Reading the Map of Fate

What my teachers have taught me has been born out by my 40-some years of study:  the I Ching is a system of 64 living symbols that perennially outgrows whatever interpretation as been affixed to it.  Why would the snake carry its shed skin around with it?  To be attached to the outmoded vision of a patriarchal past simply because we have gained some proficiency with its inner workings is to betray the very core value of change upon which the Oracle is based.  Why would the butterfly carry its chrysalis around with it?

The Oracle can speak to our lives from its timeless dwelling place because the timebound changes we encounter in the historical present follow certain invariable cyclic processes.  The Oracle and its body, the 64 hexagrams, do not change.  But the world of nature and civilization does, dragged into the black hole of ever-greater disorder by the gravity of entropy.  The Oracle speaks to us from outside time because it is the voice of the generative energy that continues to sustain the on-going creation of the universe around us—it speaks to us about the way to escape the trap of Fate because it is the voice of the loving-kindness of the one spirit nurturing the on-going birth of all creation.  It speaks to us because the one spirit taking form in all matter strives to awaken in matter, to continue its own limitless growth by calling us to join it at the further end of the road of Freedom.

It speaks to us, in other words, because it is calling itself home.

The Oracle and its body, the 64 hexagrams, do not change.  But its clothing does.  More than that—its clothing must change.  Because the Oracle must speak coherently to each Age, the interpretation of the hexagrams and their lines must change periodically in order to adapt to the evolving worldview of civilization.  The reasons for a new interpretation of the I Ching have all been laid out in the previous three posts and I point to those articles rather than repeating them here.

The received version of the I Ching is the King Wen version, which was originally called the Chou I, or Changes of Chou, as it was specifically identified with the emerging Chou Dynasty of the time.  Its order of the 64 hexagrams is attributed to the titular founder of that dynasty, who is said to have arranged the hexagrams in a progression of 32 pairs.  Although each pair is linked by a discernible relationship—generally that of the second being the inverted form of the first—the reasoning behind the sequence of the pairs remains a mystery.

Regardless of the actual origin of the hexagrams or the originator of the received sequence, what we do know is that this sequence cannot be divorced from the oracular nature of the I Ching.  Its more rational use as a book of wisdom, in other words, does little to disguise the mystery lying at the core of its use as an Oracle.  Lest anyone enter thinking that the art of divination is a rational affair, they ought be assured that it is, instead, a matter of engaging the numinous, the sacred, the supranatural, aspect of reality and so is essentially an act of mystical union with the One.

Of course, we draw an imaginary line here between matter and spirit in order to work with concepts existing only in our minds.  The non-dual nature of reality means that matter and form Itself are the numinous, sacred, supranatural Itself.  It is this absolute identification of matter and awareness that establishes the oracular communication:  our question, the coins, and the Oracle’s answer are all drops of water in the same sea of thinking matter.  How could there be any boundary between thought-drops and matter-drops in the single sea of spirit-matter?  It is this absolute merging of our awareness with all of creation that reflects the embodiment of spirit in all matter.  And it is this merging of self and world that allows us to dissolve the subject-object barrier between ourselves and the Oracle.

Comparing the New and Traditional  Sequences

Looking at the King Wen Sequence from a distance, we see an overall pattern of 32 pairs of hexagrams divided into two uneven parts.  Part One consists of 30 hexagrams that begins with the pair #1 The Creative (Heaven 0ver Heaven) and #2 The Receptive (Earth over Earth) and ends with the pair #29 The Abysmal (Water over Water) and #30 The Clinging (Fire over Fire).  Part Two consists of 34 hexagrams that begins with the pair #31 Influence (Lake over Mountain) and #32 Duration (Thunder over Wind) and ends with the pair #63 After Completion (Water over Fire) and #64 Before Completion (Fire over Water).

We know that the trigrams Fire and Water are delegates for Heaven and Earth, since they often represent the Sun and Moon, respectively.  So ending Part One with the doubling of the Water and Fire trigrams as a response to the doubling of the Heaven and Earth trigrams at the beginning of Part One makes good sense.  As does the final pair of hexagrams in Part Two (Water over Fire and Fire over Water), since this is the intermarrying of the two opposing trigrams rather than their doubling.  If the goal had been absolute consistency in this regard, then Part Two would have started with the symbolic counterparts to #1 The Creative and #2 The Receptive, namely #12 Standstill (Heaven over Earth) and #11 Peace (Earth over Heaven).  But such is not the case.  Part Two begins instead with a pair of hexagrams that use the intermarrying of the remaining four trigrams (Lake over Mountain and Thunder over Wind).  So where the beginning and end of Part One and the end of part Two are all marked by hexagrams comprised of the trigrams Heaven and Earth and Fire and Water, the beginning of Part Two is marked by hexagrams comprised of the other four trigrams:  #31 Influence is made up of the youngest daughter and youngest son (Lake over Mountain) and #32 Duration is made up of the eldest son and eldest daughter (Thunder over Wind).

