How to consult the I Ching by Alfred Douglas
Through a twist of synchronicity, I found Alfred Douglas’ ‘Oracle of Change: How to consult the I Ching’ in a local second-hand book store, just hours after finishing ‘The Invisible Landscape’ by the McKenna brothers. It seems right then to do a short review in light of its recent appearance and the fact that one of psychedelic literature’s principle texts leans so heavily on it.
First published in 1971, ‘The Oracle of Change: How to consult the I Ching’, has gone through several reprints and in its popularity has become an important English-language introduction to the Chinese divinatory tool; the I Ching. I’ve worked from the 1974 Penguin edition.
Douglas has provided a very simple and informative structure to the book that is divided into two parts. Firstly, the introduction, which includes some history, contextualization, short analysis of prevalent ideas contained within the text and, of course, the methods of consulting the I Ching. He also offers advice in how one should read the results (though I should add personal, subjective analysis is at ground the vital component of consultation.)
According to Douglas: “The philosophies of both major Chinese religions, Taoism and Confucianism, are to be found with the I Ching’s pages” (P.16) and that “the Chinese Oracle enables us to glimpse something of these mysterious rhythms, and to realign our lives so that we are living more in harmony with the laws of nature.” (P.15)
As far as esoteric, Eastern wisdom goes, the I Ching represents one of the most important extant ancient texts; indeed arguably for the history of esoteric literature. Elements of the method are thought to date back to before 2000 B.C. and with a series of historical commentaries on the hexagrams, one begins to see an evolving intellectual history.
The second part is the translated text of the I Ching. It includes all 64 Hexagrams, the King Wen sequence (as used by Terence McKenna,) the later Confucian commentaries (the Decision,) the Image (Hsiang,) the Yao (the Duke of Chou interpretations) and the Duke of Chou’s commentary on the moving lines. The book is relatively comprehensive.
I’ve read slightly differing opinions on the quality of the translation and taking into account advancement in Chinese translation, my guess is it might be a little dated but certainly adequate in both learning the methods and beginning your own understanding of the diviner’s knowledge.
There are three methods of consulting the I Ching that Douglas examines. Firstly, there is the traditional and surest method, which entails casting yarrow sticks. Secondly, throwing three coins and lastly, the six wands method (although this last method doesn’t include ‘moving lines’ so renders some of the Duke of Chou commentary useless.)
According to Douglas, and having tried myself, you may find it easier to begin with the six wands method and move you way up to the more complex yarrow stick method. I found that it gave me time to get a feel for the text and the way in which it works and I’ve found words of use in all three techniques.
‘The Oracle of Change’ is neither for the scholar nor the experienced mystic. It is a layman’s introduction to the I Ching but it does provide a thorough grounding from which to explore new avenues. The practical element is, in itself, very well communicated and you can begin to experiment with them very quickly. If you have a growing interest in the I Ching and Eastern Mysticism then this is a wonderful place to begin your journey.