The I Ching and How to Consult It


Traditional methods indicate I Ching readings entail heavy labor – requiring the collection of fifty stem stalks of the yarrow plant. Modern methods are more straightforward, simply asking for a series of coin tosses using three coins that feature heads and tails imagery. Both methods ask for this to be repeated six times to represent each line of a hexagram.

If you decide to go with the coins technique and the coins you are using don’t have clear heads and tails imagery, decide for yourself which side will represent heads and which side will represent tails and ensure you stick with this decision throughout your use of them. You will need to assign each side a numerical value – heads is usually a 3, and tails is a 2.

When casting the I Ching, you will need to have a clear focus on your end goal.

Briefly shake the coins in your hands, holding them loosely. Once you have done this, release them, all the while continuing to focus on your end goal. Using the numeric value that you have assigned to each side of the coin, record the numbers you have landed on and total them up to determine a starting number.

Each number will represent a specific line formation. Please see what the lines should look like in the image below.

Coin combos Number Line
3 heads 9 o
2 heads, 1 tail 8 —    —
1 head, 2 tails 7 ———
3 tails 6 — x —

Repeat the process of tossing the coins a further five times. Continue to record the coin combinations, total number, and corresponding line each time.

The result will be that you’ve created a hexagram, which will be your present hexagram. You must create a future hexagram by changing all the lines marked with an ‘x’ or a ‘o’ to their opposition. Just like Yin and Yang, a broken line (‘x’) can be flipped into a solid line (its opposite)—and solid lines (‘o’) can be flipped into the Yin lines.

The I Ching translates to ‘Book of Changes’, and as you might expect, refers to the changes that are constantly happening all around us. When casting the I Ching, if you do not create any changing lines when creating your hexagram, this is an indication that conditions relating to the subject for which you are casting the I Ching are secure at present.

Next, you can locate your hexagram numbers and, as a result, receive your interpretation, using the hexagram table we have included above. This is done using only the changing lines. (As a bonus, you are able to view the hexagram artwork in the process.) The Visionary I Ching app does most of the leg work here.

For more references and books on the subject, it’s worth reading Paul O’Brien’s evocatively illustrated and in-depth The Visionary I Ching. It’s a great update of the original text, and it is also now available as an eBook.

There are, of course, other options, ones that clean up the archaic language of the original as well as the gender bias. Some, however, only paraphrase the original text in a vague way. The most famous is the Baynes/Wilhelm version, but it’s very much of its time (the 19th century) and, because most Chinese texts around that time were first translated into German, is slightly Germanic in tone. It’s possible also too faithful to the original – this is admirable, of course, but also makes it highly inaccessible.