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Introduction to I Ching and Qabalah

Since you found this article on my Tarot website I will assume that you have some knowledge of Tarot, or that at the very least you know how to find some information on it. I will soon be adding my expanded section on the Runes that you can browse in order to learn about that system.

For the benefit of readers unfamiliar with the Qabalah and I Ching, these two systems will be briefly introduced below. Bear in mind that the following is far from a complete introduction to these extensively complex subjects. It is intended to clarify those parts of my system of correspondences where knowledge of the systems is necessary, and it is also intended to whet the appetite of anyone interested in further pursuing the study of these systems.

Introduction to I Ching

The I Ching (or Book of Changes) is a Chinese divinatory system first introduced about 5 millennia ago. In its original form it was used by kings and generals to assist their strategic and economic decisions. Through the diligent efforts of translators and sinologists like C.F. Baynes and Richard Wilhelm, the I Ching is now accessible to everyone.

The I Ching has two main components. The first is an oracular book (the Book of Changes itself) containing dozens of poetic verses called Judgements. There are a total of 64 of these Judgements, and a number of other commentaries that are useful for divination. The second part of the I Ching is some method for determining which of the 64 verses applies to one's current situation.

The traditional method is to start with a pile of fifty yarrow stalks and, after a number of manipulations, end up with a number which the diviner converts into a line. This line is either Yin or Yang (broken or solid) and it becomes the first line of a six-line pattern called a hexagram. Yin, the broken line, is female, representing receptivity and potential. Yang, the solid line, is a masculine line of action and creation.

This operation is repeated for each of the remaining five lines in the hexagram. Alternatively, coins can be thrown or marked stones drawn from a bag to determine the nature of the hexagram. The mathematical probabilites for the coin method and the stalk method are not exactly the same, but similar results are achieved by both.

A hexagram like the one you see at left is made up of two simpler patterns called trigrams. There are eight trigrams which can be put together in various ways to make 64 hexagrams. The component trigrams tell the diviner something about the nature of the hexagram. Mountain over Fire, for example, might bring to mind a volcano and the things associated with it. The diviner also consults the appropriate verse in the Book of Changes to get advice and predictions which must be interpreted and applied to the situation at hand.

Each hexagram has a number, a Chinese name and a title. For example, the example given above, Mountain over Fire, is the 22nd hexagram, and is called Pi. The title varies from translation to translation, but Pi is usually rendered as "Grace" or "Beauty". It is obviously a very favorable hexagram. One does not immediately see the connection to volcanoes... but think about it for a while and see what you discover.

Introduction to Qabalah

It is literally impossible to give a brief introduction to Qabalistic thought or philosophy, because the subject is just so extensive. But since the reason I am providing this "introduction" is to make my system of correspondence understandable to those with no knowledge of Qabalah, I can achieve my purpose by introducing only the central glyph of the Qabalah, the Tree of Life.

(Experienced Qabalists will frown upon my simplistic views, and maybe even upon the way I spell some of the Hebrew words that follow. That is not a problem to me. They don't need to read this secton anyway, and can move on to the next part of the article without a second thought if they so desire.)

The Tree of Life is basically a map. But instead of a map showing the spatial relationships and routes between different places, the Tree of Life is a map of consciousness, both human and Divine. All sorts of processes can be shown by the Tree. It is usually shown as the plan by which God made the universe, but it can refer to any creative act or, with a bit of mental manipulation, any act at all.

The Tree of Life is made up of spheres, or sephiroth, and paths that connect the sephiroth together. Each sephirah has a name, sometimes several names, and is associated with various ideas and concepts. Very brief descriptions of the ten sephiroth follow.

  1. Kether is the Crown, and represents absolute unity. It was the first of the sephiroth to be created and from it came all the rest.

  2. Chokmah (pronounced Hoke-muh) is Wisdom, and the supernal father. It is the basis of masculine energy and represents dynamic creation.

  3. Binah, Understanding, is the supernal mother, the feminine principle. This is a sphere of both receptivity and resistance, love and laws.

  4. Chesed (pronounded Hay-sed) translates as Mercy, and it is also called Gedulah, Majesty. It represents blessings, grace, kindness - in general, positive energy.

  5. Geburah, or Gevurah, is the sphere of Severity. Other titles for it include Din (Judgment) and Pachad (Fear). This is a sphere of hard times and of destruction.

  6. Tiphareth, at the center of the Tree, means Beauty. It is a center of balance between the spiritual realm above and the physical world below.

  7. Netzach, which means Victory, is the sphere of creation, intuition, relationships, and most importantly of all, the emotions.

  8. Hod (rhymes with road) is the realm of the human mind and its capacity to reason. Hod means Glory, because the crowning glory of mankind is the intellect.

  9. Yesod (which sounds like Hod) is Foundation, the place of unconscious beliefs and instinctive desire. It has strong ties to sexuality and the so-called libido.

  10. Finally, Malkuth is the physical world. This sephirah is called the Kingdom, and it is where all action takes place. It is the final result of all the sephirah; creative energy given form.

There are several subdivisions within the Tree. For example, there are three Pillars, made up of the spheres on the same vertical line. The leftmost pillar is the Pillar of Severity, the rightmost is the Pillar of Mercy, and the central column is the Pillar of Harmony, or Pillar of Balance. The four worlds or Olams are represented by Chokmah, Binah, Tiphareth (and the sephiroth around it) and Malkuth. The three triangles visible on the Tree are also given names.

Each of the sephiroth has numerous attributions to astrology, colors, gemstones, fragrances, animals, plants, etc. Knowing such things is not really necessary to what we are trying to accomplish; that is, to correspond the Tarot, the Runes and the I Ching to the Tree of Life. Now that the structure of the Tree is known, this can be attempted.

Proceed to the next section

Copyright 2000 James Rioux