Hilary Barrett, I Ching

Marriage and Mandate

As I’ve probably mentioned from time to time, I’m working on an enlarged and improved version of the Words of Change Yijing glossary, to be included as part of the upcoming journal software. This gives me the perfect excuse for lots of completely engrossing research and exploration into Yi, while poor old Justin is solving problems like ‘how to manage imports when the user’s corrupted the text template.’

Of course, the problem with research into Yi is that there’s no end to it. Also, that I’m supposed to be writing a glossary, but keep finding things that don’t belong in one. For instance… for the entries on ‘marriage’, I need to include sections on the different experiences of men and women, on the ‘not a robber’ formula, on the basics of marriage as metaphor – but I really don’t need to talk about how fascinating it is to read the marriage story alongside the Mandate story through the sequence of hexagrams.

It is, though…

On the one hand, marriage is a cosmic ordering principle – you can see that clearly just in the hexagrams that open the Upper and Lower Canons. First 1 and 2, pure yang and pure yin, then 31 and 32, hexagrams of betrothal and marriage. The Sequence into Hexagram 31 hammers home the point:

‘There is heaven and earth, and so there are the ten thousand things.
There are the ten thousand things, and so there is man and woman.
There is man and woman, and so there is husband and wife.
There is husband and wife, and so there is father and son.
There is father and son, and so there is ruler and minister.
There is ruler and minister, and so there is higher and lower.
There is higher and lower, and so there is a place for rites and justice to operate.’

But on the other hand marriage – just like the Mandate of Heaven – is not only a principle: it’s a story, full of doubts and triumphs and emotional tensions.

The story of the Mandate (Cliff’s Notes version): the Shang regime were once true, ethical, in harmony with the ancestral spirits and through them with Heaven, and so they had its Mandate to rule. But then they became corrupt; they forfeited the Mandate. The Zhou people under Wen’s leadership became worthy of the Mandate and were empowered to overthrow the Shang. The story begins somewhere in the first decade of hexagrams – 7′s Armies are Zhou armies – and reaches its zenith at hexagrams 49 and 50, the revolution and founding of the new regime.

But the Mandate story really begins with a marriage: the Shang-Zhou marital alliance from which Wen himself (or possibly his son Wu) was born. We first hear of this story in the 5th line of Hexagram 11, Tai, the sacred mountain where the king makes offerings to heaven to inaugurate his new regime, and the joining of heaven and earth in its trigrams:

‘King Yi marries off his daughters.
This brings fulfilment, good fortune from the source.’

This line changes, aptly enough, to Hexagram 5, Waiting. It’ll be some time before this marriage comes to full fruition: it’s next mentioned in the second great marriage hexagram: 54, the Marrying Maiden, otherwise known as hexagram ‘minus 11′. (That is, 54 and 11 are one another’s ‘shadow hexagrams’.)

But speaking of long waits… the longest structural arc of the Yi is the one that casts the Vessel, from 3 to its complementary hexagram, 50, with those intriguing patterns springing across the breadth of the mould. Mandate story reaches its culmination in the Vessel; marriage story makes its tentative beginnings – its first mention in the sequence – at 3.2:

‘Now sprouting, now hesitating.
Now driving a team of horses.
Not robbers at all, but marital allies.
The child-woman’s constancy – no children.
Ten years go by, then there are children.’

So there will be children – the connections that began amidst difficulty and hesitation in hexagram 3 are to come to fruition – but only after a long, long wait. Reach out to feudal lords now (marital alliances are a crucial way of doing this), and perhaps one day there might be a kingdom.

In hexagrams 49 and 50, the climax of Mandate story, the old is overturned and the new regime is inaugurated:

‘Radical Change puts away the old;
The Vessel grasps renewal.’

Now what?

For some time now, I’ve thought of hexagrams 51 and 52 as the work of processing and integrating a colossal change and its emotional-cultural-spiritual aftershocks. In all the change, the sacred continues – you can even find, with the breakdown of ossified certainties, that it has become more alive, more immediate. ‘Not losing the sacred ladle and libation,’ maybe even rediscovering it.

After the Zhou conquest, the Shang people didn’t disappear. They had to live together with the Zhou, and the offerings to their ancestral spirits had to continue. Two cultures and two spiritual realms – families in spirit – had to be integrated. Perhaps this casts light on 51.6:

‘Shock twists and turns,
Watching in fear and terror,
Setting out to bring order: pitfall.
The shock does not reach your self,
It reaches your neighbour -
No mistake.
There are words of marital alliance.’

