The mare and the Heavenly Coach-And-Four

Here in the West we are not familiar with the work of 烏恩溥 Wu En-pu, but in China’s world of Yixue he is a well known name. His speciality is the discovery of astronomical phenomena in the Yijing, like for instance hexagram 22, which Wu sees as a comet. In the only book I have of him, 周易 – 古代中國的世界圖式 (‘Zhouyi – Ancient China’s design of the world’), he gives a lot of his findings. I find much of his arguments far-fetched. With Wu it looks like ‘I want to find it, therefore I shall find it’. But it is good to be acquainted with his ideas, even though you do not agree with them.

Let us take the mare from hexagram 2 as an example of Wu’s way of thinking. Because the word for mare, pinma 牝馬 is made up of two characters, ‘female’ and ‘horse’, and this is important for what will follow, I will speak of it as ‘the female horse’, however odd this may sound. Wu says about pinma 牝馬 (p. 52 of the forementioned book):

‘Female horse’ is a reference to Tianma, ‘The Heavenly Coach-And-Four'; Tianma is the constellation Fang 房.

This sentence already needs some clarification, otherwise it is hard to understand what comes next. Fang is a Chinese constellation, it is situated in our Western constellation Scorpio, and it is the name giver of the fourth xiu 宿, the fourth lunar mansion. It is part of the constellation qinglong 青龍 or canglong 蒼龍, the Azure Dragon.

《爾雅》:”天駟,房也”, 郭璞 (276-324) 注: “龍為天馬,故房四星,謂之天駟.”
The Erya says: “Tianma 天駟 is Fang 房”; Guo Pu (276-324) adds: “The dragon is the Heavenly horse; because the constellation Fang has four stars it is called ‘the Heavenly Coach-And-Four’.”

The constellation Fang consist of four stars and is the fourth lunar mansion in the Eastern constellation Azure Dragon, which covers seven lunar mansions; Fang represents the stomach of the dragon.

天駟或房星何以稱為 “牝馬” ? 《石氏星經》: “房南二星間為陽環,其南曰太陽道;北二星間為陰環,其北為太陰道.” 原來房四星是太陽道和太陰道的分界線,天駟而稱 “牝馬”, 正是分陰、分陽的標記。
Why is the Heavenly Coach-And-Four, the constellation Fang, ‘the female horse’? The Shi Shi Xing Jing (‘The Book of Stars from Mr. Shi’, written by Shi Shen 石申, around 300 B.C. HM) says: “The space which is formed by the two Southern stars of Fang is the yang circle, this South is called ‘the Way of Great Yang'; the space which is formed by the two Northern stars of Fang is the yin circle, this North is called ‘the Way of Great Yin’ “. Originally the stars of the constellation Fang are considered as the boundary between the Way of Great Yang and the Way of Great Yin; the ‘Heavenly Coach-And-Four’ is therefore called ‘the female horse’, because it is the demarcation between the yin and yang sides.

Wu means this: the word for mare is pinma 牝馬. Pin 牝 is ‘female’, that is what it means. But ma 馬 is ‘horse’, and a horse is yang 陽, male. In the Shuogua 說卦 we read, “乾為馬”: “Qian (yang) represents ‘horse’ “. With pinma 牝馬 we have female and male, and because of that it can serve as another name for the Heavenly Coach-and-Four, a constellation which in the old days was seen as the division between yin and yang.
By the way, taiyangdao 太陽道, ‘the Way of Great Yang’, and taiyindao 太陰道, ‘The Way of Great Yin’ can also be translated as ‘the sun’s course’ and ‘the moon’s course’. But I am not sure if that is meant here, therefore I chose to translate it literally.

Far-fetched? You decide. In any way this text taught me quite a lot about Chinese astronomy and astrology. If it really has something to do with the Yijing is not always important. Inessentials can contribute a lot to the understanding of what is essential.

The valley and the mare

When I was looking at the meanings of pin , the Daodejing came to mind. Pin  occurs in The Judgment of hexagram 2 (and in the Judgment of hexagram 30, but that does not concern us here):

“Favourable in a consultation for a mare”. If the oracle is consulted to know whether a mare (pinma 牝馬 = ‘female horse’) is carrying a young, then this is a favourable answer: the mare is carrying. In metaphorical sense this means that this hexagram is favourable for all female matters.

Pin  generally means ‘female, feminine’ (雌性的獸類,引申為雌性的), and this is how it appears in the oracle bone drawing of this character: an animal combined with the sign for  ‘woman’, in other words a female animal. But pin also has another meaning, namely ‘gully’ or ‘valley’ (溪谷). Already in ancient times is hexagram 2 linked with the feminine, and it is interesting to see that the meaning ‘valley’ makes a connection with other texts like the Daodejing 道德經, where we also find ‘valley’ combined with the feminine. In chapter 6 we read:

谷神不死, 是谓玄牝.

“The valley spirit never dies, it is called ‘the mysterious feminine’ “.

In old books like the Da Dai Liji 大戴禮記, ‘Notes regarding rituals, from Dai Senior’, it is said: 丘陵為牡,谿谷為牝 – “hills are mu masculine, valleys are pin feminine”. A link with the genitals is obvious. Earlier another meaning of pin was ‘the part of a lock that receives the key’ (古代鎖具容受鍵的部分). In the Liji 禮記, the Book of Rituals, we therefore read “the key is masculine, the lock is feminine” (鍵,牡; 閉,牝也).

Although the name of hexagram 2, kun , appears for the first time in the Yi en therefore we cannot look at other literature that can give a hint about the meaning of this character, we could speculate that it’s original meaning is ‘valley’. The character consists of two parts,  for ‘earth’ and  for ‘streched’ (according to Karlgren, GSR 421a). This could refer to a valley, and we can add that valleys are often fertile (= feminine) because of the rain water that flows to it. I am not very fond of speculating so I’d better stop here, nevertheless I found it worth to mention it in my diary.

The Chinese Icarus

At 1-6 it says “亢龍有悔”. Kang 亢 is often translated as ‘pride, arrogance’, but this is just one of the many meanings. If we look at some other meanings of this character we can adjust our translation a bit:

– 高 – high
– 舉- rise, go up
– 極,太過 – too (much)
– 強硬; 剛強 – strong, inflexible
– 遮蔽; 庇護- out of sight, hide

If we combine this with our dragon from 1-6 we get the picture of a dragon who without stopping goes up and up, and disappears out of sight (it is nice how sometimes all these meanings can be combined) . This is not an arrogant dragon,but a reckless dragon: a Chinese Icarus who overestimates his own powers and thereby will have hui 悔. Hui 悔 can mean

– 悔恨; 后悔 – regret, repentance
– 悔過; 改過 – correct your mistakes out of repentance
– 災咎; 災禍 – unavoidable misfortune
– 《易》卦有六爻,其上體即上三爻稱 “悔”,又稱外卦 – upper/outside trigram of a hexagram

If we stick to the image of Icarus, then I think the third meaning fits best. If you do not know your limits, or do not accept them, you will have unavoidable misfortune. Not from arrogance, but from recklessness. It are often the kind people, and not the arrogant people, who have to learn their lessons like this.