Hilary Barrett, I Ching

A few essentials for Yijing readings

August 3rd, 2014

Building blocksResponding to emails from someone struggling with his readings started me thinking about the basic principles of interpretation – the real essentials. Of course I have picked up a bunch of background knowledge along the way, and it all contributes, but people can do perfectly useful readings without most of it. There are a few building blocks, though, without which I couldn’t begin to interpret anything. Here are the ones that come to mind:

The changed hexagram is not usually the future

Oh, thank heavens for Stephen Karcher, from whom I first learned this. Plenty of people have to work much harder to reach the same conclusion – and plenty more must give up on the oracle altogether because the idea that ‘second hexagram = future’ creates so many readings that are perfect gibberish.

The second hexagram of a cast – the one you see when the changing lines are changed – can be direction, context, theme, ‘what it’s about for you’. Any of these things can be in the future – especially, of course, if you asked about the future. None of them has to be.

The line takes precedence over the hexagrams

If the hexagram says ‘good fortune’, the line says ‘pitfall’, then what you are asking about is an ill-omened option or position, even though it’s in a basically positive setting. The line is not ‘contradicting’ the hexagram; it’s focussing in on your question.

Yi works rather as you would guiding a half-blind elderly lady along the street. (This is something I do each Friday, so it comes to mind as an example!) ‘Yes, we have time for the bank – no problem, it’s just along here on the left,’ you say. And then, ‘Look out, mind the puddle!’ ‘Look out!’ does not contradict ‘no problem’, and the line does not contradict the hexagram.

The commentary is not the answer

I have ridden this hobby horse round and round the site for years, but I’m always happy to give it another outing. You would not have a conversation with a friend by taking a poll of what half a dozen other people think he’s trying to tell you – let alone other people who have never met you and have no idea what your conversation is about. So why would you set out to interpret a reading by scanning commentaries rather than sitting with what the oracle says?

(As for the authors who think it a grand idea to ‘simplify’ the Yi by removing its images altogether and replacing them with their own circumlocutory waffle, because of course they know everything that image could possibly mean under any circumstances… need I go on?)

In particular, the reading is only as good or bad as the Yi says it is – no matter how alarming the commentator found it. Some examples – equal opportunity, three authors –

Wilhelm/ Baynes, 28.5

‘A withered poplar puts forth flowers.
An older woman takes a husband.
No blame. No praise.’
‘A withered poplar that flowers exhausts its energies thereby and only hastens its end. An older woman may marry once more, but no renewal takes place. Everything remains barren. Thus, though all the amenities are observed, the net result is only the anomaly of the situation…’

Yi actually goes to the trouble of specifying, ‘No blame, no praise.’ The line is like a poem, a mystery removed altogether from human judgement. Wilhelm’s take on it is just depressing – it seems he doesn’t approve of anomalous situations. (What if the flowers are beautiful? What if the woman is happy?)

Karcher Total I Ching, 17.2

‘Following. Tied to the Small Son,
Letting go the Experienced Husbandman.’
‘This is a mistake. You have picked the wrong influence to follow. You will end up alone, without anyone to trust. All you can do then is adapt to whatever crosses your path.’

Wow. You could easily miss that the line says nothing about whether this is good or bad. Are there never any benefits to being child-like?

In defence of Karcher and Wilhelm, they are both following the tradition represented by the xiaoxiang, the commentary on the line that’s part of the Yijing. It calls 28.5 a ‘disgrace’ and for 17.2, in Karcher’s translation, says, ‘This means having nowhere to join helpful companions.’ In other words, it’s a commentary adding value judgements that weren’t in the original – but at least it’s an ancient and venerable commentary.

But not all modern commentaries are based on the xiaoxiang. For 9.3,

‘A cart losing its wheel spokes.
Husband and wife avert their eyes.’

– another line without good or bad omens – the xiaoxiang only says ‘this is a sign they cannot keep their house in order’. So does that always have to mean,

‘Things come apart. The spokes are such a small component of the cart, yet when they are lost the whole system collapses. Husband and wife avoid one another’s gaze: where you would expect communication and rapport, there is an inner disconnection…’

– ?
(Yes, that one’s mine. Considerably more catastrophic than the original – especially since it turns out that sometimes, avoiding direct contact is the best way to avoid emotional escalation. I managed to make it sound like an unmitigated disaster…)

And speaking of things that are not the answer…

All the technical extras are not the answer, either

– not the fan yao, not the nuclear hexagram, not the complement or shadow or ideal or paired line or nuclear story or sequence. These are helpful context. Back to guiding the elderly lady:

‘Did you see where my bus pass got to?’
‘I think after you found your umbrella, you took it out of your purse and put it in your pocket.’

