What Is the I Ching?

by Kim Farnell

The words I Ching (usually pronounced EE Ching or YEE Ching) translate into English as “The Book of Changes.”

The I Ching may be the oldest book in existence. Dating back to 1000 BC, it is an ancient divination text that has evolved over many centuries, later including a mix of Taoist and Confucian philosophy. The philosophy behind the I Ching is that nothing is static and that everything changes over time, so our task is to adjust to the ebb and flow of changing circumstances.

I Ching Plain and Simple is not a translation of the I Ching. It is a book that explains the divinatory system of the I Ching and provides interpretations for each of the hexagrams in clear, modern language. The I Ching can help us to make decisions that logic alone can’t handle, therefore reducing the stress that decision making can cause. It enables us to manage sensitive relationships more successfully, to develop better timing and to tap into our creative insight and intuitive power.

Consulting the I Ching is different from using runes or tarot cards because its main task is not to tell the future as much as to make a situation more clear and to offer useful advice. It relies on the fact that achieving good fortune and avoiding misfortune depends on the choices that we make. When we consult the I Ching, we do not sit back and passively accept our destiny but actively create our own fortune. If our actions are in keeping with the advice of the I Ching, our fortune will be good. If our actions are out of harmony with the counsel or if we refuse to act when action is called for, then things won’t go as smoothly. Having said that, the I Ching often does offer guidance about the future.

Origins of I Ching

It is likely that the I Ching is the oldest form of divination on earth, as its origins reach back eight thousand years or so to the end of the Ice Age! The mythology of the origins of the I Ching includes the tale of Fu Hsi, the first emperor of China (3rd mil­leninum BC). The story tells us that Fu Hsi was sitting on the bank of the Yellow River when he saw a turtle emerge from the water. He paid close attention because he knew that all true wisdom came from observing nature. In his observation he noticed eight markings on the turtle’s shell; these became the original eight trigrams of the I Ching.

Out of this came the practice of tor­toise shell and ox shoulder-bone divi­nation. A red-hot poker was applied to ox bones, and wise men or “priests” deduced their meaning from the ran­dom pattern of cracks that appeared. Ancient Chinese soothsayers looked for portents in the cracks of tortoise shells, which were heated over a fire and then dowsed with water. The geometric patterns made by the resulting cracks were then stud­ied and analyzed. A secondary possible source of I Ching wisdom came from reading the lines that one can see on the flanks of an ancient type of northern Chinese horse. Whatever the ori­gins, the patterns of cracks inspired a systematic method that has developed over the centuries into today’s I Ching. This comes about via reading a three-line design that is called a trigram and a six-line design that is composed of two trigrams and which is called a hexagram.

The earliest appearance of a translation of the I Ching in the West was a Latin translation made in the 1730s by a Jesuit mis­sionary. The most influential translation into a modern Western language was made by Richard Wilhelm in 1923. Since then it has been translated numerous times and has grown in popularity in the West until the present time.

Excerpted from I Ching Plain & Simple by Kim Farnell


Kim Farnell has been a professional astrologer since 1990. She has taught astrology and lectured extensively in the UK and many places around the world. Kim has an MA in cultural astronomy and astrology and is the author of several books including Runes, Plain & Simple.

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