I Ching
Klaus Holitzka and Marlies Holitzka, 1994

This is one of the decks that I've picked up for the purpose of learning more about this ancient philosophical system. Strictly speaking, the I Ching has little to do with card decks, as the oracle is traditionally consulted by throwing yarrow sticks onto the ground to determine one of 64 possible hexagrams. As each hexagram symbolizes a specific concept, they lend themselves nicely to being illustrated as a deck.

This 64-card deck is particularly beautiful because the calligraphic brushstrokes evoke the spirit of the east. Many brush styles are used here, from quick dry strokes to slow thick shapes, from splatters to broad washes of tone. Black is the predominant color, with red used conservatively for accents. Red is also used for the small rectangular seals which bear the numeral of that card’s hexagram. These numerals are important because without them it would be very difficult to identify a card by its hexagram alone.

The appropriate hexagram also appears in metallic gold on each card, and is cleverly designed into the composition itself. One of my favorite examples of this is hexagram 63 (shown third row, last card), symbolizing After Fulfillment, where the lines of the hexagram are placed into the actual brushstrokes.

A hexagram consists of six horizontal lines which are either broken or unbroken; there are 64 hexagrams because that is the total number of such combinations possible. These linear patterns do not at first seem visually suggestive. Yet from them were derived the original poetic texts of the I Ching, written more than three thousand years ago. Like those original texts, the designs for this deck say much with little.

There are often many similarities found when the Tarot and the I Ching are compared with each other. One example of this is hexagram 4 (shown above), called Inexperience, which is sometimes linked with The Fool of the Tarot. In this deck, these two cards bear an even stronger resemblance because of the character shown teetering at the edge of a high cliff. This hexagram is also sometimes referred to as ignorance and folly. One translation of the original text for this hexagram reads: “Mountain over Water. The mountain smiles quietly down at the water rushing round its feet.”

Card 9 (top row) shows the striking image of someone standing before a massive hurricane. The booklet names this hexagram The power of the meek to tame, and describes it as “Too much resistance and too many difficulties stand in your way. There is hope of overcoming the limitations but you must tread carefully taking one step at a time.” Sometimes this hexagram is seen as indicating a calming influence, suggesting that the enormous may be influenced by the minuscule. The I Ching text reads: “Wind over Dragon. Stroking his back, the wind lulls the mighty dragon to sleep.”

The little booklet that comes with the deck is bound like a small paperback. Although it is quite thick at 116 pages, it does not include any English translations of the ancient I Ching texts. The authors have instead written their own English descriptions for each hexagram and for each of its lines. These descriptions are much longer than the excerpts I have included in this review. The booklet is well-written and makes a good compliment to an actual I Ching translation. I also like the fact that the booklet does not attempt to explain the scenes which appear on the cards.

Hexagram 34 (above), The power of the great, shows parallels with the Tarot’s Justice card. This is not so much because of the balance scales shown but because of what the hexagram represents: “If destiny presents you with special power and strength then it is also placing a heavy responsibility upon your shoulders. It is up to you alone whether you create a constructive or destructive effect . . . Preserve your sense of justice and social equality. Only then can the best of your powers be used to the maximum.” Further descriptions in the text speak of being decisive, remaining alert, and showing diplomacy.

Hexagram 43 (shown above) is called Breakthrough or Resolution. It shows the image of a dynamic, commanding figure encircled by a ring. The description reads “Unfavorable forces lose their influence and you can achieve a breakthrough, but you must act resolutely and perhaps even uncompromisingly. Admit to your intentions and aims. Fight hard – but keep smiling.” This hexagram also traditionally represents defending what is good and removing bad influences. This hexagram seems to have parallels with The Chariot.

Another striking image is hexagram 45 (shown above), called Gathering: “Wherever people find themselves together there is something which motivates them: whether a collective goal or a stronger person to whom they align themselves. As a leader you become the focal point of all the group’s strength. As an ordinary group member you add your individual capabilities to the collective power of the group. In both cases you are one of the group and contribute to the concentration of energy within the group. Either role could have a positive or negative effect upon your personal development. It all depends on how you go about it. Try to organize your feelings and thoughts so that they match your actions and goals. By doing so, you gain self-confidence and can achieve your goals.” I find a connection between this hexagram and the 10 of Cups.

These brushwork designs are beautiful and expressive. They make a wonderful deck for anyone interested in learning something more about the philosophy of the I Ching.

Review by Mark Filipas, 4/13/01

Images Copyright © 1994 AGM AGMüller, Review Copyright © 2001 Mark Filipas