Hilary Barrett, I Ching

Marriage and Mandate

April 19th, 2014

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.


Shadow hexagrams revisited

March 26th, 2014

foxFour years ago :shock: , I posted about my first encounters with shadow hexagrams. And last week I was reminded of them again when a friend asked me to look at his connected-hexagrams-generating script that included Ideal and Shadow, along with many more of the creations from Stephen Karcher’s divination-laboratory.

(The Shadow – quick recap, more in the original post – is the hexagram found by counting back through the Sequence. Hexagram 1′s Shadow is 64, Hexagram 2′s Shadow is 63, and so on all the way in to 32 Shadowing 33.)

I realised to my shame that I’d been neglecting Shadows, even though I’ve found them distinctly helpful. What the Shadow points out is not necessarily apparent from other parts of the reading: it’s exactly the wrong way to think about the issue, an approach that will have you tied in knots, turning in circles and completely unable to engage or progress. I found that, very often, I could identify the Shadow-mindset in myself or whoever I was reading for: it would pinpoint exactly where we were stuck.

Yet… I hadn’t been looking at these, not for the majority of readings.

So I asked Yi, ‘What about Ideals and Shadows?’

The line of thought behind my question: is this something I should get back to? What value does it hold? I’m mostly interested in the Shadow, but I haven’t forgotten that Stephen likes to look at them alongside the Ideal.

Yi answered with Hexagram 40, Release, changing at line 2 to 16, Enthusiasm.

So here is the core of what Yi says about Shadows and Ideals:

‘In the field, taking three foxes.
Gaining a golden arrow.
Constancy, good fortune.’

And here is something Stephen wrote about them,

‘The Shadow Site gives you a hexagram that represents what is, at the moment, counter-indicated in your situation, covered by a sort of negative screen that can contain often painful memories. This screen or shadow is blocking transformative energy. If you completely release your awareness from these configurations by focusing on the Ideal, the necessary energy the Shadow Site contains will manifest itself spontaneously.’

…and something I found about them:

‘…The shadow, though, is more specifically the wrong idea. This mindset will entangle you, have you going in circles and getting exactly nowhere. If you think of a situation and try to engage with it in the style of its shadow, you will be well and truly stuck – a very distinctive kind of ‘stuckness’, not so much ‘confronting immoveable obstacles’, more being perfectly ineffectual.

Funnily enough, this is also quite often the shape the issue has taken on as you grapple with it: it’s exactly what you’re wrestling with and finding insoluble…’

It seems to me that the Shadow hexagram plays the role of the foxes. They represent delusion, confusion, fantasy – the negative face of the relating hexagram 16, ungrounded imaginings. Mythological foxes have the habit of disguising themselves to pass as real people and luring people into relationship with them – but none of this is real. Shadow hexagrams have the habit of disguising themselves as just obvious, the natural way to see the thing, so all your energy is soaked up before you even get close to the reality.

Also, looking round the line pathway of 40.2 (39.5, 15.5, 16.2, 40.2), there’s a theme of confinement, the need to breach boundaries before they calcify altogether (16.2), and the way you can find help by going beyond boundaries (15.5) and into hardship (39.5).

It all reminds me of something I was listening to this morning, asserting that the very first step to clearing personal hang-ups and fears is to get into situations where you experience those fears. If you create a life for yourself where you can always avoid them, the opportunity to clear them never arises; you just live inside the boundaries they create.

Well… I see a connection between deliberately entering difficult situations, and 39.5 (would you have met those partners if you’d stayed in the comfort zone?), and the idea of breaching limits, and deliberately using the Shadow hexagram to look at the concepts obstructing you, and taking the foxes.

If you take the foxes, cancel out their powers of deceptionyou can gain a golden arrow: shining and imperishable, the means of going directly in free flight to what you need. Stephen K talks about how the Shadow contains potential that can be unlocked if you manage not to think consciously along the lines it lays out, but instead find a new way of seeing in the Ideal hexagram:

‘If you completely release your awareness from these configurations by focusing on the Ideal, the necessary energy the Shadow Site contains will manifest itself spontaneously.’

‘Release’, hm?

