Patterns of Illusion

and Change


John R. Stahl


first edition

© 1984
The Evanescent Press


     Ever since the earliest times, philosophers have been searching for the underlying patterns of order that sustain our world. These efforts have resulted in a great many systems of symbolic expression purporting to illuminate the various mysteries of reality and life. Careful inspection of these different systems reveals that many of them are based on remarkably similar fundamentals. The numbers of mathematics, for example, have been almost universally regarded as indispensable keys to an understanding of the primary mysteries.

     The Tree of Life from the Hebrew Kabbalah and the I Ching of Chinese philosophy are two of the most remarkable systems of analogy based upon numbers. A clear understanding of these systems will provide a powerful calculus whereby all of the complexities of contemporary life may be clearly understood by analogy. Symbols from Hermetic alchemy, astrology, and other sources are used throughout for the purposes of comparison because of their colorful effect and ingenious application. They provide a vivid contrast to the starkly abstract systems of the I Ching and the Tree of Life. Once the vision has begun to clarify, the next step is to participate in the unfolding of the infinite universe by a more conscious awareness of the consequences of our actions. The same calculus which allows us passively to understand the intricate patterns of the movement of life allows us as well to influence the evolution of those same fields of energy at any level through the agency of the Philosophers' Stone at any one of the Points of Change. Once the fundamentals are mastered, the benefits of application and analogy will quickly follow.


     We present an arrangement of the Tree of Life which divides it into four parts, corresponding to the Hebrew name of God (Yod-He-Vau-He). YHVH, the four letters of the name of God, have long been considered to conceal Keys to the highest understanding of the ultimate mysteries of the cosmos, although the knowledge of their meaning is said to have been lost. The first letter (Yod; Kether on the Tree of Life) represents the First Arcanum, or mystery. Since this arcanum refers to the most primary mystery, efforts to define it are inevitably elusive. It has to do with original Infinity (or Zero). We call it the Philosophers' Stone and allow it to be understood by contrast with all that follows.

The way that can be spoken of
Is not the constant way;
The name that can be named
Is not the constant name.
The nameless was the beginning of Heaven and Earth
The named was the mother of the myriad creatures.
Hence always rid yourselves of desires
In order to observe its secrets;
But always allow yourself to have desires
In order to observe its manifestations.
These two are the same
But diverge in name as they issue forth.
Being the same they are called mysteries,
Mystery upon mystery -
The gateway of the manifold secrets.

- Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching
(D.C. Lau translation)

     The Second Arcanum represents the primordial Distinction which causes the previously undifferentiated Cosmos to split apart and come into being. This manifestation of a visible Cosmos is the Field of Vibration which has come into being as a consequence of the Distinction. The operation of this mystery provides the creative aspect for every idea or microcosm. Common symbols for this mystery are Heaven and Earth, Light and Dark, Creative and Receptive, Active and Passive, COAGULA et SOLVE, Order and Chaos, Life and Death.

     This Distinction (SOLVE in the symbolism of Hermetic Alchemy) is represented in the I Ching as Yin (—  —). This very Yin may also be viewed on another level as being itself composed of the distinction between yang (firm) and yin (yielding). On the Tree of Life, this level of yang is Chokmah (the Sun) while yin is Binah (the Moon). Together they form the second part of the name of God: He.

     The Third Arcanum (the letter Vau, of the name of God) contains the unifying principle of the initial arcanum (Yod; the Philosophers' Stone) added to the Distinction of the Second Arcanum to create a Field of Perspective holding the opposite elements together in dynamic tension. The rhythm of the vibration set up between them flows through the Philosophers' Stone as the focus of attention between Subject and Object through the present moment, the infinite turning point of the process of change.

     On the Tree of Life, Chesed and Geburah are balanced by Tiphereth. (We include the Indian terms Rajas, Tamas, and Satva for comparison.) In the I Ching, the idea of Yang (——), COAGULA, is assigned to the number Three rather than the number One; the number One refers to a similar idea but at too abstract a level to be useful.

