Thursday, March 16, 2017

I Ching (Yi Jing) The Ancient Divination

~John Cage references the I Ching for a method of divination in his art.

 The I Ching - “Archaeological evidence shows that Zhou dynasty divination was grounded in cleromancy, the production of seemingly random numbers to determine divine intent. The Zhou yi provided a guide to cleromancy that used the stalks of the yarrow plant, but it is not known how the yarrow stalks became numbers, or how specific lines were chosen from the line readings. In the hexagrams, broken lines were used as shorthand for the numbers 6 (六) and 8 (八), and solid lines were shorthand for values of 7 (七) and 9 (九). The Great Commentary contains a late classic description of a process where various numerological operations are performed on a bundle of 50 stalks, leaving remainders of 6 to 9. Like the Zhou yi itself, yarrow stalk divination dates to the Western Zhou period, although its modern form is a reconstruction. The ancient narratives Zuo zhuan and Guoyu contain the oldest descriptions of divination using the Zhou yi. The two histories describe more than twenty successful divinations conducted by professional soothsayers for royal families between 671 BC and 487 BC. The method of divination is not explained, and none of the stories employ predetermined commentaries, patterns, or interpretations. Only the hexagrams and line statements are used. By the 4th century BC, the authority of the Zhou yi was also cited for rhetorical purposes, without relation to any stated divination. The Zuo zhuan does not contain records of private individuals, but Qin dynasty records found at Shuihudi show that the hexagrams were privately consulted to answer questions such as business, health, children, and determining lucky days. The most common form of divination with the I Ching in use today is a reconstruction of the method described in these histories, in the 300 BC Great Commentary, and later in the Huainanzi and the Lunheng. From the Great Commentary's description, the Neo-Confucian Zhu Xi reconstructed a method of yarrow stalk divination that is still used throughout the Far East. In the modern period, Gao Heng attempted his own reconstruction, which varies from Zhu Xi in places. Another divination method employing coins, became widely used in the Tang dynasty and is still used today. In the modern period, alternative methods such as specialized dice and cartomancy have also appeared.

 • Smith, Richard J. (2008). Fathoming the Cosmos and Ordering the World: the Yijing (I Ching, or Classic of Changes) and its Evolution in China. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press. ISBN 0-8139-2705-6.
 • Raphals, Lisa (2013). Divination and Prediction in Early China and Ancient Greece. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press. ISBN 1-107-01075-6.
 • Rutt, Richard (1996). The Book of Changes (Zhouyi): A Bronze Age Document. Richmond: Curzon. ISBN 0-7007-0467-1.
 • Redmond, Geoffrey; Hon, Tze-Ki (2014). Teaching the I Ching. Oxford University Press.ISBN 0-19-976681-9.

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