An evening of I Ching

October 6, 2021

Categories: Skepticism , Tags: Pseudoscience, I Ching

Last week I attended an I Ching meeting online, where I learned how to use the I Ching to help me to make life decisions. The I Ching, or Book of Changes, is a book of 64 different sayings which are meant to be used for divination.

To find which of the 64 passages relates to you, you have to create a hexagram. These are a set of six binary values - each is either an unbroken straight line, or a line with a gap in the middle . Interestingly, each one of these lines can have either an unchanging or a changing state.

We were told to think of a question we want answering before finding our hexagram - not a yes/no question, but something that gives the I Ching more latitude to work with. We were then guided through five minutes of meditation to help put us in the right frame of mind to help the I Ching work its magic:

This was actually quite relaxing, despite the fact that my wife was vacuuming in the background, and the vacuum cleaner was at the top of the list of three things I could hear.

To get my hexagram in the lesson, I used a set of three coins - one of the most popular ways to do this. You throw the three coins six times, one for each line of your hexagram, and write the lines from bottom to top, stacking them on each other. If the three coins are two heads and a tail, you draw a line, two tails and a head is a broken line. Three heads is a line that is changing - it will become an unbroken line in the future. And three tails is a broken line that will become unbroken. In this way, you will likely end up with two hexagrams - one for your present circumstance, and one for the future.

I ended up with broken line, broken line, line, broken line, line, broken line - which is hexagram 39. My prediction is called either Limping or Obstruction.

Sadly I had no changing lines, so I had no future prediction. But for others in the group they were meant to take each of the changing lines they had in their hexagram, switch them to the opposite, and then read that hexagram as a future prediction.

When I looked up the meaning of my prediction online, I saw something very familiar. The Obstruction of hexagram 39 wasn’t necessarily something bad. Maybe it was an obstacle I’d be able to overcome - something that would make me all the stronger for having conquered it. This is like the common idea in Tarot cards that the death card can mean the death of something bad in your life, or that it can mean your rebirth. It turns out all of the hexagrams have many of these kind platitudes written about them. No hexagrams are bad, and all of them have been spun as a good reading to have, something that is a positive message. And there’s so much written in each hexagram that it’s pretty easy to pick and choose the bits that work for you and your situation.

If your hexagram still doesn’t seem to work for you, that’s okay. We were shown that hexagrams have complementary hexagrams. So you can reverse each of the lines, from broken to unbroken and vice versa. Or you can flip your hexagram upside down. Each of these variations can be a part of your prediction.

Overall, I came away with the feeling that this is not really harmful nonsense, but it is definitely nonsense. If throwing coins and reading a vague prediction that answers a burning question you have helps you to make a decision in life, that’s great. I’m pretty sure most people will just use this as a way of making them feel better about decisions they were already going to make anyway, so if it helps them sleep at night that sounds okay to me!