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Blog post: Trigram pictures


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Apr 8, 1970
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Trigram pictures

paintbrush mixing brightly coloured paints on palette
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!)

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