Bob Dylan and the I Ching

I've already mentioned that John Cage and Leonard Cohen used the Book of Changes, but apparently Bob Dylan thought highly of the oracle too, as comes out in an interview he did with the Chicago Daily News in 1965:

Q: What about religion and philosophy?

A: I just don't have any religion or philosophy, I can't say much about any of them. A lot of people do, and fine if they really do follow a certain code. I'm not about to go around changing anything. I don't like anybody to tell me what I have to do or believe, how I have to live. I just don't care, you know. Philosophy can't give me anything that I don't already have. The biggest thing of all, that encompasses it all, is kept back in this country. It's an old Chinese philosophy and religion, it really was one… there is a book called the "I-Ching", I'm not trying to push it, I don't want to talk about it, but it's the only thing that is amazingly true, period, not just for me. Anybody would know it. Anybody that ever walks would know it, it's a whole system of finding out things, based on all sorts of things. You don't have to believe in anything to read it, because besides being a great book to believe in, it's also very fantastic poetry.

There is a further Bob Dylan reference to the I Ching in the bootleg version of his song 'Idiot Wind', in which there was this line:

I threw the I-Ching yesterday, it said there'd be some thunder at the well.

The reference to the I Ching was changed later to the more generic 'fortune-teller', for instance from the 'Hard Rain' (live 1976) version:

I ran into the fortune teller, she said beware 'cause some lightning might strike.

Assuming Dylan was inspired by an actual consultation of the I Ching, then 'thunder at the well' implies he got hexagram 51 with all but the top line changing, moving to hexagram 48. I would interpret that as an extremely positive oracle, placing most emphasis on the sixth line of hexagram 48. An excellent oracle for writing a song, for instance. Certainly there's no need to be wary, but people rarely interpret the I Ching correctly when there are multiple line changes so it's to be expected that he may have latched onto some of the warnings in the changing lines of hexagram 51.


Another songwriter inspired by the I Ching is Syd Barrett. His song 'Chapter 24' on the Pink Floyd album 'Piper at the Gates of Dawn' comes from hexagram 24 in the Wilhelm-Baynes translation, including this great line:

All movements are accomplished in six stages, and the seventh brings return.

If you're interested in the meaning of this phrase, see my animation of the bigua sequence.


(thanks to Justin for pointing out the Dylan references)