Sunday, 30 January 2011


"Alligators at Tonle Sap"
Photograph by Rosa Yoskovsky

In the East Grinstead study group last week, we looked at Hexagram 18, GU.

Gu refers to a kind of black magic; it literally means poisonous worms which have been long bred in an enclosed bowl, and refers to evil emanating from decay.

It's a dark word, about hatred and enmity. The original meaning always involved deceit and malice, something insidious. In the Shang Dynasty ideas about curses and poisoning were commonplace, and the preparation of such poisons was forbidden – so you know it was being done!

The hexagram itself is concerned with how to remove the evil and correct the situation, whether it involves family secrets, political corruption, bewitchment, or a longstanding feud. It’s a chance to face up to unpleasant secrets, lance the boil and purge the poison.

It's formed of Xun (Wind) below, constrained by Gen (Mountain) above. Mountain is the essence of Stillness – but here, it constrains and hinders the free movement of Wind, which is the essence of Adaptability. The core meaning here is that one's ability to respond appropriately to changing circumstances is hampered by something fixed in place.

On an individual level, these are behaviours we may not even be aware of; they rigidify until they simply feel like aspects of our character. LiSe specifically names it as “alien influences embedded in the soul”, i.e. those “parts” of ourselves that are habitual and unconscious. We all have these little ways of turning away from ourselves and others, from intimacy with life as it is.

On a group or company level, these are the rules and regulations, the group culture, “the way it's always been done”. Several of us in the study group have witnessed the renewal, over the past several years, of the college where I do most of my teaching. Despite a brilliant new manager, and a willing and gifted faculty, we are still pulling the splinters of “customary procedure” out of the system. These things don't magically change overnight.

At the level of government, Wikileaks is a terrific example of the sort of process needed to clear the air of fiercely guarded secrets – and governments' response is typical of the dirty fighting that defends those secrets.

The Rogue commentary on the Gua Ci reads, in part:

The sage … keeps his moments inside of their contexts and thus keeps his world on the run and alive. Breezes don’t come in a box. Things die and grow rotten when pulled out of context. Then how do we fix this? How might we arrest this decay? Fix and arrest are the wrong things to do here. We have too much of containment, enough of things safe from the changes. The liberal idea will become an institution and soon it no longer responds to the needs it was made to serve. Its big job now is defending itself against any change but its growth. The good idea becomes a belief, soon threatened by other perspectives. The decaying civilization cannot permit the experiments with styles of life which are poised to replace it. Habits and dogmas, pathologies and neuroses, circle back on themselves like incestuous clans. The rot spreads. But this has its good points as well: there is much which ought to decay.
The Tuan commentary doesn't indicate whether the reform will be successful; it merely says there is work to do, and that there will be a new beginning. This is the way Nature works: that which is no longer alive rots away and gives rise to new life.

1 comment:

Cesca Diebschlag said...

Thanks to Luis Andrade for the following comment, posted on Facebook:
"At present, ku is used primarily as a means of acquiring wealth; secondarily as a means of revenge. The method is to place poisonous snakes and insects together in a vessel until there is but survivor, which is called the ku. The poison secured from this ku is administered to the victim, who becomes sick and dies. The ideas associated with ku vary, but the ku is generally regarded as a spirit, which secures the wealth of the victim for the sorcerer."

The Black Magic in China Known as ku
Author(s): H. Y. Feng and J. K. Shryock
Source: Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 55, No. 1 (Mar., 1935), pp. 1-30