On being an Yijing consultant, among other things

JULY 24 04

I haven't done any Yijing readings for ages and am pondering withdrawing from giving them. I don't personally consult the Yijing a great deal any more (I know what it's going to say in virtually every situation), and I am no longer convinced many people are able to hear what it's saying, not deeply. For many who consult it themselves it's become an overused fallback for a reluctance to take personal responsibility for living one's life, and is rarely understood properly because resorted to habitually too frequently and over largely trivial concerns ('Should I go to this pop concert?').

There's a good reason there aren't many Yijing consultants in the world. It's easy to get out of your depth in offering readings for others if your understanding of the oracle isn't sufficiently penetrating, and there are easier ways to tell fortunes if it's just pin money you're after. Tarot for instance is good at painting general pictures, which are useful in themselves, but the Yijing is more specifically used for direct decision-making, and when you have every chance of actually influencing someone's destiny, the whole course of their life, if they base their decision on your reading, you should take care. Anyone who treats that as a day-to-day way to make a living can easily become blasé about it and their readings will not have much depth, and may even be quite wrong. There's much more to it than rephrasing a translation into bite-sized pieces. Use of the Yijing as a constant crutch of reference lacks true fluidity and rarely bestows the ability to confidently extemporise beyond the page, such readers end up quoting the Yi like Bible passages as the answer to every woe, because they aren't grasping the pattern that would free them to become oracle-like in themselves and thereby an unhindered conduit. In all likelihood they'll get stuck at a level and not progress any further, and since to me progression of understanding is much more important than making any money I've never been bothered about 'drumming up business'. All so tawdry, frankly.

The main trouble with 'fortune-telling' is that many people who 'want their fortune told' don't really want their fortune told, they would actually far prefer some waffle that makes them feel better and doesn't ask them to take responsibility for their own lives, and many cater for that. Look at the ads at the back of 'Prediction' magazine, looks much like a Tottenham Court Road telephone box full of hookers' cards. The psychic cottage industry is a fairly grubby affair really, playing on similar insecurities and feelings of lack as the sex industry. It's all quite pathetic, so I have sometimes been in two minds about doing Yijing readings for people, as my ideal was always some guy sitting serenely on the top of a mountain that you went to see, and maybe you brought him some potatoes and a jug of soya milk.

At first I started doing readings mainly to see what it could teach me personally about the Yijing by the act of doing it. I did it on a donations basis through the post at first, indeed advertising at the back of 'Prediction'. This was many years ago. About a 100 people responded, and most were freeloaders wanting something for nothing taking advantage of my offer to do readings for free if they couldn't afford to donate, just two actually bothered to donate anything for my time and effort. So I learnt that it's easy to encourage people to take advantage of you when you have a sincere view yourself and want to try to do something worthwhile. But mainly I learnt that for a few people the Yijing could help. I particularly remember one girl with cancer who didn't have long to live. We corresponded for a while, she found what the Yijing had to say, or at least my interpretation of it, of great value to her and despite all the people who took advantage of my generosity this seemed to me to be the overall reason behind my first experiment in interfering in other people's lives as an Yijing consultant. After all, there aren't any convenient career booklets.

I learnt about the Yijing in a new way. It added depth to my understanding of it to take it out into the world like this. What had persuaded me to try doing Yijing readings for people in the first place, since really it is a huge assumption that you know enough, was meeting a remarkable man named Bob giving Yijing readings at the Stonehenge Summer Solstice Festival in 1984, the last great one before 'The Battle of the Beanfield' in 1985 when Thatcher's police state truncheoned 'The Convoy'; listen to The Leveller's song about it if you want to know what happened. Perhaps some reading this may remember Bob, if so, drop me a line. He was the guy who organised the children into a dragon to pick up the litter; he had a sign outside his bender reading in multicoloured marker pens: 'I Ching Coin Prediction and Jade Tea Garden.' He gave me a reading late at night, forgoing Hawkwind on the main stage because he believed in fate and thought there must be some reason I'm coming through the flap of his bender at this time. Without any exaggeration, that meeting completely altered the course of my life. I hung around for a few days learning from him, serving tea, and then we parted company. Never seen him since.

I learnt a great deal from Bob in that short time, he became my example. It wasn't so much his ability to interpret the Yijing that impressed itself upon me, since as he said himself: 'I don't do anything. I just let them read the book. The less I do the better.' What impressed me about Bob was that he had taken the Yi into his very being. Though I felt I 'knew more' than he did about the oracle – after all I had been studying it daily for two whole years at that point (I had no idea how sparse my knowledge really was) – I didn't at that time act according to my understanding and I knew that, I had not made it real in myself as he had, and to me just meeting him made me realise what I needed to learn. It was like meeting a blackbelt Yijing guy. So this was what a person who 'really understood the Yijing' was actually like. I had never met anyone before who exemplified the book the way he did. Actually, I haven't met anyone like that since then either.

