This is part sixteen of a series about the use of the Yijing in clinical practice of Chinese medicine.
Part 16 – A Can of Worms
Hexagram 18 Gu holds a special place in the Yijing as one of the most inauspicious of the oracle’s symbols and the one most directly linked to a disease state, also called Gu.
Let’s take a look at the hexagram itself before exploring its complex of associations. Hexagram 18 Gu is composed of Wind (Xun) below Mountain (Gen). Here Xun’s life force is trapped beneath Gen’s towering mass, a position where it is unable to flourish and must inevitably decay instead. Or, seen from another angle, Gu depicts a mighty mountain undermined by a windy intruder at its very root.
Dr. Heiner Fruehauf has made explicit the links between Hexagram 18 and disease by reviving the concept of ‘Gu syndrome’ (Gu zheng) from the annals of Chinese medicine and demonstrating its relevance to chronically-ill modern patients. Briefly, Gu syndrome refers to a state of corruption or stagnation, in which the patient is ‘hollowed out’ by hidden, yin forces—much like the mountain undermined by wind in Hexagram 18.
Gu patients typically feel possessed or speak of being cursed. Their lives are no longer their own; a hostile and opportunistic intelligence has gained a measure of control.
In various source texts, Gu is connected with black magic practices whereby a practitioner puts a mass of poisonous insects in a vessel, seals it, and then inflicts the surviving ‘superbug’ on his hapless victim. Thus, Gu is linked with what we might, in technical terms, call creepy crawlies.
Dr. Fruehauf has convincingly shown that what our Chinese Medicine forebears called Gu syndrome overlaps substantially with parasitic disorders, the victims of which often do feel possessed or hollowed out, and who do indeed harbor creepy crawly critters. In particular, Gu is a relevant diagnostic category for people whose parasitic pathogens are hidden: Gu applies more for someone with a hard-to-diagnose, hard-to-treat dysbiosis of the gut (perhaps a multi-species horde of amoebas, fungi and bacteria, like a kombucha culture gone horribly awry) than to someone with a relatively-easy-to-spot hookworm infestation.
Fruehauf’s work also connects the emerging epidemic of Lyme disease and related infections (Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Babesiosis, etc.) with Gu; he has termed this class of disorders “brain Gu” or “nervous system Gu” in contrast to “digestive Gu,” and successfully revived complex and long-forgotten herbal approaches to treat these difficult and recalcitrant conditions.(http://www.classicalpearls.org/products/thunder-pearls/)
All of this can be traced back to the Yijing and Hexagram 18’s depiction of Wind/Wood (Xun) below Mountain (Gen). Delving deeper into the hexagram’s imagery, however, we find another connection of immediate interest. The decay or stagnation is associated with ancestral offerings that have gone bad, literally spoiled on the altar—the ideogram for Gu depicts a bowl filled with worms. Such a situation calls for ritual purification (as implied by the judgement text line “before jia three days, after jia three days”). The changing line texts indicate the particular lineages that are disgruntled, and in some cases suggest the remedy: “Clear the influence of a dead patriarch with kind eulogy,” reads the fifth changing line text in Liu Ming’s translation. All in all, there is a clear association here between Gu, with its connotations of disease and cursedness, and ancestral issues.
This talk of angry ancestors and spoiled offerings is just the sort of thing we may be inclined to ignore in the Yi: some piece of arcane, ritualistic mumbo jumbo with little relevance to modern people—so we might be tempted to think. But if we ignore the ancestral connection we’d be making a serious mistake.
Preoccupation with ancestors is not peculiar to Confucianism or to Chinese culture; reverence for one’s forebears is an all but universal feature of life found in the great majority of societies throughout history. In many traditions, respecting and feeding one’s ancestors is the bedrock, the sine qua non, of spiritual life. Our own ancestral lineage is what connects us to life itself: we received the gift of life passed down from our parents, their parents, and so on.
Honoring our ancestors means affirming the connection to the source of our own life.
In a sense, then, it’s common courtesy to give thanks to those who have given us life, no matter what their human shortcomings may have been. But it’s more than that, too. The basic attitude of reverence for the source of our life is a piece of etiquette so fundamental that its absence puts us askew, out of alignment with the roots of our own being.
Without the support and guidance of our ancestors, we are spiritually adrift, and thus vulnerable. Without firm roots, the ill winds can penetrate deeply and undermine our health. This is the situation implicit in Hexagram 18 Gu. Thus, when Hexagram 18 Gu arises in the context of divination, it’s important to consider ancestral issues.
Next post we’ll get into what this means, how to use divination to explore and diagnose the situation, and how to begin rectifying it.