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Its nature

What is the Yijing?

There are two ways to answer that: I can tell you about the simple building blocks that come together to make this oracle, and how it works; and I can try to give you a feel for its nature as an oracle and what it might mean for you. You need both answers, because both will give you a real understanding of what you’re looking at when you cast a reading. This is what makes the Yijing a complete, beautiful world of divination, not just a baffling collection of ancient aphorisms.

I’ll start with the nature of the book…

The Yijing is an oracle book. Instead of reading it through from cover to cover, you ask it a question, cast a reading (I’ll show you how to do that in module 3), and this shows you the sections of the book that answer your question – in its own beautiful language of patterns, imagery, omens and stories.

What kinds of questions?

All kinds. People ask Yi about the future and even the past, but most of all the present: the aspirations, problems and dilemmas we’re living with now. Yi helps with –

  • Decisions (‘What if I take this job?’ ‘What if I don’t?’)
  • Solving problems (‘How to handle this?’ ‘How can I help?’)
  • Understanding (‘Why do I react that way?’)
  • Realising intentions (‘How can I…?’)

– and with any and every topic under the sun.

People ask Yi about relationships – forging connections and understanding; evolutions, endings and beginnings. We ask about family troubles, or politics at work, and get some insight into the other person’s point of view.

We ask for guidance for career progress, and along the paths of personal development or spiritual exploration. And Yi also helps with the interpretation of dreams – I believe the first recorded dream interpretation reading was for the Marquis of Wei in 478 BC.

You can ask Yi what a new course of study or spiritual teacher has to offer… or, come to that, what a new job, car or computer has to offer.

This eclectic mix of examples might have got you thinking about the possibilities for your own conversations with the Yijing. You might also find the diversity a bit disconcerting – many people do. But this is something I learned early on with Yi: ordinary life is not separate from the spiritual, so I can’t keep things in tidy boxes any more.

I’ve found that Yi’s answers to my mundane, practical questions will often show me spiritual roots to those questions… and just as often, if I’m asking only about the deeper things, what emerges is something practical for me to do. (Yi doesn’t, in my experience, seem to care what I’d find more comfortable!) Talking with Yi means tapping into a deep understanding of the whole reality, with its underlying flows and potentials. (And no boxes!)

Probably the most important thing is that Yi isn’t, and never has been, just about predicting a future set in stone. (Perhaps because there isn’t one?) It’s a way to gain insight into the present moment and live here to the full, with a little more grace and fluency.

Often, the best question is the simplest one: ‘What do I need to know now?’

What kinds of answers?

By engaging with a situation through talking with the Yijing instead of only thinking about it, you find you can stop the helpless circling around the same few facts and many guesses, and see into the essence of the thing. Yi won’t make any choices for you, but it gives you the deep understanding that allows your own choice to take shape.

Yi has a lot of the qualities of a good teacher and counsellor…

  • Its answers are absolutely practical, but also multi-layered: how deep do you want to go?
  • It’s plain-speaking – Yi’s been giving real-world help for 3,000 years, it really isn’t the Happy Rainbow Unicorn Fluff Oracle – yet profoundly kind.
  • It’s empowering: it firmly hands responsibility back to you. This makes it the perfect opposite of ‘fortune telling’ (ie telling you what’s ‘fated’ to happen as if your choices had no power at all).
  • It’s eye-opening – it expands your horizons, showing possibilities you’d never imagined, and shatters habitual ways of thinking.
  • And it has no ideology, no set rules, except to be true to what’s real: to move in harmony with the nature of the time.

In its own words

I once asked the Yiing itself, ‘What is the basic human need you answer?’
The reply: Radical Change (hexagram 49), changing to the Well (hexagram 48). Radical Change is revolution, overthrowing the old order for a new ruling principle – and also a change of skin, transforming identity. And the Well seems to be Yi’s favourite image for itself. It’s a life-giving source, the one thing that does not change:

‘The Well. Moving the city, not moving the well.
Without loss, without gain,
They come and go; the well wells…’

When we are living through (and creating) great change, we need that deep resource to draw on.

The heart of the reading, its moving lines (I’ll explain how that works in the next part of the course), say –

‘Bound with yellow cow-hide.’

(A very secure bond – how Yi holds the questioner fast to the realities of her situation, and also how the questioner ties on her strongest walking boots at the beginning of a reading!)

‘Your own day, so make Radical Change
And set forth! Good fortune, no mistake.’

‘Regrets vanish, there is truth and confidence.
Changing Mandate – good fortune.’

Yi is for your own day, for revolution and new callings, clear connection and the dissolution of regrets.

And the way it works is astonishingly simple… but before we go on, this is a good moment to collect what you need to get started –

Apply this: get started

The first thing you’ll need is a copy of the I Ching itself in a good quality translation. Here are three options to begin with:

  1. Download ‘volume 1’ from here and unzip the pdf file. (Volume 1’s a bit more beginner-friendly, but you’ll want to get Volume 2 as well, for later.)
  2. Visit this page and bookmark it.
  3. Buy my book 😉 . (For instance from or

You only need one of these to get underway, but it would be great to have all three.

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Next: how it works – beyond the jargon