Yi Jing I Ching WG Book of Changes

yin yang,I ching,baguo

The Yi Jing ‘Book of Changes’ was foremost among the five ancient classics of China. Kongfuzi (Confucius) is reputed to have said “If years were added to my life, I would dedicate fifty to study the ‘Yi Jing’, then I might approach perfection” (Analects 7.16) . “The Yi Jing thinks of nothing, does nothing; in tranquility, unmoving, it fathoms what is at the back of everything in the world” (Great Appendix to the Yi Jing). Many great scholars have studied the ‘Yi Jing’, which is still widely known as ‘I Ching’ following the Wade Giles system, as a source of contemplation and reflection. Marcel Granet has described it “as the Cosmos in capsule form”. It served as a broad method for characterizing all things, people, events and situations systematically. As many objects and actions are associated with a particular hexagram it was used as a proto-science - a means of putting everything in its appropriate logical context. In Imperial China its influence was all pervasive; the Qing dynasty Emperor Kangxi's edition of the I Ching had by then accumulated no less than 218 commentaries written by esteemed scholars.

It is called ‘Book of Changes’ because it is rooted in transformation. In the classic divination method two hexagrams are cast at the same time, the one changing to the other.

Feng Shui, Confucianism and Yin/Yang all contribute to the ‘(Book of Changes ’). Nowadays it is best known as a popular fortune telling system, but its foundations go deeper. It builds ‘hexagrams’ made up of six lines that are either yang (solid) or yin (broken). A hexagram is termed a gua guà in Chinese. It is a combination of two trigrams made up of three lines to form one of eight trigrams (bagua ); that are shown surrounding the traditional taiji (yin-yang) figure in the illustration. Two trigrams combine together to give the six lines that represent one of 64 possible hexagrams.

For more on the background to Feng Shui; Chinese five elemental essences and Yin-Yang see our Feng Shui section.
audio lecture
China History Podcast relating to this topic by Lazlo Montgomery (audio only).
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The I Ching

The Yi Jing was consulted for scientific inquiry, for example in alchemy; and astronomy as hexagrams are associated with both the lunar and daily (solar) cycles; as each particular day of the month or time of day had its own associations. From this evolved the practice of doing certain actions on particular days and at particular times. The yin-yang division is a binary system and this stimulated Leibniz to think that the Chinese had developed a binary counting system centuries before the West, however this was not true, the Yi Jing had never been used for counting. Because it attempted to provide an explanatory system for all things it became an obstacle to further scientific development and was incompatible with Western science when it reached China in the 20th century. Needham considers that scientists ‘would have been better to tie a millstone round the neck of the Yi Jing and cast it into the sea.’

To consult the I Ching, a person makes six choices between yin/yang; short/long; broken/straight; or heads/tails arranged in two sets of three. Each line is called a yáo and is represented by the number 9 for yang yángyáo or 6 for yin yīnyáo. The meaning and interpretation are strongly influenced by the two trigrams that make up the gua, for example the trigrams for ‘water’ ( kǎn) and ‘fire’ ( ) combine to give hexagram 63 (jì jì ) which has the meaning of ‘transformation’ as water puts out fire and also fire dries out dampness.

Some idea of the power of the Yi Jing can be seen from the belief that the invention of wooden boats first came from the book. The hexagram 59 is associated with the wood element and is composed of 'wind' over 'water'. The commentary states that it is advantageous for crossing a great stream and so it is interpreting as stating that wood is the suitable material to use for making boats.

