Friday, August 07, 2009

On divination

I recently read a book "The Man Who Loved China", which was about the eccentric Cambridge professor Joseph Needham. His major achievement was the compilation of authoritative volumes on the history of science and technology in China, many of which were remarkable as being discovered well in advance of their 'discovery' and application in Western civilization.

Early on he wondered to the effect of "Why did China remain so 'backward' technologically in spite of advanced scientific knowledge?", which is referred to as "the Needham question" and is regarded as either a valid wonderment that reveals the forces that shape a society or a vapid construct akin to asking 'why didn't so and so get famous even though they are pretty good looking?' depending on who you read.

Anyway it reminded me of the I Ching, which I used to spend a lot of time with, which reminded me about Tarot cards. There is a thing I've been wanting to do for a long time, and that is correlate the Tarot with the I Ching, and I think I might start doing that.

[edited a bit later]

There are four suits in the minor arcana, each has a particular orientation-- wands (activity, labor) cups (emotions, spiritual) pentacles (financial, material) and swords (legal, societal).

There are four possible states of the lines in the hexagram of the I Ching, yin (yielding, resting, broken line) yang (moving, creative, solid line) and yang changing to yin (movement to rest) and yin changing to yang (rest to movement).

Not to indicate that there is a direct correlation to "cups" and "broken line", this is fallacious within the construct of the Tarot reading in comparison to the I Ching consulation. But it might be said that cups and pentacles have the quality of yin (receptive, material) and that swords and wands have the quality of yang (motion, activity).

Yin is the receptive, firmament, earth, traditionally characterized female. Yang is the creative, aetherial, heaven, traditionally characterized as male. In the Tarot, Major Arcana are depicted as male or female and/or denoting action or inaction.

Another correlation between Tarot and I Ching are Tarot suits and I Ching trigrams, the components of the hexagrams. Pure Yin, three broken lines, is Mother. Pure Yang, three unbroken lines, is Father. Then the varied broken/solid line combinations are either daughter/sister and son/brother.

So could it be said that the four "suits" of the I Ching are Father, Mother, Sister, Brother? There are of course three sisters (Fire, Lake, Wind/Wood) and three brothers (Mountain, Thunder, Ocean/Abyss). That the brothers and sisters are older and younger than one another influences the has a bearing on the meaning of the trigram and also on the meaning of the hexagram that contains them.

More purely there are just two "suits" of the I Ching, Yin and Yang, where the others are varying combinations of these. But, again, if we have a correlation between the two pairs of the four suits of the Minor Arcana to Yin and Yang, we have a correlation between the Tarot suits and the hexagrams which are either more yin or more yang.

Swords, Wands == Yang == These Act, more towards One Does

Cups, Pentacles == Yin == These are Acted Upon, more towards One Has

There is a bit of a mental exercise where you have to consider that the 'gender aspects' of these things are simultaneoulsy pure and theoretical as well as societal and traditional.

Now, what I'll need to think about more is the correlation between Major Arcana and the I Ching. There are 'double trigram' hexagrams, where the a trigram is repeated, there are eight of these, corresponding to the pure archetypical power of each, and conceptually these are maybe Major. But there are many more Major Arcana than eight. It is definitely the case that the Major Arcana are for the most part either light/dark or male/female. It is also very much the case that the hexagrams of the I Ching denote an equal continuum of change, similar to the frames of a movie. You consult the oracle to find out a) which frame you are in and b) what might be in the next frame. The combination of lines forma a picture. In the Tarot, the combination of cards forms a picture of where you are and where you are going, the cards are the "lines".

Consider the Tarot Celtic cross method, containing ten cards, and the I Ching hexagram, containing six lines. The first two card positions of the Celtic Cross indicate the present (that which covers you, that which crosses you), the past (that which is beneath you, that which is behind you), the future (that which is above you, which could be; that which is before you, which is most likely) and then your 'house' (immediate surrounds), your 'town' (others options, general environment), your hopes/fears/aspirations, and the outcome.

So, six positions, Present, Present, Future, House/Environment, Mind/Hopes/Fears, and Outcome.


In the I Ching, the lines "move" from bottom to top. If there is a change in the bottom line, it often denotes something affecting the beginning of an enterprise. In a Tarot reading, the progression moves from "where you are" to "where you've been and where you are going".

Although this lines up in a certain way, I'm not sure how valid it is when considering the I Ching consultation and interpretation vs. the Tarot reading.

With the changing lines, yin->yang and yang->yin, any of the hexagrams can change into any other, and they are always doing so. It is the combination of the lines at the moment of the casting that provides the hexagram. What they are at any time and what they will become and is a mystery that cannot be ascertained without the consultation. At what rate the change will occur has to be a determination made by the querent. In a time of little energy, fewer lines are changing. In a time of much energy, more lines are changing.

The presentation of an I Ching hexagram gives the consultor something to consider given their current situation, with possible hints as to the nature of the outcome. Consider the I Ching as a three dimensional cube, with Creative at a one corner and Receptive at the diagonally opposite, where each corner of the cube is in turn marked with one of the eight "double trigram" hexagrams. If you travel from one corner point to the other on the same plane, you can change one line. If you travel from one corner point up or down, you can change two lines. I will draw a picture of this later.

That's all I have time for right now.


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