Hexagram 18 – Poisonous Dark Sorcery

Hexagram 18 is a bit of a doozie. On the one hand, it has to do with creepy crawly critters, and on the other hand, it has to do with mountains and wind. Neither of these seem to go well together, but bear up with me for a bit. Since these are very disparate ideas, let me briefly touch upon the meaning of Cổ before I delve into wind and mountain.

Since the I Ching was written in ancient times, we have to travel back to find the much more ancient meaning of the word Cổ 蠱. Unfortunately, even in ancient days, the word Cổ is a homonym with multiple meanings, from black goat, to castrated bull, to a drum or drummer. It is only when you look at the actual character (蠱) are you able to determine its meaning.

In the case of Hexagram 18, Cổ 蠱 means poisonous critters. (1)

This word is normally used in combination with Thuật, which means sorcery, to form the compound noun, Cổ Thuật, which translates to ‘poisonous critters dark arts’, or ‘poisonous critter sorcery’ (as opposed to poison sorcery in general, which also includes plants–but that’s another post for another day).

Cổ is also often known as Cổ Trùng. The word Trùng is any small living critter. Therefore, Cổ Trùng means any insect, bug, flagellate, bacterium, or virus’ that can carry poisons, or is, in and of itself, poisonous, AND is used in a manner that is indicative of the dark arts.

Okay, so it’s just some poisonous insects and some arthropods. Not that big of a deal, right?

Think again.

But…I’m getting ahead of myself. What does poisonous dark magik have to do with I Ching Hexagram 18?

The answer is, it doesn’t just have something to do with hexagram 18–IT IS HEXAGRAM 18.

The fact that it has a foothold and is an integral part of the I-Ching means it’s been around for a very very long time. In fact, would have existed far longer than the existence of the I Ching, since it had to have already been fully developed and in widespread use before it could have been written about so expansively.

It is also something that is truly Vietnamese in origin. Even ancient Chinese texts talk about the proliferation of cổ thuật within the ancient Viet kingdoms to the south. This was something that did not originate with the Chinese, who lived north of the Yellow River.

Since the ancient Viets wrote the I Ching, they would, of course, talk about Cổ Thuật, within their own writings, not as a matter of referencing something from a distant land, which was how the Chinese thought about the subject matter, but as a normal and natural tool to be wielded as a daily method of consultation. Vietnamese I Ching masters placed such importance on this subject that they even gave it a place within the panoply of the 64 hexagrams.

The ancients also wrote about Cổ Trùng at length and in detail because they knew about all the various animals and their effects on humans. This is not because poison was something they prized or sought to master. It has to do with balance.

Being Taoists, they understood that for every useful medicinal herb or animal, there would be a poisonous equivalent.

Likewise, for every poison, there would be a corresponding cure. It was only a matter of finding the cure from an entire planet filled with living things. This has always the way of the yin and the yang.

Poisons, like medicines, have their degrees of efficacy, and they have their uses in ancient history, both to cure, as well as to kill. As such, they were used, not only for medicinal purposes, but also as highly effective bio-warfare.

Since this is a lengthy and hairy subject, I need to separate Hexagram 18 and Cổ Thuật, into a few separate posts so I can do it justice.

I will then weave both form and function together in each of the relevant posts so you will be able to see how they interlace with each other, which will allow you to have a fuller understanding of Hexagram 18 and how it was applied back in ancient days. It will also give me a chance to delve into a fascinating aspect of dark sorcery which comprises of several other types of side-kick black magik that are amazing, in and of themselves.

Let’s start with the hexagram itself. Hexagram 18 is also known as the Quẻ Sơn Phong Cổ, roughly translated as the Mountain Wind Poison Hexagram.

To give it a bit of context, I asked a basic general question: I Ching–what the hell is going on with the world today? Why is everything so screwed up?

I, of course, got Hexagram 18.

Hexagram 18Cổ (Ku)

The Judgement

Work on What Has Been Spoiled
Has supreme success.
It furthers one to cross the great water.
Before the starting point, three days.
After the starting point, three days.

