I-Ching

Seeing the Signs

June, 2018

Depression and divination

(Photo by Velizar Ivanov on Unsplash)

Depression is a disease that affects millions of people, regardless of religion, ethnic background, genetic make-up or economic outlook. Many of us take antidepressants, trying to feel better and suffer dubious side-effects from these medications. Some of us become addicted to these meds. Others of us self-medicate with drugs and alcohol and may end up with addictions to these substances. Some of us console ourselves with “comfort” foods, while others of us lose our appetites altogether and even when we are ravenously hungry, we can not eat. Some of us relieve our psychic pain by cutting ourselves. We lose pleasure in many of our favorite activities. Our days are long and boring. Depression robs us of all that once made us happy.

I personally suffer from bipolar mood disorder, which means along with depression, I also have episodes of mania. I am actually what’s called a “rapid cycler” – I can cycle in and out of manic and depressed moods within a single day. I can be depressed and manic at the very same time. But like a day is contained within a week and a week is contained within a month, my days of rapid cycling are contained within seasons of either manic moods or depressed moods. Generally, I am more manic in the early winter and later spring and depressed in the early spring and most of the summer.

Since being formally diagnosed in 1993, I have been on dozens of medications, most of which have been totally useless. I fully believe that most of the medications caused more problems than they solved and most of the problems that I had in the 1990’s and early 2000’s were a direct result of taking psych meds. I was out of my mind most of the time. I have been fairly stable since I reached my Crone years but I still have my moods.

This recent depression was triggered way back in 2016 when our current president was elected and I think many of us went into a deep slump at that time. Certain health issues of mine came to fore, as well as housing problems, and I had to move from New England – which I love – back to Buffalo – which I do love, but Buffalo is like loving an abusive man with addiction issues who’s never going to change. I know that many cities are just like Buffalo but I don’t have the emotional attachment to those other cities. And things really are worse here than they were in 2016 – for poor people, that is. There’s lots of shiny new buildings and expensive restaurants and microbreweries selling drinks that will give me a migraine after the first sip, they’re so damn hoppy. But that’s another subject.

At this point, I have been depressed for well over a year – with seasonal episodes of mania, like the one I’m in now – and it is affecting every facet of my life. If being depressed is defined as “losing interest in things that used to interest you”, then I have got the sickness pretty bad. I love to cook and eat but I have lost interest in food altogether – I go for days, eating nothing other than Cheerios, fried eggs and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I simply do not care. I stopped writing my novel over a year ago – I even took the blog off WordPress – I keep saying that I’m going to restart it – and honestly, I miss my characters – they were like friends of mine! But I don’t write – I barely keep my diary.

One of the things that depression has stolen from me is my desire to use my Tarot cards or throw the I-Ching or study the Lenormand or pull a few Runes or anything. Like my attitude toward food, I simply do not care. It’s like – so what? One day is just another day. And with the madman in the White House, we may not have a tomorrow anyway. So what difference does anything make?

I was cleaning the other day – this is where being manic always works out – and I found my divination journal. The paucity of entries are pathetic. The last time I had done a reading was in February! And honestly, I didn’t remember it.

I did a Tarot reading that day – a Celtic Cross – with my Rider-Waite cards – partly because I felt guilty that I hadn’t done any readings in such a long time and partly because I thought that maybe I would see something new. Maybe it was my depression – but it just seemed to me that the cards were telling me that I was depressed – which I already knew! But maybe it’s just I’m too depressed to be reading my own cards. I don’t know – which brings me back to the whole point of this essay – depressing and divination. What is a practitioner to do?

I have to step out of myself to answer this question – as if I were being asked the question by another person. I would answer, go back to the basics. Pick one card a day and meditate on that card. Read all of your spiritual books and remind yourself of your path and why you are on this path. Go to the park and walk where it is green and quiet. Listen to the birds chirping.

I was told that there is no cure for bipolar disease and I do not think there is a cure for depression – there is only managing the symptoms. But I am going to do what I *told* myself to do – pick a card a day and meditate on that card. Read all of my spiritual books and remind myself of my path and why I am on this path. Go to one of the many parks in Buffalo – even if it means getting on the bus – and walk around the greenery that I have right here. Everything will change. The wheel will turn.

