As anyone who’s ever queued for a Euromillions ticket will tell you, there are times when it’d be jolly useful to know the future.
Let’s say, for instance, that it’s Friday night and you’re tired. You’ve had a long week of work, a row with the boss, and all you want to do is get into your dressing gown when you get home. But you’ve been invited to a party. Can you really be bothered to go? If only there was some way of knowing whether or not you were in for a fun time…
That’s just crazy-talk though, right? You can’t know the future. Can you?
Well, that depends. If you’ve got a copy of the I Ching near to hand then maybe, just maybe, you can.
As well as being Aleister Crowley’s favourite book and the holy text in Philip K Dick’s Man in the High Castle, The I Ching is the oldest oracle for divination (the posh name for looking into the future) known to man.
Some say that the I Ching’s been in use by ancient Chinese adepts since 1000 BC. Others say that’s just a myth. I say who cares? Whatever its provenance, the I Ching is a book like no other.
For a start, it’s not just there to be read – either cover-to-cover or piecemeal and willy-nilly. Instead the I Ching promises to show you your future by a rather unique method.
The book itself is comprised of 64 separate chapters represented by six-line diagrams called hexagrams, which you have to construct prior to opening the oracle.
You do this by either arranging yarrow sticks in your hands or throwing down coins. Given the fact that yarrow sticks are few and far between in Blighty, I’d advise you to use coins when using the I Ching to peer through the mists of time.
So, you fix a question in your mind – let’s say, as I did when first consulting the oracle, Will I have a good time if I go to see some bands tonight at the pub? Then you take all three coins in your hand, give ‘em a shake and cast them down.
You take note of the combination of heads or tails, with heads being worth 3 points apiece and tails only 2. Then you tot up the total. Whatever combination you get will correspond with a complete or broken ‘yang’ line and a corresponding complete and broken ‘yin’.
Do this 6 times, noting down each line as you go, and at the end – presto, you have the hexagram telling you which section to consult inside the I Ching. And this is where the book comes into its own…
The I Ching, pre-dating Jung by millennia, doesn’t deal in straightforward explanations or advice. Instead, it operates using archetypes and ciphers, dragging guidance out of your own subconscious.
Each hexagram in the I Ching confronts the reader with abstract imagery and concepts for them to interpret, so that its guidance ultimately comes at once from without and within.
Indeed, the edition of the I Ching I’ve got describes it as being something like a bridge between the physical and spiritual worlds. And while that might sound a bit poetic, it’s rather apt.
So, for instance, when I posed my head-scratcher about whether or not I’d have a good time at a particular gig, the coins told me to refer to hexagram 25 in the book: Innocence.
I’d been wavering, lazily wondering whether a night in front of the box would be preferable to mounting a charge on Camden. But the oracle had very different ideas: ”Man has received from heaven a nature innately good to guide him in all his movements,” it said. “But not everything instinctive is natural…only that which is accord with the will of heaven.”
So what exactly does “accord” with this “will of heaven”? “In spring thunder, life energy, begins to move under the heavens,” says the oracle. This was promising. Given the name of the band I was dithering about seeing – Elephant Tree – that reference to “thunder” seemed eerily close to home…
And there was more: “The original impulses of the heart are always good, so one may follow them confidently, assured of good fortune.” Well, seeing as my heart’s “original impulses” had been to go to gig, I went. And had a ruddy good time. Just as the I Ching said I would.
The key thing here, I think, is that the oracle invited some genuine introspective self-interrogation; like a silent psychoanalyst, it led me to consult the contents of my own mind, to divine my motives and intentions – and by doing that, to ‘know’ the future.
After all, the future isn’t something independent of the present; it is created by how we think, feel and act in the moment…
So the next time you’re torn when faced with a decision – no matter how trivial – consider picking up those coins and getting your copy of the I Ching down from the shelf.
As a divinatory method, it makes far less of a mess than tealeaves or chicken gizzards, and it’ll help you not only understand your future, but also yourself. Still no word on whether it’s any help with the Lottery numbers though. Sorry.
About the author: Tom Cole is a writer, bassist and fairweather hippie based in north London. When he’s not busy writing irreverent blogs about spirituality, he works as a digital marketeer for Hay House UK. Lord knows why you’d want to, but you can follow him on Twitter: @existential_tom.