How The I Ching Was Created
A Maybe So Story
(With A Tip Of The Cap To Rudyard Kipling)

by Ramón Sender Barayón (1979)

slightly edited 8-22-07

 Once upon a time, oh dearly beloveds, a primitive Chinese village was surrounded by an invading tribe.  The village chief was at his wits' end. Should he fight?  The enemy looked so fierce and there were so many of them! Even now they were howling and beating on the woven bamboo stockade! The chief ran to the village shaman for guidance.
 "Tell me what to do, idiot, or I'll pound you into pudding!" he screamed, although usually a benign sort of person
 The poor shaman did not know what to do. So in sheer desperation, she grabbed a handful of bones out of the midden heap and tossed them in the air. As they tumbled to the ground, she quickly improvised a plan. If they fell crossed over each other like battling clubs, she would interpret the throw to mean the tribe should fight. If they fell apart, it would mean they should surrender. 'Surrender,' the passive possibility, came also to be known as 'Yin,' or the female principle. Sorry 'bout that, sisters. To fight was obviously considered 'The Man's Way,' the active or 'Yang' principle.
 In the case of our besieged chief, the bones fell across each other. The men fought all day and most of them were slaughtered because the invaders had bronze-tipped spears. You could argue that the shaman had chosen wrongly, but then oracles never guarantee anything. They just make up your mind for you.
 Over the years, shaman followed shaman, and they all continued the bone-throwing -- or in vegetarian tribes, the stick-throwing method.   Most recently, an astute student of the I Ching (the author!) named the Yin choice 'Ahhh' and the Yang choice 'Rrrrr!' This made sense to him on a lot of levels because 'Ahhh' is the primordial vowel, the sigh of contentment, the yawn, and release of tension. 'Rrrr!' of course is the primordial consonant, the growl, the roar of rage, but also paradoxically the snore.   The classical notation adopted for these were - -, the separated bones, and ---, the touching bones.
Meanwhile, as time went on, the oracle evolved into a series of throws and the symbols developed into a two and then a three-tiered stack

    - -            ---
    - -    and  ---
    - -            ---
I believe the notations can also symbolize the position of the throat when these sounds are made:
- - the open air passage between the muscles -- 'Ahhhh' -- and the tense, connected lines of a constricted neck --- 'Rrrr!'  The triadic nature of the symbols (known finally as 'trigrams') could represent the three levels at which the sigh or growl can be resonated, i.e. the head, the throat or the chest. Thus were born the 'three sons and daughters' of Mama Yin and Papa Yang, combinations of all the possibilities of broken and unbroken lines. Here they are:
  1    2   3    4    5    6    7   8
 ---  - -  - -  - -  ---  ---  ---  - -
 ---  - -  - -  ---  - -  ---  - -  ---
 ---  - -  ---  - -  - -  - -  ---  ---
 Thousands of years must have passed before all three sons and daughters were added as possible answers to the throws. Son Number One (#3 above) had the low unbroken line which I believe stood for the chest growl 'Rrrr' - the low rumble an animal gives before turning tail and fleeing. In the I Ching, which catalogs all the permutations of the lines, this one is named 'Distant Thunder.' I call it, 'Let's Get Outta Here!' Instead of fighting or surrendering, you can always run like hell.
 Son Number Two (see #4 above) was the throat growl, the solid line in the middle or throat position. We all understand the difference between a chest growl and a throat growl. Ask your mailman, or watch a few dogs.  At first the aggressive pooch rumbles in his chest and, if the sound does not migrate to the throat, things remain poised between fight or flight, waiting to see what the tail will do. But it's the throaty 'Grrr!' that precedes the attack roar of the #1 trigram! The I Ching names this  #4 trigram appropriately 'Danger,' which I translate as 'Unh-Oh!'
 The Third Son (see #5) was the 'Rrr' in the head, which can only be the snore. Sure enough, the I Ching lists the third son's attribute as 'resting.' And so the village shaman had the following possibilities to chose from when the enemy was at the gates:
 Father Yang: all-out attack
 Mother Yin: surrender, 
 First Son: run like hell
 Second Son: danger (threaten them and maybe they'll back down)
 Third Son: sleep it off in the bushes and maybe they will go away.
Or in terms of the primal sounds, the attack roar, the sigh, the chest growl, the throat snarl and the snore.

 If my theory was correct, then the I Ching yin trigrams should reflect the three daughters as the three versions of the 'ahhh.' The First Daughter, the 'ah' in the chest, is the grunt with sexual significance -- 'unh, unh.' The I Ching names her 'The Gently Penetrating' (see trigram #6) which makes sense. Send out the beautiful maidens with wreaths of flowers and maybe the attackers will agree to a party. The 'ah' in the throat could stand for the 'aha!' of surprise or a sudden idea -- or perhaps the yawn (see #7). The I Ching names her 'the light-giver,' which fits the 'aha!' of inspiration. In the context of our beleaguered shaman, perhaps it allowed her to say, 'Fake them out with something smart.' The Third Daughter, called 'the joyous' in the I Ching, is of course the 'ah' in the head (#8 trigram) or the 'ha-ha-ha' of laughter. In terms of the enemy at the gates, it's perhaps harder to see the significance of these latter three, although they could stand for 1) 'Meet them with dancing maidens,' 2) 'Surprise them' and 3) 'Tell them funny jokes' -- or perhaps, 'Send out the clowns.'
 Now that the eight trigrams have been described, what about the original one-liners and two-liners? The --- and - -, the   ---    - -
                                                      --- and - - ?
 They must have signified the great-grandparents and grandparents respectively.  Searching for the most primal 'Rrr,' I settled on the death rattle for Great-Grandpa and the spit for Grandpa, both ancient sonic events. Great-Grandma then becomes the cough/vomit -- 'Ak!' and Grandma the sneeze -- 'Ah-choo!'
 From the eight trigrams, the Chinese went on to evolve the sixty-four hexagrams, a very sophisticated system that expanded the possibilities into many subtle interpretations, whose sonic interpretation must wait for another time. Curious, isn't it, how the original desperate shaman's throw developed into a divination method of such subtlety that it's still in use today!

 NOTE: From the I Ching I also developed a Music of the Moment (with a tip of the cap to that cheeriest of composers, Franz Schubert), a method for deriving an 'instant composition' from a given hexagram, a definite assist to the composer needing an 'idea' for a song. This method can be investigated by clicking on Music of the Moment here.