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James Randi Educational Foundation

An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural

Introduction | "R" Reading | Curse of the Pharaoh | End-of-the-World Prophecies

Index | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | Y | Z

I Ching (formerly written, “Y-Kim” or “I King,” and pronounced, ee-ching) Scapulimancy, an ancient form of fortune-telling, involved burning the shoulder blade of an animal in a slow fire, then examining the cracks thus produced, in order to divine the future. Through the Chinese, this evolved into a much more attractive method known as, and described in, the Book of Changes or I Ching, ascribed to an early emperor of China, Fu Hsi (formerly written, “Fo Hi,”) who is generally supposed to have lived 2953-2838 B.C., though that is unlikely. The book first appeared in English in 1882 and attracted much attention among the occultists, who were eager to adopt anything of Asiatic origin.
      This basic idea involves two directly opposite forces, “yin” and “yang,” the yin being the female/negative/receptive/dark/earth force and the yang the positive/active/bright/sky (or heaven) force. The yin force is said to be stronger in the winter and the yang in the summer. Both are equal at the spring and fall equinoxes.
      For purposes of divination, the permutations of 64 hexagrams, each formed from a pair of trigrams, are consulted. Each is formed from a set of solid or broken lines. The yin is represented by a broken line and yang by a solid line. Sets of three yin and/or yang lines are known as “trigrams,” and there are eight possibilities (23). Each has an attribute and a name:


      __  __                    ______
      __  __                    __  __
      __  __                    __  __
     
      Earth (receptive)         Mountain (immovable)
     
      __  __                    ______
      ______                    ______
      __  __                    __  __
     
      Water (dangerous)         Wind (gentle)
     
      __  __                    ______
      __  __                    __  __
      ______                    ______
     
      Thunder (arousing)        Fire (clinging)
     
      __  __                    ______
      ______                    ______
      ______                    ______
     
      Lake (joyful)             Heaven (active)

      Combined in sets of six lines (pairs of trigrams), there are 64 (26) possible combinations, and the figures are known as “hexagrams.” The I Ching contains detailed meanings for these diagrams, and a complicated system exists for shaking inscribed reeds from a container (or, in an alternate mode, tossing coins), then referring to the I Ching and trying to make sense of the results.
      The success of the I Ching lies largely in its rather flattering and generally nonthreatening messages, along with the vague language it uses. Almost any meaning can be derived from a configuration and the very vague, poetic and general book interpretations, and it is probably as a form of self-administered pop psychology that the system finds its greatest value.
      See also sortilege.



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