Hexagram 18, Corruption, is paired with and rooted in 17, Following. They have a particularly close connection as an inverse and complementary pair – that is, you can generate hexagram 18 by turning 17 upside down, in the ‘normal’ way with pairs, but also by changing each line to its opposite. So their meanings are woven together especially strongly.
Jane Schorre says in Yijing Wondering and Wandering that,
“Sui signifies compliance with the flowing, organic patterns of nature. Gu signifies deviation from them, resulting in deterioration and disorder.”
I almost agree. Hexagram 17 certainly does Follow the patterns of nature – and especially it describes the experience of flowing with those patterns towards our own objectives. The Dazhuan says that in ancient times, people got the idea of harnessing oxen to carts from reading this hexagram. Sometimes we experience this as synchronicity – at other times, the presence of the flow is outside our awareness (and we may wonder what’s taking so long!).
But there are also patterns being followed in Hexagram 18 – patterns just as strong, and just as far beyond the scope of ordinary conscious awareness. The difference is that these are locked, repeating patterns, not going anywhere useful. LiSe calls them ‘alien influences embedded in the soul,’ and so they are – though they are often so deeply embedded as to seem part of the fabric of reality. These are inherited patterns, often imprinted in childhood, maybe through many generations or across a whole culture.
To describe the experience of Corruption, the I Ching borrows the words of ancient divination to identify the source of a curse. ‘Ancestral father’s corruption?’ ‘Ancestral mother’s corruption?’ The original divinations in these words called ancestral spirits by name, trying to discover which had been driven by neglect to become a vengeful ghost.
The name of hexagram 18 shows a vessel full of worms, maybe a form of black magic to concentrate their venom. The charge of the time is to take the cover off the pot and expose the crawling things to air and light. Name the ancestor who has been neglected; identify the pattern that’s repeating; find the source; clean out the wound. Not to destroy the source, but to transform it.
The constituent trigrams of Hexagram 18 are wind below the mountain. The mountain appears to act like a ‘lid’ on the hexagram, trapping the air, making it stale, stagnant and unhealthy. But the authors of the Image saw beyond this:
‘Below the mountain is the wind. Corruption.
The noble one rouses the common people to nurture de.’
This turns the whole idea of an unhealthy enclosure on its head. The mountain’s ‘containing’ action now becomes an act of nurturing. Within this confined space, the noble one acts like the wind to stir up awareness and nurture de, power and character.
‘Corruption. Creating success from the source.
Harvest in crossing the great river.
Before seedburst, three days. After seedburst, three days.’
Corruption opens the possibility of starting at the source: going back to the origins of how things are and coming from there, recreating your way of interacting with the world. From here you can ‘cross the great river’ into new and unknown territory. This means taking a risk: it would be altogether easier not to cross, to keep walking round the same familiar loop on this bank and keep out of the deep waters. But in a time of corruption, people sometimes seem impelled to cross, driven by feelings as strong as revulsion to bring about change.
Hexagram 18 is a time for innovation, when something new can emerge. ‘Seedburst’, the first Heavenly Stem, shows a protective covering: a seed-coat, or a helmet. It’s the same dynamic that the Image authors saw in the wind under the mountain: a protected space for growth. This calls for its due measure of attention: time allotted to prepare the ground, time to tend the new seedling. But it’s also important that this is just a limited time. The process of uncovering isn’t an end in itself; the oracle assumes that once this new way of being has taken root, we’ll be moving on.
What establishes itself in Hexagram 18 will grow and emerge into Hexagram 19, Nearing. What was a vengeful ghost will be reintegrated as a beneficient ancestor, part of the people’s identity. What was a vicious pattern will become a source of strength. It’s possible to see this happen on a small scale whenever we learn to identify a new aspect of our own character: if I can name the way I’m behaving as ‘perfectionism’, for instance, I may be able to enlist it as a helper rather than having it run the show. Perhaps this is why we are so endlessly fascinated by systems of character analysis, from astrology to the enneagram: they promise to give us a handle on what’s going on ‘in there’, and we intuitively know that this is the first step to having it work for us.
Exactly how this understanding comes about, and exactly what ‘mother’s corruption’ and ‘father’s corruption’ refer to, is intensely personal . Hexagram 18 gives rise to some of the least ‘generalisable’ readings in the I Ching. But still, here are a few thoughts on the nature of each moving line.
‘Ancestral father’s corruption.
There is a son,
The deceased elders are without fault.
Danger. In the end, good fortune.’
The corruption may have originated with the ‘ancestral father’, but make it your own issue. You have to claim it as uniquely your business if you’re to be able to engage with it. This is Corruption’s Great Taming: the moment where you take personal responsibility and put yourself in a position to re-assert control.
‘Ancestral mother’s corruption,
Does not allow constancy.’
The mother is the one who nurtures, provides what’s needed, and creates a safe space for growth to maturity. Corruption in the mother that ‘does not allow constancy’ isn’t allowing complete growth: the seeds can’t ripen. This might be because of a lack of care; it might point to an excessive protectiveness trying to hold someone back. (Think of the fan yao, 52.2.)
‘Ancestral father’s corruption.
There is small regret,
No great mistake.’
Corruption on the inside of the threshold between inner and outer, thought and action. Perhaps it’s because the corruption is more in the theory than the practice that there’s only small regret. The line connects with Hexagram 4, Not Knowing, and corruption here often has to do with a suspicion or fear of the unknown. But the basic impulse to learn is sound: no great mistake.
‘Wealthy father’s corruption.
Going on sees shame.’
A more serious problem: corruption that’s really quite comfortable, where you’re well provided-for (for instance by a wealthy parent or welfare state). Nothing’s intolerable, so why try to fix it? But going on, sooner or later, the shame will become apparent.
‘Ancestral father’s corruption.
This line can be a turning point, shifting from processing what’s wrong to encouraging what isn’t. Praise works like the zhi gua, 57: without provoking any resistance, it gently penetrates through past the patterns of corruption to something deeper and stronger.
‘No business with kings and lords,
Honouring what is highest is your business.’
We do have to sort out our relationships with ‘parent’ and authority figures of all kinds, just to get things working again. But we shouldn’t mistake this for an end in itself. Corruption in Pushing Upward (Hexagram 46, the zhi gua) would be to use business with kings and lords as our measure of the heights. Pushing upward beyond corruption means going beyond inner or outer politics to the real work, ‘honouring what is highest.’