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A patchwork of hexagrams

A patchwork of hexagrams
This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series The Wings

Introducing the Zagua

The Yi became the Yijing, a Classic book, as it grew its Ten Wings: ten bodies of commentary and reflections on the oracle and its hexagrams. The Zagua, ‘Mixed hexagrams’, is the tenth and last of these: a short, simple, rhyming description of the hexagrams in pairs. (Za 雜, ‘mixed’, implies a multi-coloured patchwork.) Each hexagram is associated with just one or two words, and contrasted with its pair:

‘Creative Force is firm; the Earth is open.’

‘Seeking Union means delight; the Army means grieving.’

…and so on.

Why it’s a favourite of mine

The Zagua is one of my favourite Wings. To start with, this is because it’s the only Wing that describes the hexagrams in their pairs. Hexagram pairs are a vital part of Yi’s make-up and how it creates meaning, both within the miniature ecosystem of the pair itself, and also on a much larger scale: you typically find the big, beautiful patterns in the Sequence by looking at pairs instead of individual hexagrams.

The Zagua takes a straightforward approach: it draws a single contrast between two hexagrams. Many of these are very simple and direct –

‘Shock begins. Stilling stops.’

Others are less so –

‘Biting Through means eating; Beauty is without colour.’

(I think the underlying idea here is that Hexagram 21 takes things in, whereas 22 is about what’s projected outward.)

It’s always easier to grasp something when you can see what it isn’t. If it’s hard to relate to a reading, a simple thought experiment can help: ‘If I’d received the paired hexagram, what would that have been saying? What would I have thought? Well… that’s what it isn’t saying.’ The Zagua makes this contrast visible.

And finally, it does this in a very economical way. There are no explanations, no added theories, decidedly no metaphysical commentary – just the contrasts. I imagine this Wing might have been a teaching aid, something a wise teacher dreamt up to help their students recall the hexagrams. (Group them in pairs, and there’s less to remember.) We get to slip in – just a little late – at the back of the class.

Not everyone appreciates simple

In my admiration for the Zagua, I seem to be in a rather small minority. Wilhelm includes it in Book III as ‘Miscellaneous Notes’, where he splits the text for each pair between hexagrams, making the contrast between them invisible. Hexagram 7: ‘The Army means mourning.’ Hexagram 8, four pages later: ‘Holding Together is something joyous.’ This seems to be a tradition – Lynn often does the same.

No wonder people find the Zagua ‘banal’, as Rutt puts it:

‘Western writers have generally found it banal, if not embarrassing. Legge concluded that it was a mere jeu d’esprit. Joseph de Prémare, however, “the father of sinology”, writing in August 1731…, said the last Wing was “the most profound of all the commentaries included in the Yijing.”

If it is indeed profound, the depths are obscure…’

Richard Rutt, Zhouyi

(This is the first I’ve heard of Joseph de Prémare, but I like him already!)

Examples (things I’ve learned)

The simplicity of the Zagua can be deceptive: there’s a lot to learn from it, and there are definitely some contrasts I’ve yet to understand fully. Some of my favourites, though…


‘Opposing means outside. People in the Home means inside.’

It was reading this that finally made the penny drop for me about inverse hexagram pairs (pairs that are the same pattern of lines, turned upside-down): they’re the same landscape, seen from a different perspective. The home has an inside and an outside; where there’s an ‘us’, there’s also a ‘them’. What you see depends on where you stand.


‘Clarity is above, the chasm is below.’

Another example of two hexagrams in a single landscape, though of course this is an opposite, not an inverse pair. This reminds me of the Chinese mythical landscape: the suns carried through the sky above, and the dark waters flowing under the earth. You can’t have one without the other.


‘Following has no causes. Corruption, and then order.’

Not a direct, crystal-clear contrast, this one. Following has ‘no causes’ because it simply is: one moment follows another, everything is unfolding as it should, and we can align ourselves with this and Follow. There’s absolutely no call to dig in and search for why this is happening, its origins, the point where we might best apply a lever to create change. Change is creating itself. Sometimes we experience this as perfect order and synchronicity, and sometimes as anything but – yet it is ‘no mistake’, however we perceive it.

Hexagram 18 has exactly the same sense of unfolding, one thing following from another, but now there are causes to be uncovered, so you can bring order from the mess.


Just one more –

‘Great Vigour means stopping, Retreating means withdrawing.’

This one grabs me because it avoids the obvious contrast: not advancing vs withdrawing, but stopping. Great Vigour doesn’t move for the sake of moving, and won’t be pushed around; it stands its ground.

I Ching Community discussion

3 responses to A patchwork of hexagrams

  1. Hi Hillary,

    I am no expert on the I Ching but I really love using it. As an oracle it is such a rich source of history and wisdom and it taught me the invaluable skill of asking the right question.

    For a beginner the I Ching can be quite overwhelming, especially when you dive in head first like I have for the better part of the past ten years 🙂

    This is why it probably took me such a long time to get a grasp on the I Ching as a whole. It was mostly the recurring patterns, images and themes that helped me understand the book of changes. Some of my first flashes of insight were here on the forum where I learned that hexagram 27 ‘nourishment’ looks like a mouth with teeth. As a divinator my first love became the Ryder Waite tarot when I was still in my early teens. I learned how each card has a story and how all of the cards interconnect and create a story as a whole. This is how I tune in to any oracle, so the Zagua really is

    How would I apply the Zagua to a reading? Do you have an example?

    • You did leave one tantalisingly unfinished sentence, but I think I get the gist! And good question, about an example.

      Suppose I’d asked, ‘What to do about x?’ about some pressing gnarly problem, and received Hexagram 17. I need to Follow and go along with things, then. But if I think about the paired hexagram, 18, I’ll see more clearly what I’m not meant to do – namely, see it as a gnarly problem I have to dig in and sort out. And the Zagua text itself – though this is one of the more enigmatic ones – hammers the point home for me:

      ‘Following has no causes. Corruption, and then order.’

      No causes, nothing to dig into, no ‘Why is this happening, how can I change it?’ – and because it’s not 18, this is not something that will lead to ‘order’ once I’ve sorted it all out to my satisfaction. It’s just not that kind of issue.

      (By the way, I’m not sure when one graduates from ‘beginner’ to ‘expert’ in the I Ching – I’ll have to get back to you on that one in a few more decades.)

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