relationship with it. It’s not that there are no fish in the river, but there are none in your basket; it’s not that there is nothing new, it’s that you need to connect with it consciously, as something new that doesn’t slot into the space you had for it.
(Somewhere in the I Ching Community archives, someone asked about the ‘energy’ between themselves and another person and received this line. 18 months later, they still hadn’t spoken.)
These two ‘fish basket’ lines together change 44 to Hexagram 53, Gradual Development: the hexagram of marriage and the geese flying home together. Coupling coming home, building a long-term relationship, is simply not reliable. Perhaps there’s conception, but perhaps there isn’t even that. Exactly as the Commentary on the Judgement says, ‘It cannot last long.’