The Trigrams that Make up the Hexagrams in the I Ching

The I Ching is 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 heads and tails. By following the rules for “casting” you will arrive at a hexagram that will be used to answer your question.

This article will look at the 8 trigrams that combine, where one is either “above” or “below”, into a hexagram, allowing for 64 combinations (8 X 8).  Some combinations are favorable, and others are not. This article will focus on the meanings of each trigram and demonstrate limited examples of the hexagrams.

The 8 Trigrams

The two possible lines are solid and broken. Solid lines are yang/male/assertive and broken lines are yin/female/receptive.  Lines precede from the bottom up, so the first line of the trigram and the first line of a hexagram is the bottom line.

Heaven

Heaven Trigram

The trigram for Heaven is made up of three solid lines and it represents creativity or the creative force.  When combined with itself – Heaven above and Heaven below – it makes up Hexagram 1 (Chyan) – Positiveness or the Creative Force.  It is considered the fundamental male principle because it is made up of 3 yang lines. Heaven is the fundamental principle of action.

Earth

Earth Trigram

The trigram for Earth is made up of three broken lines and it represents receptivity and invitation.  When combined with itself – Earth above and Earth below – it makes up Hexagram 2 (K’un) – Receptiveness. It is considered the fundamental female principle because it is made up of 3 yin lines. Earth is the fundamental principle of reception.

Thunder

Thunder Trigram

The trigram of Thunder is made up of one solid line and two broken lines, and it represents “the voice of heaven” and is “arousing”, thus it triggers change.  When combined with itself – Thunder above and Thunder below – it makes up Hexagram 51 (Chen) – The Arousing.  Thunder is the fundamental principle of pressure.

Water

Water Trigram

The trigram of Water is made up of one solid line and two broken lines, like Thunder, but the first line is broken, the second is solid, and the third is broken; and it represents “the abysmal” and the deep places water travels to naturally.  When combined with itself – Water above and Water below – it makes up Hexagram 29 (K’an) – The Abyss.  Water is the fundamental principle of adaptability.

Mountain

Mountain Trigram

The trigram of Mountain is made up of one solid line and two broken lines, like Thunder and Water, but the first line is broken, the second line is broken, and the third line is solid; and it represents stillness and enduring.  When combined with itself: Mountain above and Mountain below, it makes up Hexagram 52 (Ken) – Keeping Still and Impediment.  Mountain is the fundamental principle of persistence.

Wind

Wind Trigram

The trigram of Wind is made up of one broken line and two solid lines.  The first line is broken, the second line is solid, and the third line is solid; and it represents gentleness and obedience.  When combined with itself – Wind above and Wind below – it makes up Hexagram 57 (Soen) – Gentle Wind and Submissiveness. Wind is the fundamental principle of acceptance.

Fire

Fire Trigram

The trigram Fire is made up of one broken line and two solid lines, like Wind, but the first line is solid, the second line is broken, and the third line is solid; and it represents energy and freedom. When combined with itself – Fire above and Fire below – it makes up Hexagram 30 (Li) – Radiance.  Fire is the fundamental principle of destruction.

Lake

Lake Trigram

The trigram Lake is made up of broken lines and two solid lines, like Wind and Fire, but the first line is solid, the second line is solid, and the third line is broken; and it represents openness and joy.  When combined with itself – Lake above and Lake below – it makes up Hexagram 58 (Tui) – Joyousness.  Lake is the fundamental principle of life.

The Fundamental Principles

  • Action (Heaven)
  • Reception (Earth)
  • Pressure (Thunder)
  • Adaptability (Water)
  • Persistence (Mountain)
  • Acceptance (Wind)
  • Destruction (Fire)
  • Life (Lake)

Sample Combinations

Let’s look at a few combinations starting with Heaven above and Earth below (Hexagram 12), then Earth above and Heaven below (Hexagram 11), and one random selection – Thunder above and Mountain below (Hexagram 62)

Hexagram 12 (Pi) – Misfortune

GUIDANCE: “Unfavorable situations. In times of adversity evil ones are in positions of power.  Good people cannot enjoy a normal life. Much is given, little is received.” (I Ching by Hua-Ching Ni, 282)

While the placements are in their natural order, with Heaven above and Earth below, they are separating instead of conjoining. For this reason, there is no integration of energy, which is needed to get benefits.

Hexagram 11 (T’ai) – Peace, Harmony, and Good Opportunity

GUIDANCE: “Good opportunity. In a time of prosperity, something small is given and something large is returned. Little effort brings a big reward.  Good fortune. Proceed.” (I Ching by Hua-Ching Ni, 275)

With Heaven below and Earth above they are both “making their way” towards one another.  Earth wants to be below and Heaven wants to be above, so they integrate and bring benefits to one another forming the union of the female and male principle.

Hexagram 62 (Shiao Kuo) – Minor Excess

GUIDANCE: “Minor excesses cause trouble.  It is not safe for the bird to fly high; it should stay low. One should not attempt large undertakings at this time.”

With Thunder above the Mountain and a storm in effect (or brewing), it is best to find shelter and wait for the storm to pass.  If you have to travel, you want to take your time and be especially careful.  It is important to stay within your limits at this time.

The 8 Principles and the 64 Answers

With the 8 principles and 64 answers, you can get answers to life questions using this tool.  Each trigram combination is designed to show the flow or dissonance we can experience in our choices and our life journey.  Calling upon them with specific questions during a reading moment is one way to get insight on how best to proceed at important moments in your life.

Philip Young, PhD

I am a spiritual adviser located in Cary, North Carolina. I earned my PhD in English from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 1996 and had a career in academics until 2007, when I retired to become a stay-at-home father. In 2013 I “hung out my shingle” starting my business Black Unykorn Enterprises, LLC. I provide spiritual guidance using different tools: astrology, tarot/oracle cards, numerology, and past life regression (using muscle testing). With a home office, Zoom, WeChat, and WhatsApp, I work with local clients in person and distance clients from around the world. You can read about my practice and contact me through my website: https://www.blackunykorn.com.

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