I Ching, Yijing or Zhou Yi
"Oracle of the moon": © 2000 LiSe

  Yi Jing, Oracle of the Moon


Ways of divination: yarrow and tortoise.

For what reason did all peoples divine?

  In the mailing-list of Middaughter (Mary Halpin) there was a short but in my eyes outstanding discussion about the use of yarrow (Milfoil). Mostly a monologue by Thomas Hood, although there were also other interesting contributions. If you are not the kind of reader who can (or wants to) digest lots of words, then just read this page. For the entire discussion, click HERE
  And: Part of an article by Stephen Karcher about divination being the art of 'telling' the time.

  It is all about eternal time, time out of time.

  Why yarrow 30-5 THOMAS HOOD

  Why was yarrow chosen as the original means for the I Ching divination ritual? There is no spirituality without moral connection -- an appreciation of effects, obligations, or place and kinship.

  Yarrow (or milfoil) is a not uncommon weed of moist, uncultivated land here (eastern NC, USA), but it is unwise to collect it from the wild since it often grows intermixed with poison ivy, as I learned the hard way. Under good conditions, the plants make stalks a meter or more long and spread aggressively by underground stems. The leaves are finely divided and pungent, the flowers a gray white. Cultivated varieties often have less divided leaves, sometimes a wooly appearance, a different taste, and flowers in various colors.

  Translators do not say how closely wild Western yarrow resembles the Chinese yarrow of the I Ching. Lynn and Wilhelm identify the plant as Achillea Millefolium; Legge says Ptarmica Sibirica [sic], which may be an older form for Achillea Ptarmica. But apparently there is no great difference between Western and Chinese yarrow, since no one has made of point of it.

  But why would yarrow be selected for use in divination? What is spirit-like about yarrow? I think there is a clue in Legge:

"... divination...by means of the stalks of a plant,
the Ptarmica Sibirica, which is still cultivated on and about the grave of Confucius,
where I have myself seen it growing" (p.40).

  Primitive people have commonly believed that plants growing on the graves of the dead communicated with the dead and were infused with their spirits. Yarrow, by its growth habits, would be likely to grow freely on the undisturbed graves. And it is this common association which led to the selection of yarrow as the means for communicating with the spirits. In handling the yarrow, the diviner is also handling a direct connection to the spiritual world.

  30-5 GLEN WOLFSEN: Richard Rutt in his: "ZhouYi, the book of changes" talks about the yarrow on pgs. 151-152. In addition to what has already been pointed out in this group he says:

  "In the Bronze Age, perhaps even earlier, yarrow will have attracted attention because of its mysterious healing properties. . . . . Primitive medicine and magic are closely related: but practical qualities may have been equally important. The length, straightness, durability and lightness of the dried stalks, which if necessary can be further straightened in the drying process, make them particularly suitable for aleatory handling, and their fragrance, which can linger a long time in the dried wands, is an added attraction. The colour of the dried wands varies from pale gold to a rich purplish bronze, fading with age to pleasant subdued tones . . . "

  He also mentions the Graves but doesn't think that accounts for their earlier uses.

  1-6 THOMAS HOOD: Rutt's experience with yarrow stalks is not mine:

"and their fragrance, . . . "

  It may be that I had the wrong variety of yarrow, but I did not get Rutt's pleasant results. In my experience, the fragrance is in the heads and leaves, and the dried stalks are a dead-twig gray. Further, unless polished, they are rough and unpleasant to work with. Also, too large. If any bit of the leaf is left on the stalk, it crumbles like dandruff. I suspect that Rutt is speaking of 'sophisticated' yarrow -- yarrow that has been polished, stained, and scented for the commercial market.

  Grandpa's grave (cont. THOMAS HOOD)

  I think that yarrow is best used green. This has no documentary basis, but appeals to my imagination: think of a family in ancient China who once a year go en masse to the family graveyard to clean and restore the graves of the ancestors. After the work is done, the head of the family sits down in a cleared spot of ground at Grandpa's grave, and using the fresh yarrow, communes with the spirit of the dead. Everybody is standing around and whispering to each other, "What did Grandpa say?" Better this than a séance in a darkened room.

  Tortoise: heaven and earth 31-5 THOMAS HOOD

  Try to think as a man might have thought many thousands of years ago. Imagine yourself outside on a clear day. Above is the dome of heaven, round like the upper shell (carapace) of the tortoise. Below is the flat earth, flat like the lower shell (plastron). Any creature who has the sensitivity to model the cosmos in his body is awesome, wise, and a means of spiritual access.

  Man's place in the universe corresponds to a spot on the inside of the lower shell, and to such a spot a diviner would apply heat to determine the will of heaven.

  49 (or 50) lunar phases 31-5 THOMAS HOOD

  Why does one begin with fifty yarrow stalks, but set one aside?

