I Ching coins and future transits

Here is a recent exchange with a friend, an astrologer who has used the I Ching oracle for many years. Her principal dilemma concerns a literal vs. divinatory understanding of astrology in interpreting future horoscope transits. This raises subtle issues that elude simple expression both in theory and in practice. The enquiry is prefaced by a ‘tiny dilemma’ concerning the rationale of the three-coin method of divination with the I Ching. The fortuitous juxtaposition suggests that the tiny dilemma illuminates the big dilemma, and that both resolve in the cosmology of Heaven-and-Earth in the I Ching.

Dear Geoffrey,

Tiny dilemma: for the I Ching, I use 3 Chinese coins, inscribed on one side and not inscribed on the other. Somehow I have become stranded between equating the former with the numerical value of 3 and the latter with 2, and the reverse… Do you know a rationale that would help establish which ‘system’ to use?

Bigger dilemma: I went through my daughter’s transits for 2018 with her, using Rob Hand’s Planets in Transit. She didn’t like them at all and wobbled on the edge of rejecting them altogether, and I found myself at a loss as to how to frame the whole thing non-deterministically, i.e. divinatorily. I actually found myself edging towards the old ‘they’re just probable future conditions’ chestnut, i.e. seed moment + its conditions! Good grief…

So could you just give me an idea of how you and Maggie think about future transits in a way that respects divination? Or remind me, since I must surely have encountered that already?

My reply:

Aren’t these the same dilemma?

When I saw your juxtaposition, I realised that the two and the three show the dilemma arising from the error of earth, k’un, when it leads instead of following heaven – then human being gets stranded between the two.

There are tiny and big moves towards resolving the dilemma, and I understand why you shrink from a ‘trends and potentials’ reading. It is too small for what is required.

How to put this briefly in one email!

The ‘tiny’ dilemma of the coins is easy to deal with: either way is right if it turns out right. You’ll see debate on the web from I Ching folk, including authorities, who divide roughly in half as to heads and tails, 3 and 2 or 2 and 3 both for western but also for traditional Chinese coins. There are plausible rationales either way, but to say one is right as if the other is wrong is to put the 2’s and 3’s the wrong way round. I happen to take the inscribed side with four characters as showing 3 and equivalent to heads, yang. I guess the sensible approach is to stay with the rationale you long ago adopted, unless, exceptionally, you deem it is ritually time to change.

The bigger dilemma also involves things being put the wrong way round. The ‘moment of astrology’ question arises immediately we speculate on future-unknown things using any form of divination. I was of course struggling to understand and express this in MOA, and I never stop looking for effective ways to express it, and cannot be sure I have them. The k’un/ch’ien analogy is to suggest that the future (and our narrative of the past) springs from the present, but determinism sets up a displaced non-present, a not-here-we-are, in the lead. It’s not on!

There is a similar displacement that diviners sometimes fall into with I Ching divination, when they make the second hexagram following a change be ‘the outcome’ and see that simply as ‘the future’. That is not to see the bigger resolution that the change and the second hexagram are the qualifying condition, the essential to be understood, the doom of the Time of this divination, here, now.

In the context of what you have said about your daughter’s 2018 transits, here’s how I might put the issue to you: what, why and where are these transits? We think they are in such-and-such a month in 2018, and this statement of when somehow fixes them in place, so they are THEN. But really they are HERE, NOW as symbols of the future-now, not the future-then. The future, therefore, must and will take care of itself and all we are asked to do is understand how we are now with respect to our for-now narrative of our past, present and projected/imagined/hoped-for/dreaded future. Things being round the wrong way in deterministic astrology means we forget that what we do and how we set ourselves now is integral to what will come-to-pass then. This is where the humanistic astrologers have a healthy instinct in saying that we happen to events, rather than events happen to us. For me it is an unpredictable marvel of the grace of divination that a symbol might arise to allow us to reflect purposefully on this integration of now and then. Grace, not mechanics.

What is that likely to boil down to in practice? It’s always easy to slip, but I am wary both with my own astrology but certainly with any client about being caught in future-speculation that is not rooted in some clearly acknowledged and symbolised feature of current concern. Basically, it means sticking with the ‘locating significance’ approach Maggie and I have always taught at the COA. ‘Discretion together with art’ will usually suggest where someone is locked into a difficult pattern in life, and if this can be seen in the current picture of the horoscope, then we usually expect a future transit or progression to pick up the theme and allow it to be cast back into the present reality. Mostly, and for natal charts, there are still elements that won’t be far off the generalised language of trends and potentials, but the key is to keep things connected to concrete manifest reality of the present, where the client can actually see and agree it (all the more powerful if they can share the symbolism with the astrologer). Further, a definitive judgment (essentially a prediction) is not precluded and can break through for the astrologer (viz. ‘look, I do think the messy situation you are in does have to come an end around the end of June when there’s that big Saturn transit…what would that mean for you?…’) Sometimes, that may be what is needed. It doesn’t actually matter whether this is materially and temporally true or not (the machine of destiny) – what matters is that it is truth-speaking and productive of good. (As a side-note here, I think this fits Freud’s sharp observation that the client does not bother if the fortune-teller makes obvious incorrect predictions, but just needs him or her to MAKE predictions, because then there is something for the unconscious to work on).

I could go on, but I shouldn’t.
I hope it works out for your daughter.

all the best,


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