History of I Ching

The Yi Jing dates back about 3,000 years when it was probably used for divination. Although it is claimed to date from the start of the Zhou dynasty there is no direct evidence to support this. The oldest text is called Zhōuyì after the name of the dynasty and attributed to legendary Emperor Fuxi (c.2800 BCE) and King Wen of Zhou . It was certainly used in China during the Zhou dynasty long before the birth of Confucius (551BCE). To the ancient text were added ten commentaries attributed to Confucius that are called the ‘ten wings’; but these were probably written long after Confucius during the Han dynasty. can be translated as 'easy' as well as 'changes' and it could be considered that this method of divination was quicker and easier than analyzing the original divination method of studying the pattern of cracks on tortoise shells. It is the commentaries on the Yi Jing that have as great a value as the hexagrams themselves, they illustrate much about Chinese thought, history and philosophy. Daoists just as much as followers of Confucius hold the book in great esteem. All this has made it a much more sophisticated system than other mere ‘fortune telling’ systems such as Tarot cards .

The slow, ancient method uses a bundle of 50 yarrow sticks shīcǎo (split six times to give each line - see below for a guide). In the Tang dynasty a faster method using three coins was introduced. However the probabilities are not the same in the two methods. The more complex system uses four choices rather than two, instead of just yin and yang this method produces both ‘continuous’ and ‘changing’ versions of yin and yang. Two readings are produced, one for the present and one for the ‘change’ representing either the past or future. The two readings in combination give 64x64 (4096) possibilities which make it a very large and complex system.

Each trigram ( Bàguà has its own name and meaning. They are traditional thought of as pairs heaven & earth; mountain & lake; water & fire; thunder & wind.

TrigramChinese NameNameElementSeasonDirectionAssociations
dui yijing duìLake Lesser MetalAutumnWestmarsh; monkey; youngest daughter; joy; serenity; enjoying; sheep; children
qian yijing qiánHeaven tiānMetalAutumnNorth-westsky; lion; father; creative (all yang); energy; vitality; virility; dragon; horse; helpers
kan yijing kǎnWater shuǐWatermid-WinterNorthsnake; curves; flowing water; sinking; pig; career
gen yijing gènMountain shānLesser Earthlate WinterNorth-eastbear; youngest son; stillness; stopping; fruits; dog; rat; knowledge
zhen yijing zhènThunder léiWoodearly SpringEastflying dragon; eldest son; excitement; arousal; galloping horse; family
xun yijing xùnWind fēngLesser Woodlate SpringSouth-eastwind; phoenix; eldest daughter; gentle; flexible; growth; wealth
li yijing Fire huǒFireSummerSouthmiddle daughter; dependent; attaching; weapons; drought; rooster; fame
kun yijing kūnEarth Earthlate SummerSouth-westqilin (unicorn); mother; receptive; yielding (all yin); docility; mare; ox; marriage

Two trigrams together give a hexagram or gua for the Yi Jing.

Order of I Ching Hexagrams

There are actually three Yi Jings, the best known is the most recent the zhōu yì or ‘Change of Heaven’ from the Zhou dynasty which begins with the Heaven gua . The Liánshān ‘Link to Mountain’ on the other hand begins with Mountain and is attributed to the Red Emperor or Shennong a thousand years earlier. The Guīcáng ‘Save in Earth’ starts with ‘Earth’ and is attributed to the Yellow Emperor. However only the Zhouyi has survived intact and has the all important commentaries.

The Zhouyi ordering is also known as the ‘King Wen system of hexagrams’; it does not follow a mathematical progression. One might expect the binary nature of yin-yang to be reflected in a binary sequence so mathematically 111111 ( qián all yang) might be followed by 111110 ( gòu) gua 44 or by 011111 ( guài) gua 43. The 'Ahead of Heaven' ordering of the Song dynasty follows this strict binary order. King Wen's arrangement is in pairs of inverses or opposites so qián is followed by 000000 ( kūn all yin). As qián is symmetric (it is its own inverse) its opposite gua ‘kun’ is chosen as its pair.

As it is called a ‘Book of Changes’ it is appropriate that guas are ordered in transformed pairs. The next pair begins with 010001 ( zhūn) and its inverse 100010 ( mēng) in this case the pair reverses the order. The arrangement of hexagrams has puzzled scholars for centuries as there are strong patterns of related concepts within the ordering. As the original text was written so long ago the original symbolism and meaning has been lost and reconstruction is a matter of conjecture.

