Hilary Barrett, I Ching

Two-line changes

If you’ve been working with Yi for a while, you’re probably familiar with the idea of looking at the hexagram each individual moving line would change to on its own, to give you a better context to understand its meaning. You might have heard them referred to as zhi gua, or (by Stephen Karcher) as ‘steps of change’.

Sometimes you can see the mind of the oracle’s creators at work quite clearly when you look at line and zhi gua, as at 38.5 zhi 10, Treading behind the tiger:

‘Regrets vanish.
Your ancestor bites through the skin.
Why would going on be wrong?’

Which ancestor? One with remarkably good teeth, apparently…

(And incidentally, there’s a Chinese word for ‘ancestor’, xian, that consists of the components ‘person’ and ‘footstep’.)

Sometimes the connection is a bit more of a challenge, and the moment of seeing the connection-that-isn’t-there becomes an intimate part of the reading experience. 6.5, for instance:

‘Arguing: good fortune from the source.’

Really? Considering that just about every other line tells you that arguing is dangerous or futile or both, how could it be a good idea?

Well, maybe in that moment when you’re arguing but not yet across, not yet committed to a position or a next step, and acutely aware of the dangers of committing yourself on thin ice…?

It does seem as though someone had these connections in mind as they – somehow! – put this oracle together. The line that connects two hexagrams often has something quite specific to say about… well… the connection between the two hexagrams.

So… what about when two lines connect two hexagrams? Might the two lines together say something about the relationship? Well… of course. In the context of a reading, I’d always explore how the changing lines, however many of them there were, defined the relating hexagram ‘moment’ of the primary hexagram. But is this something we can see in the abstract, without a reading in mind?

I think it is. At least, every now and then, I stumble across a two-line connection that’s quite as clearly ‘meant’ as some of the one-line connections.

One I’ve mentioned before: 60.1.2 changing to 8 – Measuring’s moment of Seeking Union, looking for and choosing a place to belong:

‘Not going out of the door to the family rooms.
Not a mistake.’
‘Not going out of the gate from the courtyard.
Pitfall.’

With these two lines together, with their parallel construction and contrasting omens, perhaps you’re finding a measured balance between self-sufficiency and parochialism.

Another: 27.2.4 to 38 – an alienated, oppositional aspect to the structures of Nourishment:

‘Unbalanced nourishment.
Rejecting the standard, looking to the hill-top for nourishment.
Setting out to bring order – pitfall.’
‘Unbalanced nourishment,
Good fortune.
Tiger watches, glares and glares.
His appetites, pursues and pursues.
No mistake.’

These are the only two lines of 27 that speak of ‘unbalanced nourishment’ – nourishment fallen, toppled, turned upside down, subverted. Perhaps that’s what happens when you bring 38’s different way of seeing to bear on what sustains you.

And one more: 55.3.4 to 24. I just noticed this recently, and I think it’s one of my favourites. Hexagram 24 is Returning, the hexagram of winter solstice, the darkest point when the light begins to return. Hexagram 55 describes a total solar eclipse – and the two lines that join it to Returning evoke its darkest moment:

‘Feng is flooded with darkness
At midday, seeing a froth of light.
Your right arm broken,
Not a mistake.’
‘Feng is screened off
At midday, seeing the Dipper.
Meeting your hidden lord,
Good fortune.’

(Change all three lines that refer to the stars visible during the eclipse, 2, 3 and 4, and you have hexagram 19, the Nearing of a benevolent spirit, a clear promise in the darkness.)

I find each one of these a complete delight… the only thing is, they leave me wondering about every other two-line change, and quite how much I must be missing.

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