Tarot And The I Ching

Transformation Tarot

The I Ching is one of the oldest oracles still in use today. I have slowly learned to incorporate this ancient and venerable system of divination into my work with Tarot and Alchemy. I like combining them because of the uncanny and synchronistic connections we can make when allowing creative imagination and visualization to lead the way in a divination. The Yi, I Ching, or Book of Changes left a profound mark on Jung’s life and in his approach to psychotherapy. The story of Change that we find in the I Ching springs from the quest archetype and reflects a crusade to fulfill a mandate of Heaven to restore balance and return the ruling power of Spirit. It encompasses a mythology filled with ghosts of ancestors, benevolent and evil spirits, the souls that complement our existence and that demand, one way or another, to be heard and recognized.

In this magical and phantasmagorical world we can eventually find our soul’s redemption, once we acknowledge the shadow lands and chaos that complement and nourish our present lives. I Ching, like Tarot, opens our mind to the world of fantasy and imagination. In this world we talk to spirits, we feed our personal ghosts, strip corpses, cross rivers of fate, ascend magic mountains, ride the Elephant, nourish the Gray Rat, learn to live with the Tiger of entropy and the Dragon of chaos, as we reach the various benchmarks of our life and honor our ancestors. It is a startling realm that comes to life through nonsense.

The language of the Oracle can be at times intimidating, for it exposes the ego to chaotic and dysfunctional concepts and ideas and to a numinous world it has chosen to ignore. I Ching scholar Steven Karcher notes that, "…what we see as a pile of superstitious rubbish is actually a rich archaeological site, ready to open the treasures and mysteries of time and meaning. …The transforming and connecting power of a symbol was highly valued in traditional cultures. Divination not only carried the will of the gods, but it also carried a culture’s myths and stories through its symbols, in addition to giving the people access to their own myths." But, the most important aspect of I Ching divination, notes Karcher, is the access to the numinous: “…the strongest attraction in divinatory practices was individual contact with the spirits they afforded.” (“Divination, Synchronicity, and Fate.” Journal of Religion and Health vol. 37.3 December 1998: 215-227; see also his website.)

Sarah Allan in The Shape of the Turtle (NY, 1991) notes that in the old Chinese traditions, spirits did not have a life of their own unless activated through divination methods and rituals. In our western folklore, on the other hand, we encounter a world filled with mythological figures and archetypes from the ancient Greco-roman myths who not only had lives non-dependent on us humans but who also ruled our fate.

We really can’t be certain about the origins of many of the texts that comprise this incredible treasure of living Chinese folklore, history, culture, language and oral traditions that comprise the I Ching. Some of its formulations strike us as odd, bizarre and confounding. As Hellmut Wilhelm notes, “about a thousand years have gone into the making of this remarkable book. Its beginnings go back to times when a rational separation of objective from subjective nature did not yet exist. Those who have collaborated in making it are the personalities who have formed China and its culture,” whom Wilhelm calls "custodians of ancient wisdom." (Understanding the I Ching, p.19)

What is significant about the Oracle and what connects it, for me, with Tarot is the fact that the meanings and associations come from pictorial words (like the Hebrew letters that link Tarot and Cabala (Qabalah) in some Hermetic traditions), and that the hexagrams, symbols and characters all play in our mind as "image concepts," a notion that Hellmut Wilhelm applied to the I Ching and that I have always applied to the interpretation of Tarot cards.

Somehow images, ideas, concepts, connections, allusions appear in front of us simultaneously. As the spirits that we have invoked through the ritual of throwing yarrow stalks, coins, marbles, or cards dance with the images in front of us, inspiration and intuition take over our self-consciousness. It is through divination and its elusive language that the mystifying dimensions of what C. G. Jung called the unconscious come to life. Von Franz notes that, “One of the main ways in which we use the word spirit is in speaking of the inspiring, vivifying aspect of the unconscious.” This inspiring and vivifying aspect could just as easily be interpreted in metaphysics as the dimensions of Consciousness that become accessible to us during invocation and divination. However, I am a bit hesitant sometimes to use the word "unconscious," because nothing is really unconscious or fully lacking any sense of consciousness, even if at a level not readily accessible to us. We all have our own subjective way of understanding what “unconscious” and “subconscious” mean. The Collective Unconscious, according to Jung, is the repository of the archetypes. Sri Aurobindo, for example, would talk about the Inconscient. Words can be tricky, so we need to stay flexible and open and not get caught in scholarly discussions that take away from feeling and intuition and our sense of wonder.

The notion of unpredictability should also be noted when we are delving in the subject of divining with any kind of instrument or tool. Every time we ask a question we are attempting to actualize a set of probabilities and potentialities, which reminds us of the way quantum physics approaches the act of creation, often defined in new physics as the act of Consciousness collapsing unto itself. The best we can hope for in divination is to determine the quality of the experience, but not the experience itself, as von Franz would remind us. Probable outcomes seem to be arranged into qualitative fields. An oracle always uses some sort of general symbolic picture which can be interpreted, like all symbols, in many forms and on many levels at the same time, just like dreams. There is nothing concrete or definitive in the answers we get, except via the affinities and interconnections that resonate in our psyche, and in the interaction we manage to establish between the various levels of consciousness - self-consciousness, subconsciousness and super-consciousness- involved in the process of divination.

References and Additional Reading:

There are many books available to study the I Ching. The classic translation made by Richard Wilhelm, trans. Cary F. Baynes (with Foreword by C. G. Jung), is essential reading.

I would also recommend:

Girardot, Myth and Meaning in Early Taoism, University of California, 1974.
Stephen Karcher, Total I Ching: Myths for Change, London, 2003.
Ritsema and Sabbadini. The Original I Ching Oracle, New York, 2007.
Arthur Waley's translation of The Way and its Power, New York, 1958.
The Wilhelm Lectures on The Book of Changes, Bollingen Series.

There are even some good decks that incorporate I Ching in the use of cards, such as Aleister Crowley's Book of Thoth, which is one of my favorite decks. See also The Haindl Tarot Deck. However, you can use any deck to "balance" and shed more light into the Oracle answers because to equate one particular hexagram to just one Tarot card is, for me, quite limiting.

I love the beautiful deck TAO Oracle, by Ma Deva Padma (St. Martin's Press, NY, 2002). I usually open my private Tarot readings by asking the client to take one card from this deck and put it aside, then proceed with the reading. At the end we link the card drawn with the various messages received.

Klaus and Marlies Holitska, I Ching, AGMuller, 1994, is a beautiful deck that I would recommend using with both Karcher's and Wilhelm's interpretations.

Stephen Karcher's websites are excellent sources of information and include many articles on the I Ching

S. J. Marshall's website is worth noting. This is a scholarly labor of love, and quite informative. Don't miss it. https://biroco.com/yijing/.

I highly recommend Marshall's book on the I Ching: The Mandate of Heaven: Hidden History in the Book of Changes, 2001


Copyright © 2008 Yolanda M. Robinson, PhD