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Category Archives: Interpreting hexagrams

Comments on whole hexagrams, individual lines and so on

Trigram pictures

Trigram pictures
This entry is part 3 of 4 in the series Hidden gems

There’s more than one way to engage with the trigrams that make up the Yi’s hexagrams. The one that I find most engrossing – that most often shows me hidden beauties of the book, and most often makes for powerful, transformative readings (not unconnected!) – is to look at them in relationship.

When two trigrams are combined to make a hexagram, the result is more than just the sum of its parts. The trigrams connect with one another, interact, and paint a single picture. So to engage with the reading, you let your imagination play with the picture as a whole.

For instance, fire under the earth will feel quite different from fire under heaven. Perhaps fire under the earth is a charcoal burner’s fire, earthed up and contained, in contrast to a campfire under the open sky. Or it might be sunset and darkness, with the sun ‘inside’ the earth, versus the constellations that appear suspended from the sky at night.

The trigram picture is often quite different from the hexagram’s other imagery. Hexagram 28 is like a roof beam starting to bend, and it’s also like the waters rising to swamp a tree. Hexagram 53 is like the flight of the geese, and like a river winding slowly towards the sea, and like a tree growing on a mountain. Each picture speaks to you in its own right, adding a new layer to your experience of the reading.

But sometimes, the trigram picture matches the hexagram, and everything fits together beautifully. For instance…

Hexagram 37, People in the Home, fire below wood:

– the hearth-fire under the roof.


Hexagram 50, the Vessel: wood in the fire –

– a picture of the fire to heat the vessel, and of the wood’s moment of transmutation into fire. (This one’s verging on ‘energy diagram’ territory, another way trigrams interact in hexagrams.)


Hexagram 48, the Well, wood in the water:

Peering down through the water, you can see the wooden well-frame under the surface.


Hexagram 20, Seeing, wood over earth:

Observation towers, built especially to watch the heavens for signs, were constructed of wood on top of a high mound of tamped earth.


(Just imagine, if you only looked at a list of trigram properties for xun, wind/wood, how much you’d miss!)

I Ching Community discussion

An interruption

An interruption
This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series Hidden gems

(This post’s one of a series about the hidden gems of the Yijing. They may quite often describe things I’ve mentioned before, but I think they bear repeating. The idea is to point to especially lovely or ingenious or playful ways that the Yi creates meaning and speaks to us – ways that we can… Continue Reading

What does ‘crossing the great river’ mean?

What does ‘crossing the great river’ mean?

This post is for Liz, who commented, “Hi Hilary,Ok. Point blank – what does crossing the great river mean?” How does it feel? This is a better question to ask, because divination does not work by replacing images with what they mean. First, you use your imagination to get inside the image and appreciate how… Continue Reading

‘Character’ hexagrams: Confined, the Well, and Subtly Penetrating

‘Character’ hexagrams: Confined, the Well, and Subtly Penetrating
This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series The 'character' hexagrams

Hexagram 47, Confined Confining is de’s test. It is hard-pressed, and wholly connected. It is used to lessen resentment. Wilhelm/Baynes calls 47 the ‘test of character’, which is memorable – but the meaning isn’t so much what ‘puts you to the test’ as the test that identifies something by differentiating it from other things. (It’s… Continue Reading

‘Character’ hexagrams: Lasting, Decrease, Increase

‘Character’ hexagrams: Lasting, Decrease, Increase
This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series The 'character' hexagrams

Here are the next three ‘character’ hexagrams… 32, Lasting Lasting is de‘s steadfastness. It means [encountering] miscellany and not [feeling] disgust. It provides for a single de. As you can see from the [square brackets], I haven’t quite managed to find English equivalents to the Chinese words for this one. Here are three versions of… Continue Reading

The ‘character’ hexagrams

The ‘character’ hexagrams
This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series The 'character' hexagrams

In Part II, chapter 7 of the Great Treatise (Dazhuan), nine hexagrams are singled out. The authors of the Yi, it says, knew sorrow and disasters (or, specifically, they worried about disasters), and therefore… and it goes on to list the qualities of these nine hexagrams. You can read the whole passage here, in Legge’s… Continue Reading

The non-people of Hexagram 8

The non-people of Hexagram 8

Some 15 years ago, I wrote on this blog about the non-people of Hexagram 12. ‘Blocking it, non-people.Noble one’s constancy bears no fruit.Great goes, small comes.’ Hexagram 12, the Oracle Back then, I emphasised how the idea of ‘non-people’ (fei ren, 匪人) could mean labelling people and sticking them in boxes, which eliminates any possibility… Continue Reading

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