Maybe the golden arrow is in the Ideal, or maybe it’s the emergent potential of the Shadow site when you’re freed from that. In any case, I had this fresh in my mind during last Saturday’s Change Circle call when someone asked if there were other hexagrams of context that might cast light on a Hexagram 2 unchanging. So I suggested its Shadow, 63,  and the reading’s ‘owner’, who as far as I know had never heard of Shadow Hexagrams before, took the foxes and saw the point (or gained the arrow, I suppose…) instantly – I was startled by how immediate it was for her. No explaining, interpreting or associated cleverness required.

We had the idea of using some of these calls to look at people’s readings through the lens of a specific interpretive technique, so we’re both studying and doing something real. Shadow hexagrams, anyone? Straightforward idea, nothing technically elaborate, and a very useful way to get to the heart of a reading.

You may be wondering about the Shadow of hexagram 40. It’s 25, Without Entanglement. Again, this is a lot clearer in the context of the reading, because my initial response to the friend with the connected-hexagram-generator was along the lines of, ‘These are Stephen Karcher’s ideas, not mine at all, so he’s the one you need to ask about how to describe them, not me.’ Hm. Very 25-ish, seeing it as if the main question were, ‘Is this mine, or not?’ – and hence altogether missing the freedom and energy inherent in Hexagram 40, as it asks ‘Could this lead me somewhere worth exploring?’

(With thanks to Dave Dyet for the fox.)

Four ways Yi works with dreams

March 20th, 2014

A wise person said to me recently, ‘There’s only one oracle.’ She meant that there’s only one reality speaking to us – so it shouldn’t surprise us when dreams, Yi, guides, synchronicities and all turn out to be working together.

On reflection… this turns out to happen more often and in more ways than I’d thought. For instance, with Yi and dreams, there’s…

1. Reading about dreams

If you’ve never tried asking Yi about a strong dream… ask! I’ve found these readings wonderfully rewarding, in a mind-stretching sort of way, as images talk about images and dreams and reading enter into dialogue.

You can ask simply, ‘What does the dream mean?’ – though I find ‘what to learn from this dream?’ can lead to a more approachable answer, as ‘what do I need to understand about x now?’ readings often do. Sometimes the reading will even offer one changing line as a ‘takeaway’ from each dream scene.

Searching through my journal for an example…

Well… there was the one where a woman had taken on a sort of potato-like vegetable form, and was kept in this form by a regular injection, and she explained that she kept coming – voluntarily – to get the injection because the super-powered robot that had replaced her human form could not be outdone, could not be beaten at this game.

My reading about this dream was 6.2.4 to 29, and I could recognise potato-woman’s words at once in ‘cannot master this argument’ from the two line texts. So the reading gave me images of being stuck, and then the reading went on to talk about what to do instead of trying to compete with the robot, or taking the potato-inducing? injections. (I had a bit of an issue with ‘vegetating’ at the time, and my dreaming mind seems to have thought I needed things spelling out…)

For long dreams full of imagery I might single out just one element that seems to be a key to the whole and ask, ‘What was that?’

Sometimes I’ll ask instead about how to relate to aspects of dreams, especially recurring motifs. (I found that while this didn’t make the recurring stop, as I’d rather hoped it would, it helped to shift the nature of the dream interactions.)

Or in a long, complex dream I might single out the one element that seems to be key to the whole and ask ‘What was that?’ If the dream is one of those epic narratives that range across multiple scenes and teem with pregnant symbols, starting with just one object or event or place can make for a more manageable reading.

In fact… even if you asked about the whole dream, be prepared for the reading to make its connections through a single element. Then you can explore in widening circles from there – out into the larger narrative of the dream, and into the deeper structures of the reading. (Line pathways, especially, seem to act like mirrors for dream images and their meanings.)

2. Yijing imagery in dreams

After a little while with the Yi, its images find their way into your unconscious and settle in – or perhaps images that were always buried somewhere in there start to make their presence known. In any case…

I dreamed of having to clear great quantities of spiders and creepy-crawlies out of the family car – very 18. And of my father as the boatman in a boat loaded with refugees until it was almost sinking – and since Yi gave me 60.5 when I asked about the dream, I think that boat is from the paired line, 59.2.

