We're celebrating Confucius Day on September 29 with a look into the rich history of the ancient Chinese I Ching oracle -- one of the world's oldest divination tools, which was inspired in part by the works of the great Chinese philosopher Confucius.
The Chinese I Ching, or Book of Changes in English, represents 64 archetypes that make up all the possible six-line combinations of yin and yang, called "hexagrams." Learning the principals of I Ching help you make a fresh start and accomplish what you want in your future.
Yin/yang is the fundamental duality of the universe whose dynamic tension gives shape to all phenomena and the changes they go through. Examples of the yin/yang polarity are female/male, earth/heavens, dark/light, in/out, even/odd and so on. The interpretations of the 64 hexagrams describe the energy of human life divided into 64 types of situations, relationships or dilemmas. Each hexagram can be analyzed in a number of ways. Divide the six-line forms in half and you get trigrams (three yin or yang lines) that represent the Chinese version of the eight fundamental elements: sky, earth, thunder, wind, water, fire, mountain and lake. These eight trigrams, known as "Hua," also serve as the compass points in the ancient art of placement known as Feng Shui.
The I Ching is the oldest of all the classical divination systems. It is also one of the oldest books in the world. Its first interpretive text was composed around 1000 B.C. The I Ching's actual discovery and much of its early history are the stuff of legends.
There are a number of myths surrounding the origins of the eight trigrams and the development of the I Ching divination system. In one tale, Fu Hsi, the first emperor of China (2852 - 2737 B.C.), is said to have observed a turtle emerging from the Yellow River. Knowing that true wisdom came from the direct and close observation of nature, he had a sudden realization of the significance of eight symbols he saw on the turtle's back. He saw how the sets of three solid or broken lines, the trigrams, reflected the movement of energy in life on Earth.
A similar myth describes Fu Hsi's contemplation of other patterns in nature, including animals, plants, meteorological phenomena and even his own body. These myths describe how he identified the trigrams that arose from his understanding of the connection of all things, through the interplay of yin and yang.
There is evidence of early Chinese divination where tortoise shells were heated over a flame until they cracked, with the emerging patterns (presumably trigrams) being read. In some cases the shells were marked with their interpretations and stored for reference, and I have had the privilege of seeing a few of them preserved at the National Museum in Taiwan, China.
Another version also involving tortoise shells describes descendents of the "many Fu" -- an ancient clan of female diviners -- who read the shells of live turtles. According to the legend, they became the queens and royalty of the Shang Dynasty -- which had been considered mythical until archeological evidence proving its existence was unearthed in 1899. Some say Lao Tzu, the enlightened forefather of Taoism and the author of the Tao Te Ching, was a descendent of this clan.
The Taoist/Confucian tradition posits that juxtaposing a set of the possible permutations of yin and yang with elements of Chinese creation mythology produced the foundation of the I Ching. Pairing up the various combinations of yin (the literal ancient meaning of which is the shady north side of the hill) and yang (meaning the sunny south side of the hill) gives you four primary symbols. With the addition of another yin or yang line, the eight trigrams emerge.