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Puzzling over 54, line 1

Puzzling over 54, line 1

It’s a not-unfamiliar experience with readings: the oracle text of the hexagram says one thing, and then a moving line says something quite different. You probably know the basic principle: the moving line text takes precedence. It’s the ‘You Are Here’ sign to the hexagram’s overall scene-setting.

Still, it’s worth going beyond that to wonder exactly why the line text is different. Here’s a good example…

Hexagram 54 says,

‘Marrying maiden. To set out to bring order: pitfall.
No direction is fruitful.’

That’s blunt and unambiguous: your plans, and especially your ideas to fix things and set them to rights, are not looking promising. But then comes line 1:

‘Maiden marries as a younger sister.
Lame, can walk.
Setting out to bring order: good fortune.’

From ‘setting out to bring order: pitfall’ to exactly the opposite. How come?

Why pitfall?

To start with, why is bringing order such a bad idea originally, overall, for the Marrying Maiden?

‘Setting out to bring order’ translates zheng 征 – which means

  • to go on a long journey
  • to target something, march on it, go straight for it
  • specifically, to launch a punitive military campaign. (‘Order’ might just mean, ‘Everyone pays tribute to the king’.)

The Chinese character shows a foot on the road, so the idea of marching out is fundamental.

The marrying maiden is someone who’s married off, probably as a second wife, and certainly not of her own initiative. She’s in a position of weakness, and can’t impose her idea of order on anything. Also, such marriages would be a way to forge alliances between clans, rendering military action unnecessary and counter-productive.

Why’s line 1 different?

This all makes good sense – so what’s so different in line 1?

I can think of four differences…

  • It’s the first line
  • It’s changing
  • ‘Younger sister’
  • ‘Lame, can walk’

Let’s look at each in turn…

It’s the first line

The first line of any hexagram has a sense of just entering its realm, just getting started, getting its feet under it. It doesn’t enjoy authority, or an overview, and probably not much understanding either, but it can at least begin.

In a lot of hexagrams (26, 43, 63…), this first step is to slow down, to get control of one’s momentum before setting a new direction. But as marrying maiden, when you’re in a weak position to start with, the important thing is just to get underway somehow.

It’s changing

…and as soon as an element changes in the Yi, it creates relationships with other elements that make their presence felt.

This is the bottom line of dui, the lake, changing to kan, depths and running water. So this change is rather like pulling the bathplug: it creates flow.

And this is the line where Marrying Maiden meets Hexagram 40, Release:

changing to

‘Release. The southwest is fruitful.
With no place to go,
To turn round and come back is good fortune.
With a direction to go,
Daybreak, good fortune.’

‘The southwest is fruitful’: it’s a good direction for finding allies, or maybe creating marital alliances. Release brings an underling attitude of ‘Let’s see what we can do, let’s see which paths might lead somewhere, and let’s get underway’ – all without tying ourselves in knots over what we wish we could do instead, or whether we’re likely to fail horribly.

The poor little marrying maiden doesn’t have much freedom overall, but she is at least free to do what she can, within the limits. ‘Lame, can still walk.’

Bradford Hatcher had a different take on this 54-40 relationship, and talked about the freedom from striving:

‘Freedom from all these demands might set her free from the hustle and leave her time to be just herself, enjoying her life as it is.’

Younger sister

This is the first difference in the text: the maiden marries (just as in the first two words of the Oracle) as a younger sister (or possibly with her younger sisters).

‘Younger sister’ is one Chinese word, di 娣. Its components are ‘woman’ and ‘younger brother’ – an element that Sears says originally meant ‘sequence’ or ‘second’.

This points clearly to the junior wife, the woman who comes second in line. As the first line of dui, trigram of the youngest sister, that makes sense. By implication, the whole hexagram is about second wives, but this makes it absolutely explicit.

Hence tradition tells us that this line is about someone in a lowly position who serves with modesty and doesn’t rock the boat. The Tuanzhuan says, ‘If such a lame one can keep on treading, it shall mean good fortune, for it is to keep on giving support.’ (RJ Lynn’s translation). The junior wife supports the first wife and strengthens the family.

From this angle, she may be ‘setting out to bring order’, but in the sense that she’s limping along with the rank and file, not leading the expedition.

Lame, can walk

The next new thing in the text: ‘lame, can walk’. Richard Rutt didn’t attempt to piece this together:

‘The sentence about the lame one who steps out is probably out of place and has nothing to do with the wedding story.’