Sometimes Yijing imagery – or even just hexagram numbers – become a kind of dream shorthand, rather like the references to myth and history in the Yi itself are shorthand. A dream character need only say, ‘That would be 55!’ to evoke the whole of Abundance.? Luis dreamt hexagrams too – along with a pair of axolotl that looked suspiciously like a tai chi symbol.

3. ‘Volunteer’ dreaming about readings

That is, a dream that follows on from a reading – or immediately precedes it – and casts light on it. This happens quite often for me with the dreams that follow a weekly reading. Sometimes the dreams ‘explain’ the reading for me, showing how it applies, but more often they simply make it vivid and immediate.

For instance…

Towards the end of 2006, the year my mother had died, feeling things shifting, I asked, ‘What’s new about me?’ and received Hexagram 25 – Disentangling – unchanging. The following night, I dreamt:

“Someone tells me there is a swan in trouble out in the water. When I look, I see how one swan is somehow caught underwater, so its head will barely reach above water. I see its neck curved and white head under the water. But it’s at the centre of a whole group of swans, two white adult young and a big, dark-coloured – almost mud-coloured – male. He has her head and neck across his shoulders, and is swimming fast against the current, and each time he surges upward her head rises above the water so she can take a breath. There’s a sense of devotion and compassion from him.

But I still feel we should go and do something to help, even though I’m afraid that our approach will make the swans panic, or attack us. But when I look again, I see that he has somehow linked his wings under hers, and he uses the power of his wings to lift her so she’s entirely freed from whatever caught her. This is wonderful – and my help isn’t needed. What impresses me most now is his power.”

And a simpler one from 2007: I asked how not to be depressed and received 27.4 -

‘Unbalanced nourishment,

Good fortune.

Tiger watches, glares and glares.

His appetites, pursues and pursues.

No mistake.’

I kept that tiger in mind, and a couple of nights later dreamt that I encountered two tigers when out walking. I was apprehensive at first, but saw there was a black panther in the distance that wouldn’t dare approach with the tigers present. They came home with me, and in the final scene of the dream I was just waking up, finding I’d slept on the floor next to the bigger tiger with my head almost resting on its leg.

4. Dreams and readings that act

There are plenty of things one can do with dreams and readings?…and plenty more that dreams and readings can do with us.When a reading client had a ‘weird dream’ on the night after our reading and woke feeling a weight had lifted and she could let things be, she didn’t connect this with any particular message from either dream or reading: it had simply happened. In the same way, when 27.4′s tiger comes to me in a dream,?this is not just information. Readings and dreams are real events; what happens in them is real, not just a ‘message’ about a separate ‘real world’. Only one reality – only one oracle.

Getting started

Reading other people’s posts about the exciting dreams or readings or synchronicities they’ve experienced can be pretty demoralising. Personally, whenever I read something really tantalisingly exciting about the possibilities of dreams – crystal clear prophetic dreams, glorious encounters with spirit animals, in-depth conversations with ancestors – my dreaming mind responds with night after night where my total dream wisdom is something like ‘We’re running out of tinned tomatoes.’

Fortunately, to get started, astonishing psychic gifts are not required – we just need to show willing. That can be as simple as

  1. write your dreams down,
  2. write your readings down (journal software coming soon so you can store readings and dreams together), and
  3. ask Yi about some aspect of a dream from time to time

That’s all it takes to open up the flow between dreams and readings so they begin to ‘talk to each other’, and then…

sleeping tiger

(Thanks to Anita Berghoef for the sleeping tiger.)

Change Circle Gathering, 22nd March

March 13th, 2014
Old phone

Join us: make the phone happy.

I thought I’d make a quick post about this to be sure no-one who’s interested misses out. Change Circle are resuming regular monthly calls, on the 4th Saturday of each month.

We’ll talk about a variety of Yi-related things: anyone can bring a reading for discussion, or we may settle in as a ‘study group’ and focus on how to engage with different aspects of readings – trigrams, nuclears, line relationships and so on.