The most ideal structure for a hexagram is for yin lines to occur at 2 and 4 but yang lines at 3 and 5 (counting lines from the bottom), these give most benefit. The alternating nature of the 'ideal' figure highlights the Chinese desire for balance and counter-balance rather than pure yin or pure yang.

The sequence is split into two unequal groups: the Upper Canon shàngjīng 1-30 (where yang is broadly dominate; the ‘Dao of Heaven’) and the Lower Canon xiàjīng 31-64 (where yin is broadly dominate; the ‘Dao of Humanity’).

Gua 1Qián Initiating; Donator (Heaven); element: Metal; month: 4; opp. 2 inv. 1 mutual 1; associations: heaven, king, father, order, control
Gua 2Kūn Responding; Receptor (Earth); element: Earth; month: 10; opp. 1 inv. 2 mutual 2; associations: earth, people, mother, support, docility
Gua 3Zhūn Beginning; Inhibition (Water over Thunder); element: Water; month: 12; opp. 50 inv. 4 mutual 23; associations: initial difficulty
Gua 4Méng Immaturity; Initiation (Mountain over Water); element: Earth; month: 1; opp. 49 inv. 3 mutual 24; associations: inexperience
Gua 5 Needing; Halting (Water over Heaven); element: Water; month: 2; opp. 35 inv. 6 mutual 38; associations: procrastination, delay
Gua 6Sòng Contention; Strife (Heaven over Water); element: Metal; month: 3; opp. 36 inv. 5 mutual 37; associations: litigation
Gua 7Shī Multitude; Mass action (Earth over Water); element: Earth; month: 4; opp. 13 inv. 8 mutual 24; associations: army, teacher
Gua 8 Union; Coherence (Water over Earth); element: Water; month: 4; opp. 14 inv. 7 mutual 23; associations: concord, assembly
小畜Gua 9Xiǎo Xù Small accumulation; Taming (Wind over Heaven); element: Wood; month: 4; opp. 16 inv. 10 mutual 38; associations: moderation
Gua 10 Fulfillment; Slow advance (Heaven over Lake); element: Metal; month: 6; opp. 15 inv. 9 mutual 37; associations: tread, circumspection
Gua 11Tài Advance; Elevation (Earth over Heaven); element: Earth; month: 1; opp. 12 inv. 12 mutual 54; associations: prosperity, geniality
Gua 12 Hindrance; Stagnation (Heaven over Earth); element: Metal; month: 7; opp. 11 inv. 11 mutual 53; associations: bad, autumn, retrogression
同人Gua 13Tóng Rén Fellowship; Aggregation (Heaven over Fire); element: Metal; month: 7; opp. 7 inv. 14 mutual 44; associations: community, all together
大有Gua 14Dà Yǒu Great harvest; Profusion (Fire over Heaven); element: Fire; month: 5; opp. 8 inv. 13 mutual 43; associations: opulence
Gua 15Qiān Humility; Modesty (Earth over Mountain); element: Earth; month: 12; opp. 10 inv. 16 mutual 40; associations: hidden wealth
Gua 16 Delight; Inspiration (Thunder over Earth); element: Wood; month: 3; opp. 9 inv. 15 mutual 39; associations: enthusiasm, satisfaction
Gua 17Suí Pursuit; Sucession (Lake over Thunder); element: Metal; month: 2; opp. 18 inv. 18 mutual 53; associations: follower
Gua 18 Decay; Corruption (Mountain over Wind); element: Earth; month: 3; opp. 17 inv. 17 mutual 54; associations: poison, illness
Gua 19Lín Approach; Convergence (Earth over Lake); element: Earth; month: 12; opp. 33 inv. 20 mutual 24; associations: acost