Interesting that when, amidst this turmoil, a military, ‘fix-it’ approach would be disastrous, we can instead talk over the connections forged by marriage.

Next come the big ‘marriage’ hexagrams, 53 and 54, which link back to 11/12 and forward to 63/64.

(About those links… 54 is both shadow and nuclear of 11, and 53 of 12. Line 5 of both 54 and 11 mention Yi marrying off his daughters. 53 and 54 are the nuclears of 64 and 63 respectively, and the ‘Not Yet’ of 64′s ‘Not Yet Across’ is present in the character for ‘maiden’ in the name of 54: a ‘maiden’ is a ‘not-yet woman’. And the Zagua firmly groups 54 with 64: ‘woman’s completion’ versus ‘exhaustion of the male’. A whole mix of different kinds of link – and I expect there are some I’ve missed.)

They’re beautiful hexagrams, these, with the splendid journey of the geese flying out into transcendence, the store of promise as Yi’s daughters marry, with the moon almost full. But they’re also full of doubt, tension – despair, even (53.3, 54.6). This is the only change of Heaven’s Mandate within living memory, but everyone knows of children who die young, or husbands who leave and do not return – marriage promises that are bleakly empty.

This reflects the anxieties of 63-64 – ‘beginnings, good fortune; endings, chaos.’ The Xia started well but lost the Mandate; the Shang did the same. And now the Zhou have taken it up… now what? And here is the book’s final mention of marriage (the only one after 53-54):

‘A wife loses her carriage screen.
Don’t chase it.
On the seventh day, gain.’

- sounding a note of cautious optimism and reassurance about loss.

weaver's loomWhere does this quick gallop through the Sequence leave us? It seems to me that the Change Book portrays change by weaving together many threads of it: history, shared experience, myth, structural links. And the marriage and Mandate threads are twisted together all through the book. How does change happen? Through Mandate, says history: change comes as an unyielding, unavoidable heaven-sent destiny, bringing war. Through marriage, say both experience and the Shang-Zhou history: the overcoming of suspicion and obstacles between different people, and the creation of a fertile, enduring union.

 

6 Responses to “Marriage and Mandate”

  1. Trojina Says:

    There is no mention of marriage in 63.2 as far as I can see in wiki ? Have no books with me. Just because it says ‘wife’ or sometimes I thought ‘lady’ it doesn’t mean the line is about marriage does it ?. In wiki I think you said ‘maybe she is going to see her husband’ but that is just speculation isn’t it, hence you said ‘maybe’. I’d always thought she was just travelling.

    Other comments later.

  2. Hilary Says:

    The word used means ‘woman’ and ‘wife’, but I think it’s mostly ‘wife’. There’s a woman with a hand holding a broom in the character (not just a woman), and the broom is also part of gui, ‘marrying’ (for women).

    (Yes, ‘marriage’ for a woman according to Chinese script apparently means having a broom in hand. The full ancient form of the character, in which her husband’s hand is seen receiving the broom she hands over, seems to be lost…)

  3. Trojina Says:

    I don’t see any reference to marriage in 63.2 even calling the woman ‘wife’,,,,there is no reference to marriage.

    What I find difficult to marry here is my own pre existing sense of Yi as a magical book that in answers often turns convention upside down, with this version of marriage/mandate you describe. You describe a weighty procedure patriarchal systemised wheel of convention with the woman as a chattel. I think I prefer not to look at Yi in the light even though/if historically it is true, I’ve preferred to airbrush all that out.

    Where can we find the individual path in this story…the individual in hexagram 10 for example, the dark man in 10.1 or is it 10.2. Silly question if such awareness was not really relevant at that time, if people did not think in such terms…it’s ancient China…what do I expect !? I don’t know, I just find all this mandating and marrying impossible to relate to in any way which is odd since I’ve been consulting it for so long. Obviously it’s all a metaphor for reading purposes…but even then, as you lay it out it’s not the Yi I know or would want to know.

    I guess in any answer you decide who to identify with ? But there are many people in Yi and they aren’t all doing what they do to marry or fight. There’s the traveller and so on, other strands….not all empires and lineages and so on. Experientially I find a lot of side paths and back waters Yi so this story you describe sounds so prescriptive of a kind of order of how things should be which is at odds with what my sense of Yi is.

    As I say this is a purely emotional response and you did say you were just focusing on how marriage aligned with mandate, not all other strands…but it does come over as a hymn of praise to the holy state of matrimony. I suppose there’s no gays in Yi …hehhe ?