If you’re a member of Change Circle, do visit the thread for the first call and post your reading or question or both.

If you’re not, you are absolutely welcome to join. There’s the private Reading Circle forum (guaranteed unGoogled), access to the excellent WikiWing, and calls (the first of which would actually fall within your free trial period, come to think of it), and that warm glow of satisfaction that comes from helping to pay Clarity’s bills. (Or so I’m told.)

Oracle bones and remembering

February 24th, 2014

I have a lovely, fat book on my shelves called Sources of Chinese Tradition (volume 1), full of excerpted translations from the Chinese. Chapter 1, fittingly enough, is about oracle bone inscriptions: the earliest Chinese writing, divination records from the Shang dynasty, long before Yi came into being.

The bone – a turtle shell or the scapula of an ox or water buffalo – would be prepared for use, and then the charge is put to the oracle and the bone is cracked by the application of heat. The king himself interprets the cracks to read the spirits’ response, and then the bones are inscribed with a record of the divination.

Some bones have not only a record of the charge to the oracle (something like ‘It will rain’ or ‘In the next ten days there will be no disasters’ – an affirmation functioning as something between a question and a prayer), and what the king read from the cracks, but also a verification: what really happened.

Crack-making on jimao [a day in the cycle of 60, identified by its stem and branch], Que divined: “It will rain”
The king read the cracks: “If it rains, it will be on a ren day.”
“On renwu, it really did rain.”


Crack-making on guisi, Que divined: “In the next ten days there will be no disasters.”
The king read the cracks and said: “There will be calamities; there will be someone bringing alarming news.”
When it came to the fifth day, dingyou, there really was someone bringing alarming news from the west. Zhi Guo reported and said, “The Tufang have attacked in our eastern borders and have seized two settlements. The Gongfang likewise invaded the fields of our western borders.”

So here is the record engraved on the bone, so the descendants can read and learn. (Though as far as I know, we still can’t see what the king saw in those cracks.) On almost all the bones with a verification recorded, the king was proved right – and these bones are engraved and decorated as if for display. We might reasonably assume that the official record-keepers would be more eager to keep detailed records of the king getting it right.

Yet we have a few records (and if we have some, there must surely have been others) of the king getting it wrong:

Crack-making on guisi (day 30), Zheng divined: “In the present first moon, it will rain.”
The king read the cracks and said: “…on the bing day it will rain.”
In the next ten-day week, on renyin (day 39) it rained; on jiachen (day 41) it also rained.

And now we are running out of space on the front of the bone, and it has not yet rained on a bing day (that’s the 3rd day of the 10-day week – day 33, 43 etc). So we continue on the back…

On jiyou (day 46) it rained; on xinhai (day 48), it also rained.

David Keightley, the author of this chapter, explains that it’s unusual for the diviners to keep records for this long after the divination. It seems very much as if they’re continuing in the hope that eventually it will rain on the right day of the week – but after two full weeks, they give up. As Keightley says,
“Well, it did rain a lot” might have sufficed to save some royal face.’

Does anyone else get a certain rueful feeling of familiarity? I’ve always looked at the fragments of oracle bones in museums and sensed a kindred spirit: someone who makes readings, keeps records, tries to learn something. I imagine they’d have been first in line to buy divination journal software.

As for the tendency to stretch the meaning of your interpretation post-hoc in an attempt to have it fit with circumstances… no, not recognising that at all

But then… why did they record this? They had large enough stores of oracle bones, goodness knows, so why not just quietly lose this one? The divination records are solid evidence of the king’s spiritual authority, and this record doesn’t do anything for his reputation.

It looks as though something is more important than the king’s reputation – more important even than the oracle’s own reputation. That would be the practice of divination, as something you trust, remember and attend to.

Just quietly losing the reading that hasn’t quite worked out or that you can’t quite understand or don’t much like – that would be the first, slippery step towards losing the connection to guidance altogether. Or to put it another way, the least helpful reading is not the one with the less-than-ideal question, nor the one you can’t fully understand, but the one you don’t remember. (Keeping a journal is an excellent start; there’s more on integrating a reading or other sign into your awareness in Pamela Moss’s talk in Into the Flow of Change.)

