The old ideogram for ‘army’ is not as clear as some, but seems to show a rolling, waving banner, or movement surging around a pivotal point. This is the character of the hexagram: everything focussed on a single centre and organised around it. The same character also signifies leaders, masters and specialists: in Hexagram 13, it represents military leaders.
This is the kind of quality the judgement emphasises:
‘The army. Constancy of worthy people, good fortune.
Not a mistake.’
Rather as Hexagram 2 specifies that what you need is constancy in the character of a mare, this calls for a strong leader’s constancy in order to release the potential for good fortune.
As advice, this recommends that you take charge of your life, assuming personal responsibility. It suggests marshalling your resources, making your potential effective. The Image focuses on the need to accept that potential first, in its totality, as openly as the earth accepts water. Every emotional current must be enlisted. Then if you organise your life around your chosen goal, there will be enough energy available for you to achieve it.
This may sound like bitterly hard work – and not without reason. As a prediction, Hexagram 7 suggests an argument that has collected an emotional charge around its positions and hardened into conflict – or a personal goal that intensifies into a personal ‘campaign’ or a private war. The atmosphere is often grim.
The commentary on the judgement says:
‘This can poison all below heaven,
The common people follow.
In fact there is good fortune, so how can it be wrong?’
That word ‘poison’ is widely held to be a copyist’s error. I’m not so sure. When peasant armies marched in old China, the fields were left uncultivated; invading armies used to salt fields to render them sterile. With no other options, what could people do but follow?
In other words, the Army can imply narrowness of mind, blinkered vision. What is invested in a war cannot be invested elsewhere; there will be casualties. The quality of the central goal is thus crucially important – does the end justify the means? In that over-arching story of the I Ching, the Zhou conquest of the Shang, the Zhou could gather their armies and march out to create a new order only because they had heaven’s mandate to do so.
Further hexagram 7 reading: