h Phoenix Qi: The Sacred Wheel of the Year as revealed through the I Ching.

Monday, January 15, 2007

The Sacred Wheel of the Year as revealed through the I Ching.

In Chinese mythology and legend, Fu Xi was the First Emperor. He is attributed with establishing the moral and social order of the nation, inventing trapping, fishing, and writing which moved the population from a hunter-gatherer society to a less nomadic society. Even more important, he revealed to the people how the universe worked through continuous transformations by showing them the circle of the eight trigrams (the three-line symbols) of the I Ching. The Early Heaven Sequence is often called the sequence of Time. Please note that North is a the bottom, and South is at the top of all diagrams. (If you read the post about Nu Wa, you may recall that Fu Xi was the husband or brother of that original Mother Goddess.)

The Early Heaven arrangement of the eight trigrams of the I Ching is not, strictly speaking, a calendar. It is the Chinese equivalent of the Sacred Wheel whose symbols represent the seasons of the lifetime striving toward enlightenment in the context of the seasons of the year. The most noticed feature of the Early Heaven Trigram Sequence is the symmetry of the lines; comparing opposite quadrants, the yang/yin lines are exactly opposite, too. When reading the trigrams of the wheel, the perspective is from that of standing in the center; the lines are always read from the bottom to the top, from the wheel's center to the outer edge.

In the Early Heaven or Fu Xi Arrangement, developed c. 1950 BCE, the eastern section containing the vernal equinox is marked in the east by the sign (gua) for fire, called "Li." Moving clockwise around the wheel, the next station, between the vernal equinox and summer solstice, is the sign for the lake, "Dui." The section containing the summer solstice is marked in the south by the three yang or firm lines that comprise the sign for sky or heaven, "Qian." The section stationed in the SW contains the symbol for wind or wood, "Xun." The autumnal equinox in the west is contained in the sign for water, known as "Kan." In the NW is the sign of the mountain, "Gen." The sign for earth, "Kun," the three yielding lines lies in the north and contains the winter solstice. The circle comes to completion when the sign for thunder, "Zhen," begins to reawaken the seeds of life still dormant within the winter earth. The elemental attributes of water, wood, fire, earth, and metal are the trigrams’ five-phase association and are symbolic of types and movement of energy.

In the traditional diagram (the one without lables), you can see that as yang grows from the bottom to the top, (the color white of the popular tai-chi symbol, and the solid lines of the Early Heaven Trigram Sequence), yin declines (the color black, and the broken lines), and vice versa. As soon as one peak of all yang or all yin lines is reached, the pendulum swings back into the opposite direction; yin grows while yang declines. Growth and decline follow in cyclical order in all things.

Everything in the universe is comprised of ever-changing degrees of yin (the broken line) and yang (the solid line) energy. Yin and Yang, often regarded as "female" and "male," represent any two polar opposites: dark/light, receptive/projective, cold/hot, etc. Yin actually translates as "the cloudy" or "the overcast." Yang translates as "banners waving in the sun," indicating something bright. The terms Yin and Yang were introduced into the I Ching in the 4th century BCE. Prior to that, the solid lines were called simply "the firm," the broken lines "the yielding." In the Fu Xi arrangement, you'll notice that the numbers assigned to each trigram, 1 to 8, when added to the number directly across the wheel, make the sum of 9 in all directions.

When it comes to the Taijitu symbol, the “Yin/Yang” as it is often called, my personal, pet theory is that the symbol is partly based on the observed motion of the Big Dipper, called The Plough in Chinese astronomy. As the year progresses, the handle of the dipper points to different horizons of the sky when you observe it at the same time every evening. In the winter, the handle points North, in March it points East, in June it points South, and in the autumn, it points West. Imagine that the bucket of the dipper is able to collect and pour yang energy. At the point shown here in the rotation, the winter solstice with the handle pointing down or north, the bucket is just able to begin to collect energy just as at the winter solstice, yang grows. At the opposite end of the rotation (imagine the picture upside-down), yang has reached its peak, the handle is pointing to the top (south), the bucket is at the bottom, and yang pours out or declines as yin energy begins its autumn/winter growth period.

The wheel remained as it was created until the time of King Wen, c. 1150 BCE. He felt a little differently about things. During a lengthy incarceration at the hands of a rival warrior-lord from which he was never freed, he rewrote the Judgments (those little sayings you get when doing an I Ching divination reading), and rearranged the wheel of the year as well to reflect the physical rather than the metaphysical plane. This arrangement is called the Later Heaven Circle or the King Wen sequence. It is considered to be the sequence of space – as in area, not outer-space, and is the basis for the practice of feng shui. You'll notice that he changed the numbers also, and that number 5 is missing. Though it is never written this way, it's understood that 5 is in the center to represent the physical world and humans; the five Chinese phases of energy (fire, water, wind/wood, earth, metal), the five appendages (legs, arms, head), the five senses. If you add the numbers opposite each other, the sum is 10, the number representing Perfection.

King Wen begins the year in the east with "Zhen," symbolic for beginning growth and movement, and called "Thunder" here in the West because in the spring come thunderstorms; its number is 3. Next is "Xun" symbolic for and sometimes called "Wind;" it also represents wood and the growth of plants. Summer solstice in the south is appropriately in the sign of "Fire," "Li." The next section represents the time of year when the first grains are ripe, and they are reaped from the "Earth," "Kun," at number 2. "Dui," called the "lake or marsh" here in the West, marks the autumnal equinox in the direction of west. In the northwest is "Qian" symbolic of "sky/heaven." Winter solstice is spent in "Kan," the "Water" symbol. The year ends in the northeast with "Gen," the symbol for the "Mountain," stillness awaiting the wakening "Thunder" again.

The energetic representations in King Wen’s Wheel can also be understood in the context of light/dark or above/below. The two earth trigrams, Gen and Kan, represent turning points of the year (earth energy is often considered to be the power of change or transformation). The energies between Gen and Kan on the left (Zhen, Xan, and Li), represent the growing and light side; things above ground. The symbols between Gen and Kan on the right (Dui, Qian, and Kan), represent the declining and dark side; things below ground.

This is how Water came to be associated with Winter as was written about in the previous post. When you honor the energies of all the seasons, you are honoring Sacred Wheels from the beginning of time and harmonizing yourself with the energies of the universe.


Amit said...

I'm fascinated by your theory of the ying yang and the big dipper. The way it is shown by the image you have put up, it almost looks like two faces together or almost even the the sexual "69" position.

Very intriguing! :)

Phoenix said...

Hi Amit,

The Big Dipper/Yin-Yang idea just popped into my head one day a few years ago while I was doing some research. I happened to print out a picture of the Dipper, and suddenly imagination/intuition connected the dots (stars).

I believe the symbol is meant to convey the male/female principles, absolutely. The original yang and yin (male and female principles) "came together and made 'The 10,000 things'" which represent every material thing in the universe. Dao "is"; qi "transforms"; yin/yang are the "creators."