Gua 20Guān Contemplation; Vision (Wind over Earth); element: Wood; month: 8; opp. 34 inv. 19 mutual 23; associations: view, radiation
噬嗑Gua 21Shì Kè Eradicating; Gnawing (Fire over Thunder); element: Fire; month: 10; opp. 48 inv. 22 mutual 39; associations: crowds, courts
Gua 22 Elegance; Pattern (Mountain over Fire); element: Earth; month: 8; opp. 47 inv. 21 mutual 40; associations: ornamental
Gua 23 Peeling off; Dispersion (Mountain over Earth); element: Earth; month: 9; opp. 43 inv. 24 mutual 2; associations: flay, collapse
Gua 24 Turning back; Return (Earth over Thunder); element: Earth; month: 11; opp. 44 inv. 23 mutual 2; associations: end of year
无妄Gua 25Wú Wàng Honesty; Unforeseen (Heaven over Thunder); element: Metal; month: 9; opp. 46 inv. 26 mutual 53; associations: not false, not reckless
大畜Gua 26Dà Xù Great nourishment; Impeded (Mountain over Heaven); element: Earth; month: 8; opp. 45 inv. 25 mutual 54; associations: obstruction
Gua 27 Nourishment; Nutrition (Mountain over Thunder); element: Earth; month: 11; opp. 28 inv. 27 mutual 2; associations: mouth, jaws
大过Gua 28Dà Guò Excess; Surpassing (Lake over Wind); element: Metal; month: 10; opp. 27 inv. 28 mutual 1; associations: strangeness, top-heavy
Gua 29Kǎn Darkness; Flow (Water); element: Water; month: Winter Solstice; opp. 30 inv. 29 mutual 27; associations: torrent of water
Gua 30 Brightness; Adherence (Fire); element: Fire; month: Summer Solstice; opp. 29 inv. 30 mutual 28; associations: mesh of a net
Gua 31Xián Influence; Reaction (Lake over Mountain); element: Metal; month: 5; opp. 41 inv. 32 mutual 44; associations: all, interweaving, wooing
Gua 32Héng Endurance; Perseverance (Thunder over Wind); element: Wood; month: 7; opp. 42 inv. 31 mutual 43; associations: constant
Gua 33Dùn Retreat; Regression (Heaven over Mountain); element: Metal; month: 6; opp. 19 inv. 34 mutual 44; associations: hiding, conceal, withdrawal
大壮Gua 34Dà Zhuàng Great strength; Powerful (Thunder over Heaven); element: Wood; month: 2; opp. 20 inv. 33 mutual 43; associations: power
Gua 35Jìn Gain ground; Rapid advance (Fire over Earth); element: Fire; month: 2; opp. 5 inv. 36 mutual 39; associations: rise
明夷Gua 36Míng Yí Darkening; Overshadow (Earth over Fire); element: Earth; month: 9; opp. 6 inv. 35 mutual 40; associations: lack of appreciation
家人Gua 37Jiā Rén Domesticity; Relationship (Wind over Fire); element: Wood; month: 5; opp. 40 inv. 38 mutual 64; associations: family members
Gua 38Kuí Diversity; Opposition (Fire over Lake); element: Fire; month: 12; opp. 39 inv. 37 mutual 63; associations: separation
Gua 39Jiǎn Hardship; Obstruction (Water over Mountain); element: Water; month: 11; opp. 38 inv. 40 mutual 64; associations: lameness, retardation
Gua 40Xiè Relief; Disentangle (Thunder over Water); element: Wood; month: 2; opp. 37 inv. 39 mutual 63; associations: liberation, dissection, analysis
Gua 41Sǔn Reduction; Diminution (Mountain over Lake); element: Earth; month: 7; opp. 31 inv. 42 mutual 24; associations: spoil, hurt, taxation, subtraction
Gua 42 Gain; Increase (Wind over Thunder); element: Wood; month: 1; opp. 32 inv. 41 mutual 23; associations: benefit, addition
