How to Consult the I Ching

An ancient method for casting an I Ching reading involved a relatively laborious process of sorting fifty stem stalks of the yarrow plant. A more modern method uses a series of coin tosses using three identical coins (copper pennies will work) with an identifiable heads and tails. In each case, the process is done six times, with each outcome producing one line of the hexagram. Like a building, the hexagram is assembled from the ground up, bottom line being considered the first line in the text interpretations.

A much easier hands-on method for casting the I Ching is to use three coins. If you are using Chinese bronze coins with the square hole in the middle, where there are no obvious heads or tails, be sure to choose for yourself which is which before beginning, and stick with that decision every time you use them. (Note: The easiest way of casting the I Ching is to use our “Visionary I Ching” app, which preserves the mathematical odds of the yarrow stalk method for each line, as well as preserving an energetic connection, because it depends on the way you shake or the timing of how you click on the app to determine which of the four kinds of line you get.)

1. Remember to stay focused on your dilemma or subject or question when casting.

2. Hold the coins loosely in your hands, shake them briefly, and then toss them, all the while contemplating your query. The line you record is determined by assigning numerical values to heads and tails, then adding the total. Each heads is a 3, and each tails is a 2.  So, if you cast one heads and two tails (3+2+2), your starting line would be a 7 (see the chart below).

3. Collect the coins and toss another five times, recording the numerical values and the corresponding line each time, building your six-line hexagram from the bottom up.

The hexagram you’ve just created can be called your “present hexagram.” In order to produce a “future hexagram,” just change all the lines marked with an ‘x’ or an ‘o’ into their opposite. Any broken lines (Yin) marked with an ‘x’ flip into their opposite—a solid line (Yang)—and solid Yang lines marked with an ‘o’ turn into the broken Yin lines.

The I Ching means “Book of Changes” in Chinese and is all about Change, which is always happening, which is the one constant in life. If you get no changing lines when you cast a hexagram (i.e. no 6 or a 9 value), that signifies that conditions related to your topic are relatively stable or not in great flux at this particular time.

Once you have identified your present—and, possibly, future—hexagrams, use our Hexagram Identification Chart to locate the hexagram numbers and click through to read the interpretation, considering only the changing lines you may have gotten. You may also choose to view the corresponding artwork for your given hexagram as well. (Note: The Visionary I Ching App takes care of details for you, calling out the changing lines you may have gotten, and taking all the “busy-work” out of an I Ching consultation for the user.)

Alternate I Ching Books and References

The Visionary I Ching, by Paul O’Brien, is a masterful adaptation complete with an original evocative painting for each of the 64 chapters, or hexagrams. The text upgrades the ancient oracle’s traditional patriarchal and militarist language, while carefully preserving the essence of its strategic decision-making wisdom. The I Ching text on this site is now available in eBook form. Find out more and get your copy today!

The many I Ching books on the market today offer an assortment of interpretations to choose from. Some translators have modernized the text, removing gender bias and archaic language. Others have elaborated on the explanations, and only roughly paraphrase the original text. There is a range of quality in translations. Although the Wilhelm/Baynes version by Princeton Press, with its forward by Carl Jung, is the most famous, it is tainted by the politics of the 19th century and tends to be slightly Germanic (it was translated into English from German, which was the original language of translation from the ancient Chinese). It has faithfully preserved the militarism and sexism of patriarchal China going back to the time of Confucius and before, which can be confusing. Another version that is also faithful to the original Chinese, but far easier to digest, is The Complete I Ching: The Definitive Translation by the Taoist Master Alfred Huang, a modern I Ching scholar from Shanghai.