Patterns of Illusion

and Change


John Roland Stahl


First published in 1984
Laytonville, California

Second Edition
ISBN: 0-945303-15-7

The Church of the Living Tree
Leggett, California


     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 understood, 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 Tetragrammaton, 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, showing the evolutionary progression from God to Man, 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).  The best way to understand this point is 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, SOLVE et COAGULA, Order and Chaos, Life and Death.  

     This Distinction (SOLVE in the symbolism of Hermetic Alchemy) is represented in the I Ching as Yang (——).  This very Yang 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; COAGULA; Yin —  —) contains the unifying principle of the initial arcanum (Yod; the Original) added to the Distinction of the Second Arcanum to create a field of perspective unifying the opposite elements together.  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.)

     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 (), Young Yin (), Old Yang (), and Old Yin ().  

     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.  




—  —                                                           ——
Yin                                                          Yang
Passive                                                        Active
Contraction                                                   Expansion
Apollo                                                        Dionysus
Reality                                                        Illusion
  Clarity                                                       Confusion
COAGULA                                                 SOLVE



“From Tao there comes One  
From One there come Two
From Two there comes Three
  From Three there come all things.”

             —  Lao Tzu

Yesod                                                          Hod
Wands                                                      Cups
Air                                                            Water
    Old Yang                                                   Young Yin

Netzach                                                     Malkuth
Swords                                                   Pentacles
Fire                                                              Earth
Young Yang                                              Old Yin

                    Arcanum I


                    Arcanum II: SOLVE, Yang  ——

                    Arcanum III: COAGULA, Yin  —  —


                    Arcanum IV: Manifestation

As Above,

So Below.  

Arcanum V.


     The colored diagram above illustrates every arcanum.  The point in the center represents the First Arcanum, the Point of Origin.  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, ) with the aggressive Red energy of new life (Chên, ).  This continues, intensifying and concentrating its energy in Orange (Li, ).  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, ), 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, ) to Blue (K’an, ).  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, ) and back again to Black (K’un, ).  


     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 may be taken to indicate the value of the conjunction, with Yang taken as positive, and Yin as negative.  The directions of energy of each line may be variously interpreted due to the principle of enantiodromia where each energy reverses to it’s opposite at each extreme position.  However, any consistent usage will reveal the same patterns.  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, , 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, ) 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, , Fire, the Clinging.  Here, the Subject is in conflict with an Object.  The interpretations of this arrangement range from warfare, where each tries 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, , 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, , 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, , 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, , 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, , 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.)

     Complex as they are, the sixty-four Hexagrams of the I Ching still comprise a starkly limited world, yet it is a true microcosm, representing all of the patterns with equal clarity.  There are many other representations of these primary patterns of energy, such as the game of Chess which beautifully illuminates the Trigram Li, Conflict.  Starting with the Separation into Black and White, each game of chess is a classic battle of Yang and Yin—the Irresistible Force (White, with the first move, should always be able to win) against the Immovable Object (Black, which responds, and should always be able to force a Draw, or better, if White should make a mistake).  

     But 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.  


      As I prepare the second edition of Patterns of Illusion and Change, twenty years after its first publication, I see that some of the most important conclusions are not explicitly drawn.  Of course, I have always considered this text to represent just the working notes to a series of classes which I would teach, expounding the principle points in greater detail, but I wanted to draw a few conclusions here, just to show the direction in which it can go, as well as to introduce some of my latest speculations on the nature of consciousness and its relationship with God.  

      The most glaring omission in the original text, it seems to me, is any mention of Love.  I have tried to make the case that both directions of energy are essential and good, both the Going In as well as the Going Out.  The alchemical symbols have always made this point very clear.  It is not “God and the Devil”, but two different aspects of God.  (Of course the meanings of words must be freshly defined for every usage in order to avoid misunderstanding.  Many apparent contradictions are resolved by discovering a discrepancy of definition.)  On the other hand, the relationship between the two directions is not a random one at all — that would belie the underlying order which informs it all.  No, it is the Movement In which defines the center line of the path of the inertia of God.  To make it simple, let us say that the Movement In goes towards a theoretical point of Perfection at the very Center, at which point all “good” things converge.   For example, if a person’s life is out of balance, out into realms of confusion, if not to chaos, then there will be numerous problems all along the line.  Everything will be out of adjustment.   You will fight with your wife, shout at your children, and your business and personal affairs will come apart.  But when your life is going towards that point of balance, then everything begins to get better.  Things come into focus and clarity; your health will improve; your consciousness will improve; and your financial and personal affairs will prosper.  Instead of finding yourself running faster and faster and barely being able to keep from slipping backwards (or, in fact, sliding backwards rapidly) you will find things easier all the time with less effort until, as Lao Tzu says, you will reach a point where “you do nothing at all, and yet there is nothing that is undone.”

