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Before we get to the mechanics of Yarrow Sticks, coins and wands, a few words about how to phrase your question. The Oracle is a sacred and well respected divination tool. In that vein it is considered bad form to bother it with trivial questions.

The Superior Man consults the Oracle only matters of some importance and urgency and only after which his own innate intelligence has reached an impasse. He consults the Oracle only in the light of his own goals and aspirations.

The Superior Man is one who is clear about what he wants out of life, where he is going and what he wants to accomplish. The Oracle then will provide useful information on how do that and what the pitfalls may be.

It will provide information on possible courses of action, but will leave the final decision up to you. In all things, the Superior Man ultimately takes responsibility for his own actions and decisions.

So, the Oracle should be treated with great respect and approached as one would approach great and ancient wisdom.

Blessing The Yarrow Sticks

The I Ching book should be kept, when not in use, on a shelf high off the floor, and wrapped in a clean piece of cloth, preferably silk.

When you wish to consult it, it should be placed on a bare table and unwrapped, so that the book lies on the silk. The Yarrow Sticks or Bamboo sticks should be kept in a simple box on the same shelf.

In ancient China the seat of wisdom and judgment lay in the north and those giving audience always faced south. You should therefore place the table in the northern part of the room and approach it from the south. If you are consulting the Oracle for yourself, seat facing North. If you are consulting for another they should face North and you face South.
In all cases the applicant faces North.

In front of the Book of Changes lay the sticks and place beside them a small incense burner.

There are three ways used by the ancients to consult the I Ching.

1. Counting Yarrow Sticks, which consists of counting out in a prescribed fashion 50 sticks.

2. Tossing 3 coins and obtaining numerical values according to the total of heads and tails.

3. Throwing specially marked 'wands.'

The Counting Yarrow Sticks Method.

As preparation for consulting the Oracle, the ancients usually made 3 'Kowtows'. A Kowtow is the ancient 'on the knees, nose to floor, bowing before a superior. Then, while still kneeling, pass the 50 Yarrow sticks 3 times through the smoke of the incense.

Then quietly compose yourself and think of the question you want to put to the Oracle. Try to phrase it in your mind as clearly as possible and make sure the question is of real importance to you. The I Ching does not tell the future, nor is it particularly good at telling you who you will marry or how many children you will have. It does offer advice of substance on how to act in a particular situation and what the likely consequences of your actions might be.

It is a basic tenet of Taoist belief that the individual is responsible for his own actions and must accept the consequences of his own actions. The I Ching works best in complicated personal or social situations where clarity of purpose is required.

Next turn your attention to the sticks.

1. Take one of the 50 sticks and put it aside. It will not be used again, but is included in the bundle to make the total up to the magically significant number of 50.

2. Using your right hand, divide the heap of sticks into 2, separating them by a few inches.

3. Take one stick from the heap on your right and place it between the ring finger and the little finger of your left hand.

4. Remove the sticks 4 at time from the heap on your left until there are 4 or less left. Place the remaining sticks between the middle and ring fingers of the left hand.

5. Remove sticks 4 at a time from the heap on your right until there are 4 or less left. Place these remaining sticks between the index finger and the middle finger.

You will now find that the sticks held between the fingers of your left hand total either 5 or 9. Put these sticks to one side.

Gather together all the discarded sticks (totaling 49 less either 5 or 9) and work through the process of dividing again starting at step 2.

When you have done this you will find a total of 4 or 8 sticks between the fingers of the left hand. Put these sticks aside in a separate pile beside the first pile.

Gather the discarded sticks together once more, omitting the two small heaps of either 5 or 9, & 4 or 8. Once again you will end up with either 4 or 8.

At the end of all this you will have, in addition to the stick discarded at the beginning, 3 small heaps of sticks.

The first will contain either 5 or 9 sticks.
The second will contain either 4 or 8 sticks.
The third will contain 4 or 8 sticks.

If this is not the case you have counted wrong somehow and you will need to do it again.

Next, look up the three numbers in the following table.

