The I Ching (pronounced ee-ching, although I’ve heard it sometimes pronounced ee-king) is a binary divination system which hails from China. It is somewhere between 3000 to 4000 years old, which makes it one of the earliest forms of divination known. Probably the only other divination systems this old are things like stone divination, African bone divination and casting lots. The earliest forms of it were practiced by early Chinese shamans, magicians, priests, or soothsayers in the ‘BC’ era.

The word ‘I’ in Chinese means change. The word ‘Ching’ in Chinese means ‘book’ or ‘classic.’ Thus, the name roughly translates as ‘The Classic Book of Changes.’ The I Ching’s operating principle is that change is the one constant in life, and that our lives are just a series of changes from one set of circumstances to the next. Neither periods of good luck, nor periods of bad luck are permanent, says the I Ching, so don’t get too attached to either state (good advice for us all). The I Ching aims to alert it’s questioners to upcoming changes in their lives, and maybe educate them along the way.

When I use the I Ching, its spirit is always gentle, wise, clear-eyed, and instructive. Where necessary, it will gently admonish you. For example, if you ask the I Ching a third question in one sitting, some I Ching interpretive texts will have the I Ching tell you, “You are becoming impatient. I do not instruct the impatient.” The first time I asked the I Ching a third question in a row was the last time I asked the I Ching a third question in a row. Word to the wise: ask no more than two questions of the I Ching in one sitting. Then put it away and consult it another day. The I Ching has the capacity to make me feel dumb in the nicest way.

If I had to describe the I Ching in human form, it would be a plump, wise sage in home-spun robes, sitting on a big flat rock under brilliant sunshine in early autumn, happy to give advice, but also happy to be alone.