      But that is just to define the point and the line, so that a pattern of perspective that encompasses the clarity of the cosmos may be seen.  However, if that were all, the process would quickly achieve the identity of Zero or Infinity, and the manifestation of a particular cosmos, apart from the non-differentiated state of Perfection or Nonbeing, would not be possible.  So now we come to this movement away from the point – that is easily seen and understood as the spark of Life, which is an important aspect of God.  As I wrote in one of my earliest books, Jokes, “God is Perfect, but the Devil is looking for another way.”

      But now we come to the SOLVE ET COAGULA.  This movement away from the center is only useful from the reference point of the center line.  Movement away from the center line starts first with novelty, then moves towards a state of greater complexity, then to states of confusion, and finally to states of chaos.  So in order for SOLVE away from the center to be useful, it must be followed by COAGULA back to the center.  This movement away may be variously viewed as Don Juan’s “controlled folly,” or art, or music, or literature, or even ornament.  Deviations and variations around a point eventually modify the direction, and contribute to the refining of the center line itself.  A good way to elucidate that thought is from another quotation from the same book of Jokes: “But not very often.  (Sometimes the Devil has a good idea.)”

      An amusing idea I have had lately is that “a good measure of a person’s spiritual growth is the degree to which they love everyone.” What is funny about this is that everyone is welcome to play the game of “more spiritual than thou.” This notion could save the world if it were widely understood.  What happens, of course, is that as you approach the heights of spiritual growth, and all things start to converge into clarity and unity, then you will see God, and you will love everyone.  

      Now, what is actually going on in this convergence? It is really the presence of God.  I started out in life as very much a skeptic.  At the age of six I had a theological crisis because I couldn’t understand the nature of God.  I thought the concept of God were puerile and useless.  (This was partially brought on by my father’s career as a Methodist minister.)  I set out to discover for myself what was the nature of the universe, and how it had come into being.  When I first started using the term “God” in my writings, I thought I were being clever and funny — it seemed to fit so perfectly, but, of course, I thought my own peculiar definition of “God” were my own unique understanding.  I gradually learned, however, that the fit was not coincidental.  However, I continued to assume that my “God” were at least a metaphysical concept that bore no relationship at all to the old man in the sky.  However, I have to anticipate my latest thoughts on the subject by saying that my current understanding of “God” is about as personal as any old man in the sky you could imagine.  

      How is this possible?  Let me back up just a bit to tackle another serious and complicated theological paradox, usually called “the Problem of Evil.”  How can we believe in an all powerful and merciful God, who is good, and just, and loving, in the face of the manifest evil that is present in the world?  When we see innocent children mangled by accident or deliberate attack, when the good die young and villains prosper, when awful diseases waste away the bodies and lives of the nicest people (I don’t even mention mosquitoes) – how, then, can we believe in this all powerful God who is merciful and loving?  Either God is not all powerful, or God is not all that good, frankly!  So which is it?

      So that’s the problem; I didn’t just make it up.  And what is the answer?  The envelope, please!  —— No, God is not all powerful.  What made you suppose that God were all powerful?  We are just doing the best that we can.  How?  To be sure, this is going to involve a somewhat different concept about the nature of God.  What?  God is evolving, along with His universe, as we speak?  What hope is there for us if God be not, finally, all powerful?  I think the notion that God is all powerful is supposed to give us comfort, but it only makes me nervous.  If God were all powerful, what is going on in our world?  I take greater comfort in the hope that the power of God is increasing, so that we may hope that the world may become a better place.  

