Book: Chinese Occultism
Author: Paul Carus

Chinese Occultism By Paul Carus

Format: Global Grey free PDF, epub, Kindle ebook
Pages (PDF): 64
Publication Date: 1907

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This is an extended excerpt from a collection of essays by Paul Carus on Chinese topics. Carus discusses the I Ching and other methods of divination, the five Chinese elements (water, fire, wood, metal and earth); the Chinese Zodiac, Fung-shui, the Lo-pan, the Chinese invention of the magnetic compass, and the personification of constellations. He gives ancient near eastern parallels, and proposes a speculative diffusionist thesis for some aspects, particularly the calendrical system. This essay serves as a good introduction to these topics, with numerous illustrations and tables to fill in the details.

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An explanation of the universe which derives all distinctions between things, conditions, relations, etc., from differences of mixture, must have appeared very plausible to the ancient sages of China, and we appreciate their acumen when we consider that even to-day advanced Western scientists of reputation attempt to explain the universe as a congeries of force-centers, acting either by attraction or repulsion in analogy to positive and negative electricity. On the ground of this fact the educated Chinese insist with more than a mere semblance of truth, that the underlying idea of the Chinese world-conception is fully borne out and justified by the results of Western science.

While it is obvious that the leading idea of the yih is quite scientific, we observe that as soon as the Chinese thinkers tried to apply it a priori without a proper investigation of cause and effect, they abandoned more and more the abstract (and we may say, the purely mathematical) conception of the yang and yin, fell victims to occultism, and used the yih for divination purposes. When we compare the vagaries of the occultism of the yih with the accomplishments of Western science, we may feel very wise and superior, but we should not forget that it was the same fallacious argument of wrong analogy which produced in China the many superstitious practices of the yih, and in the history of our civilisation, astrology, alchemy, and magic. These pseudo-sciences were taken seriously in the world of thought throughout the Middle Ages and began to be abolished only after the Reformation with the rise of genuine astronomy, genuine chemistry, and genuine nature science. If the Chinese are wrong we must remember that there was a time when we made the same mistake. The Chinese outfit for divination consists of fifty stalks called "divining-sticks" and six small oblong blocks to represent the hexagrams. These blocks are not unlike children's building-blocks, but they bear on two adjoining sides incisions dividing the oblong faces into equal sections, so as to give the surface the appearance of a yin figure. The sticks are made of stalks of the milfoil plant (ptarmica sibirica) which is cultivated on the tomb of Confucius and regarded as sacred.

Pious people consult the oracle on all important occasions. They are first careful to make themselves clean, and then assume a calm and reverential attitude of mind. The diviner then takes out one stick and places it in a holder on the center of the table. This single stalk is called "the grand limit" (t‘ai chih), the ultimate cause of existence. He next lifts the forty-nine remaining sticks above his forehead with his right hand, and divides them at random into two parts, at the same time holding his breath and concentrating his thoughts on the question to be answered.

The sticks in the right hand are then placed on the table, and one is taken out from them and placed between the fourth and fifth fingers of the left hand. The three groups are now called heaven, earth and man. The left-hand group is then counted with the right hand in cycles of eight, and the number of the last group yields the lower trigram of the answer, called the inner complement. This number is counted after the oldest order of the eight trigrams, viz., that of Fuh-Hi corresponding to the inverted binary arrangement. The upper trigram, called the outer complement, is determined in the same way.

After the hexagram is determined, one special line is selected by the aid of the divining-sticks in the same way as before, except that instead of counting in cycles of eight, the diviner now counts in cycles of six. Having thus established the hexagram and a special line in it, he next consults the Yih King which contains a definite meaning for each hexagram as a whole, and also for each single line; and this meaning is made the basis of the divine answer.

It is obvious that this complicated process presupposes a simpler one which, however, must have been in use in pre-historic times, for as far as Chinese history dates back the divining stalks and the kwa system are referred to in the oldest documents.