From TODD WALTON
Under The Table Books
“Marvelous things approach the gate door.” Ling Ch’i Ching
One of my great pleasures is to look back over the course of events that brought me to my current relationship with a beloved place or person or thing, and to remember the coincidences and actions and interactions that were key steps in those journeys from there to here, then to now.
My relationship with the Ling Ch’i Ching began when I was living in Berkeley in the mid-1990’s. I was not yet hooked up to a futuristic new thing called the internet, and I still received lots of handwritten letters in the mail. No one I knew had a cell phone or a laptop or a digital camera or an app. I was a frequent visitor to Berkeley’s many marvelous used bookstores and I was also a customer of the overstock bookseller Daedalus Books, their colorful catalogues arriving in the mail every month. I enjoyed reading the pithy little Daedalus blurbs that made every book in the catalogue sound like a masterwork, and I was occasionally tempted to order a book or two in hope of finding something good to read. Once in a great while the pithy blurb turned out to be true and my hungry mind would feast on the masterful tome.
One such catalogue brought news of a book called Ling Ch’i Ching, a classic Chinese oracle translated by Ralph D. Sawyer. Daedalus was selling the esoteric tome for $5.98 and the pithy blurb said the Ling Ch’i Ching was kin to the I Ching only much easier to understand and every bit as poetic and mystical and groovacious. I was tempted, but didn’t bite until a few months later when the price dropped to $2.98.
“Your career has a path, do not rail at its slowness.” Ling Ch’i Ching
I’ve known a lot of oracles in my time, to paraphrase Humphrey Bogart, but the Ling Ch’i Ching was really something special. To many of my friends and acquaintances this ancient oracle was little more than codified superstition and nonsense, otherwise known as hackneyed spiritual crap, but for me the Ling Ch’i Ching was thought-provoking, revelatory, and the gateway to a really neato art project: the creation of twelve disks to be cast by the querent to determine an oracular response.
“In the past, matters did not proceed as desired; now you will be able to follow your ambitions.” Ling Ch’i Ching
One of the many things that appeals to me about the Ling Ch’i Ching is that the querent need only make a single throw of the twelve disks to create a pattern corresponding to a particular oracular response. Unlike the multiple throws of coins required to get a reading from the I Ching, this single release of Ling Ch’i Ching disks allows the querent to focus the entirety of her intention on that one action, rather than necessitating six separate gatherings of focus and intention. There is nothing to write down when consulting the Ling Ch’i Ching, and no moving lines to muddy the meaning of the initial oracular pronouncement.
I also like that the discs are made of wood, and that I chose that wood, cut the disks and drew the appropriate symbols upon them. Sawyer’s introductory text reads, “…these disks should preferably be fashioned from wood cut from a tree that has been struck by lightning. Obviously the lightning strike, being the essence of yang, is understood as empowering the wood (which is yin), making it receptive to the process of divination…” Lacking access to lightning-struck wood in downtown Berkeley, I made my disks from eucalyptus branches that fell from the very tall eucalyptus tree growing in my front yard, her branches imbued with the energies of the oceanic winds that blew night and day through our neighborhood situated directly across San Francisco Bay from the Golden Gate.
“Above and below both settled, the mind does not give birth to perversity. Contented, it has no worries. Do not believe rumors.” Ling Ch’i Ching
All twelve of the disks are blank on one side. Four of the disks bear the symbol for Heaven, four bear the symbol for Man, four bear the symbol for Earth; and it is the particular interaction or lack of interaction between the forces animating these three realms that determine the nature of each of the 125 oracles and corresponding verses that make up the text of the Ling Ch’i Ching. Some of the oracles and verses are extremely baleful, some extremely auspicious, and all of them present both a literal response as well as a poetic symbolic one. The I Ching was a divinatory tool used for thousands of years by royalty and intellectuals in China, with an extremely symbolic and metaphorical text open to an infinite array of interpretations. By contrast, the Ling Ch’i Ching, also used for thousands of years, was a favorite of farmers, soldiers, bureaucrats and carnival fortunetellers catering to common folk—a much more straightforward and easily accessible divinatory tool than the I Ching.
