The Before Heaven I Ching: Reading the Text of Creation

Review by Joey Madia

Modern life is admittedly complicated and complex. I am just old enough, having turned 50 last November, to say that it wasn’t always like this. Not to this degree. Ubiquitous technology, overpopulation, climate change, and shrinking resources have resulted in a fast pace, profound changes lurking like subtext between the sure-faced politicians assuring Business as Usual, and multiplying reasons to not be hopeful for the future.

Tools of divination and insight—such as runes, astrology, Tarot, the Kabala, and the I Ching—can be helpful as organizing principles. If you listen closely and take what is useful, they have a way of burning away the blinding, disorienting, low-lying fog the artifacts of the twenty-first century have produced. Given, as stated in this book, that we take in much more information than we can process, tools such as these are essential to creating Stillness and taking stock of where you are. Glimpses at what is really at work in your life, the forces that are helping and hindering your journey, can bring the Attention and Awareness that just might save your Soul.

For the past several decades, William Douglas Horden has focused on the I Ching. Of his more than twenty published books, eight of them are part of a series that concludes with the book being reviewed. And all of the others—either directly or by way of energetic and experiential connections—further inform the ancient tool of divination and spiritual practice called the I Ching.

Interested readers should read my previous reviews of the author’s works for the details on Horden’s background and training, which are extensive and impressive. This review will focus solely on the current volume at hand.

For the past decade I have been using Horden’s books to interact with the I Ching, starting with The Toltec I Ching, which I first received for review almost to the day ten years ago. With each book subsequently published, I have gleaned new insights and have been honored to have readings of the I Ching from Horden and to have him stay in my home on several memorable occasions. He was even a guest on one of the paranormal investigations I do with my wife, offering invaluable insights on the mysteries of death and what’s beyond.

The Before Heaven I Ching, as the author writes, “is not a book about how to use the I Ching or engage the Oracle on the level of divination. It is, rather, an interpretive text of the symbols of the I Ching, which are, in turn, interpretations of the living symbols of Creation” (7–8).

Because of this attention to symbols, the book has a vibrant energy, progressing, like some of the other tools I mentioned, as a journey of the Soul. It is a journey of Transformation, of Transmogrification. One that does not start at Point A and end at Point B, but that is circular, cyclical, and never-ending.

Colin Wilson, in his book The Occult (1971), has nothing but positive things to say about the I Ching as a tool for accessing what he calls “Faculty X”—connection with a higher state of consciousness that is essential for humankind to self-actualize and escape an empty life of malaise and harm. What Horden has given us in this book is a trail through the jungle to Faculty X, although we must do the work—of studying the symbols, of meditation and contemplation, of connecting with the symbols on a level beyond speech, where their energy is most resonant and connected to the Universe.

One of Wilson’s closest friends was the poet Robert Graves, who had an abundance of Faculty X experiences. Wilson talks at length about the powerful intuitions and higher-consciousness experiences of poets. It should be noted that within Horden’s bibliography are four collections of poetry. This is no coincidence. The interpretations of each of the 64 hexagrams, within their major interpretive sections (an introduction, Hexagram Sequence, and Mantic Formula), are poetry of a high and resonant order.

The final section for each hexagram is Intent, which presents what I treat as koans corresponding to each of its six lines. These are beautiful statements, rich in imagery, which can be used for contemplation or even as reminders for daily living. One of my favorite examples of the former is, “The god of rain does not come begging for a drink of water” (50) and of the latter, “Patience in the face of complexity is not a weakness” (41).

Some of the Intents are also stated in what can be embraced as Goals—as a rebuttal, a alternative to the Agreed-Upon State of Things that the military-industrial-intelligence complex (aka the Corporate Oligarchy) sells as THE ONE AND ONLY WAY. Start by placing John Lennon’s “Imagine…” before these two Intents, both taken from the 41st hexagram, Contentment:

“Governments cured of competition, fear and domination” (140).
“Religions cured of hatred, arrogance and zealotry” (140).
And, if we focus hard enough, purely enough, “Imagine…”
“Watchtowers and ramparts lie in ruins for lack of need” (147)
It’s easy if you try. This book can be your tool.

To those who have studied either a specific spiritual system or a plethora of them, the core concepts will be familiar: balance and harmony (reflected in the Outer Nature/Inner Nature symbols for each hexagram), the visible and invisible, attunement, entrainment, communion, concentration, birth–death–rebirth, ritual, awareness, and intent.

For those with a more philosophical/psychological bent, the work of Jung, centering primarily on Alchemy (prima materia, hieros gamos) and Archetype, is threaded all throughout. The tone and topics of the text remind me strongly of Jung’s style and foci in works like The Red Book.

Horden’s beautiful text explicates numinous spaces—Dreamtime, the Spirit World, the In-Between World, the Imaginal, the Nagual—as furnaces of creation, of places where we go when the illusions of the prevailing Reality and the Conscious mind fall away. Horden’s text resonates with sacred writings such as the Upanishads.

If you want to clear the fog, let this book be your candle.

TITLE: The Before Heaven I Ching: Reading the Text of Creation
AUTHOR: William Douglas Horden
PUBLISHER: Delok Publishing
ISBN: 9781794535985