The I Ching is the classic Chinese method of divination. It began as an oral tradition, but became formalized by Confucius. It is an all encompassing system, offering advice on emotional and material aspects of everyday life.
The I Ching, also known as The Book Of Changes, indicates a situation's potential by reflecting the interaction of yin and yang at that particular time and place. This interaction is portrayed through symbols known as trigrams and hexagrams. The trigrams are made up of combinations of solid (yang) and broken (yin) lines, each signifying a different configuration of yin-yang energies. Eventually, definitive meanings came to be assigned to a standardized set of trigrams. From 1100 B.C., these were combined in pairs, making a set of 64 six-lined diagrams called hexagrams. These expressed a much greater range of subtle interactions. Each one had its own commentary, known as judgment, which outlined its qualities and implications.
As the trigram system developed, it offered philosophical guidance for everyday living, as well as divinatory predictions. One of the appeals of the I Ching is the depth and scope of its investigation, especially in the face of more superficial forms of divination. The 8 trigrams are a set of symbols developed by Fu Hsi, the first emperor of China. Each one is made up of three broken or solid lines, reflecting yin and yang forces. The system records all the different permutations of yin and yang, staring at heaven and earth, and working through all the combinations.
The origins of trigrams and hexagrams are from an ancient form of divination using tortoiseshell or bone (specifically, the shoulder blade). The tortoiseshell was heated in a fire which caused cracks to appear. These cracks were then interpreted by a diviner. It is believed that the tortoiseshell oracles are probably the oldest record of fortunetelling. With the shoulder blade, heat and drilling were used to create cracks.
Casting The Hexagram
There are several ways to generate hexagrams for personal divination. The traditional way involves the intricate sorting of 50 dried yarrow sticks. In present day, however, many generate hexagrams by tossing 3 coins (one side being patterned, the other side being unpatterned) a total of 6 times. Even marbles, rice grains, and computer software can be used to generate hexagrams. The scores for each line are labeled in four ways: yin, yang, moving yin (where the yin is becoming yang), and moving yang (where the yang is becoming yin).
Yin and Yang
The origin of yin and yang is traditionally associated with Fu Hsi. In the Chinese philosophy, all life on earth is profoundly affected by these two influences. Yang is the heavenly force, exemplified by the life-giving radiation that showers down from the sun, stars, constellations, and galaxies. It is most obviously embodied in the force of gravity. The other is the opposing, balancing yin force that originates in the center of the earth and expands outward. It is demonstrated by the ability of trees and plants to grow upward.
These two powerful energy fields are found in everything. Yin is associated with all that is dark, female, or cool, while yang is associated with masculinity, light, and heat. In Tarot, The Sun card would be yang while The Moon would be yin. Nothing is purely yin or yang, however. Their combination in any form is always in a constant a dynamic state of opposition and balance. Monitoring this balance is a vital part of Chinese philosophy, and can be achieved through traditional divination, physical disciples such as martial arts and Tai Chi, foods, and medicine.
The above information was adapted from The Atlas of The New Age by Gerry Maguire Thompson.
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