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About the Author:

Polly MacDavid lives in Buffalo, New York at the moment but that could easily change, since she is a gypsy at heart. Like a gypsy, she is attracted to the divinatory arts, as well as camp fires and dancing barefoot. She has three cats who all help her with her magic.

Her philosophy about religion and magic is that it must be thoroughly based in science and logic. She is Dianic Wiccan and she is solitary.

She blogs at silverapplequeen.wordpress.com. She writes about general life, politics and poetry. She is writing a novel about sex, drugs and recovery.

Book Review – Secrets of Chinese Divination: A Beginner’s Guide to 11 Oracle Systems by Sasha Fenton

April, 2018

Review of Sasha Fenton’s Secrets of Chinese divination: A Beginner’s Guide to 11 Oracle Systems

As readers of this column know, I have been a fan of Sasha Fenton’s for years so it was with great delight that I opened this new (to me) book about Chinese divination.

Just under an inch in thickness, this richly colored volume is filled with the wisdom of the ages. As Fenton explains in the first chapter, there are links between the various divinations – they share common ideas, such as the “root concepts” of Yin and Yang and the Five Elements (page 2). In addition to this, many of the major divination systems cross-reference each other in many ways. As I read the book, I would become confused and have to refer back to this or that chapter and refresh my memory – sometimes I would have to skip ahead to some other chapter to find some other reference! But as the Buddha said: “Confusion is good!”

The first divination system Fenton covers is the Ming Shu or what we know as Chinese Astrology. If you are aware that you are born in the year of the Horse or the year of the Rabbit, then you know a little about this complicated system. And it is complicated! If it was just a question of the year you were born and whether you were born in a Yang (Active) Year or Yin (Receptive) Year and the Element of your year – that would be enough. For instance, I was born in 1960 – that makes me an Active Metal Rat. In general, Rats are intelligent, tenacious, artistic and they hate to be rushed – much like the Taurus sign under which I am also born. A Metal Rat is “idealistic, deeply emotional, clever with money…they suffer from jealousy and envy.” (page 16) She continues to explore the influences of the elements. Metal Rat women are “very demanding. They pursue the man they fancy, and the guy must toe the line or suffer the consequences.” (page 52). And how!

Fenton says there are ways to forecast with Chinese Astrology, but again, it’s a different concept than how it’s done in the West. There are “Active” years, “Harmonious” years, and “Difficult” years, and these depend on the element of your sign as opposed to your animal. So as a Metal person, I am active in Metal year. My harmonious years are Earth and Waters years. Alas! This year, 2018, is a difficult year – it is a wood year! Fire years are also difficult for Metal people. But I would imagine that going through fire would make metal stronger, wouldn’t it? Like molten steel?

This chapter is filled with charts and lists, all designed to help the beginner diviner become adept at drawing up a horoscope for her- or himself or for anyone. If you take your time and read carefully, any confusion you may have will soon be gone.

The next chapter is about Face Reading. This was quite interesting. I liked the concept of the “Three Zones” of the face, as well as the “Thirteen Divisions”.

Each zone and each division of the face has a name and a meaning – as well as the eyes, the nose, the jaw, the ears, the forehead – every part of the face! I have admit, though – as I was reading this chapter – it seemed to me that much of the information here was medical in nature. The meaning of moles and brown spots on the skin and yellow eyes and so on. But – in the East as in the West – the witches in any village were the original doctors, so this makes sense. You’d find divination was often just medical advice.

Chapter Five is about Feng Shui, which I personally never thought was about divination. But if you want to create harmony and balance so that you are able to properly meditate and use your divinatory gifts, Feng Shui is all-important. One thing I read that I hadn’t heard before was: “a straight path that leads directly to the front door is simply asking for bad spirits to zoom in.” I had never thought of that before. This is not an issue where I now live but if it is an issue where you live, Fenton suggests breaking up the path with some tubs of plants that tumble over the path – anything that breaks up the straight line. (page 80).

The next chapter is about Hand Reading. Fenton reports that the Chinese categorize types of hands by element. Apparently, they also link it to the I-Ching, as seen by this diagram:

In her explanation of each section of the hand, she links back to Western hand interpretation but that really doesn’t make much sense to the reader, unless they’re already acquainted with Western Palmistry. Looking at the diagrams of both systems, I personally think the Chinese system is much simpler and easier to use.

