When seeking answers to your deepest questions about life or the future, you might turn to a psychic, a palm reader ... or to the I Ching. Thought to be one of the oldest known methods of divination, the I Ching, also known as the Book of Changes, is a Chinese classic text containing wisdom several millennia old. Its philosophy, related to that of Taoism, centers on the universal balance of opposites and the inevitability of change.
When used as an oracle, the I Ching gives a reading based on hexagrams — pairs of two trigrams, which are sets of three stacked lines, either solid or broken, that are associated with certain meanings. There are eight possible trigrams, which then combine into 64 possible hexagrams. For a fortunetelling reading with the I Ching, the questioner queries the Book of Changes, and then the fortune-teller creates a hexagram and interprets its complex answer.
Within a hexagram’s six lines, the solid, unbroken lines are termed “yang,” while the broken lines are termed “yin.” Even most Westerners are familiar with the Chinese concept of yin and yang, which translates literally as “dark and light,” or have seen the black-and-white Taoist symbol that looks something like two fish chasing each other’s tails. This yin-yang symbol represents natural dualities — opposites existing in harmony, such as dark and light, cold and hot, or hidden and exposed. Yin is associated with feminine energy, and yang with masculine. It is theorized by followers of Taoism that everyone contains a mixture of both yin and yang energies; no one is purely one or the other. This concept is carried through the I Ching in the idea that opposites balance one another, and change is a natural state of life.
Traditionally, fortune-tellers using the I Ching tossed stalks of a flowering herb called yarrow in order to create a hexagram. They then interpreted the hexagram in relation to the hidden knowledge that the questioner hoped to gain. Grains of rice, small seeds, marbles, beads and other items have also been used when fortunetelling with the I Ching. Coins, with their “heads” (yang) and “tails” (yin) sides, are still in widespread use today. One can also use dice: An odd number of pips is equivalent to a coin’s heads side, and an even number is tails.
There are many different ways to cast a hexagram, but here is one of the simplest. First gather the supplies you’ll need for your reading — either three coins or three dice, a pencil, and a piece of paper on which to draw your hexagram. Next, sit, focus, and ask your question of the I Ching. You might ask a question about your future, or perhaps about a relationship, your career, or another situation you’re wondering about. After asking your question, shake the three coins or dice in your hands and then let them fall onto the table. The possible combinations are listed below, along with their corresponding line types:
· three tails = broken line
· two tails and one heads = solid line
· two heads and one tails = broken line
· three heads = solid line
Once you determine the type of line for your first coin or dice toss, draw that line, either broken or solid, on your sheet of paper. This is your first line of six. Repeat the process of shaking the coins or dice, tossing them, and determining their total of heads and tails to produce your second line; draw that line, either solid or broken, above the first. Perform this a total of six times, each time drawing your new solid or broken line above the previous one.
When you have finished, you should have six lines, each one either solid or broken, stacked atop one another, with the first line on the bottom of the stack and the sixth line at the top. You have created your hexagram — an “outer” trigram (the top three lines, or lines four through six) above an “inner” one (the bottom three lines, or lines one through three). And now the even more complicated part of the process begins: interpreting your hexagram’s meaning.
As stated earlier, there are 64 different hexagrams, each carrying its own complex meaning. Many traditionalists and purists maintain that beginners cannot and should not attempt their own I Ching readings; to decode the meaning of a particular hexagram, they say, is too complicated, and the questioner lacks the objective perspective needed to interpret the meaning accurately. That, of course, is a matter of opinion. If you decide to try your own I Ching reading, you will need a related book or Web site as your reference for the meaning of the hexagram you cast. When you’re just starting out, simpler books or sites are best. Over time, as you ask more questions, cast more hexagrams and explore the I Ching further, you can delve more deeply into the intricacies of this ancient oracle.