Gua 43Guài Breakthrough; Eruption (Lake over Heaven); element: Metal; month: 3; opp. 23 inv. 44 mutual 1; associations: decision, settlement, release of strain
Gua 44Gòu Encountering; Reaction (Heaven over Wind); element: Metal; month: 5; opp. 24 inv. 43 mutual 1; associations: copulation, fusion, meeting
Gua 45Cuì Gathering; Condensation (Lake over Earth); element: Metal; month: 8; opp. 26 inv. 46 mutual 53; associations: thicket, conglomeration, consolidation
Gua 46Shēng Growing up; Ascent (Earth over Wind); element: Earth; month: 12; opp. 25 inv. 45 mutual 54; associations: promotion, career progression
Gua 47Kùn Exhaustion; Confinement (Lake over Water); element: Metal; month: 9; opp. 22 inv. 48 mutual 37; associations: straightened, distress
Gua 48Jǐng Replenish; Source (Water over Wind); element: Water; month: 5; opp. 21 inv. 47 mutual 38; associations: dependable
Gua 49 Renewal; Revolution (Lake over Fire); element: Metal; month: 3; opp. 4 inv. 50 mutual 44; associations: moulting of skin, change skins
Gua 50Dǐng Creation; Containment (Fire over Wind); element: Fire; month: 6; opp. 3 inv. 49 mutual 43; associations: cooking vessel, cauldron
Gua 51Zhèn Enactment; Excitation (Thunder); element: Wood; month: Spring Equinox; opp. 57 inv. 52 mutual 39; associations: thunder, earthquake
Gua 52Gèn Stillness; Immobility (Mountain); element: Earth; month: 10; opp. 58 inv. 51 mutual 40; associations: limitation, stability
Gua 53Jiàn Gradual development; Progression (Wind over Mountain); element: Wood; month: 1; opp. 54 inv. 54 mutual 64; associations: steady advance
归妹Gua 54Guī Mèi Marrying Maiden; Union (Thunder over Lake); element: Wood; month: 9; opp. 53 inv. 53 mutual 63; associations: marriage
Gua 55Fēng Plentitude; Abundance (Thunder over Fire); element: Wood; month: 6; opp. 59 inv. 56 mutual 28; associations: prosperity
Gua 56 Journeying; Wandering (Fire over Mountain); element: Fire; month: 4; opp. 60 inv. 55 mutual 28; associations: strangers, merchants
Gua 57Xùn Submission; Acquiescence (Wind); element: Wood; month: 8; opp. 51 inv. 58 mutual 38; associations: wind penetration
Gua 58Duì Joy; Serenity (Lake); element: Metal; month: Autumn Equinox; opp. 52 inv. 57 mutual 37; associations: sea, pleasure
Gua 59Huàn Dispersion; Dissolution (Wind over Water); element: Wood; month: 6; opp. 55 inv. 60 mutual 27; associations: swelling, irregular
Gua 60Jié Restriction; Regulation (Water over Lake); element: Water; month: 7; opp. 56 inv. 59 mutual 27; associations: mediation, section, regular division
中孚Gua 61Zhōng Fú Sincerity; Truth (Wind over Lake); element: Wood; month: 11; opp. 62 inv. 61 mutual 27; associations: confidence, inner strength
小过Gua 62Xiǎo Guò Small preponderance; Overstep (Thunder over Mountain); element: Wood; month: 1; opp. 61 inv. 62 mutual 28; associations: surfeit
既济Gua 63Jì Jì Sated; Consumation (Water over Fire); element: Water; month: 10; opp. 64 inv. 64 mutual 64; associations: completion, perfect order
未济Gua 64Wèi Jì Almost complete; Unfinished (Fire over Water); element: Fire; month: 11; opp. 63 inv. 63 mutual 63; associations: disorder, just short of accomplishment


