Using Playing Cards to Consult the I Ching

Use a regular 52-card deck of playing cards.  Shuffle, then lay down 6 cards, face down, in a column from bottom to top.

Turn each card over.  Black cards (spades, clubs) are yin lines; red (hearts, diamonds) are yang.  Face cards (jack, queen, king) are moving lines.  The cards to the right generate the first of the two hexagrams illustrated above.

The approximate probabilities are in line with the yarrow stalk and coin methods:

 yarrow stalks traditional coins playing cards
moving yin1/160.0625 1/80.125 6/520.115
yang5/160.3125 3/80.375 20/520.385
yin7/160.4375 3/80.375 20/520.385
moving yang3/160.1875 1/80.125 6/520.115

The probabilities are more accurate if you select each card from the entire deck, returning it to the deck and shuffling before selecting the next.  I doubt that this is significant.

If you remove two red and two black pip cards (non-face cards) from the deck, the probabilities match those of the traditional coin method.  To match the yarrow stalks is more complicated:  remove four black face cards, 6 black pip cards, and 10 red pip cards.

For a method that dynamically changes the probabilities, see the Dynamic Energies Playing Cards page.

[Note added 10/17/09—I thought I was the first person to think of using cards to consult the I Ching, until I read a similar method described in The Laws of Change by Jack M. Balkin.  Oh, well.  I still think my way is simpler.]

Use this method at your own discretion.  When I first used it to ask about this method itself, I got 776878, which does not sound too promising.

Restraint.  Let a sacrifice be conducted.  Bitter restraint.  Do not engage in divination.
Those who do not practice restraint will lament.  No harm.

This may have to do with what I associate playing cards with in my own mind.  The inverted and reversed hexagrams all have to do with danger and safety, such as hexagram 59:4 which ends with:

Your thoughts are of danger.

I have since had better luck with a “friendlier” old Grateful Dead deck which does not distract me so much with mental images of a casino.  The card images above are courtesy of David Gervais.

What about using a Tarot card deck?  The principle is the same, but since there are 78 cards in the deck, and four court cards per suit, let court cards and aces count as moving lines.  Cups and coins are yin, swords and rods are yang.  Even-numbered trump cards are yin, odd are yang.  The probabilities:

 yarrow stalks traditional coins Tarot cards
moving yin1/160.0625 1/80.125 10/780.128
yang5/160.3125 3/80.375 29/780.372
yin7/160.4375 3/80.375 29/780.372
moving yang3/160.1875 1/80.125 10/780.128

Another way to do it, which would work with any deck with numbered cards such as an I Ching oracle deck, is to let even-numbered cards count as 2 and odd-numbered cards count as 3, and deal three cards per line as if you were casting coins.

I used Tarot cards to ask the I Ching about it, and got 55 changing to 32, which includes, among other things:

He meets a prince of equal rank.

Of course, one could also use 49 cards to mimic the use of yarrow stalks.  Cut the deck, set one card aside, then count through each pile by fours and set aside the remainders in the usual way . . . .