So what does I Ching mean when it tells a person to ‘work on what has been spoiled for supreme success’? In my simple mind, a huge fuck-up can only improve, be it ever so slightly, if we at least try to do something. In fact, there really is no choice, is there? Not making any attempt to work on something that has been turned into a hot pile of stinking shit will all but guarantee that it will remain a colossal failure.

The second line is that ubiquitous, repeating advice that the I Ching always gives when things look dire. It seems to always furthers one to cross the great water.

As with all Great Truths, it works for this hexagram too. In fact, it’s almost as if I Ching is giving us some not-so-subtle hints that, when in doubt, the first thing we should try is to cross that dang water, sorta like a reboot or a ‘turn-off, turn back on again’ fix.

FYI: I wrote about another such hexagram which also advised to cross the water where I delved into the details of this particular gem.

Now we get to the last section of the Judgement where I Ching talks about that before three days/after three days part. It was so important, it took out two of the five lines of Judgement.

This is what’s colloquially known as the Triple Threat, and it is a very commonly spouted bit of knowledge that runs along the lines of nursery rhymes. Now, before you go thinking I’m making up stuff, rest assured. We young Viet kids literally grew up learning this Triple Threat from our parents.

There are two ways to look at this.

The more pessimistic outlook points out that misfortunes always visits in threes; hence it’s known as a Triple Threat. For this type of analysis, at the time of the I Ching reading, disaster has already struck three days earlier. The second strike happened at the time of the reading, and will be followed by another three days of misfortune. If one perseveres and continues the work on what has been spoiled however, after the Triple Threat has run its course, there will be success.

The other, slightly more optimistic way of looking at this is the ‘look backwards three days and look forwards three days before leaping’ sort of advice. The ancients said to analyze the past and project the possibilities of what might happen in the future. Then, plan the flight before flying the plan. This is literally striking, NOT when the iron is hot, but after deliberate and careful planning. We are, after all, trying to dig ourselves out of a hole that we have already been stuck in for the last three days (days here denote a short time-frame that has just passed).

Okay. Onto the Image.

The Image

The wind blows low on the mountain:
The image of Decay.
Thus the superior man stirs up the people
And strengthens their spirit.

Wind blowing low on the mountains is a very destructive wind. The gale flows through the meadow and BAAM!!! It hits the side of the mountain, howling and shrieking with rage. Full of fury because it has been blocked by the mountain, it swirls back upon itself, turning into a cyclone which swirls around in the foothills, destroying everything within its path. This is the destruction phase and the image of decay.

The second line has been translated by Wilhelm as ‘The image of Decay’. In reality, it is the single word Cổ, which is bugs and critters that you will normally found in and around dead things–hence decay. Of course, as I’ve painstakingly explained, the word Cổ does not simply mean critters, it means POISONOUS critters.

This means that the dead thing that the Cổ is immersed within did not die a natural or accidental death. It was a deliberate, premeditated murder involving the Cổ critters. The distinction may not seem to be a big deal, but in future posting regarding Cổ, I will go into detail as to why this is important.

The last two lines deal with the superior man stirring up the people to sway public opinion. This is because of the position this superior man is occupying.

The hexagram’s lines show an older female above a younger male. The male is in the lower, weaker position, with a higher power figure above him, represented by the older female. Since the higher power figure is unwilling to make the necessary movements (just as a mountain will not move for the wind), the only way to make any changes is to move the spirit of the people and ride the waves of their collective energies, because the powers that be have proven to be immovable.

And that’s it for Hexagram 18. I know it’s not super helpful to my question (WTF is wrong with the world today???), but it is what it is and we get what we get. It’s a doozie of a divination because Hex 18 is supposedly a super bad divination, but we can’t always avoid the bad situations in life. All we can do is roll with. the punches, all the while making our plans ahead of time, using experience and intuition to move through the next set of hurdles.

In any case, I still owe everyone the next part of this posting, which is the Cổ part and how it ties in with Poisonous Black Magic.

(Continue to Cổ Trùng – Dark Sorcery 1)

  1. Han Viet Dictionary

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