No.The hexagram number in the King Wen ordering of the Hexagrams.
GuaThe Chinese character, pinyin and old seal script form of the hexagram (gua).
NameTwo attempts at translating the gua into English. This is tricky as different translators use different words. Here we provide a link to a web page that provides a full description of each gua.
CompositionThe names of the two trigrams that make up the hexagram, these often give a strong hint on interpretation.
ElementThe Chinese element associated with the gua.
MonthChinese lunar month number associated with the gua, or else event in solar year.
Opp.The number of the Opposite gua, that is the one where each yao is changed yin to yang or yang to yin.
Inv.The number of the Inverse gua, where the hexagram is turned on its head.
Mut.A re-arrangement of the lines and selective inversion give a related or Mutual gua.
AssociationsSome of the known associations of the hexagram.

Find a hexagram

Because the hexagrams in the King Wen ordering are not placed in numerical order it can take time to look-up a hexagram. This table lists all the hexagrams ordered by the two trigrams that make them up. The top trigram is along the top and the bottom trigram is on the left side. Simply follow the row and column to where they intersect and follow the link for more information.


Qián [1]

Dà zhuàng [34]

Xū [5]

Dà xù [26]

Tài [11]

Xiǎo xù [9]

Dà yǒu [14]

Guài [43]

Wú wàng [25]

Zhèn [51]

Zhūn [3]

Yí [27]

Fù [24]

Yì [42]

Shì kè [21]

Suí [17]

Sòng [6]

Xiè [40]

Kǎn [29]

Méng [4]

Shī [7]

Huàn [59]

Wèi jì [64]

Kùn [47]

Dùn [33]

Xiǎo guò [62]

Jiǎn [39]

Gèn [52]

Qiān [15]

Jiàn [53]

Lǚ [56]

Xián [31]

Pǐ [12]

Yù [16]

Bǐ [8]

Bō [23]

Kūn [2]

Guān [20]

Jìn [35]

Cuì [45]

Gòu [44]

Héng [32]

Jǐng [48]

Gǔ [18]

Shēng [46]

Xùn [57]

Dǐng [50]

Dà guò [28]

Tóng rén [13]

Fēng [55]

Jì jì [63]

Bì [22]

Míng yí [36]

Jiā rén [37]

Lí [30]

Gé [49]

Lǚ [10]

Guī mèi [54]

Jié [60]

Sǔn [41]

Lín [19]

Zhōng fú [61]

Kuí [38]

Duì [58]

I Ching Transformation

The authentic methods for casting a hexagram give four not two outcomes for each line of the hexagram. These are yin, yang, changing yin and changing yang. If any of the lines are 'changing' this gives two hexagrams, the first using the initial choice and the second where all ‘changing yin’ lines are changed to yang and all ‘changing yang’ lines are changed to yin. The commentaries of the Yi Jing only give a commentary when there is a single changing line. In the less likely case that more than one line is changing great skill is required to interpret the meaning of the change, quite often the hexagram is cast again.

Ten Wings shíyì

The ten original commentaries or 'wings' are split into upper and lower sections:

1,2 : These commentaries are attributed to King Wen of Zhou. They are called the 序卦 Xù guà zhuàn and Tuàn zhuàn
3,4 : The symbolism explained by the Duke of Zhou and an explanation of the lines. Xiàng zhuàn
5,6 : The Great Treatise dàzhuàn, the main commentary on the guas. Xì cí zhuàn
7 : A meditation on the meaning on the 1st and 2nd guas (Heaven and Earth) and how they evolve into all the remaining hexagrams. Called the Wén yán zhuàn
8: The ‘discourse on the trigrams’ looks at the seasons of the year and the compass points. Shuō guà zhuàn
9 : Looks at the rationale for the sequence of the guas, and muses as to why each gua naturally follows on from another. 杂卦 Zá guà zhuàn
10 : Summarizes the meanings of the guas in a simple rhyme but does not follow the King Wen sequence.

