The I Ching Deciphered

Jeffrey Llechid Williams. Privately published (available through Amazon), 2009. iii + 95pp. Paperback £12.48/$20.00. Lulu edition £11.72. ISBN 978-1-4092-9625-6.


In his Baobuzi, Neipian, the 4th century Daoist Ge Hong tells the tale of Gu Qiang, who claimed to be 4,000 years old and to have met, among other worthies, Confucius. The latter apparently urged Gu to study the Book of Changes, saying:

This is a very good book. I am so fond of it that the leather thongs holding my copy together have broken three times, as has also my iron head scratcher, but the result is my present full enlightenment.


– Ware, Alchemy, Medicine & Religion in the China of AD 320, p 323.

Iron head scratchers apart, the point of this charming quotation is plainly that, if even Confucius read his copy of the Changes to destruction three times, it takes a very long period indeed to understand the Yijing. The usual figure bandied about is a minimum of ten years. Having spent forty with the book, I can only say that I now realise it's unlikely that I'll plumb its depths in this lifetime.

According to the back cover, Jeffrey Williams' book is

the culmination of two and a half years of soul searching questions which were asked for 18 hours a day every single day whilst he was subjected to constant, unjustified duress. The questions were asked in every possible location ranging from the back seat of a bus, on the roadside and even in toilets of public houses.

Plainly, I haven't been studying hard enough. Nonetheless, the mention of 'constant, unjustified duress' caused a little head scratching on my own part, so I emailed Mr Williams seeking further clarification. Regrettably, I haven't yet received a reply.

Turning to the introduction, Mr Williams tells us that his spirit guides have informed him that Jung in his foreword to the Wilhelm/Baynes edition deluded everyone to prevent the Changes being used for evil. Quite how the book could be used in that fashion is not explained, and nor is the exact nature of Jung's deceit; but apparently he did this not realising, unlike our author, that those who'd sold their souls to the devil couldn't use the book effectively anyway. He then continues:

My main reason for this work is to provide everyone with the means of attaining mastery over every soldier of Satan that walks this earth. My spirit guides have also informed me that Satan's twenty thousand years, given him by God, will end in approximately eleven years time [i.e., 2020]. The reason for this is that God, when he created Ark Angels [sic], ensured that they would have to enter a womb in order to come into the world. Now God has blocked all wombs so that Satan cannot enter them! Hence his reign is coming to an end.

This time-span will doubtless come as a relief to those who expect the world to end in 2012, although what the fair sex will make of our author's notions I can only conjecture; but unfortunately nowhere in the text is there any further mention of exactly how the book might help one attain mastery over the Satanic hordes. Still, having read this, the reader will understand why I then began to wonder about the possibility of actually being able to find an iron head scratcher on eBay.

There is no full text of the Yijing here, although our author provides us with helpful one-line summaries of the hexagrams, such as 'Hexagram (20) Contemplation means contemplation' and 'Hexagram (22) Grace means yes and no!' Thereafter, the bulk of the book is made up of a record of questions he asked, and the relevant parts of the answers he received. Readers must decide for themselves whether it's significant that the first question recorded here is 'Are you sure that I should continue to take these tablets?' Remaining questions are generally of the most basic kind, such as 'should I go to town and do some shopping?' or concern his dealings with the three large soldiers living in the flat below his own.

Unfortunately, Mr Williams' spirit guides don't appear to have informed him about the laws of copyright, as the bulk of the book is made up of wholesale quotations from the Wilhelm/Baynes edition of the I Ching, with text and commentary presented in a largely indistinguishable format. These are often followed by enlightening authorial comments such as 'The above line is self-explanatory.'

Mr Williams, it seems, is also a student of Evolutionary Astrology, a branch of the art of Natal Astrology that deals with the evolution of the soul as influenced by its previous incarnations. This may explain his frequent references to the soul, a concept alien to the original Yijing, and his frequent but unexplained references to 'consulting the soul', the meaning of which is unclear, and to 'following the Tao', which he defines as God's will. There is rarely any explanation of how the situation consulted about resolved itself and the questions are presented in no perceivable order. Our author plainly has no idea how to deal with a situation where he has received more than one moving line; for example, when receiving five, he proceeds to read all of them. Similarly, and with no apparent logic, we are told on certain occasions that, having read the primary hexagram judgment and line texts, when one arrives at the secondary hexagram one only reads the Judgment text, while on others that one only reads the Image. Perhaps consistency is a little too much to ask for.

Only on very rare occasions does our author expand his explanation beyond a sentence or two, and one of these is to be found on page 28, where he 'explains' his views on line 5 of hexagram 62. I trust I may be forgiven for quoting this in full, as it also gives a fair example of Mr Williams' writing style:

The above line had me baffled for quite some time and all of a sudden it came to me. King Wen and his son the Duke of Chou lived each day with their lives in constant danger. Then I deduced that they would have had to disguise the real meaning of many lines in the I Ching in order to stay alive. Furthermore, one of the family feigned insanity and this fact alone assured that if Chou Hsin would have read their writings that it would have convinced him that he was truly insane, as the lines make no sense at all.

There is, of course, neither any explanation, nor even any further mention, of these non-sensical 'disguised meanings' and one is perhaps left with the impression that, when it comes to deciphering the Yijing, rather than reading Mr Williams' book, one would, in fact, be far, far better off with an iron head scratcher.

A small book with a large price tag, Mr Williams' work will only have any value for those who, like me, have a vaguely 'anthropological' interest in the more distant fringes of Yijing studies. As for others, well, some readers will know that a few years ago I co-authored I Ching: An Annotated Bibliography, which means that a rather large amount of Yijing literature has passed before my eyes, some of it even causing a fair amount of head scratching. With that experience, I would have to say that this is absolutely the most atrociously useless work on the subject it has ever been my misfortune to examine, a pinnacle of achievement that I trust will justify its presence in these august pages.