  The text in the The Great Appendix (Ta Chuan) reads like this:

  "The numbers of the Great Expansion make 50, of which only 49 are used in divination. The sticks are divided into two heaps to represent heaven and earth. One is then taken from the heap on the right and placed between the little finger of the left hand and the next, that there may thus be symbolized the three powers, heaven, earth and man. The heaps on both sides are manipulated by fours to represent the four seasons; and then the remainders are returned, and placed between the two middlefingers of the left hand, to represent the intercalary month. In five years there are two intercalations, and therefore there are two operations; and afterwards the whole process is repeated." (IX - 3)

  There are clues in this paragraph as to what "50" is fifty of. Notice the terms "heaven," "earth," "four seasons," and "intercalary month." The author of the Ta Chuan is thinking in terms of the cosmic process in the cycle of the year. So far as I am aware, there is only one phenomenon in the cycle of the year that has the property of being almost 50 but not quite: there are 49 and a fraction phases of the moon in a year. I believe that this is the source of the "fifty." The stalk that is set aside represents the partial lunar phase in the cycle of the year; the forty-nine stalks that are manipulated in divination represent the completed lunar phases.

  When he speaks of there being two intercalations in five years, the author of the Ta Chuan is speaking in terms of the calendar system existing at his own time. This is a not inappropriate reinterpretation of the yarrow method, but the yarrow method could well have been thousands of years old when the Ta Chuan was written. It is likely that yarrow method originated when time was kept by the simple, single year (rather than multiples of 5 or 19) and when counting by numbers was a rare or non-existent art.

  Primitive people commonly used pebbles, stick, knots and other such durable objects as counters or "calculi." In the morning when the sheep left the sheepfold, a shepherd would drop a pebble in a hollow in a rock for each sheep. At night when each sheep entered the sheepfold, a pebble would be removed from the hollow. If any pebbles were left in the hollow, the shepherd knew that he had more sheep to find. The same method could be applied to counting anything else.

  From Britannica Online, here is a specific example of the use of a bundle of sticks to keep track of time: "No North American Indian tribe had a true calendar--a single integrated system of denoting days and longer periods of time. Usually, intervals of time were counted independently of one another. The day was a basic unit recognized by all tribes, but there is no record of aboriginal names for days.
  A common device for keeping track of days was a bundle of sticks of known number,
from which one was extracted for every day that passed, until the bundle was exhausted."

  By using 50 stalks to count phases of the moon, primitive people could keep track of the progress of the year, and these stalks would represent in simple form the whole of cosmic process.

Crack a scapula 1-6 RHETT BUTLER: 
  If you are interested in Turtle Shell divination, the definitive text is Sources of Shang History: The Oracle-Bone Inscriptions of Bronze Age China by David N. Keightley. University of California Press, 1978 ISBN 0-520-02969-0
  In his book he has a rather humorous footnote on scapulimancy:
  "I have so far been unable to crack a scapula; presumably, I have not yet found the right hard wood or other heat source (or the requisite patience). I am not the only scholar who has had troubles of this sort. Takashima Kenichi describes an attempt to crack a fresh cow scapula in June 1969: Since we were "serving barbecued beef at the party and had plenty of charcoal, I used a small piece of it to apply to a hollow in the shell (which I made with an electric drill) ....
  Even after a few minutes, nothing happened. I thought then that a charcoal briquette didn't have enough heat; so I applied a red hot soldering iron ... again nothing happened except for it getting a bit scorched. I got rather disgusted "and so I just threw the damn thing in the whole mess of burning charcoal.... Divination was inauspicious....
  In the meantime, while everyone was discussing why it wouldn't crack, the bone started to emit a stench. I was going to remove it from the fire and just before I could do so, the bone began to crack successively-Pak! Pak! Pak! It was terrific!
  Since we were also interested in the reconstruction of Archaic Chinese, we talked more about the sound it made: we had truly 'reconstructed' the Archaic Chinese [character for divination] *pak. ... Karlgren, for one, wasn't too far off...
  The lesson we then learned was that the prepared bones, and presumably shells, must, have been dried pretty well"
(letter of 14 March I971). "


  One key point: There *is* a key difference between a turtle and a tortoise! When a tortoise moves, his under shell (plastron) does not touch the earth. A turtle sort of skids his under shell along the surface of the earth. So, are we talking about tortoises or turtles here?

  According to Keightley, there were plastrons from three species of aquatic, freshwater turtles as well as a field tortoise. The Shang also used scapula of cattle and water buffalo. Keightley states, "For the historical period as a whole,turtle plastrons and bovid scapulas were probably used by Shang diviners in about equal numbers, though their relative popularity may have varied with time. ... The fact that the diviners of the Royal Family group showed a preference for shell suggests that they may have valued plastrons and carapaces more than scapulas as a divination medium. But, generally speaking, no evident principle governed the use of bone or shell, the choice of which appears to have been unrelated to the matter being divined.