The text and commentaries are hard to follow because they allude to unknown events and customs in the distant past. Some of them are put into poetic form with rhymes. This allows a modern reader to interpret the meaning in different ways.

The Yi Jing Universe

The all embracing nature of the Yi Jing can be seen from the associations of hexagrams. The lunar cycle follows through the hexagrams 51; 58; 1 (new moon); 57; 52 to 2 (full moon). While the daily cycle passes through 24, 19, 11, 34, 43, 1 (noon), 44, 33, 12, 20, 23, 2 (midnight).

In ancient China the Yi Jing was very pervasive, even the ministries of the government were associated with particular gua: General administration (1); Ministry of Education (2); Ministry of Rites (51); Executive (52; 57 and 30); Ministry of Justice (58) and Ministry of Public Works (29). In this way a single gua has a great number of important associations and forms a complex network with many other related concepts. The Yi Jing provided the master plan for organizing everything.

Yi Jing Methods

There are a variety of methods for casting a Yi Jing, to adapt to modern times where speed is a factor, shortcuts are often used. The oldest and most complex method uses Yarrow sticks and has different outcome probabilities compared to modern versions.

Shaking a vase

64 sticks each marked with one hexagram are placed loosely in a vase. The vase is then tilted at an angle and shaken until one of the sticks slowly works itself loose and falls out of the vase. This method yields one gua (hexagram) each time .

Tossing coins

It was as long ago as the Tang dynasty that coins started to be used to cast a Yi Jing. Sets of three 'I Ching' coins were, and continued to be, minted specifically for this purpose. There are two distinct methods:

Six coin tosses

Only one coin is needed and all you do to build a hexagram is to toss it six times and record the outcomes. Traditionally heads are counted as yang and tails as yin. The hexagram is built from the bottom up.

6 coins
Tail-Head-Head-Tail-Tais-Head = Yin-Yang-Yang-Yin-Yin-Yang = Hexagram 18

Six sets of Three coin tosses

This is a more authentic method as it produces two hexagrams. The three coins are tossed to give each line of the hexagram starting, as ever at the bottom. Three heads give changing yang; two heads (one tail) unchanging yin; one head (two tails) unchanging yang and three tails gives changing yin. The probability of a changing yin or yang is 12.5% (1 in 8) and for unchanging 37.5% (3 in 8), so this method does favor the stable forms but yin and yang are equally likely.

unchanging yang line Representation for an unchanging or young Yang line. Two heads.
unchanging yin line Representation for an unchanging or young Yin line. One head.
changing yang line Representation for a changing or old Yang line that is transforming to Yin. Three heads.
changing yin line Representation for a changing or old Yin line that is transforming to Yang. Three tails.
yi jing, i ching, coins
1 tail and 2 heads in Yi Jing (I Ching) coins Image by CD343 available under a Creative Commons License . Head-Head-Tail = Unchanging Yin
3 coins
Tail-Tail-Head = Unchanging Yang

I Ching Yarrow sticks

We provide a free online consultation page that uses the full yarrow stick method.

The yarrow stick method is considered the most ancient and authentic, but it can take many minutes to cast a hexagram.

Yarrow sticks are stalks of the herb Achillea sibirica (Siberian Yarrow). It is a close relative of the ornamental plant 'Achillea' grown in gardens. Yarrow was used medicinally to both staunch bleeding and cause nose bleeding giving it a powerful association with life. In Asia a simple method of divination was to insert the foliage in the nose and the answer was determined by whether nose-bleeding started or not. The reason for the Western botanical name ‘Achillea’ was chosen is because Achilles used it to staunch the bleeding of his troops according to the Illiad .

50 yarrow sticks are used, the first step is to take out one stick and set it down parallel in front of you, this is the 'observer' and takes no further part in the process. This leaves 49 sticks. The following steps are repeated six times once for each line of the hexagram starting at the bottom.

