In my high school years, I was exploring many different facets of spirituality before I finally settled on Buddhism in my early twenties, and that included divination and other things. I dabbled in Tarot with a friend, but later took up the Yi Jing after finding a book at my local Waldenbooks bookstore. Even now I still consult it from every once in a while to kind of “check in” on my circumstances.
For those not familiar, the Yi Jing (易經, also spelled I Ching, or I Jing, etc) or “Book of Changes” is a very, very old divination book in Chinese culture that predates Confucianism, Buddhism, etc, and represents early Chinese religious thinking. Like many of the ancient classics from the Spring and Autumn Period of Chinese history, it was later re-interpreted by Confucius as the Four Books and Five Classics with an increasing philosophical and moral spin to it. But at its heart, the Yi Jing was a divination text, and remains so to this day.
As the name implies, the Book of Changes isn’t about specific predictions of the future (i.e. will I win the lottery?), but more about the changes and shifts around you. The central theme is the ebb of flow of Yang (陽) vs. Yin (陰). When consulting the Yi Jing, you create a hexagram, or 6 lines, from the bottom up, consisting of a combination of solid lines (yang) or broken lines (yin), forming such hexagrams as ䷑, ䷏, ䷋ and so forth. There are 64 possible combinations.
Also, if one or more lines is “old yang” or “old yin” that means it’s subject to change and thus you get two hexagrams, because the old yang line(s) become yin, and the old yin lines become yang. More on this later.
Anyhow, as I learned it, the key to consulting the Yi Jing is to form a question in your mind regarding a choice you’re going to make such as “what will happen if I do X?”, or alternatively, a question about the future such as “how will 2023 turn out?”. Also, as with any divination, don’t abuse it just to get the answers you want. Take what you get and make the most of it. Learn from it.
Anyhow, let’s talk specifics.
Traditionally, the Yi Jing is consulted using a bundle of 49 yarrow sticks, but the method is complicated, and most Westerners don’t have access to a bundle of yarrow anyway, let alone the experience in how to use them.
In my younger years, I used the “three coin” method by flipping three coins for each of the six lines, but mathematically this does not quite produce the same result as the yarrow stick method. It’s accessible, and easy to do, but if you want traditionally accurate results you need something else.
A few years back I found an article on Wikipedia that shows how Dungeons and Dragons can produce results that are the same as yarrow stalks, and as a player, I have plenty of the requisite dice,1 so I switched to that method instead.
The method I post here is based on the 3d4 method because it produces results the same as the yarrow stick method, and (according to above article) keeps the tradition association of yang with odd numbers, and yin with even. Plus, I love d4 dice in particular. 🥰
So, get three d4 dice like so:
And make your first roll, then add up the total.
Now draw the bottom line of the hexagram based on this criteria:
- If it is odd, draw a solid line: ⚊ This is Yang.
- If it is even, draw a line with a gap in the middle (a broken line): ⚋ This is Yin.
- If your total was 7, also put a dot (or some other marker) besides the solid line. This is “old Yang”.
- If your total was 4 or 12, also put a dot (or some other marker) besides your broken line. This is “old Yin”.
Now repeat these steps for the second line from the bottom, third line from the bottom, etc until you have 6 lines total. Traditionally, there is a larger space between the 3rd and 4th lines to make things easier to consult later.
Did your hexagram have any old Yang or old Yin? If so, draw a second hexagram in the same order, but convert any old Yang or old Yin into the other. A solid line becomes a broken line (⚊ → ⚋), a broken line into a solid (⚋ → ⚊). This implies your fortune will shift or change over time into something else. This is the Book of Changes after all. 😌
So, for example first the line of your hexagram (from the bottom) was old Yang, it would change to yin:
Anyhow, once you have your hexagram, or pair of hexagrams, you can consult your results. Using a chart from a book or online, look up the bottom pattern (the first 3 lines), followed the second pattern (top 3 lines). Together these form your hexagram listed in the Yi Jing. If you had a changing pattern and got two hexagrams consult them in that order.
Classical Chinese is a very difficult language to interpret due to its pithiness, and so quality of translations of the Yi Jing runs the gamut. I am not an expert, but I do notice some interpretations are just easier for me to read than others. As for accuracy to the source text, 🤷🏼♂️. I can’t recommend any particular version, either. You may need to look around and find one you like and make it your own.
Of course, even if you are not interested in using the Yi Jing as a means of divination, and yet do play Dungeons and Dragons, the methods and techniques outlined above make a perfectly fine fantasy roleplaying tool as well for whatever setting you might play, including my Hamato Islands series.
Anyhow, good luck!
P.S. Featured photo is of a diagram of the Yi Jing hexagrams owned by Leibniz in 1701, source Wikimedia Commons.
1 If you need more dice, consult your friendly, local gaming store.