I Ching, the Book of Changes, has unique place in the history of divination. The system has been used in China for thousands of years, and enjoyed astonishing favor in the Western world. It is ancient and modern, primitive and sophisticated, and the basic method of I Ching is the throwing of sticks, which has much in common with simple methods of divination.
While its history is unclear, its association with emperor Fu Hsi, would date it to the 3rd millennium BC. It was then streamlined by King Wen Wang around 1100 BC and altered by his son the Duke of Chou. Around the 5th century BC, it was interpreted by Confucius, the famous sage, who is said to have used the system throughout his life. He is credited with saying that the book has ‘as many layers as the earth’, and many contemporary practitioners of the system would readily testify it.
Much of its popularity in Western world is due to the enthusiasm of the Swiss psychologist-philosopher, Carl Jung, whose system of analytical psychology contains the concept of synchronicity, or meaningful coincidence. He said that the use of I Ching parallels the ‘coincidence of events in space and time as meaning something more than mere chance, namely, a peculiar interdependence of objective events among themselves’, as well as the subjective psychological states of the ‘observer or observers’.
I Ching can be consulted in several different ways. According to the classic method, 20 yarrow sticks are divided into random piles and then counted. The number derived from repeated counting tell what hexagram, or figure of six parallel lines, to consult in the book. Each of 64 possible hexagrams refers to one or more enigmatic sayings from which an advisory message can be concluded. A popular modern technique for consulting the hexagrams is to throw three coins. They must be thrown a half-dozen times in all to obtain the six lines of the figure.
Traditionally, I Ching is used in a way that supports deep thought and self-examination. It may even be used to bring a state of consciousness similar to meditation. It is the reader’s wisdom and complete knowledge of the old interpretations that believers feel are the keys to a successful reading.
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