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What is I Ching and it’s History

Diagram_of_I_Ching_hexagrams_owned_by_Gottfried_Wilhelm_Leibniz,_1701

The oracle of the Chou people, the Chou I came to be when the Chou were trying to overthrow the Shang dynasty.  There was social and spiritual turmoil at this time  and it is said that a total solar eclipse on June 20th, 1070 BC gave the Chou king Wu the perfect opportunity to invade.   The Chou I eventually evolved into the I Ching.

The I Ching, called the Book of Changes in English is the representation sixty-four archetypes in six line combinations of yin and yang . These combinations are called hexagrams. Yin/Yang, represents the duality of the universe and creates the dynamic tension who shapes all of the changes in the world

Examples of yin/yang are female and male, the heavens and the earth, dark and light.  The descriptions of the energy of humanity can be interpreted by the sixty- four hexagrams.  The hexagrams can be analyzed in different ways.  They can be divided in half to get trigrams that are representative of the fundamental elements; sky, earth, thunder, water, wind and fire. These trigrams help establish the points  in Feng Shui, the ancient art of placement.

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In addition to this, the I Ching is the most ancient of all divination tools.  It is  one of the oldest books in the world.  It was composed in or around 1000 BC.   Its ancient and early history is legendary.

One of the myths of the origins of the I Ching involve the first emeperor of China Fu His. He is said to have watched a turtle emerge from the Yellow River.  He knew that wisdom comes from observing nature and he noted the eight symbols on the back of the turtle.   The lead him to the realization that the trigrams were reflective of the movement of energy in life on Earth.

Fu Hsi contemplated other patterns in nature though animals, plants, meteorology and his own body.   His myth tells how his understanding of the connection of all things through yin and yang  led to his interpretation of the trigrams.

Early Chinese divination involved tortoise shells being heated over fire until they cracked so the emerging patterns could be read.  Some of these shells were stored for references along with the interpretations. These can be seen at the National Museum in Taiwan, China.

64hexagrams

Yet another myth describes an ancient clan of female diviners who read the shells of live turtles.  The myth states that they became queens and royalty in the Shang Dynasty. The Dynasty was considered mythological until archeologist unearthed relics in 1899.  Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism is said to be a descended from this group.

Taoist and Concucian traditions  say that combining the possibilities of yin and yang with Chinese creation myths created the I Ching.   This combination made the the eight trigrams emerge.

The first I Ching interpretations were authored by King Wen towards the end of the Shang dynasty when he was imprisoned by the emperor Zhou Wang.  Wen used his meditations on the trigrams.  This mediation took Wen to heightened mental state and he assigned each hexagram a name and a meaning.   His son  King Wu, added more interpretations which brought the I Ching to its present day form.

Confucius was the I Ching’s greatest supporter and he added his own wisdom to the interpretive texts.  He use date I Ching as a resource for living a life of high virtue and not a divination system.  He wanted to live his life studying the I Ching.

Evidence states that the Book of Changes and its hexagrams are part of an ancient oral tradition that was part of Chinese history before the written word.  According to this, the basics of the I Ching were composed in the eight century BC.

Using the hexagrams for interpretations didn’t happen until the fifth century BC. During the period known as the Warring States period, the I-Ching written texts were put into a book. to make them easier to review and share.   It was spared the book burnings of the Ch’in Dynasty it was considered a great piece of literature.

During the Han Dynasty the Book of Changes was studied intently and canonized.

Additions were made at the turn of the millennium. These additions regarded the individual lines of the hexagrams and the definitions of the trigrams.  The commentaries are attributed to Confucius.   More changes were made and it became to resemble to today’s I Ching.

Chinese rules and the general public used the I -Ching before printing was available by weaving it into their culture. The influence of the to Book of Changes has been a great influence into how the Eastern world is viewed. Over the last century, Western Culture has been exposed to the basics of Taoism.  Carl Jung explained the value of of the I Ching’s psychological validity. This lead to the Western World’s acceptance of the I Ching.

Today, the I Ching is consulted by tossing three coins six time to create the hexagram. This is much simpler thant the tradition of casting fifty yarrow stalks to divine the hexagram. After the coins/stalks are sorted out the sacred book is consulted to discern the meaning.

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