    I’ve always disliked this for example

    “‘There is heaven and earth, and so there are the ten thousand things.
    There are the ten thousand things, and so there is man and woman.
    There is man and woman, and so there is husband and wife.
    There is husband and wife, and so there is father and son.
    There is father and son, and so there is ruler and minister.
    There is ruler and minister, and so there is higher and lower.
    There is higher and lower, and so there is a place for rites and justice to operate.’”

    It sounds so completely deadening, all this proper ordering of society….I hadn’t realised it was part of 31 ? It’s not part of 31 in Wilhelm anyway. You write in your book that it ‘shows how people belong together ‘. Does it…..I’m thinking anachronistically I know, but many who consult Yi want to live outside of all this not in it. It reminds of those awful Christian tracts with everyone in their right place “the rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate”.

    Hmmm well that is my emotional response to this Blog post, not a well thought out response yet… I think I am struggling with marrying the unorthodox, the unconventional or unexpected route Yi often takes us in our own answers with this researched stuff on marriage/mandate….where there is no freedom for anyone within these systems, especially not women. I’ve always easily accepted we need not take the wife’s role literally and so on but I think this blog post, even though it’s research, to my ears almost sounds like a great anthem of praise for all this order. Maybe it isn’t ?

    I would like the lady back, in 63.2, as a traveller or at least a wife on a journey that’s not all about marriage..and marriage is not mentioned in that line at all is it…it’s just your supposition ?

    I’ll get over it and read how you mean it to be read I presume when I’ve absorbed what you are saying I imagine…..but I would like 63.2 back.

  4. Hilary Says:

    Thank you for reading it all!

    Sequence into 31 is in Wilhelm Book III.

    Yes, this is just about two brightly-coloured strands of the cloth. There are plenty of others.

    I don’t think 63.2 is the marriage procession, if that’s what you mean. She’s already married, fittingly enough for Hexagram 63. So in the general spirit of the hexagram, everything’s already settled, in place, neat and tidy, and now what could possibly go wrong? Marriage story running in parallel to mandate story again, I think (more at the end).

    Dealing with marriage and patriarchy and conventionality and so on… there are some layers of meaning worth separating out. There’s the historical background, there’s what Yi does now in readings, and then there’s what I was trying to talk about in the post. One at a time…

    There’s what marriage was like in the time this was written: the ‘weighty patriarchal system with women as chattels’. That’s just how it was. What the writers of the Yi meant by marriage was really not the story of the fulfilment of free individuals through romantic love. This is the raw material they had to work with as they wove metaphors together, and for us it’s useful background knowledge that becomes essential when ‘marriage’ is used in a reading as a metaphor for something like having to show up to your job at 8.30 every morning, and this doesn’t mean you’re going to marry your boss.

    Then there’s Yi-the-oracle, the magical book that turns convention upside down. That’s what it does in readings, when you encounter the book as a person, using that ancient metaphorical raw material for its own purposes. So perhaps a very self-directed alpha personality will be given Hexagram 54 and have to start imagining herself – or himself – as a second wife. In practice, in readings, marriage imagery requires some extraordinary mental stretches.

    And then – and this is what I was trying to get at in the post – there’s what the authors might have done with that stolid patriarchal raw material through the way they wove it together. The Mandate story is all very splendid, and very polite to the wise and gracious rulers – and I think they run the marriage story in parallel to it as an alternative perspective. Maybe to undermine it, subtly, to puncture its importance and certainty.

    63.2 could actually be an example of that. The uncertainty in the Oracle –
    ‘Beginnings, good fortune.
    Endings, chaos.’
    – is definitely echoed in Songs that talk about how easy it is to forfeit the Mandate, and I do think this hexagram is reflecting on that in general. Everything’s in order, we crossed the river into Shang territory, conquered, established the new dynasty, may they reign forever… oh, yes, like the last ones didn’t, or the ones before them.

    So one clan loses the Mandate and it’s given to another, and such loss and gain changes everything and is of epic historic importance, and means we must live in a state of profound insecurity and constant vigilance.

    On the other hand…

    ‘A wife loses her carriage screen.
    Don’t chase it.
    On the seventh day, gain.’

    … maybe loss and gain is more like a bit of cloth blown away by the wind, that might be blown back if we’re patient. (Mm – zhi 5 again, like 11.5…) It’d depend on where you were watching from, wouldn’t it?

  5. Trojina Says:

    “I don’t think 63.2 is the marriage procession, if that’s what you mean. She’s already married, fittingly enough for Hexagram 63. So in the general spirit of the hexagram, everything’s already settled, in place, neat and tidy, and now what could possibly go wrong? Marriage story running in parallel to mandate story again, I think (more at the end).”