Quite naturally, a chapter about the I-Ching follows the chapter about Hand Reading. I have written about the I-Ching before – it is one of my favorite methods of divination and I use it quite often. I throw pennies, as opposed to yarrow sticks (I always have pennies on hand). I like the simplicity of her explanations of the trigrams – I think I will be using this book as a reference the next time I throw the I-Ching.

Next comes a chapter called the Lunar Oracle. I am not sure at all if this is any use at all. But at the end she mentions that the Lunar Oracle “seems to show particularly strong links to the Tarot” although she personally “would opt for ancient Egypt” as the source of the Tarot (page 151). I have to add my own two cents – given the names of the days of the Oracle – they could easily be an influence for the Lenormand as well!

Chapter Nine is entitled Mah Jong Reading. As someone who has played numerous games of “Mah Jong Solitaire” on my I-Phone, I was instantly curious to know how Mah Jong could be used in a divinatory fashion. But of course – the tiles have suits, just like cards, and those suits have meaning. There are also “Honors” tiles – Winds, corresponding to the four directions, and Dragons, also four in number – and the Guardians – Flowers and Seasons – also four apiece. Like the Tarot, you think of a question as you shuffled the tiles and then you pick out thirteen tiles. You place them into a spread:

Naturally, each direction has a meaning and which tiles land on which direction determines the outcome of the reading.

This is really interesting and I am definitely going to look for a Mah Jong set so I can actually do a reading and report back to all of you about this.

The next divinatory system she reviews is called The Four Pillars of Destiny and she admits that it is so complicated that she didn’t think she could “only get it across in person” but she included it in the book because a book about Chinese divination wouldn’t be complete without it. (pages 169-70). I read through this chapter and I have to admit that it made absolutely no sense to me whatsoever. I knew what the basic concepts were about but that was IT. It made me think of that first day in calculus and opening up the text book and seeing all those numbers and letters and symbols and knowing that I knew what they were – because I’d had algebra and trig – but beyond that, I was lost. The Four Pillars of Destiny are just like that.

Lo Shu is a numerology system based on the magic square. It’s also known as the Nine Star Ki but apparently that name is Japanese.

Like so many of the Chinese divinatory systems, this looks easy at first but then it opens up into a roomful of mirrors and suddenly – it’s all confusion. I have to say – this chapter – like the Mah Jong chapter – deserves a posting all of its own. I am going to definitely look into finding out more about this system of divination. Just for my own edification! But of course – whatever I find out, I will share with you!

Weighing the Bones is something completely different. I am not even sure where the name comes from. It has nothing to do with bones or weight. You have to look up your date of birth – year, month, day and time – on a series of charts and then add up the corresponding numbers. Mine all added up to a “3” which meant “A life a hard work and much travel” (page 219). Well – I can’t argue with that!

The last chapter is called The Chien Tung: Yarrow Stick divination and I always thought that yarrow sticks were used for the I-Ching – you used yarrow sticks or you used coins. But although Fenton concedes that yarrow sticks are used in I-Ching divination, she says she would “like to take yarrow stick divination into a unique direction” – she suggests connecting Yarrow Stick divination and the Tarot. For this, of course, you have to have seventy-eight sticks, numbered 1 to 78, each one meaning a card of the Tarot. There’s a chart for the correspondences:

Personally, I think this is a stretch. Ok – on one hand, I admit it’s cool, connecting the two divinatory systems – but on the other hand, the whole point of Tarot cards are the pictures on the cards. What are you supposed to do here – imagine the picture? Or just be so adept at the Tarot that you just know the concept when you draw the yarrow stick or sticks? Honestly – it really doesn’t make all that much sense to me. But to each their own!

At the very end of the book, there is a glossary.

All in all, I think Secrets of Chinese divination: a Beginner’s Guide to 11 Ancient Oracle Systems is a very fine book and I am glad to own it. I plan to use it quite often and I guarantee you that some of the topics reviewed here today we will be revisiting in the near future!

Until next month, happy divining! Brightest Blessings!

Click Image for Amazon Information

References

Fenton, Sasha. Secrets of Chinese divination: A Beginner’s Guide to 11 Ancient Oracle Systems. Charlottesville, Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc., 2003, 2018.