It is said that before you can 'act as if ordained by sign and seal' you have to have a meeting with a minister of the Emperor, to receive the appointment as it were. This was what I dearly wanted to happen in my tender romantic yearnings, though I never imagined that in this day and age that the Yi had an exterior reality to this extent, and that fate could organise such a meeting. When it happened, all at once I knew differently. I am quite sure I would never have written 'The Mandate of Heaven' years later had I not met this man, the seed was sown then, such is the extent to which destiny is a reality in my life. At one point he even said in answer to one of my questions of him: 'I serve the Emperor.' There was silence for a moment, I didn't know what to make of this statement, then he tapped the book and said: 'The book is the Emperor.' And since then I have never seen the book as anything other than the Emperor.

When I asked him why he'd decided to do Yijing readings, his answer was simple: 'The Yijing has helped me, so I figured I could help it to help other people.' He became for me an initiator into a whole new level of the oracle, in which I saw a network of fate extending out. It seemed important to at least be available should anyone have a need to consult the oracle and hadn't got the time needed to learn it themselves, who just wanted an answer via a competent intermediary. Deciding whether or not I myself was a competent intermediary was never something I took lightly. It struck me as a role involving great responsibility.

Doing readings in person, which I later graduated to, was a whole different ballgame. I used to advertise Yijing readings now and again in the local newspaper, when I felt drawn to it. I was always surprised by the intricacy of the web of fate I could discern in each individual's story. I remember one elderly woman came for her appointment on a stormy night, as I opened the door lightning flashed in the blackness behind her and thunder cracked. It was like something out of 'The Exorcist', very filmic. She gave every impression of not knowing much about the Yijing at first, and didn't want to tell me too much, which is to be expected, people like to see what you can tell them and to see whether they can trust you before they open up and tell you things. After all, it's just some bloke advertising in a local paper, who knows who they are. When I handed her the coins and started to tell her what to do with them she said: 'Oh I remember how to use these, six times isn't it?' I let her get on with it and wrote the hexagram down. Her question concerned whether to move out of the house she was presently living to go to a smaller place. A good question to put to the Yijing, concerning something practical that needs a decision.

The oracle suggested it would be a good thing to move now. Then we got talking, and it transpired that her husband of many years had recently died, and 40 years ago she had gone to see a man advertising fortune-telling in the newspaper to ask whether she should marry him. The man had used the Yijing and it told her that it would be a good thing. Their marriage had been wonderful. A few years later she had visited the man again to ask whether to move into the very house she was now asking the oracle about leaving. The oracle said it would be a good purchase. They had had a very happy life in that house, but now it seemed too big, too full of memories, and she was thinking of moving out. Just then, she happened to see my ad in the paper, the other man who had consulted the Yi for her long since dead. So three times over the course of her life she had consulted the Yijing via an intermediary, twice in the past she had followed its counsel to good effect and then for whatever reason I feel drawn to doing a few Yijing readings again so put an ad in the paper and she is afforded the opportunity of once again consulting the oracle. This for me provided a splendid picture of a working out of fates and of the long history the Yi can have with some people who do not otherwise use it themselves. It confirmed for me that making myself available to do readings from time to time had been the right thing to do.

Practically everyone I have done an Yijing reading for in person brought some little gift of understanding for me, though not consciously on their part. It was what I took from what they told me, and the sheer range of people who came for readings never ceased to amaze me. Once a Chinese actor came, who I had seen playing a swordfighter in a Hong Kong movie just the week before and whose performance I had been particularly impressed by. Now he wanted to ask the oracle whether to go and join his gay lover in New York. When I got in some difficulty in my experiments with voodoo I was visited by a Brazilian guy who wanted a reading who turned out to be an initiate of Candomblé who set me straight on a few points concerning Papa Legba, who I felt was getting a little out of control in my life. At first he didn't recognise the name, then the form of the loa registered in his own tradition: 'Ah Leba!' Whereupon he spontaneously answered a question on my mind that added much perspective to my understanding: 'Low level deity in need of control by higher level deity.'

But it doesn't always work out so smoothly.

I have given a number of Yijing readings in my time when as soon as the person walked through the door I knew they wouldn't be capable of taking in whatever the Yi had to tell them. Nonetheless, I tell them, watch them not hear it, they question me, I expand, and I watch them not hear it again. Only once was I wrong in my initial assessment of a person's capacity to hear. Here is her story.

She was a very attractive girl I did a reading for some years back, a French au pair wearing furs, she walked in looking classy like a film actress with a jetset lifestyle. I consulted the Yi for her, she was hearing nothing, nothing at all, and she was asking the kind of questions that really aren't very useful. I think she expected to come in and sit down and I was going to read her mind or something, or give her some cock-and-bull story like some of the charlatans she had doubtless visited before, psychics, mediums, whatever. She seemed taken aback when I asked her, as I ask everybody, quite formally: 'What is it you want to ask the oracle?' She didn't seem to know, had given it no thought beforehand, so rustled up something quickly: 'What's going to happen in my life?'

