Tuesday, January 16, 2018

On The Gender of the Eight Trigrams

The 64 6-line Hexagrams of the I Ching are built on paired combinations of the 8 3-line trigrams (the bagua).  Thus, as the hexagrams represent all phenomena in the material world, the trigrams represent the eight fundamental elements, four terrestrial and four celestial elements.

These elements are equivalent to the four classical elements in Western esoteric symbolism. They are in essence a doubled-up version (with terrestrial and celestial/spirit equivalents) of Earth, Air, Water, and Fire.

However, there is one complicated detail about these elements versus their western equivalent that some students have brought up: in both systems, there is a traditional attribution of 'genders' to the elements. But these genders do not appear to 'match up'. Let's review the basics:

In BOTH Western and Eastern symbolism, there are fundamental Masculine/Feminine forces: Chokmah/Binah, Animus/Anima, Shiva/Shakti, Yang/Yin, etc.

In Western symbolism, Earth and Water are feminine, Air and Fire are masculine.

In Chinese symbolism:
Earth/Mountain is masculine
Fire/Thunder is masculine
Moon/primordial-Water is masculine
Heaven is masculine

Air/Wind is feminine
Water/Lake is feminine
Sun/primordial-fire is feminine
The World is feminine

Before continuing, you should note that there is a connection between the physical image of the trigrams and their traditional 'gender': all the 'masculine' trigrams require an odd number of brush-strokes to draw, while all the 'feminine' trigrams require an even number of brush-strokes to draw.  But the various masculine trigrams and the various feminine trigrams also have another thing in common with each other, which we will bring up below. 

So now, let's focus on what is clear: in both systems of esoteric cosmology, there is a force far more fundamental than the level of elements that gets identified as the fundamental Masculine and Feminine duality. These are Yang (masculine) and Yin (feminine).

And of course, even this is not literally about 'gender' in the sense of which we tend to think of it now. Rather, they embody all the notions of duality itself; the important thing about this idea from a cosmological point of view is that it talks about all the qualities that a product of the separation from a single indivisible state of Oneness. All of our material reality is produced by this notion of the division into dualism.

To explain: you can't actually define anything positively. All definition, at its most basic level (that is, when you try to get the definitions of definitions of definitions) comes down to defining things by what they are not. This is because our entire process of thought is based on dualistic thinking. There is white and black, hot and cold, moist and dry, passive and active, positive and negative, etc.
It is only at the highest levels of awareness, and not in the level of phenomena, that this can be transcended, through the mystical process described as the Union of Opposites.

So from the esoteric point of view, the gender consideration of masculine and feminine is really about Dualism.

When we get down beyond the level of yin and yang, we are adding more elements of complexity. So Gender at the level of yin and yang is simple: Yin is everything we can define as archetypal female and Yang is everything we can describe as archetypal masculine.

At the level of elements, the reason for the gendering of elements is something more complex.  And here we get to the reason for the difference in the genders of the elements in Western and Chinese symbolism: the complex quality that the former chooses to focus on is different than the complex quality that the latter chooses to focus on.

With the Western elements, the 'male' elements have the quality of active inherent motion, while the 'female' elements have the quality of inherent stillness.

Earth and Water may move, in an earthquake or a rockslide or down-river or pouring down a sink, but this is only in reaction to what is around them: water and earth are passive, they sink down until they can reach a point of rest. Thus, they reflect the quality of Passive or Receptive nature that is attributed to the Feminine. They are also tangible, of matter, they rest in the world.

Fire and Air, however, are in motion. They rise. They only exist in movement. If air has no movement it has no qualities at all (at least, from the classical perspective) and has become foul and deathly. If fire has no movement it is extinguished. Thus they reflect that quality of Active and Creative that is attributed to the Masculine. They are also intangible, you can't actually hold on to them, they have no matter.

In the Chinese system, however, the quality being looked at is not motion and stillness, which is so important to the Yang and Yin duality, but rather the qualities of "strength" and "softness".

The Mountain, the Thunderbolt/fire, The darkness of the Moon (or the deep dangerous waters of the abyss), and the power of Heaven are all considered to be 'strong' forces.

The gentle Airy breeze, the still Lake, the warm clinging light of the Sun, and the receptiveness of the World are all considered to be "soft" forces.

So both classifications of these are examples of how to classify duality, but they focus on different aspects of duality.  This is because the purely Masculine and purely Feminine are absolutes. They do not exist anywhere in material reality; where they get closest is in Heaven and The World, but in all aspects at this dimension of reality, all phenomena contain a combination of Yin and Yang. They are a mix of the forces we call 'masculine' and 'feminine'. Depending on which aspects of the male and female you want to observe, there are thus different ways to categorize them.

No comments:

Post a Comment