     The Fourth Arcanum (the fourth letter of the name of God: the second He) moves beyond the pure abstraction of the first three arcana into the Illusions of Manifestation. The four spheres on the Tree of Life which apply to this position (Netzach, Hod, Yesod, and Malkuth) represent the four elements-Fire, Water, Air, and Earth-of Hermetic Alchemy. These four cardinal points represent the whole realm of Manifestation and Illusion. In the I Ching, these four elements are called (in the same sequence and with the same meaning) Young Yang (+o), Young Yin (o+), Old Yang (++), and Old Yin (oo).

     To further clarify this progression of primary ideas, compare the analogies of Pythagoras to the first four numbers: One: a point; Two: a line; Three: a plane (triangle); and Four: a solid (pyramid). In terms of the dimensions of physics, the point is dimension zero. A line extends as the first dimension. A plane triangle has two dimensions, and a solid has three dimensions. The fourth dimension of physics, time, is what we call Arcanum Five: Change. This progression of ideas continues out at different levels of perspective towards infinity. However, it is very useful to see the similarity in character of each of the odd numbered mysteries in contrast with another kind of idea for the even numbers. The terms which best express this contrast are COAGULA for the odd numbers, and SOLVE for the even numbers.


Arcanum I: The Philosophers' Stone


Arcanum II: SOLVE, Yin - -

Arcanum III: COAGULA, Yang --


Arcanum IV: Illusions of Manifestation

Arcanum V: Change



As Above,


So Below.


     The colored diagram illustrates every arcanum. The point in the center represents the First Arcanum, the Point of Origin, although its full significance can not be seen from this or any other diagram. The same point, from a different level of perspective, represents each of the odd numbered arcana (COAGULA): Three -the Point of Balance; Five-the Point of Change, etc. The rest of the diagram represents the even numbered arcana (SOLVE): Two, the original Distinction, is clearly seen above and below the central point of balance (Light and Dark, Creative and Receptive, Heaven and Earth, etc.).

     The four elements of the Fourth Arcanum are also clear: Young Yang (Fire, Spring, Active contraction) begins out of the Chaos of Black (K'un, ooo) with the aggressive Red energy of new life (Chên, +oo). This continues, intensifying and concentrating its energy in Orange (Li, +o+). Suddenly a Change takes place and the energy "turns inside out" and begins to expand (Old Yang, Air, summer, Active Expansion) upward through Yellow (Tui, ++o), and finally to White (Ch'ien,+++), the height of integration and order. At this point, another Change takes place and the energy begins to contract again (Young Yin, Water, Autumn, Passive Contraction). This energy falls through Green (Sun, o++) to Blue (K'an, o+o). At this point, another Change occurs as the energy falls through the balance point again on its way down to Old Yin (Earth, Winter, Passive Expansion), through Violet (Kên, oo+) and back again to Black (K'un, ooo).


     The eight Primary Trigrams of the I Ching may be more particularly defined by assigning a precise meaning to each of the lines. The specific interpretation of each Trigram (or Hexagram-the traditional six lines) is a very creative matter which depends upon the particular purposes of each analogy. The following abstract patterns may be more creatively interpreted whenever they are used to represent real situations.

     According to traditional usage, the bottom line of each Trigram represents the Subject and the top line represents the Object of the analogy. Yang lines may be defined as Active, Yin lines as Passive. The center line indicates the integrity of the elements: a Yin line indicates a condition of SOLVE, where the Subject and Object are opposed; a Yang line indicates a condition of COAGULA, where the Subject and Object are together. From these definitions, it is an easy matter to prepare a simple catalog of the eight Primary Trigrams:

     The first Trigram of the sequence is Chên, +oo, Thunder, the Arousing. Here, the Subject is the source of an energy of distinction from the passive Object. This represents the birth of a new idea or microcosm: an Ego distinct from the whole. It is active and aggressive. Basically, it is the assertion of distinction and independence from the passive Earth (K'un, ooo) which produced it. It is represented in other symbols by the color Red, the planet Mars, and the metal Iron.

