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Consulting the I Ching with sixteen tokens

Consulting the I Ching with sixteen marbles or beads is mathematically equivalent to the yarrow method. That is to say, the probability of your receiving each kind of line is the same. But it’s evidently not experientially equivalent, simply because it doesn’t require 10 or 15 minutes to complete. For some people this actually means their concentration is improved – for others, the loss of the ritual makes the whole reading feel less genuine.

The method

This is probably the simplest method of all to use, and it makes the process tangible and satisfying. Still, you do need to go out and buy some ‘special equipment’ for your tokens. (Before I discovered beads, I spent an interesting time poring over marbles in a lively toy shop!)

You will need 16 marbles (or other tokens) in four colours; you shouldn’t be able to tell them apart by touch:

  • Five of the first colour, which represent the value 7
  • Seven of the second colour, which represent the value 8
  • Three of the third colour, which represents the value 9
  • One of the fourth colour, which represents the value 6

Put all the marbles in a bag or bowl, and draw one out at random to select the first line. After each line, replace the marble in the receptacle.

Of course, you don’t have to embarrass yourself by picking out marbles at a toy shop (though it may be good for the soul). There are glass beads sold for use in flower arranging, or polished semiprecious stones, or just plastic beads. A member of the I Ching Community carries a small homemade ‘I Ching bracelet’ in his pocket with sixteen beads in four colours. It’s not only portable, but much less conspicuous to use than coins.

Another quick way to consult the I Ching, one that also reproduces the yarrow odds but doesn’t require any special equipment, is the two coin method.

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