There is a kind of symbolic structure to the traditional Sequence, in other words, that depends on the doubling and/or intermarrying of [1] trigrams specifically related to the first two (Heaven and Earth, thence their delegates, Fire and Water) and [2] trigrams expressing the familial relationships among the eight trigrams (Lake and Mountain, Thunder and Wind).  As has been often noted, Part One appears as the Upper Half of the hexagrams, representing cosmological forces at work, whereas Part Two appears as the Lower Half, representing the social and cultural forces at work.  Indeed, the traditional interpretation of #31 Influence (Lake over Mountain) and #32 Duration (Thunder over Wind) is that they represent the institutions of courtship and marriage, respectively.  The text of these two hexagrams not only refers to the “superior man” but the traditional interpretation, such as that found in the standard Wilhelm-Baynes translation, contains such parochial material as:  “During courtship the young man subordinates himself to the girl, but in marriage, which is represented by the coming together of the eldest son and the eldest daughter, the husband is the directing and moving force outside, while the wife, inside, is gentle and submissive.”

This emphasis on the well-known familial relationships between trigrams lies at the very heart of the King Wen Sequence.

Diagram 1: Family Relationships Among Trigrams

In other words, the first two hexagrams of the traditional King Wen Sequence are those symbolizing the father and the mother, which are considered the parents of the following 62 hexagrams.  This representation is due in large part to the fact that the father/heaven hexagram is comprised of six solid lines and the mother/earth hexagram of six broken lines, whereas the remaining 62 hexagrams are all made up of combinations of solid and broken lines.  The father/heaven and mother/earth hexagrams are the only two that exist as pure yang and pure yin forces, while the remaining 62 hexagrams exist as combinations of yang and yin energies.

This dependence on a paternalistic model of creation and change goes hand-in-hand with the top-down model of rulership to which the traditional I Ching has long contributed.  As part of the wisdom tradition of ancient China, the I Ching played a role in the instruction of rulers in the ongoing effort to create enlightened rulers, whose adherence to the Way would lead the nation into a time of peace and harmony and prosperity.  As the Oracle, moreover, the I Ching played a role in advising rulers in their decisions of statecraft.

As discussed in the previous three posts, this faith in the education of rulers has worldwide proven a disastrous failure and any continuing alliance between the I Ching and the ruling elite is unethical in the extreme.

We are a world of peers and neither governments nor churches are our parents.  No fellow human being stands above us to mediate between us and the infinite.  We are not children to be led.  We are, in fact, those most in touch with reality, possessing worldly wisdom and capable of determining our own destiny, whereas those pretending to rulership live in a shared hallucination of power far removed from the needs and dreams of those they would govern.

The old dynasty of rulers has come to an end and the new dynasty of peers has begun.  The Toltec I Ching reunites the ancient worldviews of the indigenous peoples of China and Mesoamerica by fusing the symbology of the Toltec culture to the I Ching of China, thereby reuniting the Eastern and Western Hemispheres of global consciousness.  The Toltec I Ching marries visual and written imagery to each  hexagram, thereby reuniting the Left and Right Hemispheres of the individual consciousness.  The Toltec I Ching, both in its role as a repository of wisdom and as the Oracle, allies itself with the emerging Dynasty and legitimizes it by reflecting its universal equality in a new Sequence and interpretation of the hexagrams.  The mechanics of this new Sequence are discussed here, which produces the following arrangement with its corresponding hexagrams in the King Wen Sequence—

Diagram 2: Toltec I Ching and King Wen Sequences

Viewing The Toltec I Ching Sequence from a distance, we can make our several principle features.  First of all, we note the beginning and ending pairs of the 64 hexagrams.  #1 Provoking Change (Thunder over Thunder) is paired with #2 Sensing Creation (Lake over Lake).

