I Ching Trigrams Fire and Heaven

Front and Back of Casting the I Ching: Using the Early and Later Heavens for a more complete reading

This is an idea that came to me through one of the people who stopped by the blog. His name is Sheldon and this is his idea based on a long study of the I Ching using several different books and practices. It’s a damn fascinating one. Sheldon directed, and continues to direct me in it and asked if I’d share it with the rest of the world. Well, at least the rest of the world that comes by Sacred Square, lol. I’ll try and explain as best I can, and also to keep it simple here in this first post. If there’s anything I’ve learned during my short exposure to the I Ching, its that it is deceptively simple and extremely layered. This idea of Sheldon’s is an example of both things at work.

One of the passages in the Wilhelm translation of the I Ching that lead Sheldon to this is as follows from page 271..
“To understand fully, one must always visualize the Inner World Arrangement (Later Heaven) as transparent, with the Primal Arrangement (Early Heaven) shining through it. Thus when we come to the trigram Li (Fire), we come at the same time upon Ch’ien (Heaven)…”

To understand it, at least in this first exploration, and I am only scratching the surface in this post, there’s just a couple of basic things that we’ll need to know. A hexagram is made from two trigrams. There are 8 trigrams all together which would yield a result of 64 hexagrams. The eight trigrams are arranged in two classic arrangements. One, Early Heaven (also called the Primal Arrangement), was developed by Fu Hsi, and means that it was already in existence at the time of the compilation of The Book of Changes under the Chou dynasty. The second, Later Heaven (also called the Inner World Arrangement) was developed by King Wen.

There is a fair amount to understand in the way these two arrangements are put together, and for now, that is beyond the scope of what I feel comfortable explaining. I’m still in the very beginning of my understanding of the I Ching. If you want a detailed discussion of the trigrams and their relationships inside of the two arrangements, you can find it in the Wilhelm translation of The I Ching on pages 262-279. A quick Google search will lead you to an online copy.

Here’s the visual for the two arrangements of heaven:

The Two Heavens of the I Ching Trigrams diagram

Sheldon’s concept is a simple and elegant one. Here’s how it works in it’s simplest form…

Use whatever method you use for obtaining a hexagram from the I Ching in response to your question. Cards, Coins, yarrow sticks, or any other way you have developed. Let’s say that the result is Hexagram #13, T’ung Jen, Fellowship with Men. Hexagram #13 is created by the trigrams Heaven over Fire. Here’s a visual of this hexagram.

Inner Child I Ching Tarot and Oracle Card for Hexagram #13, T'ung Jen, Fellowship with Men

Now, here’s where most people, myself included, would stop with their reading. After all, you’ve gotten the hexagram in answer to your question. However, this is where Sheldon takes the reading further. Let’s see if I can explain his method correctly.

Sheldon considers a cast complete only when it gives both the front and the back, two sides, of the answer. For Sheldon, this first cast is related to the Later Heaven Arrangement of the trigrams and represents the physical world in response to the question. To get a full, complete cast, Sheldon also uses the Early Heaven Arrangement to arrive at the back of the cast. Here’s how…

You’ll notice when looking at the two arrangements that the order of the hexagrams is different. In Later Heaven, Fire is at the top or South. Yes, the Chinese place South at the top. In Early Heaven, the trigram Heaven is at the top position. To arrive at the hexagram for the back part of your cast, you simply lay Later Heaven over Early Heaven. What was Heaven in the Later becomes the trigram Mountain in the Early. What was Fire in the Later becomes the trigram Heaven in the Early. So the hexagram that is created from this transposition is #26, Ta Ch’u, The Taming Power of the Great which consists of the trigrams Mountain over Heaven. This hexagram is now the back of your cast. In Sheldon’s method this symbolizes the spiritual side of the answer to your question. Here’s a visual of this trigram…

Inner Child I Ching Tarot and Oracle Card for Hexagram #26, Ta Ch'u, The Taming Power of the Great.

So in this example cast, hexagram 13 is the front or Physical World of your question and hexagram 26 is the back or Spiritual World of your question. There’s more to this method and it certainly gets deeper. I haven’t been exposed long enough to really fully understand all the nuances. As I continue talking Sheldon and I experiment and do more casts, I’ll share this with you. For now, the main idea of this post is to introduce the idea of a front and back, a physical and spiritual side, to each cast. The method is fairly simple. Find the trigrams that make up your hexagram on the Later Heaven Arrangement and transpose them to your second hexagram by finding their corresponding trigrams (the ones that occupy the same position) in Early Heaven.

The example cast above was actually the result of my first cast using this method. I’m still studying the results and trying to apply them using Sheldon’s methodology. As more becomes clear and I do further casts using this method, I’ll add more posts concerning it. Until then, play, experiment and enjoy.

As always your comments and thoughts are most welcomed and appreciated.

Yours in a creative life,

P.S. A thank you to Sheldon for taking the time to explain this fascinating concept to me.


6 thoughts on “Front and Back of Casting the I Ching: Using the Early and Later Heavens for a more complete reading

  1. first this is not my idea method its that of wilhelm. it was his writing that showed it to me 50 years ago. i just saw that he showed me.

    thank you so much for what your paper shows. if you can copy it and send me a hard copy i will be joyful getting it.

    im so thankful someone else has seen what ive been looking at all these years alone. i have note found anyone who wrote on this topic as you have. thank you so much. i hope this will start this 3d view of a real cast expanding into the i ching world. up to now only a flat 2d view has been in use and it is not the old man answer to every question only half of an answer. we must remember every front has a back. and this 3d view is the spirit and the of the world we live in.

  2. all very striking ideas! I have been looking for insight into these early/later structures as symbolic in our own alchemy. Sheldon might like to describe a bit more about how he came to these conclusions beyond that which Wilhelm inferred?

    • Hello! Thanks for stopping by. I wish I could get a hold of Sheldon, but I haven’t hard from him in quite some time. I agree that the idea of using the early/later configurations in the way he suggests is quite interesting.

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