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Blog post: Vessel Casting Patterns


Apr 8, 1970
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A few years ago now, I first noticed the Vessel Casting pattern in the Sequence, and got tremendously excited about it. For the past couple of months, I’ve been developing those ideas and their application in readings for Part 5 of ‘Exploring the Sequence’, which Change Circle members can find here. For this post, I won’t try to discuss the themes and significance and use of it all – that’s in Part 5 – I just want to point to the patterns and wave my arms around excitedly…
In brief… Vessels are made by casting them from moulds that form their reverse image.
The ‘reverse image’ of Hexagram 50, the Vessel, is Hexagram 3, its complement. And every hexagram from 4 to 49 finds its complement within that span of hexagrams, which is interesting. Then there turns out to be a series of structural connections at the outer surface, and also apt hexagram shapes at the centre. But wait, there’s more! Let’s make the connections one at a time…


If you map out the Vessel casting pattern by hexagram shapes, it looks like this (you can click on each image in this post for a larger version):

You can see hexagrams 3/4 standing opposite their complements, 49/50, at one end, and 27 opposite its complement 28 at the other, looking oddly vessel-shaped, or like a casting and its clay mould –

And oh look, there’s 19/20 opposite their complements too, 33/34:

‘Transferred’ lines

Hm… that’s a third of the way along, from right to left. What happens one third of the way along in the opposite direction? Hexagrams 11 and 12 – which are already one another’s complements, so naturally what stands opposite them must be something different. It’s 41/42, which Wilhelm tells us are related to 11/12:
“Peace and Standstill have an inner connection with Decrease and Increase, because through the transference of a strong line from the lower to the upper trigram, Decrease develops from Peace, and through the transference of a strong line from the upper to the lower trigram, Decrease develops from Standstill.”
(41 and 42 both include vessel characters as part of their Chinese names.)
So our Vessel casting pattern is divided into three equal parts, like this:
(This might be a good moment to look at this image of the piece mould process for casting bronze vessels.)
Actually, hexagrams 9/10 and 43/44 are related in the same way, but by the ‘transference’ of an open line from line 3 or 4 to line 6 or 1. You can imagine 9.4 moves ‘down’ to 44.1, and 10.3 moves ‘up’ to 43.6. Also, they’re exchanged trigram hexagrams – wind and lake above/below heaven. Anyway, they belong together –

Changing lines

As I mentioned in the original article, 5/6 connect with 48/47, and 7/8 with 46/45, through a single changing line – 5.1 > 48, 7.3 > 46. (As with the ‘transferring’ lines, it’s line 1/6 or 3/4 that make the connections – either the core or the surface.)
This leaves two groups of three apparently-unrelated hexagrams: in my original 2012 article, I said the pattern ‘melts away to nothing’ towards the centre. This, as it turns out, isn’t quite true. Vessels made of bronze have carefully crafted joints hidden beneath the surface, fully visible only to X-rays. And vessels made of hexagrams…?
13/14 stand opposite 39/40, and aren’t (as far as I can see) very related to them. It’s 15/16 that connect to 39/40: 15.5 > 39. Oh, and 15/16 also connect by a single line change to 35/36: 15.1 > 36. Isn’t that pretty?
I wonder…
13.4 > 37…

…but no, we do not get a complete interlocking pattern: 17/18 are not one line away from 37/38.
So there is almost a perfect interlocking pattern, but the symmetry is broken by the hexagram called Corruption, whose Chinese name shows a vessel that contains worms, used for dark magic.
However, 17/18 (which are one another’s complements), are one line away from both 3/4 and 49/50. 17.4 changes to 3; 18.4 changes to 50. And of course 50.4 changes to 18:
‘The vessel’s legs break off,
The prince’s stew is upset,
Dignity soiled.
The hidden interlocking joint is Corrupted; the legs break off.

And finally?

What about the final third of the pattern, towards the centre of the mould?
This part is thoroughly molten. 29 and 30 are complements, of course…

…but what about the line above, hexagrams 21 to 26?
They have no immediate structural connection to 29-32: no single changing line relationships here, and no complementary hexagrams. Wait… where are the complements for these three pairs?

Ah yes. There they are.
The ancient Chinese crafted vessels with exceptional skill, using techniques that would not be understood in the West for centuries…

What can we make of this?

This pattern of relationships – which I freely admit looks like a dog’s breakfast with the boxes and lines I’ve scrawled all over it – beautifully represents something I’ve come to love about the Yi. This is not a model of perfect mathematical symmetry; it doesn’t take a single principle of transformation or relationship and use it with rigid consistency. You couldn’t analyse or reproduce it with a computer program.
Instead, it offers a creative, shifting play of relationships and broken symmetry, that’s all inextricably woven together with the meaning of the hexagrams. Yi is an oracle, after all, so the patterns it makes must surely be meant to speak to us in readings – if we can just develop the ears to hear. I’ve written much more on this in Exploring the Sequence (Part 5, on Vessel Casting, is over 7,000 words…), but I wanted just to share the pattern here. Isn’t it beautiful?

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