I Ching: Divination and Synchronicity

Where do the Answers of the I Ching Actually Come From?

What is the Relation Between the Seeker’s Question and the Seemingly Random Answer of the I Ching?

How is it possible that tossing three coins six times (or any other divination technique) leads to a meaningful answer to a question? Aren’t random results completely arbitrary? What is the significance of randomness? And how can a seemingly random event, such as an oracle answer, hold meaning?

These questions are challenging to answer using causal-linear thinking, which characterizes our Western worldview influenced by the natural sciences. However, in a world solely based on causal-linear relationships determinism prevails: Every event has been determined since the Big Bang, leaving no room for our human free will and free agency.

From a different perspective, coincidence is not a gateway to irrationality or arbitrariness, but rather a perquisite for our humanity, encompassing free will and responsibility for our actions, including the possibility of influencing the course of events through our actions (or non-actions).

But how is the seemingly random event of an oracle’s answer connected to the previously asked question? If not through causal relationships, what kind of connection exists between these two events?

Around 1920, C.G. Jung began exploring the I Ching and made the following observation in this context:

Over time it turned out that, so to speak, there are regularly certain connections between the situation in question and the contents of the hexagrams. […] It even seems to me that the number of clear matches reaches a percentage which is far above all probability. I believe that it is not a matter of coincidence at all, but of regularity.

Jung, 635 resp. Clarke, 165-166, translation KUS.

Jung later coined the term synchronicity to describe phenomena of this nature, the physical manifestation or reflection of an inner event or mental state, in one or more external, physical events. The interconnection of these two realms – the inner psychic realm and the outer physical realm – occurs simultaneously and without a discernible cause-effect relationship. However, what actually links these two realms is a meaningful psychic connection.

Synchronicity as an Explanatory Model

Jung’s concept of synchronicity offers a compelling explanatory model for how oracle systems function: The question and answer are connected through a psychic context of meaning. Moreover, quantum theory, the new paradigm of physics which transcends the cause-effect model and suggests that the observing mind determines which possibility manifests as reality, provides a scientific framework for this perspective.

What is the Purpose of Consulting an Oracle?

If we now acknowledge the following:

  1. We evidently live in a non-deterministic world, affording us the freedom to make choices and take actions, and
  2. Events, such as the question to an oracle and the corresponding answers, can be interconnected in a non-causal manner, namely synchronously, based on a psychic connection of meaning,

It follows that consulting an oracle can be seen as a form of deep exploration.

Oracle Consultation as a Method to Explore Reality

Eventually, an oracle consultation can be described as a kind of deep exploration into personal reality. It has the potential to provide insights that are not easily accessible to our everyday consciousness, thereby revealing underlying aspects of a situation that may be crucial for decision-making.

The future is open and unfolds processually from the structures of the present, rather than being predetermined or determined. Therefore, the better we comprehend the nature of our present, the more purposeful, meaningful and successful our actions or non-actions can be within it.

Once Again: Who Answers When I Consult the I Ching?

In a previous discussion, we neutrally described the origin of transmitted information as coming “from a higher instance/perspective”or “from the unconscious/pre-conscious”. These assumptions are acceptable considering the quality of the given answers.

If we were to personalize this origin, we could describe it as our “(higher) Self”. Regarding the entities involved in asking the question or receiving the answer, we can refer to them as “consciousness”, “everyday consciousness”, or “Ego”.

So, what is the relationship between these two instances, our “everyday consciousness/Ego” and the “higher perspective/unconscious/pre-conscious/Self”?

From Jung to Neumann: Ego and Self

The model that relates the Ego and the Self was developed by C.G. Jung. The Ego represents our consciousness, through which we shape our world. On the other hand, the Self represents our entire being, including all unconscious aspects. One could consider the Self as the fundamental pattern of one’s life, the overall design or life plan that becomes clear and visible in the course of our lives.

From a practical standpoint, the Self serves as a resource that can guide us in our search for identity, but it remains beyond our direct conscious access.

Erich Neumann, Jung’s congenial student, speaks of the Ego-Self Axis, referring to the interplay between the Ego and the Self:

The human Ego-Self structure is inherently paradoxical because within it the aspect of consciousness associated with the Ego proves to be inseparably connected to what we call the “unconscious”. Just as the Ego and consciousness, as we say, “emerge from” the unconscious, the human being, as a creative Ego, continually depends on his connection with this unknown entity that it is his “Self” – without ever being able to know what this “Self” actually is.

Neumann 1959, 353, translation KUS.

In the following quote he depicts the ideal interaction between the Ego and the Self, where the Ego revolves around the Self like the Earth revolves around the Sun. Here is the quote:

If we conceive personality exclusively from the Ego, we can define it as a biopsychic individuality living in an external environment. However, once we understand that this Ego can never exist or develop without the underlying Self, the decisive Copernican turn in depth psychology occurs, from which the human personality and human life are no longer to be understood from the Ego, but from the Self, around which the Ego revolves much like the Earth revolves around the Sun. In doing so, we recognize personality as a reality in which the Ego-Self axis becomes the central phenomenon. We understand the dynamics of human life as a unity, for which equally conscious and – for consciousness unknown – unconscious processes, and equally psychically “inner” and worldly “outer” contents, form an indissoluble connection.

Neumann 1963, § 575, translation KUS.

When I contemplate Neumann’s imagery, envisioning the Earth-like Ego orbiting a central, life-giving Sun, it evokes the image of sailors navigating a vast ocean: They embark on a journey where distant constellations provide guidance and point them towards their port of destination.

Our Self-Sun Communicates Through the I Ching

Ultimately we can thus understand the answers provided by the I Ching in this way: As communications from our Self-Sun, which willingly guides our Ego in shaping our world. After all, we have sought an answer! And our Self is more than willing to give it to us: through the I Ching.


Clarke, J. J. 1997. C. G. Jung Und Der Östliche Weg. Zürich: Walter.
Neumann, Erich. 1963. Das Kind: Struktur Und Dynamik Der Werdenden Persönlichkeit. Rhein-Verlag.
Neumann, Erich. 1953. “Das Schöpferische Als Zentralproblem Der Psychotherapie.” In Acta Psychotherapeutica et Psychosomatica.
Jung, Carl Gustav. 1963. Bd. Zur Psychologie westlicher und östlicher Religion. Rascher.

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