Consulting the I Ching, the Taoist Oracle
Health warning. Some of this article, especially towards the end, is seriously weird. If any atheists or those of a materialist persuasion read it, they will probably find it disconcerting. I assume that they will ease any discomfort, however, by dismissing it as nonsense and thinking that I’m crazy.
Having read my article on Carl Jung and Taoism which discusses the oracle of the I Ching, reader Daniel Hy has asked me what I think is the best way to frame a question to the oracle, in order to get the best response. This is such an interesting question that I thought it worthy of a whole article.
Back in 2018, Jack Preston King invited me to write about the ten books which had changed my life. Top of the list was the I Ching, which goes to show what a profound effect consulting this oracle can have.
When used for divinatory purposes, it yields consistently meaningful results. I would guess, however, that this depends to some extent on the attitude of the questioner. Humanists and physicalists would probably find any response meaningless, simply because they are not tuned in. I think that it is best therefore if questioners are spiritually aware, believe that they are on a spiritual path, are open-minded and sincerely seeking guidance. If not, they are likely to obtain hexagram 4 ‘Youthful Folly’, where one reads: “It is not I who seek the young fool; the young fool seeks me”. I have a friend who received this response the first time he consulted the book. He said that this blew his mind, because he readily acknowledged that he was approaching the book with an irreverent and therefore inappropriate attitude. Obtaining this hexagram completely changed this, and he subsequently treated the book with the respect it deserved.
I also once obtained that same hexagram in answer to a question. I had had a dream with a clear message but, as if I somehow doubted it, I consulted the I Ching in order to confirm it. Following on from the message above, hexagram 4 continues: “At the first oracle I inform him. If he asks two or three times, it is importunity. If he importunes, I give him no information”. This was really interesting because, in addition to being very meaningful in relation to my situation, it suggested that the I Ching considers itself to be part of a larger process of divination, a greater oracle which includes dreams. Another obvious part of this greater oracle would be Tarot readings. Other possibilities would be synchronistic events, and divination in general.
I can therefore offer an answer to Daniel Hy’s question at this point. It is not difficult to get the best response; this is always provided as long as one has a respectful attitude, and the question is appropriate to the current situation.
I’ll now give some of the history of my relationship with the I Ching. My first consultation took place towards the end of a period of six months of intense transformation, which included powerful dreams and their interpretation, parapsychological experiences, and wild synchronicities. This consultation was therefore the culmination of this process, the final piece of a jigsaw. It was truly mind-blowing. I could not believe the relevance of the written response in the book to my question, after randomly throwing three coins six times. This provided me with evidence that some mysterious, magical intelligence is at work in the universe. After all, one would think that the coins land unpredictably according to the laws of physics. Yet, as Carl Jung says, meaningful answers are the rule.
I do not always have a question to ask; I sometimes intuitively know that the I Ching wants to speak to me, and at such times I merely throw the coins without asking anything. Here is one example.
I was in a relationship with a woman. I had already had a dream instructing me to marry her. Soon afterwards I had the feeling that I should consult the I Ching. I was directed to hexagram 31, ‘Influence (Wooing)’. Here are three significant extracts:
- “the universal mutual attraction between the sexes is represented. In courtship, the masculine principle must seize the initiative and place itself below the feminine principle”
- “the second part (of book 1) begins with the hexagrams of courtship and marriage, the foundation of all social relationships”
- “to take a maiden to wife brings good fortune”.
This shows how accurate and relevant the consultations are to the current life situation. Unsurprisingly, this hexagram was one of the readings at my wedding.
There are also occasions when it seems as though the I Ching has a message that it wants to convey, and it lets you know, even though you weren’t planning a consultation. In my experience this happens most frequently when buying something. For some reason the shop-assistant stupidly and for no obvious reason gives the wrong change, when it would have been much simpler to give the correct change. The result of this error is that I end up with three coins of the same denomination that I wouldn’t otherwise have had. Whenever this happens, I consult the I Ching and receive a meaningful message relevant to my situation at the time.
An even weirder example of that phenomenon is as follows. I was walking up the road where I lived towards my home. This was a slight hill, in a residential area. I could see at least a hundred yards in front of me, and there was no human being within view. However, I then noticed a coin rolling down the pavement towards me on its edge. This was surprising in itself, since I would normally have expected it to fall over, given how far it had been rolling. Given that there was no other human being present, the mere presence of the coin was mysterious; it was as if it had appeared out of nowhere. From memory this was a (British) 10p coin. Intrigued by this mystery, I picked it up and immediately checked my pocket for the change I was carrying. I had two 10p coins, so that this coin made up a group of three. This suggested an I Ching consultation to me. I duly did one and, as usual, received a response relevant to my situation at the time.
In conclusion, these are the circumstances surrounding my very first consultation. I was returning home after an all-night party. As I came out of the underground station late in the morning, for some reason I no longer remember I had the change from my pocket in my hand, and accidentally dropped it. For a brief moment the coins seemed to dance on the pavement. It was as if they were animated, and not behaving according to the normal laws of physics. This made me curious and, upon picking them up, I noticed that I had two 50p coins.
This was the day that I had planned in advance with a friend to have my first I Ching consultation, although at that moment I had temporarily forgotten about that plan. After a good sleep I went to his flat in the evening. At some point in the conversation the I Ching came up, and I then remembered our plan, and we decided to go ahead. He asked me to look in my pocket for coins, and when I looked I found that I had three 50p coins.
I’m not saying that I believe that an extra coin mysteriously and magically appeared out of nowhere, although that is how it appeared. At the very least circumstances contrived to give that impression, which contributed to the overall mysterious effect.
Unsurprisingly, the following week I went out and bought my own copy of the I Ching. It has been treasured and revered ever since.
The version I use is the one translated by Richard Wilhelm (into German), and (subsequently into English) by Cary Baynes with a foreword by Carl Jung. There are other versions, but this one best captures the spirit of the original Chinese. These other versions can, however, sometimes offer useful supplementary guidance.
I hope you have enjoyed this article. I have written in the past about other topics, including spirituality, metaphysics, psychology, science, Christianity, politics and astrology. All of those articles are on Medium, but the simplest way to see a guide to them is to visit my website (click here and here). My most recent articles, however, are only on Medium; for those please check out my lists.