How to Count Yarrow Stalks

yarrow stalk i chingWith the global mind shift moving into high gear, more people are getting interested in other ways to slow down and live consciously. As a result we are regaining respect for many things we had dismissed because we did not understand them. Using yarrow stalks to read the I Ching is one of these things. I have found using the I Ching or other methods of understanding your present moment (such as runes or tarot) can be much more useful than talking to a psychologist. It is also much more affordable =)

I had used three coins to count the lines for years so it took me a few tries to figure out how to use the yarrow stalks. This method puts you into a meditative and receptive state of mind. Yarrow encourages this being a plant that collects energies and sends them spiraling down through it’s hollow stems. The counting becomes a mystical experience with the sound of the stalks clicking and resonating together as they are thrown down, or collected together. Then, when the hexagram is formed, trying to understand what my translation of the I Ching is saying and how that relates to my situation. The whole practice is a wonderful exercise that gets the whole body, soul and mind involved.

yarrow stalksIf you are looking for yarrow stalks I have some available via my online stores at ArtFire and Dawanda.

On Consulting the Yarrow Stalk Oracle

This is from The I Ching or Book of Changes translated by Richard Wilhelm.

The oracle is consulted with the help of yarrow stalks. Fifty stalks are used for this purpose. One is put aside and plays no further part.

For each line or stage there are three Countings:

First Counting
The remaining 49 stalks are first divided into two heaps [at random]. Thereupon one stalk is taken from the right-hand heap and put between the ring finger and the little finger of the left hand.

Then the left hand heap is placed in the left hand, and the right hand takes from it bundles of 4, and places them in a pile, until there are 4 or fewer stalks remaining. This remainder is placed between the ring finger and the middle finger of the left hand.

Next the right-hand heap is counted off by fours, and the remainder is placed between the middle finger and the forefinger of the left hand. The sum of the stalks now between the fingers of the left hand is either 9 or 5. (The various possibilities are 1+4+4, or 1+3+1, or 1+2+2, or 1+1+3; it follows the the number 5 is easier to obtain than the number 9.)

At this first counting off of the stalks, the first stalk—held between the little finger and the ring finger—is disregarded as super-numerary, hence one reckons as follows: 9=8, or 5=4. The number 4 is regarded as a complete unit, to which the numerical value 3 is assigned. The number 8, on the other hand, is regarded as a double unit and is reckoned as having only the numerical value 2. Therefore; if at the first count 9 stalks are left over, they count as 2; if 5 are left, they count as 3. These stalks are now laid aside for the time being.

Second Counting
Then the remaining stalks are gathered together again and divided anew. Once more one takes a stalk from the pile on the right and places it between the ring finger and the little finger of the left hand; then one counts off the stalks as before.

This time the sum of the remainders is either 8 or 4, the possible combinations being 1+4+3, or 1+3+4, or 1+1+2, or 1+2+1, so that this time the chances of obtaining 8 or 4 are equal. The 8 counts as 2, the 4 counts as 3.

Third Counting
The procedure is carried out a third time with the remaining stalks, and again the sum of the remainders is 8 or 4.

Now, by adding the numerical values assigned to each of the three countings, a line is formed.

Building the Hexagram
This procedure is repeated six times, and thus a hexagram of six stages is built up.

Old Yang – 9
If the sum is 5 (=4, value 3) + 4 (value 3) + 4 (value 3), the resulting numerical value is 9, the so-called old yang. This becomes a positive line that moves and must therefore be taken into account in the interpretation of the individual lines. It is designated by the symbol 0 or 0.

Old Yin – 6
If the sum of the three countings is 9 (=8, value 2) + 8 (value 2), + 8 (value 2), the final value is 6, the so-called old yin. This becomes a negative line that moves and is therefore to be taken into account in the interpretation of the individual lines. It is designated by the symbol – x – or x.

Young Yang – 7
If the sum is:

9 (2)+ 8 (2) + 4 (3)
or 5 (3)+ 8 (2) + 8 (2) =7
or 9 (2)+ 4 (3) +8 (2)

the value 7 results, the so-called young yang. This becomes a positive line that is at rest and therefore not taken into account in the interpretation of the individual lines. It is designated by the symbol ____ .

Young Yin – 8
If the sum is:

9(2)+ 4(3) + 4(3)
or 5(3)+ 4(3) + 8(2) =8
or 5(3) +8(2) + 4(3)

the value 8 results, the so-called young yin. This becomes a negative line that is at rest and therefore not taken into account in the interpretation of the individual lines. It is designated by the symbol __ __

When a hexagram consists entirely of nonmoving lines, the oracle takes into account only the idea represented by the hexagram as a whole, as set down in the Judgement by Kin Wen and in the Commentary on the Decision by Confucius, together with the Image.

If there are one or more moving lines in the hexagram thus obtained, the words appended by the Duke of Chou to the given line or lines are also to be considered. His words therefore carry the superscription, “Nine in the Xth place,” or “Six in the Xth place.”

Furthermore, the movement, i.e. change in the lines, gives rise to a new hexagram, the meaning of which must also be taken into account.

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Sarah

    I bought yarrow sticks from you recently, and you linked me to this page. I wanted to let you know that I really enjoy the stalks. I also wanted to thank you for this great resource! Your website is great, and I will be visiting in the future.

  2. John Paul Plauche

    Do you have access to a supplier of yarrow stalks. I am interested in purchasing a pair, preferably 10″ in length. I have been using my one pair for about 27 years now, and they are beginning to wear thin and break. Thank you. -John

    1. hellaD

      I have been wondering how you use a 10″ set of yarrow stalks…it seems it would be rather hard to manage.

  3. João Borge

    Dear friends
    There is a mistake in the text. Old yin is 6, not 8. Also would it be possible to use those photos to include in our students notes? In exchange we would include in them your contact if they wish to purchase the yarrow stalks as there are none for sale in Portugal.
    Best wishes
    João Borges

    1. hellaD

      Thanks so much for your correction. I will correct that in the text.

      Yes you can use the photos in your student notes, I will send you my contact info and the students can contact me directly for yarrow stalks.

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