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The Llewellyn Encyclopedia
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The I Ching

This article was written by Carl Llewellyn Weschcke on February 02, 2011
posted under I Ching

(Also Yi King) A Chinese divinatory system of 64 "hexagrams" that express the dynamic flow of energies into their physical manifestation. Like most divination, it is a manipulative system calling forth the practitioner’s psychic abilities. The 64 hexagrams are all the possible combinations of pairs of eight "trigrams" (blocks of three parallel lines either broken in the center or unbroken).

Louis Culling considered the Yi King to be the greatest Magick Oracle ever given to man. The pristine Yi is not Chinese in thought, but is universal, ageless, and as modern as today’s English language.

The trigrams which, doubled, compose the hexagrams are made up of combinations of Yang and Yin lines. The Yang is customarily represented by an unbroken line, and the Yin by a divided or broken line. One should become well acquainted with these elements of structure and commit to memory the eight original Pa Kua or trigrams with something of their basic meanings. 

The following is a table of the basic correspondences of Yang and Yin:

   Yang     __Yin__
Male Female
Projective Receptive
Starting Sustaining
Initiating Responding
Active Passive
Beginning Developing
Hard Soft
Leading Following
Extrovert Introvert
Strength, energy Nourishment, preservation
Sun Moon
Brilliance Reflected Light
Summer Winter
Will Emotion

Never are Yang and Yin to be regarded as antagonistic, or as a dualism. They are co-equal and co-operating partners in the basic concept. There can be no manifestation without the union of the two Great Principles, any more than there could be offspring without the union of male and female.

The worker in the Yi should know the meanings of the three positions of the lines of the trigram. The trigram and the hexagram are always constructed from the bottom line upward, the bottom line corresponding to the Body, the second line to Mind, and the top line to Soul or Spirit. The following table shows this in more detail:

The Bottom Line Position:

The physical body; the lower instinctive actions; the automatic or uncontrolled emotions. Also the drive to action.

Central Line Position:

The Mind, or Thinking Man; Intelligence; the more or less consciously self-directing Mind. Conscious Will.

Top Line Position:

Inspired direction, Wisdom. The highest inspiration, thinking and action of Man.


Now the line positions of the Hexagram have added significance and correspondences, depending upon whether the lower or the upper trigram is being considered. The lower trigram is called "the Inferior," and the upper is called "the Superior." This should be taken quite literally. The Superior trigram describes everything or every person which may be "superior" to the consultant, while the Inferior trigram relates to any "inferior" person or thing. For instance, any dealings with one’s boss relate to the upper trigram. Also the Superior trigram often speaks of what the Chinese call "The Great One" or "The Great Man"; that is, one's Higher Self or a reflection of it in wisdom and direction.

There is one Great Key, and only one (almost secret), to the interpretation of each of the 64 hexagrams in relation to any question or to any consultant. This Key is the right comprehension of the meaning of each of the eight trigrams, plus the special implications of the trigram’s position in the hexagram, upper or lower. The worker in the Yi should be able to deduce the meanings of the hexagrams as applied to the hundreds of questions that may be asked, simply by considering the nature of each trigram and the special meanings of its position in the hexagram.

NUMBER I                                    Great. Originating. Penetrating.

KHIEN                                         (Note: There is no Yin, or female, line in this trigram. It                                                                                                    represents the pure Initiating Energy, Force, and Intent, but it                                                                                        must be nourished and developed by some Yin response                                                                                                  before it can manifest.)


NUMBER 2                                    Penetration. Also easily penetrated.

AIR                                                Rules the mind. Ease of operating but not solidly substantial or                                                                                       long lasting.


NUMBER 3                                    Realization, great Brilliance.

SUN                                              Realized manifestation. Union.


NUMBER 4                                    Solid and fixed. Not easily moved or changed.

EARTH                                           Materialistic. Consolidation.


NUMBER 5                                    Pleased satisfaction. Passive, receptive, and without initiative.

WATER                                          Can be too easy going, or can carry too much sensual desire;                                                                                           but in general it is "pleased satisfaction."


NUMBER 6                                    Called "Peril"—not an easy situation or condition.

MOON                                            Inclined more to ambition than to ability or favorable conditions.


NUMBER 7                                    Exciting energy and action.

FIRE                                              May be too rash in action. The exciting will of the desires.


NUMBER 8                                    Fully receptive, nourishing and developing.

KHWAN                                         Infinite response. Infinite desire. Seeks to be filled up. Totally feminine (no                                                                       Yang line), and dependent on outside initiative and strength—hence it is                                                                         said to be weak.

Each of the meanings for the 64 Hexagrams has two parts,

  • The Man-Woman relationship, and
  • The Superior-Inferior relationship.

The Man-Woman relationship is often indicated to be poor because of bad polarity. However, if the woman in the case is strongly masculine while the man is strongly feminine, then the augury would be read as a good Hexagram.

The Superior-Inferior relationship is treated here as applying strictly to human beings. However, when the question of the querent applies to himself alone and does not involve another person, the reader should pay particular attention to the other aspect of the Superior-Inferior relationship. For there is a higher meaning to the Superior-Inferior relationship in which the Superior represents the Daemon, the Higher Self, the Holy Guardian Angel.

In the ancient form, 50 yarrow stalks charged with "magical" powers were used in a complicated system of spontaneous division and division again until a final number indicated either a broken or unbroken line. After six lines were obtained, a book was consulted for the meanings.

In contemporary practice, the system has been simplified to twelve sticks, half marked with a yang line and half with a yin line, all held in one hand as a prayer is made, and then six are drawn to reveal the hexagram of the moment in time. Some even use coins to determine the hexagram. By placing yourself in touch with the flow of universal energies through the random draw you will find your place in the scheme of things—at this moment. The I Ching is not so much predictive as revealing of your circumstance if you continue to follow the path you are on. The interpretation will suggest ways to realign yourself with the deeper harmony.

Suggested Reading:

McElroy: I Ching for Beginners, A Modern Interpretation of the Ancient Oracle

Brennan: The Magical I Ching

See also Culling, Louis T. The Pristine Yi King, Llewellyn, forthcoming

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