Your answer was not ‘umbrella’ or ‘purse’. Likewise, the fan yao is not Yi’s answer.

(It’s depressing to see people who can’t accept the line they received running through the line pathway to find something easier. ‘In the field, no game’ (32.4) means exactly what it says: what you’re hunting for isn’t here. It doesn’t mean, ‘The king makes offerings on Mount Qi. Good fortune, no mistake.’ (46.4).)

Readings take time

Sometimes you will ‘get it’ at once. Often, you won’t. This does not mean it didn’t work; it means you need to spend time with the reading, sleep on it, let dreams and synchronicities contribute to your understanding, and let understanding evolve. It will. This is how it works.

(I think I was helped a lot by coming to this from the study of literature. I was never going to understand Eluard or Rilke at first glance, so I wasn’t too shocked when I needed some time for readings, too.)

Child-like questions plus imagination unlock the meaning

…and some background knowledge helps, too. But without the willingness to ask simple, silly little questions about the images, you can’t get started at all. ‘Why would an older woman want to marry?’ ‘What’s the difference between a small child and an experienced husbandman?’ ‘What happens to a cart when it loses its wheel spokes?’ ‘What’s a cart?’

Trust the oracle

Yes, it works. Yes, it has given you an answer you can use; no, you do not need to second-guess your first response. (Part of trusting the oracle is trusting yourself to respond.) You just need attention, patience and a lively curiosity.

Announcing: new Yijing and dreams journal software coming 15th October

July 31st, 2014

FanfareAnnouncing… at last… with fanfare…

The Yi-plus-dreams-plus-signs journal software – that’s been in a sousaphone-sized pipeline for a while – is really taking shape now.

We’ll be calling for half a dozen beta testers in mid-August, and after some final tweaking the software will be available to buy on October 15th*.

The core idea of the software is that dreams, Yijing readings, journalling and insights are all part of the same conversation, and so they all belong together. Hence you should have a way to store, search and explore them together – and that’s what this will be. A simple tag cloud, a Yijing cast history, and an ‘advanced search’ with specialised Yi-features make it possible to discover a lot of hidden connections.
And yes – it is for both Windows and Mac.

If you have questions, please ask!
(*The finish date is subject to the project’s chief ((and only)) programmer’s house-move going as planned. He should be happily settled in by then.)

The noble one’s story

June 4th, 2014

zi, childWe mostly come across the junzi, the ‘noble one’, in the Image Wing of the Yi. But he also features in many oracles and lines of the original text. Here’s the whole list:

1.3, 2.0, 3.3, 9.6, 12.0, 13.0, 15.0, 15.1, 15.3, 20.1, 20.5, 20.6, 23.6, 33.4, 34.3, 36.1, 40.5, 43.3, 49.6, 64.5

That’s interestingly different from the daren, the ‘great person’, who shows up in line 2 or 5 in five out of his six appearances in line texts. The great person stands at the centre, but the noble one is more likely to be at line 3 or 6 than anywhere else. He seems to be pushing at the learning edge of things.

That fits with the original meaning of the character: the noble young one. Jun 君 means ruler – the old character shows a hand wielding a staff and a mouth – and zi 子 means a child – in the ancient character, a baby. That’s not just a generically ‘superior man’, but specifically someone who’s growing.

At least, that’s how it seems to me when I read through the story of the noble one as it unfolds through the sequence of hexagrams.

He (or she, but I’ll stick to one pronoun here to avoid sounding silly) appears first of all at 1.3, full of creative energy and wound too tightly to sleep:

‘Noble one creates and creates to the end of the day,
At nightfall on the alert, as if in danger.
No mistake.’

Then in hexagram 2 he has a direction to go, is confused at first and later finds guidance (a ‘lord’, literally a lamp with its flame). At 3.3, he manages not to chase the deer into the forest and get lost. Similarly at 9.6, it will mean misfortune if he sets out to bring order.

