by Frater Achad Osher 583
Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. – AL I:40
It was during one of his stays at my house in the late seventies that Grady Louis McMurtry (1918-1985) the O.H.O. (Outer Head of the Order) of the Ordo Templi Orientis produced a small leather bag containing the actual sticks used by Aleister Crowley for his I-Ching divination. As I held them I felt sense of overwhelming awe and immediately set upon the task of making my own. There were only six small wooden sticks that were stained very dark. Each was approximately 4 ½ inches long by only a half inch wide and maybe an eighth inch thick at best. One side was left blank and was considered to be the yang or male energy while the other side of each stick had a small groove of maybe a quarter inch wide cut into the middle of each as if to divide the stick to produce the divided or yin energy.
According to Grady, who had actually witnessed Aleister Crowley using the sticks, the method he employed was quite simple. Crowley, with his eyes closed, would slowly shuffle the six sticks in his left hand while concentrating on the question. After awhile he would carefully take each stick, one by one, holding it upright with his right forefinger and upon getting the proper signal he would simply lay it down. He continued this process till all six sticks were laid down in a row. When he opened his eyes he saw either the blank side or the broken side on each stick facing upward. It is important to remember that Crowley considered the first stick that he laid down to be the bottom line.
Crowley also used other methods to obtain a hexagram when throwing his sticks seemed out of the question. One such method is described in his diaries on September 4th 1937. He briefly writes, “Took this (hexagram) by a new method. Stopped in street: first person approaching = line 1. & so on. Two or more in company – the nearest comes first.” Although he doesn’t state such it could be presumed that if the person was a male it represented a yang line while a yin line was represented by an approaching female.
The method Crowley used to get the moving line with the sticks was remarkable and creative. One methods was to simply shove one of the sticks off to the side at a whim to indicate that this stick represented the moving line. Another method he used was obvious by looking at his original sticks. On one of the six sticks the end had been painted with a deep red color similar to the central divided section on the yin side. Once the sticks had been laid down Crowley would open his eyes and see this particular stick in one of the six positions. Where it lay simply represented the moving line. How Crowley determined the moving line when using approaching people on the street is anyone’s guess but it might have been fascinating to watch him ‘shove one of the sticks off to a side’ at a whim!
One of the least understood aspects of the I-Ching is the actual moving line, or line of Change which is obtained rather easily with Crowley’s method. You may ask what is implied by this line? Then armed with that question you can feel secure with the proper knowledge that it often takes sages a lifetime to fully understand the implications regarding the wisdom behind change. So be patient. Here is at least a short cut in obtaining the mundane part of it. It’s up to each individual to try to understand further but, to explain simply, we sometimes forget that we might have the choice between what is and what may be. The overall hexagram is the answer obtained when the conscious mind formulates a question, but deep within there is often the possibility of change in the outcome. What we can move to, or change toward is often up to each person. This is the nature of the moving line.
To find out if the answer one seeks has the possibility of change, or is actually ‘fixed’ is easy. While holding one of the sticks upright, with eyes closed, ask yourself if the answer you are seeking has the fixed quality, or is change possible if you put your mind to it. With eyes still closed lay the stick down. If you produced a broken line the answer is no. The outcome is fixed with little hope of change, or simply put, a broken line means an obstacle with no movement to the opposite side. However, if a solid line appears then there is the possibility of change or movement from one side to the other and you should heed the stick with the black markings when the final hexagram is obtained. Where that stick falls in the relationship to the other five will determine which of the six lines gives you the course to follow.
Grady told me that he personally loved this method of divination and he once wrote that this was because it ‘gives you a chance for your Angel to communicate directly through your fingertips.’ I agree completely. It’s a very good method. I have used my own sticks for many years. I can understand why Crowley wrote that ‘he found himself instantly at home with the Yi-King’ and consulted the oracles daily for advice and guidance.
Upon first glance the method employed here may seem simplistic but it can produce direct and meaningful insights into any question almost immediately. You must realize this is not the only method which can be used to obtain a hexagram. Some individuals use yarrow sticks while others simply use pennies. If you do some basic research you will find many other ways of obtaining a hexagram but remember, all methods are valid. The key to divination is that whatever one chooses, be consistent and do not stray from system to system. If you want anything to work you must do it often and become one with the method. However intricately one wishes to elaborate Crowley’s system is up to your own personal study of the I-Ching. Employed here is merely the working basics for all beginners as well as those versed deeply in the I-Ching. Like many systems used by Aleister Crowley the foundation is often simplicity with the usage as infinite as the creative mind wishes to take it. The above is of course only a brief note in relationship to the complex study required for full divination. I recommend that if a person wishes to use this method they should definitely do some serious study. They will be richly rewarded.
Grady McMurtry always carried Crowley’s I-Ching sticks in a small pouched attached to his belt by leather straps. It is with great regret that I learned that the original sticks were accidentally lost one summer night while Grady was partying on a beach near San Francisco. I guess such is fate. At least the new design of what Crowley intended to use for I-Ching sticks remains alive.
Love is the law, love under will. – AL I:57
Sept. 1990 ev
See “On Knowing Aleister Crowley Personally” by Grady Louis McMurtry.