***

About the Author:

Polly MacDavid lives in Buffalo, New York at the moment but that could easily change, since she is a gypsy at heart. Like a gypsy, she is attracted to the divinatory arts, as well as camp fires and dancing barefoot. She has three cats who all help her with her magic.

Her philosophy about religion and magic is that it must be thoroughly based in science and logic. She is Dianic Wiccan and she is solitary.

She blogs at silverapplequeen.wordpress.com. She writes about general life, politics and poetry. She is writing a novel about sex, drugs and recovery.

Seeing the Signs

March, 2015

The I-Ching

Way back in 1985, I found a small paperback at a used book sale – perhaps I spent a whole quarter on it. It was I-Ching: The Book of Change, translated and edited by John Blofeld and I remember being really excited to get this book. This was before I even had a Tarot deck or knew much about numerology or anything, really. It was one of the first books of its kind I ever owned.

It was originally published in Britain in 1965 and it was very scholarly in tone and attitude. In 1985, I wasn’t scholarly in any sense of the word, and I skipped over the first several chapters to Chapter Four, “The Method of divination” , and Chapter Five, “A Guide to Interpretation”. I can honestly tell you that I really had no idea what I was doing. There were several pages to how you throw the sticks (or coins, but Blofeld “is not greatly in favour” of using coins, because it doesn’t give you enough time to get into the “proper state of mind”) but I could never figure out what he was talking about. So I devised my own way of doing it. I used three pennies out of my collection of wheat pennies. I decided that heads were a solid line and tails were a broken line. I threw the pennies carefully, building my hexagrams from the bottom up. Then I checked them against the chart (see below) and then looked up the numbers of the hexagram. Using this method, you can check both the upper Trigram and the lower Trigram, as well as the entire Hexagram, to get a more in-depth reading.

Chart of trigrams & hexagrams, pg. 65

Many years later, I did find out that I was tossing the coins quite incorrectly. In Positive Magic: Occult Self-Help, by Marion Weinstein, she has a short chapter about the I-Ching, its history and how to read the oracle. She also tells us how to throw the coins. It takes a bit more time than I was accustomed to devote to the process! But I suppose if you are taking the time to consult an oracle about some problem in your life, a few more minutes shouldn’t be an issue! This is how Ms. Weinstein says to notate the coins:

2 tails, 1 head = 7 ???

2 heads, 2 tail = 8 ? ?

3 tails = 6 ? ?

3 heads = 9 ???

Using this format of tossing coins, you repeat this six times until you have your hexagram, all the while concentrating on the question or the problem that you wish the Oracle to address. Once you have your hexagram, you can consult your guide, whether it’s Blofeld or some other guide.

Since 1985, I have read other I-Ching oracles. In the early nineties, I read Diane Stein’s The Kwan Yin Book of Changes, which I borrowed from the library. I understand that this book is now out of print but Ms. Stein has updated it and changed the title of the book to A Woman’s I-Ching, published in 1997. Since I haven’t read this book and it has been over twenty years since I read her other book, I don’t feel competent on commenting, but I do remember that, like all of Diane Stein’s books, it was beautiful and poetic.

Barbara G. Walker also wrote a feminist I-Ching, called I-Ching of the Goddess, published in 2001. I regret to say that I haven’t read it nor have I even seen it at the library but it is on my ever-growing list of books to buy (when I get the money!). Barbara G. Walker is one of my favorite pagan authors. I love her knitting books too!

Of course, this being the internet age, there are online I-Ching resources. If you go to http://www.ichingonline.net/index.php, there is a box in which you write your question, and then you press a button six times to toss your dice and build your hexagram. Then you press another button for the reading of the hexagram. There is also http://www.facade.com/iching/ , and you can choose whether to toss coins or yarrow sticks. You can also check out readings of celebrities!

The I-Ching is ancient but it doesn’t have to be out of date. Reach into your pocket or your change purse and pull out a few pennies and give them a toss! Find some of these books at your local library or favorite book store and learn how to use this fabulous oracle. You will be hooked forever, like I was. Namaste!

References

Blofeld, John. I-Ching: The Book of Change. New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1968.

Weinstein, Marion. Positive Magic: Occult Self-Help. New York: Earth Magic Productions, Inc., 1994

http://www.facade.com/iching/

http://www.ichingonline.net/index.php