I Ching readings – an introduction

I’m now offering readings with the I Ching – here’s what to expect

For the last thirty odd years, I’ve turned to the I Ching to look for guidance in tricky, potentially life-changing decisions. I’m now offering I Ching readings using the coins or sticks methods as an alternative or supplement to Tarot readings.

Why choose one method of divination over the other? One might equally ask why seek advice from one person instead of another. On some days, you want to hear from a like-minded friend or acquaintance. On other days, you might need to hear from a more venerable source. The Tarot as a divinatory tool has existed in its current form for about 500 years of which only the last couple of centuries have been spent as a fortune telling tool. By now, there are tens of thousands versions of the Tarot in terms of imagery and approach as there are magicians and tarot readers. Every day, it feels like scores of new ‘indie’ tarots appear (at time of writing, a search for ‘Tarot’ on Kickstarter delivers 1,771 projects). It sometimes seems that there are as many ways of reading the Tarot as there are readers. 

In contrast, the I Ching is a book which was fixed in its current form about two and half millennia ago in ancient Zhou China and admitted to the canon of the classics by Emperor Wu of Han in 136 BCE. Scholars and writers from both hemispheres continue to produce  commentaries and translations but the book itself has remained fundamentally unchanged for nearly 2,500 years. Throughout every translation I’ve studied, the flavour of the text and the personality of its advice remains unchanged.

Another important difference is the I Ching’s unbroken lineage as a foundational text of Taoism, the equally ancient Chinese philosophy and magical religion. In contrast, Tarot’s philosophical position remains…mutable.

The I Ching consists of 64 hexagrams, arrangements of six lines which can be ‘broken’ (yin) or ‘unbroken’ (yang). Each Hexagram has an associated set of texts called ‘The Judgement’, ‘The Image’ and a series of commentaries written by scholars and Taoist masters and fixed as part of the overall apparatus of the text (the ‘Ten Wings’, as it is called) at various points from 300BCE onwards. Scholars literally have no idea how this happened beyond the fact of its extreme antiquity. 

What does a reading consist of? Firstly, you need a question and secondly, you need to choose a method of generating a hexagram. When reading for others, the process is exactly the same as when reading for my myself. I build up a hexagram line by line by either throwing coins (for quick questions) or manipulating 50 sticks (pick-up-sticks from a toy store! The traditional yarrow stalks are hard to come by near the South London ring road). Having arrived at a hexagram, picked out any ‘moving lines’ – lines that have the potential to flip from yang to ying or vice versa and so generate a further hexagram to consider – I spend reflecting, studying the commentaries and writing about and send a pdf of the results, including photos of the hexagram. As with Tarot readings, I try to make it as close to what people might experience were they sitting in a room with me, bent over the same cards and texts.

There is so much more to be said about this – look out for future posts. Meanwhile, you can book an I Ching reading for yourself here.