1 stick
Yarrow stick frames
  1. Divide the bunch of sticks into two bundles and take these in either hand. This is where the diviner needs to concentrate as it is the division of the sticks that determines the outcome.
  2. Put the right hand bundle down, and take one stick from this bundle and put it in between the little finger and ring finger of your left hand.
  3. Now count out the bundle in your left hand in groups of four onto the table until four or fewer sticks remain. Put these remaining sticks between ring and middle finger.
  4. Turn your attention to the right hand bundle you put down, pick it up and now count them out in fours just like the other bundle. Put the remaining sticks (between one and four) in your left hand and gather them together with the sticks between your fingers into one bundle and place them cross-ways on the single 'observer' stick that you started with.
  5. Pick up all the sticks (except those on the observer) and repeat steps 1-4, gathering up the remainders and placing them on the ‘observer’ to make a second pile on the observer stick.
  6. One last time, gather up all the sticks and repeat steps 1-4, gathering up the remainders and placing them on the ‘observer’ again. You will now have three little bundles of sticks laid out on the ‘observer’ stick. Count up the number of sticks in each little bundle and note down the total. These three numbers generate the first bottom line of the hexagram.
  7. Now you need to repeat all the steps 1-6 five more times building up the gua figure by one line at a time, from the bottom upwards.

Yarrow stick counting Yarrow stick counting Yarrow stick counting
Accumulation of the remainders 9, 4 and 8 using three divisions which is interpreted as an unchanging Yang line.

Probabilities using the Yarrow sticks

The mechanism of counting in fours is a little more complex than you might first think. As the remainders can be 1 to 4 you might expect the counts of the groups to be anything from 1+1=2 all the way up to 4+4=8 but this is not the case. In the first round there were 49 sticks, the second and third rounds only used the 'fours' so they are always a multiple of four. To appreciate how it works you need to go through the mathematics. If there are 'n' sticks in the left hand, then the first remainder of the left hand pile can be 1, 2, 3 or 4 sticks but this leaves 49-1-n sticks in the right hand pile. The remainder of the right pile can only be 3, 2, 1 or 4 respectively. So the total for the left and right remainders can only be 4, 4, 4 or 8 respectively. With the extra stick from the right side this requires the total for the first bundle to be only ever 5 or 9. If your total is not 5 or 9 then you have miscounted. In effect you only need to count the sticks in the left hand, those in the right hand just confirm you have counted correctly. You will also note that the probability is not 50:50 as it would be for tossing a coin. This accounts for the different probabilities of outcomes in the yarrow stick method.

In the second and third round of divisions there are a multiple of 4 sticks to start with not the original 49 so the mathematics is different. Although the left hand remainder can again be 1, 2, 3 or 4 sticks for the right hand the remainder can only be 2, 1, 4 or 3 respectively. Adding the two sets of remainders gives 3, 3, 7 or 7. With the extra stick from the right side this requires the total for the second and third bundles to be only ever 4 or 8. If you have a total other than 4 or 8 in total then you have miscounted just as in the first round. However in this case there is an equal probability of getting a total of either 4 or 8, as with tossing a coin.

Now comes the task of converting the counts into one line of the hexagram.
9+8+8 = Changing yin; (chance 0.25x0.5x0.5 = 6.25%)changing yin line
9+8+4 or 9+4+8 or 5+8+8 = yang (chance 6.25+6.25+18.75=31.25%)unchanging yang line
9+4+4 or 5+4+8 or 5+8+4 = yin (chance 6.25+18.75+18.75=43.75%)unchanging yin line
5+4+4= Changing yang; (chance 0.75x0.5x0.5 = 18.75%)changing yang line
Note the unequal distribution; changing yin and unchanging yang are less likely so the process favors yin.

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Citation information: Chinasage, 'Yi Jing (I Ching) Book of Changes', last updated 4 Feb 2015, Web, http://www.chinasage.info/YiJing.htm.

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