This junzi seems to be energetic, active, eager – and learning to pay attention to time and place before he acts. It’s OK to be too excited to sleep, but perhaps it will prove better to follow guidance, better not to run off without any, and much better not to try to bring perfect order at a time when it’s already rained.

We’re building up to the painful lesson of Hexagram 12: creative imagination, strength and uprightness, all his good qualities, are not always going to help matters.

‘Blocking it, non-people.
Noble one’s constancy bears no fruit.
Great goes, small comes.’

(This can actually be quite a consoling reading, because if even a noble one’s constancy bears no fruit, then the obstacle isn’t caused by your own deficiencies.)

However -

‘People in harmony in the wilds: creating success.
Fruitful to cross the great river.
A noble one’s constancy bears fruit.’

– look what has changed in Hexagram 13! Not the constant noble one, but his surroundings, or perhaps his relationship to them. Where there is harmony, movement, fellowship, mutual awareness (see the change of the inner trigram), then his constancy will bear fruit.

He appears next in hexagram 15, three times. Here, he seems to assimilate his experiences so far – to understand his own strengths and limits in a larger context. With that awareness, he can do his work, bring things to completion.

He has another three appearances in hexagram 20 – another key stage of his development, I think, as he develops a larger awareness. From this point on, he’s going to be more capable of looking into the future. Here for the first time, he’s different from ‘small people':

‘A child seeing.
For small people, no mistake.
For a noble one, shame.’

The noble one now – in lines 5 and 6 – can see a life as a whole, not just from a child’s perspective.

As an adult, the noble one must see further and do more than the small people: get a cart to travel onward while they only sabotage their huts; retreat with love; use a net where they only know how to use strength. And it seems he will also go beyond what’s expected or acceptable – he travels alone, gets talked about, gets soaked. (This is a step beyond the learning of 3.3 or 9.6 or 12-13: what he can achieve depends on circumstances and other people’s dispositions, but what he should undertake does not.)  He can find freedom and be true within his bonds. And – unlike his younger self back at 9.6 – now he can see the possibility of settling down with the change achieved rather than pressing on disastrously for more:

‘Noble one transforms as a leopard,
Small people radically change their faces.
Setting out to bring order: pitfall.
Settling with constancy: good fortune.’

That’s almost the last we see of him; he gets no mention in the 50s. (I don’t know why not.) His final appearance is in the penultimate line of the whole book:

‘Constancy, good fortune, no regrets.
A noble one’s radiance.
There is truth and confidence, good fortune.’

Well! The noble one of 2.0 needed a master, a lamp-person to follow; this one shines out himself, like a beacon of truth. (I think the connection through this line change back to hexagrams 6 and 5 is important: in 5 there is also ‘truth and confidence’ and ‘radiance’, in 6 truth and confidence is blocked and you need to see the great person. Perhaps a future or higher self is reaching back through the decades of hexagrams to help a conflicted younger self…?)

I think all this sketches out a story of development. The junzi starts out full of energy, knowing where he’s going and what he wants. First he must learn not to overdo things, to recognise the quality of the time before he applies his creative energies. Then he can do his work. He develops vision; he has to act more imaginatively than the small people, to see possibilities invisible to them. And as his awareness develops, he even becomes responsible for departing from the norms when the norms are wrong; his personal integrity should go beyond circumstances. He undergoes personal transformation, and embodies the possibility of change himself.

It’s an interesting story to ponder when the Zhouyi’s noble one shows up in a reading.

The clouds of Hexagram 9

May 29th, 2014

Hexagram 9 says,

‘Small taming, creating success.
Dense clouds without rain
Come from my Western altars.’

The dense clouds without rain suggest that what we need is tantalisingly close, just not quite here yet.  Those ‘Western altars’ are probably a subtle reference to the Zhou, people of the West. Before they could receive heaven’s mandate, they spent many generations in Hexagram 9’s work as small farmers, cultivating their land and the ‘natural pattern of character’ – and the word ‘pattern’ here is Wen, the ‘pattern king’ who prepared the ground for his son’s conquest of Shang. So this looks like a hexagram of making ready to receive the mandate.