Here we see that the initiating force is something that has triggered or activated a change.  Its attribute is Shock or Surprise that motivates and inspires us to take up the challenge of transformation.  To quote from the text:

Image:  A male warrior dances with the storm, holding a lightning bolt in one hand and a feather in the other.  Where the lightning bolt forks, it takes the form of a serpent of fire, light, and energy.  The rattles around his ankles make thunder every time his feet strike the ground and his eyes are fixed on the sky above.

Interpretation:  This hexagram represents the great forces essential to creating a new beginning.  The male warrior symbolizes the way of testing and training human nature that increases its versatility and fortitude.  The lightning bolt symbolizes the focused application of action and intent that provokes dramatic change.  That it takes the form of a serpent of fire, light, and energy means that your vision is part of a living creative force whose movement shatters all that is cold, dark, and stagnant.  The dance symbolizes a personal ritual that connects you to creation’s underlying rhythm of movement and resistance.  Dancing with the sky, the storm, the lightning, means that you can sense the rhythmic force of love surrounding you as the feminine and masculine creative forces continue to create and sustain the spark of life within the night of matter.  Making thunder in the sky, making earthquakes in the land means that your actions trigger a great explosion of potential which, although it cannot be seen, sets in motion ramifications great enough to change what has come before.  Holding the feather means that you are rightly connected to the higher, celestial, forces of the sky, while holding the serpent means that you are rightly connected to the lower, terrestrial, forces of the earth.  Taken together, these symbols mean that your actions break up the inertia of the old and set in motion events that cannot yet be envisioned.

Action:  The masculine half of the spirit warrior guides the movement and energy of the unseen forces, stirring them up and then setting them in motion, calling them forth and then directing them against places where benefit is dammed up and unable to follow its natural course……


Its paired hexagram, Sensing Creation, accompanies it as a profound immersion in and heartfelt appreciation of the wonder of existence.  Its attribute is Joy or Appreciation that sensitizes us to the underlying perfection of creation.

To quote from the text:

Image:  A female warrior is naked, immersed in water and surrounded by flowers.  A wellspring of water rises from between her hands.  The water drops are drawn as beads of jade in order to portray the precious nature of that which sustains life.

Interpretation:  This hexagram represents the great courage essential to creating a meaningful life.  The female warrior symbolizes the way of nurturing and encouraging human nature that increases its sensitivity and loving-kindness.  Being naked means that nothing stands between you and the world.  Being immersed in water means that you plunge whole-heartedly into the spirit of that which nurtures all.  Being surrounded by flowers means that you perceive the perfection of the world as it truly is:  each moment blossoms perfect and whole, then passes like a fading flower—each perfection born into the world must die.  The wellspring of water symbolizes the inexhaustible source of courage that allows you to use your awareness of mortality to more profoundly experience the joy and sorrow inherent within every encounter.  In this sense, the flowers and the water signify not only the wisdom attained through experience, but the aesthetic sensibilities to be moved by a beauty and truth not always apparent to others.  Taken together, these symbols mean that you open your spirit to the overwhelming perfection of the world and share your vision with all you touch.

Action:  The feminine half of the spirit warrior collects the movement and energy of the unseen forces, calming them and bringing them together in harmony, making a place for them to gather strength and then making that source of benefit open and available to all……

From the very beginning of the Sequence, then, we see that the parent-child relationship of the King Wen Sequence has been replaced not by another creator-couple but, rather, by the archetypal human responses to times of new beginnings.  Something has triggered a time of crisis and #1 Provoking Change responds by trying to increase the potential for all concerned to benefit, to which #2 Sensing Creation responds by establishing an atmosphere of widespread relief and reconciliation.

Similarly, there is not any talk of the “superior man”.  Every man, woman and child is considered a spirit warrior to be honored and respected for their facing the inevitability of death.  That both male warriors and female warriors have within them a masculine and feminine half is likewise considered self-evident and a key element in each individual’s process of self-realization.


Turning to the last two hexagrams in the Sequence, we find #63 Self-Sufficiency (Wind over Mountain) and #64 Safeguarding Life (Mountain over Wind).  Rather than the artificial structure of the King Wen Sequence with its final pair intermarrying the Fire and Water trigrams, we find ourselves approaching the end of an organic sequence in which social forces (#63) finally coalesce to achieve a harmonious self-sufficiency that (#64) ultimately cannot be sustained and threatens to extinguish the very lifeway that is most treasured.

