United Brethren has retired.

I Ching

I thought of cheating on this post and waiting until what it describes actually came true. But that would be no fun.

I teach a class in Comparative Religion. Last night we were wrapping up our study of China, and to demonstrate Chinese divination we had a go with the I Ching. Now, "had a go" should be underlined. I am neither a Chinese sage nor soothsayer. I am not even Chinese.

The I Ching or Book of Changes is a method of divination which draws sticks to make six yin or yang lines, thus creating a hexagram. There are 64 possible hexagrams and your future can be divined by interpreting the particular hexagram that you draw. The idea is to penetrate the flow of the Dao and to judge one's own place in it.

The mystique of the I Ching has even captured the Western imagination: books that I have recently read that feature the I Ching are Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle, and Philip Pullman's The Amber Spyglass.

I asked my class to come up with a future scenario that the I Ching might be able to predict. The outcome of the current baseball games was the favoured choice. This is misusing the I Ching slightly as it is supposed to offer personal advice, and there isn't much influence we can have over a baseball game. Nevertheless...

We asked if the Red Sox would win. The resulting hexagram suggested success. Strike One!

We asked if the Astros would win. Here's where it gets tricky. Because the hexagram we drew was full of "old lines" (that is, lines that will soon "die" and be "reborn" as their opposite), we had to read another. The result was that yes, they would win, but not immediately. Tonight's Game 7 will prove this either way. (I was only going to post if Houston do in fact win).

Of course most of my class was skeptical about all of this, but wouldn't it be nice if we could make all our decisions this way. I hate making decisions, and even if I use prayer, I still agonise over things. So should we draw sticks or flip coins instead?

Lest anyone find the idea too attractive, the I Ching is also very difficult to interpret. The Third Yin of Hexagram 7, for example:

"The Army will perhaps use carriages to transport corpses, and this would be misfortune".


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Blogger john f. said ... (October 21, 2004 9:53 PM) 

Sweet, the I Ching. Allison and I were fascinated by its depiction in The Man in the High Castle. I still wonder (and want to put some more thought into it one of these days) what role it played exactly in that book. I mean, why have such a widespread dependence on it? It was intriguing.


Blogger Ronan said ... (October 22, 2004 8:38 AM) 

Houston lost. The I Ching failed! Or was it my interpretation?

I never finished The Man in the High Castle. I left the copy you gave me at a petrol station in North Carolina (long story)! I'll have to pick it up again. It was good, as I remember.


Blogger john f. said ... (October 26, 2004 1:18 AM) 

Ronan, what do you personally think of the I Ching. I mean, do you put it on a level with a weegie board? Or is it somehow deeper than that? For some reason, it seems more legitimate to me, although when you really think about it, it is the same principle, isn't it? I just wonder if it is as closely associated with the occult as some of the other spookier things that are going around.


Blogger Ronan said ... (October 26, 2004 8:35 AM) 

John, I have nothing fancy to say other than I felt comfortable demonstrating the I Ching but would have felt distinctly weird doing a Ouijja board. The I Ching's "power" is derived from the unchanging, impersonal Tao. Still, it's still "divination" and on a par with reading the tea leaves, or astrology, or palm-reading. So not kosher, by strict Mormon standards.


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