I’ve still barely started reading Shaughnessy’s Unearthing the Changes – but just a few pages in, he quotes a fascinating divination. Recorded in the Mozi (5th/4th century BC), these are said to be the words of a diviner of the Xia, interpreting the turtle shell omen for the casting of a ding vessel:

“So billowing the white clouds, now south now north, now west now east: The nine cauldrons being completed will be transferred to the three kingdoms.”

This omen predicted the transfer of power from Xia to Shang and Shang to Zhou. Shaughnessy says modestly that it’s ‘unclear’ to him why the omen would mention clouds, but in a footnote mentions a record of a cloud omen associated with a later discovery of an exceptional vessel, and speculates there may be an association between Yu’s nine vessels and the appearance of clouds.

And here in Hexagram 9, the clouds are on their way. They’re carried by the wind that moves above heaven, shaped by its power – heaven-powered, Mandate-powered winds.

These clouds are thick, not bright; the vessel hasn’t yet come to the Zhou, and it’s not yet raining. But according to Hexagram 50 line 3, when the great vessel is finally restored to use, this will be like the clouds finally bringing rain:

‘The vessel’s ears are radically changed,
Its action blocked.
Rich pheasant fat goes uneaten.
Rain on all sides lessens regrets,
In the end, good fortune.’


Getting inside the imagery

May 19th, 2014

- or, How just a Smidgen of Background Knowledge can take you a Surprisingly Long Way.

As soon as you start talking with the Yijing, it’s apparent that there are things here you don’t understand. ‘Crossing the great river’, for instance. You probably don’t make a habit of wading rivers, especially not rivers big enough to drown you, so what on earth does Yi mean by saying it would be fruitful to cross one now?

Well… you read commentaries, engage your child-mind (who knows that you’d only try to wade a big river if you were really sure about it), maybe pick up a bit of history (oh, or a glossary – can’t miss the opportunity to plug that), and you get an idea of what it means to cross the great river.

I think it’s actually harder to get inside the imagery that sounds more familiar. People email me from time to time to ask the meaning of ‘cross the great river’, but no-one’s emailed yet to ask what ‘hunting’ means, or ‘taking a woman to wife – presumably because we all already know what those mean.

Except that, of course, when it comes to these images in the Yi we actually have no clue. After all, most of the readings that feature marriage as an image-to-think-with don’t involve romantic relationships, any more than most of the readings that mention ‘crossing the great river’ involve waders. We need that background knowledge more than ever – not necessarily an encyclopaedic amount, but just enough to nourish the imagination and let us start to respond to the reading.

An example – I see quite a lot of Hexagram 31, Influence, in readings about handling emotions – sometimes other people’s emotions picked up empathically, sometimes my own.

‘Influence, creating success.
Constancy bears fruit.
Taking a woman, good fortune.’

Marry? Why? How? Whom? How is marrying supposed to help me handle this [terror/ restlessness/ joy/ nameless emotion] (delete as appropriate). This is beyond fuzzy.

But the picture starts to clear as I reflect on how, when a man married in ancient China, he took his wife into his home. So to ‘take a woman’ is to take her in and make space (or find space, or recognise that the space was always there) for her inside.

Also… that the same verb ‘take’ means literally taking something in your hand, and is used of an idea, to mean ‘apprehend, grasp’. So there’s the idea of grasping and owning the emotion (wherever it came from), of getting a grip on it.

So if I imagine myself as the man taking a wife (and if you can’t imagine yourself in the opposite gender – men, too – you are certainly using the wrong oracle) then I have a sense of taking hold of the emotion, accepting it and allowing it in, having space for it inside myself and my daily life. (This might seem obvious, but it makes a difference for me: my default mode would be ignore it, push it out, and find a distraction.) And, of course, I can expect this to change everything – he couldn’t bring the woman into his home and then continue just as before.

And conversely, if I had Hexagram 44 instead on the same topic -

‘Coupling, the woman is powerful.
Do not take this woman.’

- I would know that this was too powerful for me and I shouldn’t attempt to own and internalise it. For instance, I think if I saw this in a preliminary reading about a prospective client (I sometimes ask Yi ‘how could I help x?’ before we first talk), I might apologetically decline to work for them, because I wouldn’t be up to the task of ‘taking on’ their experience.

There… one small example of the difference even a smattering of background knowledge can make by opening a door into a reading.

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.)