Depending on the combinations of sticks you will have either a Yang line indicated by a solid line ( ______ ) or a Yin line, indicated by a broken line ( ___ ___ )

5+4+4 - Old Yang line
9+8+8 - Old Yin line

5+8+8 - Young Yang line
9+8+4 - Young Yang line
9+4+8 - Young Yang line
5+4+8 - Young Yin line
5+8+4 - Young Yin line
9+4+4 - Young Yin line

Old Yang and Old Yin lines are significant because these lines change into their opposites to form a second hexagram which will give additional information to work with. Old lines are considered to be at the end of their cycle and beginning a new one. These are known as 'moving lines.'

Young Yang and Young Yin lines are considered to be at the beginning of their cycles and therefore relatively stable.

Next, note down the line that corresponds to your three numbers. This is the bottom line of your hexagram. To arrive at the second line up from the bottom, you must gather together your 49 yarrow sticks once more and work through the stages of dividing and counting to get the next set of three numbers.

This whole process must be done 4 more times in order to arrive at the 6 lines of a complete hexagram reading from the bottom up.

Each of the 4 types of lines is given a ritual number. These are;

Old Yin is ritual number 6
Young Yang is ritual number 7
Young Yin is ritual number 8
Old Yang is ritual number 9

These numbers are significant for the Coin Tossing Method.

Once you have gotten all six lines go to the Hexagram Link Page and look up your Hexagram.

The Coin Method

Casting the Yarrow sticks may seem complicated and time consuming. It takes about 40 minutes to an hour or longer depending. The coin method is speedier and more efficient but lacks the elegance and meditative quality of the sticks. Still the coin method is quite handy for the 'on the go' student looking for a quick guide for the day. For more complicated situations the Yarrow sticks are still recommended.

In this method, three coins are tossed and according to the way they fall the lines of the hexagram can be obtained. As with the Yarrow sticks the first toss is the bottom line and so on upwards.

Chinese coins traditionally have an inscribed face and a blank face. The inscribed face will usually have some picture on it like a dragon or even I Ching trigrams. The blank face may have some Chinese characters.

These faces correspond to our western 'heads' (the former) and 'tails' (the latter).

The inscribed face of the coin (heads) is given a value of 3 and the blank face of the coin (tails) is given a value of 2.

So, tosses of the coins will yield values of 6, 7, 8, or 9.

These indicate respectively;

6. Old Yin ..... changing line
7. Young Yang .... stable line
8. Young Yin .... stable line
9. Old Yang .... changing line

Now you can look up your hexagram on the Hexagram Link Page which provides links to all 64 hexagrams.


The Six Wands Method

This is the simplest way to consult the Oracle.

First you need a set of six special wands. These need to be flat. They should be made out of Bamboo or some similar wood. They are often made from Tortoise Shell or Jade, both considered to have magical properties in divination circles.

These wands should be about 8 inches long (20 cm), about 1 inch wide (2.5 cm) and about 1/8 inch thick (3 mm).

Each wand should be coloured plain black on one side and on the other side, plain black with a white cross stripe in the middle. You can see then, that each side corresponds to either a Yang line (solid) or a Yin line (broken).

Next you take the wands and roll them slowly between your hands and behind your back while thinking about the question you want to ask the Oracle. When you are ready, roll the wands carefully out onto the table like you are rolling out a mat. Arrange the wands into a hexagram starting with the one closest to you, one after the other starting from the bottom. In this way you will then have the hexagram laid out before you.

This method will give you a quick answer but there is on obvious limitation. There are no changing lines and so no deeper information. So while the wands method is a handy way to become familiar with the I Ching, the student should endeavour to learn the Yarrow Sticks method to derive maximum benefit from its guidance.

Now you can look up your hexagram on the Hexagram Link Page which provides links to all 64 hexagrams as well as explanations of the 8 trigrams that make up the I Ching.

* note - All translations and notes are from the "The Book of Change; How to Understand and Use the I Ching" by Neil Powell, © 1979 Orbis Publishing, London, U.K..


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I Ching Mainpage
I Ching 2 - How to Consult the Oracle I Ching 3 - The Trigrams
I Ching 4 Consult the Oracle on-line
I Ching 5 Links to 64 Hexagrams

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