The I Ching is actually an ancient divinatory text made up of 64 chapters based on 64 hexagrams representing “answers” to life. Hexagrams are determined using cleromancy, a process for producing random numbers in a limited sequence through a particular method. Two methods exist. The oldest method involves using 50 yarrow stalks and is quite complex. The more common, and easier method, is to use three coins that have a heads and tails. By following the rules for “casting” you will arrive at a hexagram that will be used to answer your question.
Asking the right question in the right way is as important as getting the answer you need. Too often clients will want to approach astrology, tarot, and the I Ching with the hope of getting an answer to a question that is improper or ineffective to ask. Astrology and tarot are especially open-ended, and great for questions about life purpose, shaping your career, or developing your relationship. The I Ching is much more direct, tending to favor more explicit yes/no or good idea/bad idea results.
First, the most common improper question is one that involves getting information that is supposed to be provided by an outside source without prying. Such as, “I applied for a new job, will I get it?” Or “is my husband/wife cheating on me?” The hiring person is supposed to give you the answer to the job for the first question and hiring a private investigator would be money better spent trying to get an answer to the second question.
Better questions, along the same lines, that are also empowering rather than disempowering questions, would be “if I get the job, what do I need to know?” and “how do I feel about the way my husband/wife treats me (regardless of potential cheating issues)?” In both cases those questions are self-focused and the tools can be the most helpful.
Astrology casts the widest and deepest range in terms of understanding timing and duration regarding a situation or question. Tarot is more about the present moment and immediate future concerns. The I Ching is very much about what you need to know, “right now”, which is why clients will most often use it when asking something like, “I want to buy the house at 1000 New Street Lane; should I buy it?” “I have been asked out by my friend for a romantic date, should I go?”
Casting Coins for the Answer
The easiest method to determine the hexagram that will answer your question is by casting 3 coins six times in a row. I like to use half dollars minted before 1964 because they contain silver and have a nice weight to them. Clients gather the coins and place them in their hands. I ask them which hand is dominant and tell them to lay the coins in that hand and cover them with the other hand.
To begin, they say the question out loud, “I have been asked out by my friend for a romantic date, should I go?” I tell them to shake the coins and then throw them into a container I have for the casting. The coins can land in one of four combinations: 3 heads, 3 tails, 2 heads/1 tail, or 2 tails/1 head. If the coins are all heads the line is solid, but “moving”; 2 heads/1 tail is broken and fixed; 2 tails/1 head is solid and fixed; and 3 tails is broken and “moving”.
Lines that are “moving” indicate action regarding the question. If all the lines of the hexagram are fixed, then there is no movement on the question and the answer is limited to the current moment. I Ching books will provide a general interpretation of the entire hexagram as well as individual line interpretations. If there are “moving” lines, you will want to consult those lines specifically for additional information about the answer.
The client repeats speaking the question and casting the coins 5 more times. Lines are recorded from the bottom up. So, the first casting represents the bottom line of the hexagram and the last casting is the top line.
Considering the Answer
Let’s consider an answer. The client has asked about the date, cast the coins, and ended up with hexagram 34: Teh-Khwang – Great Strength. It is made up of the trigrams Heaven and Thunder, with Heaven below and Thunder above.
The Oracle, from Sam Reilfer’s book I Ching: A New Interpretation for Modern Times says, “Thunder rages above heaven. The superior man is especially proper, whatever he does. Improvement, if you keep to your course” (p. 149). So, the answer is essentially yes, go on the date. If none of the lines are “moving”, then the answer is done and you can decide to embrace the answer or resist it.
But let’s say one line is moving; the 4th line from the bottom is actually a solid “moving” line, which means that it will be changing to a broken line and leading the querent to another hexagram, number 11, with heaven below and earth above: T-Hai – Peace. The first answer will lead to a second consideration because of a moving line.
In this case, the Oracle is “Heaven descends. Earth Ascends. They join. Heaven and earth mingle within the person. The wise person brings this accord to the people. Auspicious. Success” (p. 59). Well, the answer is really, “go for it!” Will these people live happily ever after, who knows? But the answer of the moment is pretty much a resounding “yes”!
Now, suppose there are two moving lines; the 4th one and the 6th one, which means the hexagram will become hexagram 26: Teh-Khiu – Major Restraint. The Oracle is “Heaven within the mountain. The superior person stores within his/her mind the words and deeds of history, in order to know what is right. Keep to your course. Do not hoard your rewards. Do not begrudge your debt to society. You may cross the great water.” While good fortune appears possible, you must not compromise yourself or your integrity with this person.
Getting Your Answer
What makes the I Ching especially useful is casting the coins yourself, whether you have a professional help you through the process, by guiding you to ask the question in the right way and helping you understand the interpretation, or you do the process on your own. It is “your hands” that throw the coins, so it is your message through your energy and your higher self. Even if a short-term joy leads to a long-term challenge or vice versa, the lesson remains yours by controlling the casting of the coins.