'Nothing more specific…?'

'Will I have a happy life?'

Sometimes it's pointless requesting a greater degree of being specific. When faced with a question like that there doesn't seem much point either in explaining my own personal philosophy that actually happiness is just a transitory moment within a continuum of ever-changing moments and nothing that can be clung to as some never-changing characteristic of being. In other words, sometimes you'll have a happy life, other times you won't. It's not a question for an oracle, it's simply a matter of observation. Nonetheless, such a question says something straight away and you don't have to be that astute to see it: she doesn't feel happy. Therefore something is on her mind. That's what I want to get to, that's what I always want, let's get to that question. But sometimes you have to go via the route of these surface questions and see what bubbles up. Maybe nothing, maybe it'll just stay there and the person is better off with a tarot reader telling them they'll meet someone and have a relationship. Something to look forward to, a bit of hope to grasp onto.

I was wondering what exactly she was expecting, what she was looking for, as she seemed to lose interest in her questions as soon as she asked them. She didn't have a lot of stillness in her being. Nonetheless, I told her what the Yi was saying about this and tried not to make it sound like the vapid platitudes and generalisms I knew it was. We didn't seem to be moving any closer to something real. We asked about a few more things, such as: 'Is there any money coming?' This kind of Gypsy Rose Lee thing. I'm sure I don't sound enthusiastic enough on these kinds of queries to be considered a proper fortune-teller. After all, money will always come, one way or another. How satisfied can anyone be with an answer that has to limit itself to just stating the obvious because the question posits a whole galaxy of assumptions about the nature of fate that I just don't share? Pointless me saying: 'Well what do you expect with such banal questions? Don't you realise this is the oracle of Emperors and Kings and that great destinies have hinged on a question to this book you have come here today to consult?' No, pointless me saying that.

Then as we had some time left and her previous questions hadn't excited the interest of the oracle to a great extent she was searching her mind for things to ask and decided she'd like to enquire about a man she had met at a busstop the day before who had asked her whether she would like to do some modelling and possibly film work, she wanted to know whether he was genuine and could he be trusted. I felt I could answer that one myself, but nonetheless put it to the Yi out of curiosity as to how it might express it. To my surprise the oracle appeared to approve of this horny male trying to get into her knickers with the crummiest chat-up line ever. I thought to myself, surely this is a test for anyone who professes to be an Yijing consultant, there is absolutely no way I am going to tell her that yes the oracle of Kings and Emperors says the guy at the busstop could be a splendid opportunity to do some modelling and possibly film work. This whole question was ill-conceived and let's just forget about it. I could sense the oracle smiling wryly. Sometimes the Yi expects you to think for yourself, as startling as that may be to realise for those who consult it ten to twenty times a day over worthless considerations. Nonetheless: 'Well, yes, possibly, may be a modelling opportunity, not entirely ruled out.' What I wanted to say was: 'This is just some slimeball who wants to put you in pornos.' I allowed this note of caution to seep out just slightly, after all, who am I to say, oracle gives the thumbs up, maybe it's Cecile B De Mille at that busstop, who am I to say, who am I to divert someone from their proper destiny? And come to that, maybe she would be good in pornos. We talked about it, she managed to talk herself out of the whole idea. Good call, I thought.

We talked some more, I attempted to flesh out the empty answers the oracle had given to her previous empty questions, attempting a grand unified theory of not a lot of any great substance, just 20 minutes more and we could both move on, she putting it down to the Yijing not being much good and me lamenting the lack of self-knowledge of people wanting Yijing readings these days. Sometimes the Yi leaves you stating the obvious many times over and still it's not going in. Then I said something to her, something I was picking up as an underlying theme in these oracles, just a few words that must have caught her, because she suddenly burst into tears. At last, she heard it. So I said to her:

'The oracle hasn't got anything more to say to you. That's it. You've got it.'

She looked at me through streaming watery eyes and said: 'Got what? That my life is shit?'

I nodded my head: 'Yes, your life is shit.'

She burst into tears again. I waited until she had finished, telling her it was okay, just cry, crying's good, crying is from somewhere deep within. I was thinking, this is okay, this is pure Carl Rogers and the wonders of the therapeutic relationship.

Then she said: 'What can I do about it?'

I smiled: 'I thought you'd never ask.'

She burst into tears again. Somehow it seemed a perfect understanding, she was listening to herself.

She asked me, starting to smile: 'Is this an I Ching reading?'

'Better. The oracle has spoken to you directly. That happens sometimes.'

Sometimes answers are really simple.

She knew what it was that was bothering her. She was very lonely and feeling isolated for all she had the surface appearance of having everything anyone might want. There was no-one in her glamorous life she could confide in that actually she didn't feel very glamorous, she felt like shit. She needed to let that out. When she saw my card on a noticeboard and decided to come for an Yijing reading, not really knowing what that was, this was the last thing on her mind. She was looking to be told something by me that I couldn't possibly know, like a psychic parlour game, but she didn't expect it to be so accurate.