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I Ching

The I Ching or Book of Changes is an ancient Chinese text used as an oracle to find out the answers to troubling questions such as "what does the future hold for me?" The book consists of 64 hexagrams, which is the number of possible combinations of pairs of three broken or unbroken lines (trigrams).* The lines represent the two primal cosmic principles in the universe, yin (the broken lines) and yang (the unbroken lines). The trigrams represent heaven, earth, thunder, water, mountain, wind, fire, and lake.

The meanings of the hexagrams were divined many years ago by Chinese philosopher-priests in tune with the tao (Chinese for path or way). They consist of such bits of fortune cookie wisdom as: "If you are sincere, you have light and success. Perseverance brings good fortune" Or, "the superior man discriminates between high and low."

One may consult the I Ching by flipping numbered coins and adding up the numbers to determine the hexagram. Another method involves dividing up bundles of yarrow stalks.

Carl Jung saw the I Ching as exemplifying what he called synchronicity. Others might see it as exemplifying our ability to create significance from ambiguous data with vague and ambiguous language.

See also magical thinking, oracles, and stichomancy.

further reading

Chapter 1. Legendary History of the I Ching

Yin and Yang and the I Ching

Try it yourself!

Last updated 24-Jan-2014

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