The attribute of #63 is Peaceful Adaptation.  To quote from the text:

Image:  A great feathered serpent hatches out of the earth as if from an egg.  Its feathers are adorned with conch shells and it senses its surroundings with its bifurcated tongue.

Interpretation:  This hexagram represents the great forces released by the accumulated efforts of spirit warriors over the ages.  The feathered serpent symbolizes the collective intent and vision shared by spirit warriors in every time and every place.  That it hatches from the earth as if from an egg means that the community of spirit incubating within the material world emerges as a living, dynamic force of creation.  The conches adorning its feathers symbolize the call for all to join the community of spirit.  Its bifurcated tongue symbolizes the duality that is one.  That it uses its bifurcated tongue to sense its surroundings means that you are attuned to the universal presence of the masculine and feminine creative forces.  Taken together, these symbols mean that you align yourself with those whose only need is to bring benefit to their surroundings.

Action:  The spirit warrior reverses the flow of power, channeling it inside instead of outside:  by storing up power internally rather than expending it externally, we are able to both free ourselves of habits and gain control over our actions……


The attribute of #64 is Obstructed Adaptation.  To quote from the text:

Image:  A male warrior holds the funeral bundle of his child, preparing to place it in its burial site.  His face reflects the shock, anguish, and horror that fills his heart.

Interpretation:  This hexagram depicts the inevitable result of carelessness and irreverence.  The male warrior symbolizes the versatility and fortitude that are at the core of outer nurturing.  That he prepares to place the funeral bundle of his child in its burial site means that strength cannot accomplish afterwards what nurturing can accomplish beforehand.  That his face and heart are filled with shock, anguish, and horror means that he is in the grips of the most terrible truth:  that which we most cherish cannot be replaced.  Taken together, these symbols mean that you avoid causing suffering by honoring and nurturing all that your spirit touches.

Action:  The masculine half of the spirit warrior draws back from the brink before it is too late.  It is not a time for pursuing desires and ambitions:  those who cannot temper their strength run the risk of losing a source of that strength……


No Conclusion

As with all organic processes, every ending begets a new beginning, so it comes as no surprise that #64 Safe-Guarding Life is itself the crisis that sets in motion #1 Provoking Change and, thereby, another round of the Cycle of Fate.

When the Oracle answers our questions with a hexagram that includes one or more lines changing to a new hexagram, it is providing us with a way to leap out of the Cycle of Fate and create our lives outside the entropic law of increasing disorder and disintegration.  When we receive an answer without any line changes, however, then it means that we are temporarily held fast in the Cycle of Fate and should see ourselves as eventually moving into the next hexagram in the Sequence.

Of old, it has been said that if we quiet our heart-mind then we will transform it into a lodging-place for the One.

As the speaking of the One, the Oracle rushes in to fill the vacuum created by our question.

Standing at the border of the known and the unknown, we step out of our familiar worldview of self-and-other duality and into the longed-for unitary experience of the eternal return.

May we all transcend the Law of Fate and create the Golden Age of Humanity in the nearest possible present time.


The Toltec I Ching, by Martha Ramirez-Oropeza and William Douglas Horden has just received a Silver Award in the 2010 Nautilus Awards.  It recasts the I Ching in the symbology of the Native Americans of ancient Mexico and includes original illustrations interpreting each of the hexagrams.  Its subtitle, 64 Keys to Inspired Action in the New World hints at its focus on the ethics of the emerging world culture.

Click here to go to the main site to see sample chapters, reviews and the link to Larson Publications for ordering the book.


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One Response to Reading the Map of Fate

  1. Jean Raffa says:


    This brings me to tears. It is brilliant. Your grasp of the underlying patterns and interconnectedness of the basic forces of life is vast and ineffably inspiring. It is the wisdom for which all souls unknowingly yearn but few knowingly achieve.

    I especially appreciate your explanation of how and why the Toltec I Ching transcends the ancient Chinese I Ching based on the patriarchal, hierarchal paradigm and transforms it into a new, and desperately needed paradigm of peers. You summed it up beautifully in your assertion that “any continuing alliance between the I Ching and the ruling elite is unethical in the extreme.”

    I also loved your explanation that the embodiment of spirit in matter is the Mystery at the source of the Oracle’s power. This is probably the clearest and simplest explanation for the law of synchronicity I’ve ever read.

    Thank you for providing so many excellent insights. They are of immeasurable help to those of us who yearn to approach the Mystery.

    All my best,


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