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How to consult the I Ching with yarrow

The method

You will need fifty dried stalks of yarrow – you can either buy these, or pick and dry your own.
divination with yarrow stalks

  1. First take one stalk from the pile and set it aside; you will not be using this one again while casting this hexagram. I tend to place it a little way in front of me and sort the remaining stalks in the space it defines.
  2. Divide the remaining 49 stalks at random into two piles.
  3. Take one stalk from the right hand heap and place it between the little finger and ring finger of your left hand.
  4. Pick up the left hand heap in your left hand and then remove the stalks four at a time, putting them down separately from the other heap, until you have four or fewer stalks left.
  5. Tuck this remainder between the ring and middle finger of your left hand.
  6. Then pick up the right hand heap and sort it by fours in the same way, tucking the remainder into the next gap between your fingers.
  7. Now add up the number of stalks you are holding in your left hand, not including the one on its own that you picked up at first. If there are 8, count 2; if there are four, count 3.
  8. Set these stalks aside separately, and gather the other stalks together to repeat the procedure as above – only this time, when adding up the remainders, do include the original single stalk. If there are 8, count 2; if there are four, count three.
  9. Again, set these stalks aside and repeat the procedure a final time with those that are left, counting them in exactly the same way as the second time.

Add up the three numbers you have obtained: the result will be 6,7,8 or 9. This is the value of the first (bottom) line of your hexagram – see ‘casting a hexagram with three coins‘ for an explanation of the different kinds of line.

There is a slightly easier method that I prefer. Follow the above method up to and including step 6, and then simply lay aside the stalks between your fingers without counting them. Repeat the procedure, as before. On the third sorting, count the number of piles of four stalks: it will be 6, 7, 8 or 9, the number of the line.

Where to find yarrow stalks

If you’re lucky, you may be able to pick your own yarrow locally and trim and dry it yourself. Or if the long, strong yarrow variety doesn’t grow near you, you might find another plant that’s meaningful to you and would offer you 50 stems. It doesn’t have to be yarrow: in parts of China where it wasn’t available, people used bamboo.

I have some beautiful yarrow stalks from Jane English – recommended.

yarrow stalks from Jane English

More on ways to consult the I Ching

Personally, I don’t use my yarrow stalks very often; I mostly use the sixteen token method, with beads. It’s a quiet, gentle method that can be done as quickly or as slowly as you wish.