I Have Been I Chinged


As you some of you might know, I am student at my local community college for the past few years. I am required to take is Humanities to complete my associate in anthropology, which will be completed this spring. Anyway, I thought I would share some of my thoughts, regarding my assignments for class….

I tossed the coins on the professor’s desk as he explained the various aspects of how to construct an I Ching hexagram. As I listened, it struck me, what we were doing as we performed the act of divination, that we were practicing Chinese mysticism. I tried to create within my mind, the elements, and the process, of the magical act[1]. This brought a faded recollection of days long gone by, a memory of a friend, fond of tarot and the I Ching. She told me, “Now remember to ask a question as you toss the coins…” Yes, I realized, I was performing the same ritual with my professor now. It was a queer feeling of familiarity.

So I asked myself, a series of questions: Will I be able to add another class? Will I able to find the focus to complete my degree? Will be able to buy a home before I finish school? And will I be able to go to China next year? And so on. I did this each time as I tossed the coins on the desk of the professor. I did notice that, however, the professor did not instruct me to do this, to ask questions, so I did it silently. I added this part of the ritual to the performance, which seemed to bring a state of confusion, analysis, creation, and finally completion to the “magical act,” which for me seemed to transform the experience.

The final copper ting sounded against the desk as the coins bounced one last time, I had tossed them a total of six times. My professor had drawn six lines on a piece of blank white copier paper as he had described the process of drawing an I Ching hexagram. Each line was either solid, or broken, depending on the toss: if two heads, and one tail—solid. If you toss two tails, and one head—a broken line, if three heads or three tails—also a broken line. So only a solid line can be drawn, if one had tossed two heads, and one tail. The lines are drawn from the bottom up, think of this act as building a foundation; an allegory, if you will, a metaphor for life, in which a person constructs a future: to act or not to act[2].

Let me clarify what I mean, by “to act or not to act,” when a person participates or performs in a ritual act, the process of creation does not necessarily have to be physically apparent in the perception of “reality.” The first step of creation whether it comes from the instinctual, intuitive, logical, or the rational are belied in thought—displaced[3] thought. Simply, that act of creation, divination, or what have you, need not be observable to the outside human experience of another. Furthermore, this process is belied in the initialization of thought of when an idea comes into being. In other words, we place those perceptions directly outside of ourselves in order to validate them. So, what does this have to do with to act or not act?

In order to take an action, one must first believe in the ritual experience, and second, that experienced ritual becomes eventually transmitted outside of ourselves to another. This process may not necessarily recognize, or better yet is “cognizant,” of that displacement taking place; but I simply refer you to the words of Rene Descartes, Cogito ergo sum, or “I think, therefore I am.” Some would say what Descartes really meant was “I doubt, therefore I exist.”[4] Therefore, our doubted existence embellished the egos’ confirmation of “reality.”

Consequently, our own egos were satisfied, when the professor and I had completed the “magical act,” what is referred to by anthropologist Stanley Jeyaraja Tambiah, as a “performative illocutionary act,”[5] our experience had transformed the mystical divination with a completed design—a hexagram. We had drawn from the bottom, three set of broken lines, and second set of three which had two solid lines from the bottom, and one broken. In the book of I Ching, and one other tool, which was a set of spinning wheels assisted in assigning a number value to the I Ching hexagram; in total, there are 64 hexagrams attached to a cryptic revelation. My particular hexagram number was 45 also known as “shui” (water, or fluid in Chinese), defined as “congregation, or gathering”[6]. The interpretative message, which offered the sage advice from book of I Ching, was:

“Above the earth a pool is gathering. The superior person, accordingly, makes ready the weapons, and is forearmed against the unexpected.”[7]

Obviously, the above message was an allegory for the person to wait, to standby, and let one gain more knowledge before taking action. Or, to put another way, “forewarned is forearmed” against the unexpected. Nevertheless, if one was to procrastinate too long, the aforementioned advice was also warning to know when to act. Thus, the confusion of my previous questions, if one was so inclined to believe, to attach meaning to my tossed coins was that a “outside” force, or an ancestor, or a divine being provided a solution, and the sage instruction to standby. In essence, the divination by the mystical force aided my coins to follow an arbitrary path to the provided the answer.

