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I Ching

Updated 2 September 2004

The I Ching, literally translated, is The Book of Change.  It may be the oldest book on the planet (Earth) [1], and is often considered an ancient treasure, a source book of enormous insight and wisdom, and what amounts to a co-operative effort spanning millennia.   

According to R. L. Wing [1], “The oldest, deepest stratum of the ideas in the book was probably handed down from the elders of the nomadic Siberian tribes, the same tribes that sired both the Oriental and [Pre Columbian] American cultures.  These early authors of the I Ching observed the stars and tides, the plants and animals, and the cycles of all natural events.  At the same time, they observed the patterns of relationship in families and societies, the practice of business, the craft of government, the grim art of warfare, [and] the eternal human dramas of love, ambition, conflict, and honor.  They made no attempt to create a fixed chart of the cosmos.  Instead, they organically grew a guide to the way things change: a marvelous,  fluid, interconnected system of relations.”  

The I Ching utilizes eight trigrams and sixty-four hexagrams (the latter a combination of two of the former).  The trigrams are simplicity itself, consisting of three parallel lines, with a gap at the midpoint of from zero to three of the lines, and with each of the eight combinations possessing certain, specific characteristics or attributes (shown below).  

By combining the eight trigrams in groups of two trigrams each, a block of 64 hexagrams can be obtained.  (Essentially, eight times eight.)  These 64 hexagrams are then interpreted by a host of aficionados, from Chinese emperors to TimeWave theorists.  

King Wen, founder of the Chou Dynasty (1150-249 B.C.E.) [Chinese History] was one such emperor who wrote essays on the meaning of each of the sixty-four hexagrams.  Confucius, in turn, believed that the book could be used as a credo to determine and define his own inner development.  Jung called the hexagrams, Archetypes, a recognition that human nature and cosmic order was united in the collective unconscious through a Symbolism that affects people of any time and any culture.  

The I Ching is often used as an oracle, a means of divination.  The technique is to use three coins and dropping them on a flat surface.  Depending upon the number of “heads” and “tails” a particular line is selected.  (There are four possibilities, such that the result is a solid line, a gapped line, and either of the two with the added stipulation of a “changing line” -- the latter contributing additional information on the subject of inquiry.)  The coins are dropped six times in order to obtain the six lines of the hexagram.  A second hexagram is then derived from using the “changing lines” to replace solid lines with dashed lines and vice versa.  The dropping of the coins in this manner effectively freezes the moment.  As R. L. Wing [1] phrased it, “This ritual of stopping time (or ‘change’, if you will) with a particular question in mind is a way of aligning your Self and your circumstances within the background of all that is unfolding in the universe.”  

Two fundamental laws arise within the context of the I Ching: One being the law of polar reversal, in that in all things there are the seeds of their opposites.  This relates to either side of the coin, as well as only two lines, one solid and one dashed (both of which turn into each other).  The other law is that of periodicity.  “This law manifests in Cycles and rhythms, like the changing seasons, the growth cycles in plants, and the stages in the development of the individual’s life and character... The path of life through the changing cosmos is the tao... The tao literally means the way or gate through which all things move.  To move with the tao is to be in a state that Christianity refers to as ‘grace’.” [1]

Steve Paige has pointed out that the use of dropping three coins on a surface in order to reference the I-Ching Oracle is actually a westernized version, and does not have the same statistical probability as the Yarrow Stalk Oracle, the original Chinese method of divining the changes. "The Yarrow Stalk method described in the Wihlem edition of the I-Ching (pp 721-723) is skewed. For example, Yin is clearly heavily weighted in the Yarrow method, perhaps to exemplify the universal concept of entropy." The variation in probabilities becomes:

   * Changing Yin to Yang -- 1/16th (vice 1/3rd)
   * Changing Yang to Yin -- 3/16th (vice 1/3rd)
   * Unchanging Yang -- 5/16th (vice 1/3rd)
   * Unchanging Yin -- 7/16th (vice 1/3rd)

Paige uses 16 marbles or other tokens in four colors.

   * Five of the first color, which represent the value 7
   * Seven of the second color, which represent the value 8
   * Three of the third color, which represents the value 9
   * One of the fourth color, which represents the value 6

He then puts all of the marbles in a bag or bowl, and draws one out at random to select the first line. After each line, he places the marble back into the receptacle so that the odds remain at 1/16th for any particular marble. Steve has "been using this divination method in my readings for 15 years.

"Of course, you don't have to embarrass yourself by picking out marbles at a toy shop (though it may be good for the soul). There are glass beads sold for use in flower arranging, or polished semiprecious stones, or just plastic beads. A member of the I Ching Community carries a small homemade 'I Ching bracelet' in his pocket with sixteen beads in four colors. It's not only portable, but much less conspicuous to use than coins." [2]

For more information on this method, check out:


For a free Yarrow based I-Ching reading, go to:



Perhaps the most intriguing part of the I Ching is its tendency to not give a direct answer.  [Of course, few if any oracles ever do.  That’s what oracles are for: things to require you to figure it out for yourself, regardless of what the oracle says or implies.]  As Wing [1] has noted, “The Book of Change is an eccentric oracle.  Anyone who has used it for any length of time will discover that it has a distinct personality.  It could be that it takes on the personality of the user, although it frequently assumes a startling and unpredictable posture.  Sometimes it likes to carry on a witty and multifaceted conversation, and at other times it petulantly dwells upon a particular issue or problem.  If you ask the same question over and over again, it often gives you the same advice couched in various nuances.  At other times it may become irritable and insulting when you importune.  As a rule, the answer you receive will be as clear and comprehensive as your question and frame of mind.”  [emphasis added]  [The idea that the I Ching has a personality sounds nonsensical, but regular usage will tend to make one a believer.  This may mean that the user has simply lost their mind, or that there is something going on that transcends rationality -- in the sense that “There are greater things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”  (I think I got that quote right, Will.)]  

A few other factors is that wishful thinking will not help, and may cause more confusion than clarity.  The I Ching is not an oracle you can bully, threaten, or cajole.  It makes the famous Oracle of Delphi look like a candidate for Miss Congeniality!  The I Ching will typically not directly answer a question, but address itself to the motives and subconscious urges of the asking.  It gets personal.  “It may embarrass you, startle you, tease you, frighten you, and occasionally share a good laugh with you.” [1]  It’s like a lover.  

Finally, the I Ching can also be used for mundane divination, i.e. social, political, personal, and/or natural events.  Carl Jung’s collective unconsciousness and synchronicity come into play in this case, such that inquiries concerning elections, weather, finances, or societal issues will rely on the mutual participation of all mankind.  It may not give probabilities of snow in the coming week, but general Trends, insights, and thoughtful considerations seem well within the purview of the I Ching.  And, of course, everything will change, including the I Ching.  

But whatever the questions, it may be beneficial to recall Confucius’ words:

“Whoever knows the tao of the changes and transformations,

knows the actions of the gods.”  


History of Tarot         Tarot          Death and Rebirth

Forward to:

Tao Te Ching         Lao Tzu         Taoism         Alchemy



[1]  R. L. Wing, The I Ching Workbook, Doubleday, New York, 1979.

[2] Steve Paige, private e-mail communications, 23-25 August 2004.



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