     The second Trigram is Li, +o+, Fire, the Clinging. Here, the Subject is in conflict with an Object. The interpretations of this arrangement range from warfare, where each tires to overcome the other, to tension, energy, games, or social activity. The color is Orange, the planet Mercury, and the metal Quicksilver.

     The next Trigram is Tui, ++o, the Lake, the Joyous. The solid center line indicates a change of state where the energy of the Subject seeks union with the passive Object. The color is Yellow, the planet Jupiter, and the metal Tin.

     At the extremity of the Subject's Yang energy is the Trigram Ch'ien, +++, Heaven, the Creative. It represents the attainment and perfection of balance and order which completes the synthesis into unity, COAGULA. It is the White light (the union of all light), and it is the Sun and Gold.

     The following Trigram, Sun, o++, Wind, Wood, the Gentle, represents the beginning of the path of the passive Subject and the Yin phase of the cycle begins the downward movement towards SOLVE. In this case, it is the activity of the Object which maintains the integration with the passive Subject. The color is Green, the planet Venus, and the metal Copper.

     The next Trigram, K'an, o+o, Water, the Abysmal, represents the last stage of harmony. Both subject and Object are passive, and the integration of the two is maintained by inertia alone. The color is Blue, the planet the Moon, and the metal Silver.

     The next Trigram is Kên, oo+, the Mountain, Keeping Still. The broken center line indicates that the separation has been made, the Object rejecting the Subject. The color is Violet, the planet Saturn, and the metal Lead.

     At the end of the cycle is the point of complete liberation of finite Manifestation into Eternity represented by the Trigram K'un, ooo, Earth, the Receptive. This is the empty blackness of infinite night, cold, quiet, and still: the chaos of randomness, the complete SOLVE where not one stone is left upon another. The absence of light is Black; the planet is the Earth, and the metal is the Prima Materia of the Alchemists to which it was considered necessary to reduce all metals before they could be improved or perfected (transmuted).

     Of course the process is endless, as it is precisely the infinite potential of the SOLVE from which a new point of COAGULA may make an appearance into Manifestation.


     If the eight primary Trigrams offer a view of eight possible arrangements of primary energy (Fixed Field Illusions), the sixty-four Hexagrams suggest all possible conjunctions of those eight patterns. There are a great variety of possible ways to correlate the lines of the I Ching to analogous situations in the outer world, but according to traditional usage, the upper Trigram refers to that which is "above, without, or in front," and the lower Trigram refers to that which is "below, within, or behind." For example, the analogy may be made that the upper Trigram refer to the external or visible aspect of a situation, while the lower Trigram refers to an internal (occult) aspect of the same situation.

     Changing lines modify each Hexagram according to the significance of their position. A changing line (Old Yang or Old Yin) is considered to be unstable and liable to reverse its direction. Every time a line reaches its Limit, a Change occurs and the Wheel of Manifestation rolls on to a new position. (Both possibilities of every changing line should be considered when preparing an I Ching analogy.)

     Since the Macrocosm is infinite, and the unchanging Tao ineffable, particular perspectives are only possible at the expense of perfect clarity. That is, we may see "Reality" as a succession of Fixed Field Illusions -- a sequence of static arrangements like the still frames of a "motion picture," whose motion or change only becomes apparent by the rapid succession of those still frames. Or, on the other hand, we may see reality as a succession of changes. Of course, the only way we can view reality at all through either perspective is by means of the other. The succession of Fixed Field Illusions forms one perspective of reality, and the succession of Points of Change forms a complimentary perspective as a parallel universe.

     The importance of retaining both perspectives simultaneously is illustrated by the dilemma of the physicists who can not agree on whether a photon of light is a point or a field. Of course it is both at once, and neither the one nor the other! It requires a larger vision of consciousness to perceive the ultimate balance where the entire Macrocosm finally becomes equivalent simultaneously to Zero and Infinity, only apparently existing as a field of manifestation between them by means of the distinction imagined to exist between infinite moments of eternity.

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