Apart from astrology, I am also a student of the Chinese book of wisdom, the I Ching, and use insights from the one to enrich my understanding of the other. The Taoist system underlying the I Ching arises from the polarity of the masculine and the feminine, the Yang and the Yin. Astrology also divides signs and planets into feminine and masculine. This article explores the essential differences between the Yin and the Yang and applies them to a western astrological context. Astrology and I Ching have more in common than first appears.
Western astrology and I Ching are like two very different languages, say Chinese and Latin. Any effort to claim a perfect one-to-one correspondence will fail. And yet, when we take each system down to its basic concepts, we can begin to build an understanding of the way in which each language describes the same concept. The use of the two polarities of Yin and Yang, Darkness and Light, to describe certain processes is one such area of similarity. Where the approach fails is when 20th century philosophers and occultists attempted to find one to one correspondences between western astrology and the 64 I Ching hexagrams. Such associations are necessarily Procrustean and subjective, because they attempt to find equivalence between complex concepts. It is far more enriching to simplify first, down to first principles. Astrology and I Ching each build different structures with these building blocks, but we examine the astrological use of masculine and feminine planets and the similarity to the Tai Ch’i emblem symbolizing the interplay of Yin and Yang.
The nature of the difference between the Yin and Yang became illuminated for me in a recent I Ching reading where I was anxious about not having received something promised. The resulting hexagram was the Yin hexagram consisting of all broken lines. It is known in English by many names, including the Feminine, Field, and the Receptive. It is one a group of hexagrams tied to specific months of the ancient Chinese calendar. Because it represents total darkness, it is associated with the depths of winter when nothing much seems to be happening in nature, and the natural world is silently being rejuvenated and protected until growing time arrives. (Read a fascinating article about the calendar associations of the months with various hexagrams, as revealed by the use of a gnomon.)
Now, a brief digression: I am not fond of the masculine/feminine names for these energies, because the names tell us little about the nature of masculinity or femininity, even if such gender essentialist labels meant anything. They imply that it is masculine to possess consciousness, while it is feminine to be a vehicle for creation. In this simplistic universe, neither can enter the other’s realm. It is only a short step to assume from such labels that women are to act in one way while men act in another. It is far more accurate to call the first and second hexagrams Force and Field, respectively, according to Steven Karcher’s translation. All beings have phases in their existence when they act via Force and other times when they act as Field. The tree in spring extrudes leaves: a show of Force. Light acts upon the chlorophyll in the leaves: Field.
The essential energy of the Yin hexagram is straightforward, but it took me many years to understand it. Its associated animal is the mare, a beast of burden crucial to the ancient Chinese who traveled long distances across deserts, mountains, and steppes. The mare’s virtues are patience and acceptance. The message in my reading was clear; wait and be patient. In a few days the wisdom of the reading became evident when the object of my reading dropped into my lap with no additional effort needed.
This is the nature of the “feminine” planets of the Western astrological tradition. They achieve their aims by letting things come to them; Venus gains by her attractive force, while the Moon does so by her ability to reflect all that she encounters like the cosmic mirror. Each desires relationship to another person or experience to fully be itself. In a horary, a person symbolized by the Moon might have the quality of being changeable and fond of travel, constantly seeking new stimuli and diversions. In a relationship setting, regardless of the individuals’ gender, the partner shown by Venus is the one attracting the other like a magnet directing iron filings (Mars).
Hexagram One, Force, indicates the impetus to act. Its appearance heralds a time when we must go after the desired result. Things will not come to us of their own accord: we must bestir ourselves and reach out, take a risk. Only if we make a show of energy will the Universe cooperate and send us its blessings. Several years ago I was poised at the brink of an important life change that, if I took a chance, would upend everything familiar. The Force hexagram appeared frequently for me during those months. In retrospect, Force told me that it was time to be bold and enter the unknown with confidence. I did so to the best of my ability and found that once I took the leap of faith into the unknown, circumstances conspired to bring me a deeper and richer life experience than I had ever had before.
The Chinese animal associated with Force is the dragon. It can live in all of the elements; water, earth, fire, and air. It is the symbol of the bold explorer who treats the entire cosmos as her home, even the parts she does not know. Its qualities are courage and confidence. When Force appears, we are called on to transcend our boundaries. Its assertive qualities evoke interesting intersections between the “masculine” planets of astrology and I Ching Yang energy.
Western astrology has five masculine planets; Mercury (though it is technically “bi-gendered,” it most often manifests as young men), the Sun, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. The Sun, Mars, and Jupiter most exemplify the qualities of Force in the Chinese tradition. These three planets are associated with the hot quality in Western thought: the Sun and Mars are hot and dry, while Jupiter is hot and moist. All things being equal, the “hot” planets in an astrological context indicate individuals who go out and get the things they want, rather than waiting to attract them.
Unsurprisingly, Force is associated with the time of year when light is at its apex: the summer solstice. The world is illuminated and all things are filled with life-giving magic. Summer is the solstitial gate associated with John the Baptist in the Christian story, the saint through whom eternal life commences. The solar herb St. John’s Wort and many other medicinal plants and substances are traditionally gathered in midsummer for maximum potency. Jesus, said to be born at the time of the winter solstice, personifies the power of Yin, and preaches the virtues of the Field. Jesus says of John the Baptist: “He must decrease, but I must increase.” (John 3:30). This mysterious quotation makes sense when we see it as a reference to light. John, as the summer solstice, can only decrease in light, while the winter solstice, represented by Jesus, will increase in light. One need not subscribe to the tenets of Christianity to view these two as polar opposites necessary in understanding the essential qualities of Force and Field. (Please see René Guénon’s Symbols of Sacred Science (also published as Fundamental Symbols), Ch. 37, “The Solstitial Gates” for a complete discussion of the solstitial symbolism in the New Testament and elsewhere.)
Take a moment to consider a recent dilemma and whether you called on the energies of Force or Field. For those of you interested in Western astrology, think about the planets most prominent in your natal horoscope. Do they exemplify the Yin or the Yang? Does that match your experience of the world? In each life, there is a mixture of both the light and the dark, the creative and the receptive. It is not always easy to know whether one is required to act as Force or Field in a given situation, but as we grow in wisdom, our ability to flow with the demands of the time increases. In the Western astrological context, a horary astrological horoscope can indicate whether we are acting as a Yin or Yang planet in a specific context, and whether our action (or non-action) is appropriate. As Steven Karcher’s I Ching teacher once told him: “One Yin, one Yang, that’s all.” This seemingly simplistic aphorism is applicable to both astrology and I Ching, and the essentially simple intersection between these systems.