And this reminds me – maybe it’s time I reviewed some readings…

Two-line changes

February 15th, 2014

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.

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.

Casting the vessel… of state?

January 27th, 2014

I’ve written very excited posts before about the pattern of complementary hexagrams in the Sequence of the Yijing. Quick recap: to find a hexagram’s complement, you change all 6 of its lines. Thus the complement of hexagram 1 is hexagram 2 -

||||||        ::::::

and the complement of Hexagram 3, Sprouting is Hexagram 50, the Vessel:

|:::|:        :|||:|

- and this is where it gets exciting, as…

  1. every hexagram between 3 and 50 finds its complement within that space, too. So it’s almost as if the Vessel and its complement were… a Vessel, in the Sequence, for containing hexagrams.
  2. if you imagine 3 and 50 as the mould to cast the vessel, and start looking at the ‘layers’ of the casting inside the mould – 5 and 6 on one side, 47 and 48 on the other, and so on all the way ‘in’, you find some lovely patterns: correlations in both shape and meaning of the hexagrams sited opposite one another.
  3. at the mid-point of this (when you’ve matched up 5/6 with 48/47, 7/8 with 46/45, and so on), you find the two sequences meet between 25-26 and 28-27. 28-27 look like (among other things) a mould and the contents poured into it.

So anyway… this is great fun to play with, and I’m barely beginning. (For instance, there must be something distinctive and unifying about the hexagrams that aren’t in the Vessel, don’t you think?) Today I’m just adding another idea to the mix: state building.

The Zhou people, when they established their rule, created a substantial sphere of influence by setting up feudal lords. Some were relatives, some were local leaders who became allies; all governed their region as representatives of Zhou authority, creating a network of trust through which information and resources could flow.

The hexagram associated with the moment of establishing Zhou rule is 50: the Vessel, embodiment of a state validated by its connection to the spirits through offering.

And hexagram 3…

From the source, creating success, constancy bears fruit.
Don’t use this to have a direction to go,
Fruitful to establish feudal lords.’

…shows a new ruler, not travelling, but expanding his network in all directions like the roots of a seedling.

There’s a great expanse of hexagrams, and a great gulf in experience, between the clear, strong centre and the small one struggling to get a grip in the new soil – and yet they’re also the same pattern, like opposite sides of the same mould.

No other complementary hexagrams are anything like so far apart (the next largest gap is between 5 and 35, then 21 and 48). Maybe this represents the great physical distance between the centre and the states: it was a great achievement to bridge such a distance, creating true echoes of the centre far away at the periphery. (Also, of course, it wasn’t sustainable: the states grew in independence, their bonds to the centre weakened, and in the end the states held the real power.)

So now I’m seeing a second ‘layer’ of meaning in this structure of complements. It shows vessel-casting, the mould and its reverse side – but it also shows state-building.

Here in the West, especially on this small damp island, the natural image for the state is a ship. But in ancient China… perhaps the vessel of state? The state as humanity’s hugest endeavour, its biggest mirror to heaven; the Vessel, the most sophisticated product of the civilisation (just think what it takes – expert knowledge, technology, resources, support – to cast one), and also, in the shared ritual meal, at the heart of its very direct and simple relationship to the spirits. Everything we do (or almost everything – not forgetting 51-64) could be understood within the arc of that great enterprise.

This casts new light on those correlations between hexagrams further into the mould. Hexagrams 5 and 6 stand across from 48-47, and you could surely say that Hexagram 5, waiting and praying for favourable weather, is fulfilling the same basic function as the Well, bringing what the farmer needs. Only the Well is the product of complex collaboration, part of a stable civilisation. It’s just that there are faint echoes between the prayers and dances of 5 and the well-lining work of 48.

Then there’s 8, how we come together, like Yu bringing the beginnings of the first state together after the floods were conquered – sited opposite the grand ceremony of 45, renewing the same covenant, still bringing order out of chaos. (That was what Yu did – and the line texts of 45 are a reminder that bigger gatherings create more opportunities for chaos!) More echoes, I think. Or am I hearing things?