I Ching

The I Ching also known as The Book of Changes is an ancient Chinese text regarding by many as a book of wisdom. Central to I Ching is the hexagram; a shape made by the questioner (though not a geometric hexagram) and interpreted using the Book of Changes from which fortune is predicted and advice provided on how to deal with it.

History of the I Ching

The I Ching has existed in various forms for the last four thousand years and results from the work of different individuals. Having been proved to be reliable it is common among the Asian, Europeans and Americans The hexagram at the heart of the I Ching consist of a pattern of broken and unbroken lines. These have been ascribed to the first emperor of China the mystical figure Fu Hsi. Eight shapes known as trigrams made by combining the broken and unbroken lines are said to have been discovered on the shell of an Asian tortoise. Under the Hsai Dynasty too early books of changes were used for divination. The present set of 64 hexagrams is thought to have been compiled by King Wen who also begin adding explanatory text. Wen’s son, the Duke of Chou, continued this process to create the Oracle that was used throughout the Chinese dynasty. It is believed that Confucius wrote an additional commentary and later the rest were attributed to him as well. The I Ching was submerged in magic and the yin yang doctrine during the Ch’in and Han Dynasty and rescued by a scholar called Wang Pi who argued that it should be used not only as a means of divination but also as a fund of wisdom.

Prior to the Tokugawa period (1603–1868 CE) in Japan, the I Ching was little known and used mostly for divination until Buddhist monks popularized the Chinese classic for its philosophical, cultural and political merits in other literate groups such as the samurai. The Hagakure, a collection of commentaries on the Way of the Warrior, cautions against mistaking it for a work of divination.

The information provided here is intended as an overview guide. For detailed divination you will need to refer to the I Ching. To construct the hexagrams you will need Chinese coins or plant stalks, preferably the traditional yarrow stalk.

The I Ching text is represented by 64 sets of six lines termed as hexagram. Each hexagram is stacked with six horizontal lines. Each line is either Yang or Yin. Yang means solid or unbroken line and Yin means open line with a gap or broken line. With six lines from top to bottom there are 64 possible patterns. In this case, there are total 64 hexagrams represented.

i ching chart

Hexagrams are made from trigrams which are themselves constructed from a combination of two types of lines: unbroken and broken.

The unbroken line

Now called Yang, heaven or the firm this began as a simple sign for yes in divination and is associated with the positive, active and masculine side of nature

The broken line

Now called Yin, the Earth, the yielding, this began as a sign for no and represents the negative feminine, passive side of nature.


Hexagram are made from trigrams each of which combine the two types of line, unbroken and broken in a different way. The lines are grouped in threes in every possible combination producing eight trigrams in all. These are read from the bottom up line by line. Trigrams are considered symbols of change one constantly changing into another. Each type of line has special significance according to its position in the trigram.


Hexagrams are formed by casting using either corn or traditional yarrow sticks although both methods are adequate some prefer to use the yarrow sticks as the process as far lengthier as using coins and this is thought to concentrate the mind more.

Casting using coins

For this you will need three old Chinese coins round with the hole in the center. They have characteristics on one side only. Alternatively you can improvise using standard coins.
1 Give the side with characters a value of two. If using standard coins this is the side with the monetary value on it
2 The plane side is giving a value of the. For standard coin this is the side without monetary value.
3 Shake all three coins together in your hand and then drop them off to a flat surface.
4 Add together the value of the uppermost side and write it down. It will be either six, seven, eight or nine. Remember that the value of a side with characters is two and the value of a plain side is 3
5 Throw the coins five more times and each time add up the total of the uppermost faces and right above the last total. You should have thrown the coins six times in all and have six numbers one for each time the coins were thrown.
6 Convert the six numbers to Yang or Yin lines. (6 = strong yin; 7 = yin; 8 = yan; 9 = strong yan)

i ching coins

Yarrow stalk method

Yarrow stalk method was popular for casting hexagrams traditionally, soon it was replaced with three coins method and yarrow stalk method was lost. With three coins method, probability of yin and yang lines is equal. In case of Yarrow stalk method, probability of old yang is three times greater than probability of old yin. We have noticed several arrangements of hexagon and trigrams over ages. Yang is the creative principle with solid lines and yin is the receptive principle with open lines. These principles are usually represented by circular symbol termed as “taijitu”. In a yin yang diagram, when yang is at the top, yin is increasing and vice versa.

yarrow stalks for the i ching

I Ching and the computer

Traditionally, trigrams and hexagrams were represented using textual convention horizontally from left to right. Today, trigrams and hexagrams are represented using binary values 0 and 1 and it is read from left to right. The computer also understands binary numbers only. The first three lines of hexagrams represent lower trigram and last three lines represent upper trigram.

Consulting the I Ching

The I Ching has influenced countless Chinese philosophers, artists and even businesspeople throughout history. In more recent times, several Western artists and thinkers have used it in fields as diverse as psychoanalysis, music, film, drama, dance, eschatology, and fiction writing.

Perhaps the hardest part about this form of divination is in consulting the I Ching once you have obtained your hexagram some people prefer to pay for the services of a professional reader as the text is cryptic and difficult to follow.

i ching coin

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