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Cropped from “Studying the I Ching Upon a Mountain 山窗讀易圖” (1736) by Chen Shu 陳書

Table of Contents

Knowing the myths, legends, and cultural heroes of the I Ching will enrich your understanding of the Oracle. Then consider the development of I Ching discourse from 500 BC to the 20th century and the different traditions of interpreting the hexagrams.

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Yarrow Stalk Divination, per the Ten Wings (Xici Method, circa 221 BC)

List of Practicums

Within this book is a grimoire of 49 practicums– a Book of Methods 方書 (fāng shū)— that will acquaint you with I Ching divination methods, Taoist ritual magic and spell-crafting, meditations for spiritual cultivation, and journaling prompts for personal reflection. Not all of them are intended for everyone to try, but learning about them will help to impart foundational knowledge of Taoist mysticism.

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A Hakka family shrine-altar

Preface

The Book of Changes is both a compass and an atlas for finding your path. Just as a path is found by walking it, to know the Tao, you practice the Way. This is a guidebook for how to practice the Way, putting wisdom into action.

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“Tai Ren, Mother of King Wen” (1689 – 1726) by Jiao Bingzhen 焦秉貞

Myths, Legends, and Cultural Heroes of the I Ching

A revolution births the I Ching. It’s the Bronze Age. Around 1050 BC, King Wen is imprisoned by King Zhou of Shang for seven years, and during his imprisonment, Wen stacks the eight trigrams of the Ba Gua in combinations for a total of sixty-four hexagrams. A divination system—the Yi—reveals itself to King Wen, empowering the people with knowledge of the Divine Will. The Oracle’s first prophesy: the coming of a new age.

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Hexagram 4: Meng. Naivete

I do not call upon the spirit medium. The spirit medium will call upon me. Without knowledge of the terrain, a journey now will set you adrift. No gains yielded from expelling the foe. No gains yielded from becoming a foe. Gains come from resisting the attack.

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Hexagram 30: Li. The Spark

One who seeks enlightenment and then in turn enlightens others. The Eminent One illuminates far and wide in the four directions, lighting up the four corners of the world. The luminous fire burns twice bright. A flame has no solid form, but rather it clings to the object it burns. What is in darkness clings to the light.

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Hexagram 63: Ji Ji. After the Ending

A kettle is burning over the stove. The result is steam: be cautious, as tensions abound. At the inception, favorable proceedings. At its cessation, chaos, disorder, and unrest. Road conditions cause a carriage to decelerate its pace. Every golden era must come to an end, and how it ends is dependent on the ruler.

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“Fuxi Creates the Trigrams” (1503) by Guo Xu 郭詡

Shamanistic-Historical Traditions

Excerpted from Chapter 10: The Yì, the Wū, and Shamanism. Oracle bones affirm the existence of a thriving shamanistic culture that was the religious backbone of ancient China, reaching its peak during the Shang and Zhou of the Bronze Age. Shang dynasty shamans (商巫 Shāng wū) held political authority because their connection to the gods and ancestors could validate the sovereign rights of a king or state. Since the Neolithic era, shamanism has played a central role in China’s foundational political history. Beyond their political authority, the wu occupied a specialized class in society for one key reason: generally, humans and spirits should not and do not intermingle, with one exception—the wu 巫.

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Two depictions of the Queen Mother. Left: Demon of Plagues, Dark Goddess of Destruction, as described in the Classic of Mountain and Seas 山海經 (4th c. BC). Right: Regal Queen of Heaven, as described in the Imperial Encyclopedia 古今圖書集成 (1725 AD).

Xī Wáng Mǔ, Goddess of the Wū

Excerpted from Chapter 10: The Yì, the Wū, and Shamanism. In Taoist mysticism, the Queen Mother of the West, Xī Wáng Mǔ 西王母, is one of the most important goddess figures in the pantheon. Taoist fangshi 方士 invoke the Queen Mother to help them cultivate the Tao.

The earliest depictions of Xī Wáng Mǔ showed her as a demon of plagues and a dark goddess of destruction. The Classic of Mountains and Seas describes the nine-tailed fox 狐狸精 (hú lí jīng) as one of the Queen Mother’s close companions. Other animal companions often associated with the Queen Mother include the white tiger for its correspondence to the west, wildcats, foxes, the three-legged crow, and the scorpion. The scorpion association is what connects her as a key divinity in wu shamanism.

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Appendix E: Map of Shang and Zhou

While the maps are not drawn to scale at least they help to give you a mental reference for where these kingdoms are located in geographical relation to one another.

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