    I had thought whether she is married or not is irrelevant in the line if the word can be translated as ‘woman’ or ‘wife’. I mean if a woman is called ‘wife’ that doesn’t have to mean her marital status is especially important in context of whatever is happening.

    “There’s what marriage was like in the time this was written: the ‘weighty patriarchal system with women as chattels’. That’s just how it was. What the writers of the Yi meant by marriage was really not the story of the fulfilment of free individuals through romantic love. This is the raw material they had to work with as they wove metaphors together, and for us it’s useful background knowledge that becomes essential when ‘marriage’ is used in a reading as a metaphor for something like having to show up to your job at 8.30 every morning, and this doesn’t mean you’re going to marry your boss.”

    Yes it is interesting as it means marriage in Yi really is not a metaphor for intimate personal fulfilment. That’s quite an important understanding. I imagine levels of personal happiness, as with arranged marriage now, varied greatly. Sometimes there happens to be happiness, but that is not a central part of it, not the reason for the marriage. The reasons for marriage being to continue the line, merge families profitably, continue ways of living, preserve order in the state and so on. All potentially a highly repressive state of affairs for anyone who wants to be who they are, not completely role bound.. Yes so it’s a good metaphor for a job where you cannot be who you are….unless you are lucky and find a job that happens to fit well with your needs of course.

    “Then there’s Yi-the-oracle, the magical book that turns convention upside down. That’s what it does in readings, when you encounter the book as a person, using that ancient metaphorical raw material for its own purposes. So perhaps a very self-directed alpha personality will be given Hexagram 54 and have to start imagining herself – or himself – as a second wife. In practice, in readings, marriage imagery requires some extraordinary mental stretches.”

    Yes definitely I think we may need to stretch much further with marriage imagery in readings than supposed. I was always aware of ‘how it was’, reading this blog post just made me more of aware of the horrendousness of it all. Getting married may often have been sheer hell…so we need to keep that in mind in readings

    “And then – and this is what I was trying to get at in the post – there’s what the authors might have done with that stolid patriarchal raw material through the way they wove it together. The Mandate story is all very splendid, and very polite to the wise and gracious rulers – and I think they run the marriage story in parallel to it as an alternative perspective. Maybe to undermine it, subtly, to puncture its importance and certainty. ”

    Perhaps. I mean the thing I always appreciated most about Yi was it’s subversion, in answers. Yi’s answers can allow people to find ways of thinking and acting that helps them to weave around these restrictive dehumanising structures of order and state and normalcy.
    So those restricting inhuman structures in society exist now as then, which is useful to keep in mind when asking questions to find out where you are in the stories.

    “63.2 could actually be an example of that. The uncertainty in the Oracle –
    ‘Beginnings, good fortune.
    Endings, chaos.’
    – is definitely echoed in Songs that talk about how easy it is to forfeit the Mandate, and I do think this hexagram is reflecting on that in general. Everything’s in order, we crossed the river into Shang territory, conquered, established the new dynasty, may they reign forever… oh, yes, like the last ones didn’t, or the ones before them. ”

    But is the lady losing her veil/hairpin (whichever you choose) really to do with the mandate and river crossing ? It’s just a line that always seemed especially small scale and especially feminine to me. I suppose it being in 63 must have connection to a crossing having been made. But I prefer to think this line belongs to another strand altogether, a much finer one.

    “So one clan loses the Mandate and it’s given to another, and such loss and gain changes everything and is of epic historic importance, and means we must live in a state of profound insecurity and constant vigilance.

    On the other hand…

    ‘A wife loses her carriage screen.
    Don’t chase it.
    On the seventh day, gain.’

    … maybe loss and gain is more like a bit of cloth blown away by the wind, that might be blown back if we’re patient. (Mm – zhi 5 again, like 11.5…) It’d depend on where you were watching from, wouldn’t it”

    So when we meet these particular strands, the stories of marriage and mandate, we will understand better how to apply them in readings if we can map them, story like, into our own lives here and now. Are we overthrowing or being over thrown ? Do we want to marry that thing whatever it is….We can easily lose mandate at any time, it cannot be held. Sometimes it will come back by itself…but other times, though we have it we have to do battle to have the power to use it and then, having been fought for and won there’s the question of how to go on afterwards through marriages and alliances.

    Phew.

    I wonder how many more strands there are ?

  6. Per Says:

    Yes, I wonder…

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