Content: The I Ching is an ancient book of divination. In fact, to its devotees it is almost a semi-aware oracle which assists the user to reach decisions on questions in their life through the interpretation of messages selected by random castings of coins (or originally, yarrow sticks). This is known as bibliomancy and has been practised using other books, including the Bible, but not necessarily with this depth of choice of random number generation (64 possible choices with alternative meanings on some lines depending on the strength of the random castings)
My thoughts : Another odd book to review. More of a reference book than a work of literature, although there is beauty in the simple messages given via the trigrams (or patterns of castings). To read the actual messages is more like scanning dozens of thoughtful and puzzling hidden truths in peculiarly wisdom-inspired fortune cookie messages (and yes, I know fortune cookies are an American invention)
And yes, I did ask the I Ching a few questions for myself. No – I’m not going to divulge the details on the blog, but the answers certainly seem to lean on the side of common sense! That said, the use of the I Ching could be said to be of most value in making the enquirer think solidly about their question when interpreting the messages, and reach their decision after that process of examination, or even their subconscious feelings, rather than any oracular guidance.
My version was the highly regarded translation by Wilhelm, originally in German, then translated again into English by Baynes (ISBN 069109750X), which I had to get the librarian to fetch out of storage. The lengthy foreword by Jung (the famous psychiatrist) was both interesting and useful in understanding the history and impact of the work.
More than any particular passage, what I enjoyed most was how each of the 64 combinations are actually a marriage of two trigrams, or three line patterns, and each trigram has a meaning : heaven, earth, thunder, water, mountain, wind, fire or lake. Combining two meanings gives a theme which implies characteristics: e.g. earth on top of water equals groundwater, which is like an army formed by the common people in times of need, unseen until required, so hidden strength ; while water beneath a mountain is likened to the spring rising at the foot of the mountain, a symbol of youthful folly. These characteristics are then tied to action (or inaction) when interpreting the seeker’s question.
Diversions/digressions : only in actually getting some coins and trying out a few questions.
Personal rating 5/10
Content : A collection of spells which would be inscribed on scrolls, tomb walls or inside coffins, to assist the deceased Egyptian (and not necessarily just Pharaohs) to enjoy the Afterlife.
My thoughts: I must admit defeat on this title. I read the first 60 spells and found many of them obscure to the point of meaninglessness. I skimmed the rest of the book and must admit that it would require long-term intense research for a layman such as myself to gain meaning from it. I get the basics : the ritual of judgement by weighing the heart of the deceased with Ammut the half-hippo, half-crocodile waiting to devour the sinful; the opening of the mouth to allow the deceased to regain speech and freedom of movement; the spells to allow changing into birds, snakes, crocodiles, etc.
The spells are full of contradictions and assertions that the deceased is this god or that god. The whole is so far removed from modern context and logic that it makes no sense – certainly not to me.
Favourite lines/passages : I did enjoy some of the spells and ideas, and in particular Spell 32 : Spell for repelling a crocodile which comes to take away a spirit’s magic from him in the realm of the dead.
Get back, you crocodile of the West, who lives on the Unwearying Stars! Detestation of you is in my belly, for I have absorbed the power of Osiris, and I am Seth. …… Get back, you crocodile of the South, living on faeces, smoke and want! Detestation of you is in my belly, and my blood is not in your hand, for I am Sopd. ….. Get back you crocodile in the North! A scorpion is in my belly, but I will not give it birth.
Diversions/digressions : I did consider reading more about the Egyptian pantheon of gods. I looked through Egyptian mythology by Veronica Ions, and whereas the last chapter on Life after death assured me I had understood some of the rituals and purposes of the spells, again the contradictions/multiple aspects and behaviours attributed to each god made my head spin more. Life is short and without much faith in the effectiveness of these spells to my own Afterlife, I will move on. Good luck with your own attempt.
Personal rating : 2/10
Next : The Rig Veda. My copy is the Penguin edition translated by Wendy O’Flaherty (ISBN 0140444025)
The Book of the Dead, or more correctly, The Chapters of Coming-forth by day, are a collection of spells left in the tomb of the ancient Egyptians containing directions to ensure their passage to the afterlife. There are numerous copies available, each seemingly with a different assortment of extant spells. Perhaps not surprising as it is believed that each set of scrolls was individually requested and created. I have several copies available at my library, and the particular copy I have settled for is a nice glossy illustrated copy titled The Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead, translated by Raymond O. Faulkner and published by the British Museum (ISBN 0714109460)