  Cycle of time 3-6 THOMAS HOOD

  The Yarrow Method consists of specific operations, and these operations are justified by the cosmic features they represent. The Ta Chuan says:"The numbers of the Great Expansion make 50, of which only 49 are used in divination. The sticks are divided into two heaps to represent heaven and earth. One is then taken from the heap on the right and placed between the little finger of the left hand and the next, that there may thus be symbolized the three powers, heaven, earth and man. The heaps on both sides are manipulated by fours to represent the four seasons; and then the remainders are returned, and placed between the two middle fingers of the left hand, to represent the intercalary month. In five years there are two intercalations, and therefore there are two operations; and afterwards the whole process is repeated.i>" (IX - 3)[Freeling's version]  

  In a superficial way, the symbolism underlying this paragraph is readily apparent to anyone who has but a superficial acquaintance (like myself) with Chinese philosophy: the heap of 49 stalks represents the Supreme Ultimate (Tai Chi), which divides into the two primal powers (Yin and Yang), which transpire through the three powers (heaven, man, and earth), which operate through the cycle of the year (four seasons), which produces the cosmic events to which the individual must accord (the hexagram).
  This is a very old and often told story indeed.
  Numerous details in this paragraph are not so easy, however. "God is in the details," said Einstein. Craftsmanship is attention to detail. If you love someone, every detail about them is important: to know their weaknesses so that you do not hurt, to know their strengths so that you do not impede. Let us look at details.
  First, what does one of those sticks [a Freeling 'improvement'] represent? The author of the Ta Chuan apparently supposes they are months, because four of them make up a season; but as discussed in "Fifty Stalks".
  ... I consider it far more plausible that each stalk originally represented a phase of the moon, and so four of them would represent one lunation. But however a stalk is understood, the author of the Ta Chuan and I agree that all of them together make up a cycle of time, that is, a cosmic return.

Time out of time (cont. THOMAS HOOD)

  Another little detail: the remainders (the point of whole process) represent intercalary time. This rings a bell -- no, a siren -- to anyone who has ever read a little Eliade. Eliade described how, to ancient peoples, intercalary time was special time, "time out of time," the time of the origin, the time of divination -- exactly what's happening here. So the whole Yarrow Method process generates a representation of a bit of intercalary time. Now why would anyone want to do this?
  I just happen to have [another] theory handy, Intercalary Additive Theory, and it goes like this: intercalary time is the time of adjustment, the time when all the wheels of time are reset to zero. Intercalation (way back then) specifically adjusted the sun and the moon when they got out of whack. Heaven got rectified, back to time zero , primordial time, the original Supreme Ultimate, Tai Chi itself, the great renewal as the cycle of Nature resets itself and Creation renews.
  Intercalation happens all at once, with an intercalary day, week, month, etc. But as the year ages, the needed intercalary adjustment accumulates, so that at any particular moment, to get back to time zero you need the intercalary additive for that moment, and that is what the product of the Yarrow Method represents.
  Well, that's what I hope it represents. So, does anybody want to hear any more about the Yarrow Method? These ideas have been cooking in my brain for years, and sometimes the pot just boils over, and tedious goo runs all over the stove. Sorry about that.

  Original being 5-6 THOMAS HOOD

  As was presented in Yarrow Method Symbolism, Yarrow Method symbolizes the return to original being. Because the individual and his/her universe are the same, this symbolism also refers to a paralleling return to original being in the mind of the diviner.
  Ancient ritual was not an objective procedure. In contrast, modern Western culture has achieved world dominion because it is the culture that first de-ritualized life. Western culture produces objective information. This information, at its best, is free from both subjective and egocentric bias. It is cold, hard, certain, impersonal; it is the truth of the telephone book, but it is also dead and without significance. It is an information of things and not of individuals who in essence participate in the universe as a whole -- like the tortoise.
  The I Ching is a humane subject. It gives significance, not facts. People crave to be significant. They say they want family, money, power, prestige, status, pleasure, and other such objective things, but what really drives them is the quest for significance. Significance you get from the humanities: literature, philosophy, religion, art.
  We find being by returning to Original Nature. Original Nature is the core within. Jesus said that the Kingdom of Heaven is within you. Well, there are also things within that are not so heavenly, but to change we have to know what is inside. We can learn the hard way by experience, or we can learn with less suffering through the I Ching.
  If pursued with sincerity and reverence, divination reveal to us our own character -- not the character we pose for public appearance but the real character that is hidden within and is beyond conscious human control. True character is unconscious style or real being, and divination reveals it.

  Mirror of the soul (cont. THOMAS HOOD)

  Is divination prediction? Insofar as character is fate, I think it is. Shakespeare said that our fate is not in our stars but in ourselves. If it is in ourselves, how do we get it out? We do this by divination. The utterer knows himself in his utterance. The effort to make meaning of the I Ching gives one meaning of oneself. The I Ching is the mirror of the soul.
  The great mystery is how the human connects with the divine. The invariable (I believe) answer in the past was that humans have souls, and the soul is the nexus between the human and the divine, but we forget we have souls and come to think that we are things and are driven out of the Garden of Eden.

  And I do think that good divination helps one to reconnect with original nature. What you find in divination is a part of your own soul. We needn't be the least bit supernatural about this. We could, for example, say that your soul is what you live for. So the real advice you get from divination is that you remember what you are living for. This sounds like nothing, but when you forget what you are living for, you stop living.


last update: 01.12.2020


© LiSe April 2000-2020