      If you read the Old Testament Bible, it sounds like God actually started out on a very primitive level, but more recent conceptions of God are far more progressive.  But to explain what I mean by all of this, let me drop that thread for the moment and take up a new one — the growth of consciousness.  I remember being dazzled and amazed (at that first theological crisis at the age of six) by the whole idea of consciousness.  What I couldn’t figure out was how come I happened to be “me” instead of anybody else?  What was this “consciousness” all about?  It baffled me then, and only begins to make sense to me now.  I have looked at the evolution of consciousness.  I consider animals, and wonder to myself how much consciousness they have.  It seems to be apparent that dogs and cats have more consciousness than chickens, for example.  Does my amazing and wonderful cat Meander Polydactyl really have as much consciousness as he seems to have?  — or am I just projecting this?  To summarize my speculations, I postulate a continuum in which consciousness may range from “sub conscious” beginnings, through to ordinary human consciousness, and on to substantial and wide-ranging cosmic consciousness.  There may easily be species overlap.  I am quite sure, for example, that Meander’s consciousness, while perhaps rudimentary, is nonetheless considerably more advanced than that of the average American President.  (Wasn’t it Mark Twain who proposed replacing kings with cats?)  (And, as Joan Baez once said, “You should hear the verses I left out!”)

      So, here is where it gets interesting — if, in general, the consciousness of an organism is in direct correlation (more or less) with the complexity of the organism, then the more complex the organism, the loftier the consciousness.   A human body is made up of many living parts, yet the person as a whole has a single consciousness.  Now I consider group consciousness.  There is a group consciousness about a beehive or an anthill.  I have no trouble at all imagining a “real” consciousness pertaining to a beehive or an anthill.  I do not think that each ant has so much consciousness, but I do credit the hive or hill as a whole with having a “real” consciousness, that is not so much different in kind from my own, or Meander’s.  

      Then there are the 100 monkeys.  Briefly, the observed phenomenon was that when a certain number of monkeys on an island learned a new trick, then suddenly it entered the group consciousness and all the monkeys knew it, even the monkeys on the other side of the island who had no contact with the monkeys who originated the new trick.  Obviously, it is a clear case of shared consciousness.  

      By extension, I postulate a group consciousness at every level — there is a group consciousness to every family, town, school, city, state, nation, race, tribe, or sub-group.  This consciousness is made up of the individual consciousness of the members of the group, but then it goes beyond to evolve a unique and single consciousness that, again, is not so very much different in kind from my own or Meander’s.  This conscious being would be the “god” of that group.  

      But just as we can break up the human race into as many different countries, races, religions, languages, or any of the other ways in which people differentiate themselves (so that they can go to war with each other), we can also go the other way and postulate a single, planetary human consciousness.  But why stop there?  This conscious Being of our planet must include the consciousness of animals as well as all of the trees and plants, too.  This is the Gaia hypothesis — that the entire field of life energy on the planet Earth is a single living organism.   — and, of course, it is fully conscious (which is just another way of saying the same thing, much like “being in the presence of God” is the same thing as “loving everyone.”)

      It is this Consciousness of Gaia that I want to look at here.  Since we are talking about levels of consciousness far above our own, that should mean that the nature of that consciousness should be more advanced than our own.  That is, not only do I postulate the consciousness of Gaia to be a “real” conscious consciousness, but I suggest that it exists on a more fully developed level than our own.  Mother Earth is very much aware, thank you, and struggling to stay alive.  

      But why stop there?  Clearly all of the life energy of the entire Cosmos is co-extensive with the Mind of God, a fully conscious Being.  But I think it is appropriate, at this point in time and space, to limit our present horizon to the planet Earth.  Relevant to our situation, Gaia is the deity to whom we must pray!  We must evolve the god of our little planet for, perhaps, many more millennia before it will be appropriate to look at a larger spiritual reality.  For right now, though, Gaia needs all the help we can give her!  Everyone who is alive is partially responsible — we must all evolve our consciousness together.  And when all of life is finally joined together in one love, the Kingdom of God will come on Earth, and we can all live, once again, in the Garden, Mother Earth growing green again, instead of withering.  

      I thought that was a good “curtain line,” but I’m not done.  I want to bring this back full circle to the abstractions of metaphysics that my book is all about.  In spite of my “demotion” of God, there is still a sense that the fundamental nature of God is what created the Universe in the first place.  The final solution to “the riddle of life,” or however you want to express it, may be contained in the equation:

      It is the constant possibility of the alternative or opposite to every idea that causes our cosmos to come into being in the first place, and the dynamic tension which keeps it forever going on, evolving God knows where.  I’m glad Somebody knows.  

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