It surely has something to do with zheng, though: ‘treading’ and ‘marching out’ are adjacent characters in the text, both with the ‘footsteps’ element 彳:


履 征

She can walk, so going on a journey is good fortune.

We might picture the junior wife limping off to her new home. But there may be more to it, as Hexagram 54 line 5 also alludes to to a particular ‘younger sister’, the Lady Shen who would become the mother of Wu, the Zhou heir and conqueror of the Shang. What if this line prefigures her rise, too?

Minford suggests that zheng here might be ‘a figurative description of a marriage “expedition”‘ – he explains that the ‘love is war’ metaphor was present in early Chinese texts. Now there are extra layers of meaning: the Zhou, too, started out small and powerless, but marched on Shang successfully in the end. Maybe the protagonist of this line, despite her handicaps, can expect to wield power of her own in future. The traditional idea of success for the unassuming and modest might not tell the whole story.

Hexagram 10, line 3

One other angle on this line: ‘Lame, can walk’ is a direct quotation from Hexagram 10, line 3. It actually says ‘lame, can tread‘ – the name of Hexagram 10. And 54.2 also quotes the same line. Together, these three lines make up a complete inner dui trigram:

‘Maiden marries as a younger sister.
Lame, can walk.
Setting out to bring order: good fortune.’
‘With one eye, can see.
A hermit’s constancy bears fruit.’

Hexagram 54, lines 1 and 2

‘With one eye, can see.
Lame, can walk.
Treads on the tiger’s tail:
It bites him. Pitfall.
Soldier acting as a great leader.’

Hexagram 10, line 3

If we look back from the Marrying Maiden to Treading, what could we learn from the comparison?

When it comes to following tigers – or reflecting all of (outer trigram) heaven – it won’t work to hobble along with a limited field of vision. Inadequacy will be found out; ‘good enough’ isn’t. But in Hexagram 54, marrying as the second wife, the lake reflecting (on) this sudden change (outer trigram thunder), just getting by is good enough. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly.

The situation in 54.1 is actually a perfect mirror image of 10.3. The soldier should be following, but tries to act as a great leader. The ‘younger sister’ is specifically the ‘woman who follows’ – but this younger sister may yet become the first wife.

(As for the hermit in 54.2, perhaps he’s one of those Daoist sages who deliberately makes himself useless, avoiding political power. Or perhaps, as Field says, he’s ‘the man in the dark,’ the imprisoned future King Wen – another one who starts at a disadvantage but wins in the end.)

And in real life?

I can think of a few of my own experiences with this reading that capture something about the line.

One was a reading about a broken molar – it had been filled badly, so it cracked, and then a great lump of enamel had fallen off, leaving exposed dentin. One week on, was it hardening, or was infection setting in? I asked what was happening with the tooth, and received 54.1. I ‘set out to bring order’ with my usual regimen; that was four years ago, and the tooth is still fine, provided I keep up the daily oil pulling.

Someone contacted me to ask for a full reading with weekly calls. I was happy to work for her, except that she was in Australia, so I’d have to start client work first thing in the morning, a time I’d normally have set aside for writing. Advice? 54.1. I reorganised things, read for her, and it went well. (I’ve had several readings describe the role of a diviner with Hexagram 54.)

And then there was the 54.1 reading about hiring a particular web designer. To clarify – not anyone I’ve worked with recently; this was long ago. I hired him despite this reading, which was not my best idea: onlineClarity came second to everything, and deadlines came and went while he ignored all my emails. In the end I tried emailing not to ask for a new date, but to set one unilaterally: I’d pay pro rata for whatever he’d completed by then. That got him moving – though there was still a lot of clear-up to do afterwards from things he’d messed up.

What do these three have in common? I was starting out at a disadvantage, handicapped in some way. The promised good fortune is going to take a lot of effort and probably sore feet; this line’s situation isn’t one you’d choose to get into, in an ideal world.

However – and this is where it differs from the general picture of Hexagram 54 – there is some power to be found or claimed here that you might not have imagined you had. In each of these readings, I seem to have had to break with my usual habits to access it: rewriting my mornings, or getting completely uncharacteristically assertive with the vanishing designer, or – horrors – giving up chocolate for a while. If little sister ties on her walking boots and limps out with determination, she can make this work.

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