I Ching with 4 coins

Generating Hexagrams with 4 coins

Recently, I wanted to consult the I Ching. Traditionally 49 yarrow stalks are used to generate the hexagrams, but these days it is more common to use 3 coins. The problem with the 3 coin method though, is loss of accuracy in generating the hexagrams.
I vaguely remembered a method using 4 coins, that generated accurate hexagrams, but a quick Google revealed that this method necessitated using binary numbers to determine the result. Something I wanted to avoid.

Table 1: Frequency of lines with yarrow stalks.

The hexagrams of the I Ching are built up from six lines.

These lines can be one of the following:

old yin (yin changing into yang), which has the number 6
young yang (unchanging yang), which has the number 7
young yin (unchanging yin), which has the number 8
old yang (yang changing into yin), which has the number 9

The odds of producing each type of line with yarrow stalks is shown in Table 1.

Table 2: Frequency of Heads (H) and Tails (T) with four coins.

Whilst comparing Table 1 with the corresponding graph for 4 coins (Table 2), I quickly realized that the results did not match. Indeed the most obvious problem being the five columns produced with the coins, as against only four columns with yarrow stalks.
It was whilst reflecting on this problem that inspiration took me. I recalled that with the Obi (divination method used with Egun and Orisha in Santería), when three whites and one black is thrown, a second throw is taken. Equating this with the coins, a throw of HHHT would be thrown again.

Table 3: Frequency of lines generated with four coins, with HHHT being rethrown.

This would reduce the number of columns produced by the coins to four. The second throw could then be split amongst the remaining columns. After playing with the math, I found that the results of the second throw could be split amongst three columns, giving exactly the same results as per yarrow stalks.

Which prompted me to reflect. The Obi and the I Ching are both based upon divisions of 1/16th. Is this pure coincidence, or is there something deeper, connecting the two systems?


8 Replies to “I Ching with 4 coins”

  1. This is not purely coincidental. Non-subjective oracles tend to be based on Binary number systems (0,1,2,4,8,16,32,64,128,256,512, etc). On a single throw, the I Ching will produce one of 64 hexagrams. 3 hexagrams will produce 256.
    A Babalawo will produce one of 256 signs. Arabic Al-Raml will produce one of 16 signs (which, strangely enough, are nearly identical figures, often with similar meanings – the sign of the elder male in Ifa is the same visually as it is in Raml). In India, something similar exists as well. Islamic Sufi’s will refer to what they refer to as the Tablet – a road map of 32 geomantic patterns that define Allahs will. A friend of mine had a conversation with a Buddhist monk using only geomantic figures that come from Raml (the monk did not speak english, but they understood each other very clearly). The Hakata of the Shona and the tablet system of the Chokwe also have nearly identical methods of interpretation. They form a figure that produces some sort of picture or symbol that illustrates the point of the sign it produces. In terms of simple yes/no type divination, the face up/down combinations consistently have the same or very similar meanings.

    This similarity seems to exist among people who have one thing in common – their cosmologies are based on observation of the physical world. The Bantu Dikenga and Lakota medicine wheel have the same colors and both illustrate the progression of the sun, of the cycle of life and death. I believe that either all this knowledge comes from a single source initially, or that people watching the universe in action came to the same conclusions as each other.

    I could keep talking about this for hours…its a hobby 😉

  2. Interesting that the carbon atom, the main building block of all biological matter is an atomic structure with 16 electrons swirling around its nucleus. The entire Physical world is built upon the binary system, right down to the cells in our body.

  3. I actually bought a book about this technique some years back. It’s somewhat similar to the obi abata divination without the four directions.

  4. Good day! I could have sworn I’ve been to this website before but after looking at many of the articles I realized it’s new to me. Anyways, I’m definitely delighted I discovered it and I’ll be book-marking it and checking back frequently!

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