“Ruler and subject, exchanging positions, are about to give rise to great profits.” Ling Ch’i Ching
For Christmas gifts that first year of my enchantment with the Ling Ch’i Ching, I made several sets of disks and bought several more copies of Sawyer’s book to give to friends predisposed to enjoying this sort of inquiry. I developed the habit of consulting the oracle every week for a few years until one day I loaned my book and disks to someone and that someone never returned them. I intended to make a new set of disks, but the years passed and I did not make a new set. Eventually I forgot about the Ling Ch’i Ching, moved to Mendocino, married Marcia, and stumbled along as best I could without consulting an oracle.
“The minute again resurges like melon vines stretching and extending, gradually arising and ascending.” Ling Ch’i Ching
Four years ago we were visiting some old friends in Richmond, and I was delighted to find that they had used the set of Ling Ch’i Ching disks I’d made for them as part of their Thanksgiving decorations—the symbols for Heaven, Man and Earth being quite beautiful. This prompted us to gather up the disks, get out the book, throw the disks, read aloud the provocative oracles and verses, and blab for hours about the year ahead and all we hoped to do with our lives.
“Spring comes, the myriad things are glorious.” Ling Ch’i Ching
Upon our return to Mendocino, I ordered a used copy of the text from an online bookseller, made a new set of disks out of a branch of manzanita (having yet to locate any lightning-struck wood) and resumed my weekly consultations with the forces of universe as they manifest in this earth-based human realm and might be interpreted through seemingly random configurations of wooden disks.
Fast forward to about eight months ago when the inimitable Amanda Outten and her incomparable hubby Jamie Roberts were working on our new house, she a wizard with tile, he a most excellent carpenter. Somehow or other we got talking about the Ling Ch’i Ching and I mentioned that ideally the disks are to be made from lightning-struck wood, but that I lacked a source of such wood, and Amanda said, “We’ve got some lightning-struck redwood. I’ll bring you a couple hunks.”
Which she did, and the lightning-empowered hunks sat untouched in our workshop for some months as I not very diligently investigated ways to extract round plugs of wood from the hunks so I could cut those plugs into disks. The problem was that I did not want holes in the centers of the disks and the plug-grabbing drill bits that would work with my wimpy little electric drill made holes in the centers of the plugs and so were not appealing to me and…then we needed a new roof. Our first winter in our new house informed us that the very old roof not only allowed water into the house, but the roof was not at all insulated, so every bit of heat we generated went quickly out of the house.
To make a long story short, one of the carpenters on the roof job was rummaging around in our workshop one day, espied the lightning-struck hunks of wood, asked what they were, I told him about the disks I wanted to make and the problem with holes, and he said, “Cut those hunks into blocks, put those blocks on a lathe, create a round rod, and cut the rod up into disks.” Not having a lathe, I nevertheless liked his idea very much and made a note to ask around to see if anyone I knew could direct me to someone with a lathe. But then I got distracted with one thing or another and forgot about my quest until…
Two weeks ago, I went out to the workshop to fashion a wooden box for something or other, and there were those beautiful hunks of lightning-struck redwood sitting on the table and vibrating gently with their divinatory power. I impulsively placed my hands on the redwood hunks and proclaimed, “Let it be known I would like to connect with a master lathe person so I can finally transform this wonderful wood into disks. Amen.”
“You will receive Heaven’s blessings.” Ling Ch’i Ching
Three days later a neighbor called to invite me over to meet a fellow who had made a beautiful piece of art she thought I would like to see. I went on over, met the fellow, and discerned that many of the pieces of his beautiful wooden creation had been crafted on a lathe. I mentioned this to the fellow and he admitted that he was, indeed, a master lathe person. I then told him about the hunks of lightning-struck wood and…
Today I took possession of eight magnifico rods (six to nine-inches long, and one-inch in diameter) of lightning-struck redwood from which many disks can be cut. From a ninth rod of this divine wood, the master lathe fellow used his band saw to cut twenty-four disks for me. Now I’m set. I need only sand those discs, carefully paint on the symbols, face north, focus my intention, cast the disks, and see what’s going on.
(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser June 2013)