The I Ching and the Winter Solstice

Some hexagrams of the I Ching are associated with the seasons. Hexagram 24, Returning (Fu), is specifically linked to the Winter Solstice and the eleventh moon. Understanding the graphic structure of this hexagram can help make the philosophy and symbolism of the solstice clear.

The bottom of the hexagram is the early stage of a situation, the top is the ending of a situation. Viewed as a diagram of time, the top five lines of the hexagram’s split lines, representing yin, show a situation of nearly complete darkness (one of yin’s attributes). Only one yang line, represented by an unbroken line, has appeared at the bottom, the traditional “entrance” to the hexagram. Therefore, this hexagram is seen as a graph of light returning to a situation of almost complete darkness. Thus, the hexagram is clearly shows the time of the solstice—just as darkness is nearly complete, then light must return.

Commentators on the I Ching have explained that all movement is analyzed according to the six stages represented by the six lines of the hexagram. The seventh stage brings return. Corresponding to this, the winter solstice occurs in the seventh month after the summer solstice, as sunrise occurs in the seventh double-hour after sunset.

Three texts accompany each hexagram. One of the three texts is called the Image, reputedly written by Confucius himself.

Thunder in the center of the earth: returning.
The ancient kings closed the borders during the solstices
Traveling merchants did not journey.
Sovereigns did not tour the provinces.

This means that the winter solstice was seen as a time of rest and renewal. During winter, the life energy is dormant and much of nature is resting. The movement that will bring a restoration of life is underground. If one looks at the hexagram spatially, the yang line that represents the return of life is still under the earth. The sages extrapolated from this to suggest what we should do whenver there is a darkness in our life: we rest and renew ourselves. Whether this means the return of health after illness, the return of understanding after conflict, or the return of good fortune after disaster, the return of good has to be allowed to come in its own time, and it must be strengthened by rest and care.

The Statement, contributed by King Wen, emphasizes the forbearance necessary to acept the cyclical nature of life. Since the I Ching is partially a book of divination, the profundity of how it would have us accept cycles and to work with returning is of vital importance:

Returning. Continue.
In coming and going, there is neither sickness nor distress.
Companions come without fault.
Returning is its Tao.
In seven days, returning comes.
Gain by having a place to go.

The Winter Solstice is the time to reunite with our families, enjoy good food that will aid in renewal, and to contemplate the truth of the seasons. Whenever we are oppressed by darkness, light is sure to return.

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