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Category Archives: Interpreting hexagrams

Comments on whole hexagrams, individual lines and so on

Hexagram 56 in trigrams

Hexagram 56 in trigrams

Fire on the mountain

The trigrams of Hexagram 56 show inner mountain and outer fire. The picture, for me, suggests the nomads’ campfire. It has limited fuel and a limited duration, and the travellers will need to resolve any disputes before the ashes are cool, so they can move on unencumbered in the morning.

A more traditional view is to see the fire itself as the ‘traveller’ – moving rapidly across the slopes, burning through the vegetation. Either way, we can see the trigram qualities embodied in the noble one:

‘Above the mountain is fire: Travelling.
A noble one is clear and thoughtful in administering punishments, and doesn’t draw out legal proceedings.’

He has the fire’s clarity, combined with the mountain’s stability, and its quality of drawing lines and defining endings.

In a way, this revisits the two contrasting ideas of the traveller from the Oracle: someone who is constant to their own standards, but must respect the limits of their situation. (Constancy, good fortune – but creating only small success.) The limits on available time and resources mean we can’t draw out the enquiry indefinitely: they call for clarity.

A trigram pattern in the Sequence

The Sequence of hexagrams is full of fascinating patterns. Here’s one of them: the arrangement of the 5 hexagram pairs that centres on 53 and 54, Gradual Development and the Marrying Maiden:

The pairs of hexagrams from 49/50 to 57/58, with their component trigrams: li + dui/xun, gen/zhen, gen/zhen + dui/xun, li+gen/zhen, dui/xun

(I’ve drawn the hexagrams rotated through 90 degrees so you can easily see both hexagrams of each pair, reading right-to-left as well as left-to-right.)

At the centre of this group of 10 are the ‘marriage’ hexagrams, joining the asymmetrical trigrams gen/zhen and dui/xun. (They’re about marriage in general, but also refer specifically to the marital alliance of Zhou and Shang, in 54.5.)

To either side of the centre, you can see the hexagrams made by doubling each of these trigrams: 51/52 for thunder and mountain, 57/58 for wind and lake.

And then there are two pairs that deal with crucial moments in the Zhou conquest story: the revolution itself and the sacred vessels in 49/50, and the crux point at the garrison of Feng, in Hexagram 55. Each of these pairs combines one of the asymmetrical trigrams with li, fire.

So… you can think of this group of hexagrams as being ‘about’ the central themes of gen/zhen and dui/xun: upheaval and stability, integration and exchange. All of those come together in the images of marriage – and especially the vital Zhou/Shang marriage – at the centre.

In that case, 49/50 and 55/56 are where you add li to those themes. Li is not just fire: it’s also light, vision and insight. I’d suggest it’s associated with stars and astronomy, and how the Zhou people gained clarity about the right time to act from their observations of the heavens.

Adding li can mean adding the patterns of stars, the eyes to see them and insight to understand. You can see as much in the Image of Hexagram 49 –

‘In the centre of the lake there is fire. Radical Change.
A noble one calculates the heavenly signs and clarifies the seasons.’

– and all the celestial observations in the lines of Hexagram 55.

In Abundance, starlight and vision join with action, emotion and upheaval (think of Hexagram 51) and Wu leads out his armies to conquer Shang. But what about poor old King Hai, whose travels through Yi weren’t exactly noted for his clear vision or sense of timing?

Perhaps it will help to think of this as adding fire to the separation – not-grasping, not-seeing – of Hexagram 52, doubled mountain:

‘Stilling your back,
Not grasping your self.
Moving in your rooms,
Not seeing your people.
Not a mistake.’

This seems reminiscent of Hai, who didn’t ‘see’ people, or get much of a grip on himself. Add fire, and his rooms (lodge and nest) are set ablaze!

If we tell the hexagram’s story with trigrams, then this fire looks less like clarity, and more like passion. Still, perhaps we could say that Hai’s obduracy, or the rock-solid laws of the Yi people, have eye-opening effects, and his fiery end casts light for the rest of us.

campfire under starlit sky

Hexagram 56, Travelling

Hexagram 56, Travelling

Following your flag The name of Hexagram 56 is lu 旅, Travelling. The Chinese character (which also means a division of troops) originally shows people around the flag, and was normally written simply with two people under the flag, almost as if sheltering under a roof: An ancient Chinese settlement would be built around its banner,… Continue Reading

Who is the ‘superior man’?

Who is the ‘superior man’?

The person who emailed me this question found the expression ‘superior man’ quite off-putting. I can see why: arranging half of humanity into superiors and inferiors, inviting the reader to identify not just as a good person but as someone better than the rest… none of this feels sympathetic to me, either. And, I would argue,… Continue Reading

Hexagram 3 and the very beginning

Hexagram 3 and the very beginning

Hexagram 3 is the first hexagram where the two kinds of line mingle, and so it’s associated with the very beginnings of life. The Sequence says, ‘There is heaven and earth, and so the ten thousand things are born. Overflowing the space between heaven and earth, the ten thousand things. And so Sprouting follows: Sprouting… Continue Reading

Layer cake imagery (and Hexagram 53)

Layer cake imagery (and Hexagram 53)

The Yijing’s full of imagery. Even though the first impression when you open it is one of wall-to-wall text, it’s also a picture book. In last month’s ‘Connecting with Imagery’ workshop I put a reading on the screen and asked people to mark all the images they could see. They saw quite a few… There’s… Continue Reading

Hexagram 5, and rain-making (a rethink)

Hexagram 5, and rain-making (a rethink)

What are we Waiting for? Wilhelm says Hexagram 5 is about waiting for it to rain. SJ Marshall says it meant waiting for rain to stop. So too does Stephen Field: the hexagram name means ‘to stop for the rain’, but originally would probably have had the ‘water’ radical added and meant simply ‘drenched’. In… Continue Reading

Hexagram 51, Shock

Hexagram 51, Shock

Thunderbolt and earthquake The name of Hexagram 51, zhen 震, means Shock, Quake, and encompasses both thunder and earthquake. (Nowadays there is a specific word for earthquake made of the components ‘earth’ and ‘zhen’.) The old character has two components: rain, and chen, the name of the fifth Earthly Branch in the Chinese calendar – which… Continue Reading

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