Some might considered this, the book of I Ching, nothing but cryptic, random, meaningless, subjective and scripted lines, to create, a fantastical, magical, and mystical act; in order, to instill set of rules, beliefs, values, and ideals. To others, the I Ching was set to establish teachings taught by Confucius. The founding Father of Humanistic ideals, in which, secularization of religious mysticism were transformed, yet this illocutionary moment, within the Chinese culture competed against another ethical system—Daoism.

Daoism dealt with the abstract, whereas I Ching and Confucianism dealt with instruction and structure. Daoism was and is mystically ephemeral, whereas Confucianism insisted and insists on permanence. Daoism was and is romanticism, whereas Confucianism was and is dependent on the rational. And, although Daoism has been bounded to nature, Confucianism was and is rooted in the antiquity of the environment. Meaning that, even the book of the I Ching used the symbols of nature to convey allegorical meanings and forms. Thus, the difference, of course, and I return to the anthropologist Tambiah, Daoism and Confucianism are both vehicles of “imperative and performative illocutionary acts”; nonetheless, they are separated in form of the perlocutionary acts[8]; that was the latter, the vehicle of Confucianism, took responsibility for both intended and unintended acts of a cultural and individual’s transformation. This was and is, of course, one of the first civil and social contracts for the ancient civilization and humanity. Simply put, Confucianism and Confucius provided the equivalence of the golden rule, and the question, “What would Jesus do?”, in this case; however, question was and is, “What would Confucius do?”


[1] See the work of Stanley Jeyaraja Tambiah, “Form and Meanings of Magical Acts” in A Reader in the Anthropology of Religion, edited by Michael Lambek (341-357). He, Tambiah, discourses on certain rituals being “performative acts,” in that, they create illusory symbols of beliefs, ideals, and values. He says this can be accomplished by physical or emotive transformations. For instance, the tossing of coins provides the performers the vehicle of displacement, that is, the tools to set aside the perception of reality in order to facilitate the act of transformation. In the case of the I Ching, the ritual of divination is a function as an apparatus to bring order through metaphor of compliance and action.

[2] From class notes, Humanities professor Kurt Pond, defines the ritual of the I Ching as a set of instructions to either act or not to act on particular situation.

[3] In my thesis, “Just Another Day in Paradise: Science Fiction America—The Signs and Symbols of the American Life Mythology,” I define “displacement” as a setting aside, a dislocation, a projection of reality. In the sense that, we place outside of ourselves the perceptions we conceive, thereby “validating or invalidating” the perception of reality. Then, later “narrate,” telling a story of the experience, in which we then, finally (re)Deploy for diffusion from within ourselves or through and among the community: family, kinships, society and/or culture. The vehicle is known as DVND to divine our existence.

[4] David Eller, from the Metro State College of Denver, in a discussion in the nature of sentient and existence felt that what Rene Descartes really meant to say this, in describing empirical nature of the human condition.

[5] See Tambiah’s discourse in “Form and Meaning of Magical Acts,” that we as humans create and use ritual, or what have you, as a vehicle to validate a performance. Think of it this way, you are kneeling before Queen Elizabeth as Pulitzer prize writer or Nobel laureate and taps you with her scepter on both shoulder, and says, “You shall now be referred to as Sir Kurt Pond of Denver,” if the previous accolades had not already brought heir of respectability, this clinches your transformation. The act of transformation from doctor, master, or mister falls away to your “crowning” of your person to the title of Sir. The public, your friends, and family see you in a new light, a new birth, if you will; you are nee to them in how they perceive you. You are transformed by your knighthood and respect, hopefully, can not be torn down. It was a ritual, a performance, which has made you “magical,” even “mystical.”

[6] The Chinese spinning discs imparted the symbolic reference as congregation, or gathering, but I took these words as to mean to “collect,” to “accumulate” like a valley bowl amasses water to create a pond or a lake. These are a metaphor to have patience, to gather knowledge and information.

[7] This is a reference that can be translated, Sir Francis Bacon stated, “Knowledge is power.” But I also think of this as, “forewarned is forearmed.”

[8] Tambiah refers to perlocutionary act as being the spoken act of “connotation,” “persuasion” and transformation for the “hearer” to be transformed by the “intended and unintended consequences.” This is the final act of a performance vehicle. See Tambiah’s essay, the “Form and Meanings of Magical Acts” in the: A Reader in the Anthropology of Religion, edited by Michael Lambek, p. 352.


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