<Previous Section>
<Next Section>


天子下至士,皆有蓍龜者,重事決疑,示不自寡。《尚書》曰:"女則有大疑,謀 及卿士,謀及庶人,謀及卜筮。" "定天下之吉凶,成天下之臺臺者,莫善於蓍 龜。"

《禮三正記》曰:" 天子龜長一尺二寸,諸侯一尺,大夫八寸,士六寸。龜陰,故 數偶也。天子蘗畏九尺,諸侯七尺,大夫五尺,士三尺。蓍陽、故數奇也。"

所以先謀及卿士何? 先盡人事,念而不能得,思而不能知,然後問於蓍龜。

聖人獨 見先睹,必問蓍龜何? 示不自專也。

或曰: 清微無端緒,非聖人所及,聖人亦疑之。《尚書》曰:"女則有疑。" 謂武王也。

乾草桔骨,眾多非一,獨以 (灼) [蓍] 龜何? 此天地之間壽考之物,故問之也。


龜曰卜,蓍曰筮何?卜、赴也。爆見兆 [也]。筮也者,信也。見其對也。《尚書》[曰]:"卜三龜。"《禮 ·士冠經》曰:" 筮于廟門外。"

筮畫奎卜所以必於廟何? 託義歸智於洗祖至尊,故因先祖而問之也。

卜,春秋何方? 以為於西方東面,蓋蓍之處也。卜時西嚮,已卜退東向,問蓍於東方[西]面,以少問老之義。


或曰:天子占卜九人,諸侯七人,大夫五人,士三人。又《尚書》曰:"三人占, 則從二人之言。"

不見吉凶于蓍,復以卜何? 蓍者、陽道多變,變乃成。

龜以 (制) [荊] 火灼之何?《禮 · 雜記》曰:"龜、陰之耄也,蓍、陽之老也。 龍非水不處,龜非火不兆,以陽動陰也。"必以荊者,取其究音也。《禮三正記》曰: "灼龜以荊。"

以火動龜,不以水動蓍何? 以為嘔則是也。

蓍龜敗則埋之何? 重之,不欲人 (襲) [襞]尊者也。

《周官》曰:" (九) [凡] 國之大事,先筮而後卜。"

"凡卜(人)[筮],君 視體,大夫視色,士視墨。"


"凡取龜用秋時, 攻龜用(冬) [春]時。"

XXII. Divination with the Milfoil and the Tortoise-Shell

149---General Remarks (III A. 16a).

From the Son of Heaven down to the common officer every one has to practise divination with the milfoil 1 and the tortoise-shell because in important matters where decisions have to be taken on dubious points one must show that one is not going to act of one's own accord. The Shang shu says: "If thou hast doubts about any great matter consult with thy Minister, consult with the common people, consult the tortoise-shell and the milfoil" 2. "To determine [the issues for] good or evil [of all events] in all under Heaven, to make all under Heaven full of strenuous endeavours, there are no [agencies] better than divination with the milfoil or the tortoise-shell" 3.

150---The Size of the Milfoil-Stalk and the Tortoise-Shell (III A. 16a-b).

The Li san chêng chi4 says: "The Son of Heaven uses a tortoise- shell one foot and two inches long, a Feudal Lord one of one foot, a great officer one of eight inches, a common officer one of six inches". The tortoise [belongs to] the yin, therefore its number is even. [Further it says:] "The Son of Heaven uses milfoil-stalks nine feet long, a Feudal Lord [stalks of] seven feet, a great officer of five feet, a common officer of three feet". The milfoil [belongs to] the yang, therefore its number is odd.

151---The Meaning of Decisions in Dubious Affairs (III A. 16b).

a. Why must [the King] first consult with his Ministers? Because first he should exhaust man's resources. If after deliberations [a solution] cannot be reached, and if after meditations no decision can be made, the milfoil and the tortoise-shell are consulted.

b. Why must a Sage, though, alone among men, he has [the power of] foresight, consult the milfoil and the tortoise-shell? To show that he does not act of his own accord.

c. Another opinion is: The intricacies 5 and mysteries [of Heaven's destiny] have neither beginning nor end; they are inaccessible [even] to a Sage, who will be in doubt about them. The Shang shu says: "If thou hast doubts" 6. This was said of King Wu [,who was a Sage].

152---The Meaning of the Names of the Milfoil and the Tortoise-Shell (III A. 16b-17a).

a. Why is it that from among the number of dry plants and hard bony material only the milfoil and the tortoise-shell are used [for divination]? They are the longest-living things between Heaven and Earth, therefore they are consulted.

b. Kuei 'tortoise-shell' means chiu 'long-enduring' 7. Shih 'milfoil' means ch'i 'aged' 8. [Both objects are associated with] the idea of age and longevity.

c. Why is it that [the divination by means of] the tortoise-shell is called pu, and [that by means of] the milfoil is called shih? Pu means fu 'to be pressed'; [the shell] after being [touched by a] heated [stick] shows fissures. Shih means hsin 'to trust'; the stalks form 'figures' kua9. The Shang shu says: "[The Duke of Chou] divined with the three tortoise-shells" 10. The Li shih kuan ching says: "The divination by means of the milfoil [to find an auspicious day for the capping ceremony] takes place outside the gate of the ancestral temple" 11.

153---The Place of the Divination (III A. 17a).

Why is it that at the divination with the milfoil the drawing of the figures must take place in the ancestral temple? 12 Because, observing the rules attached to one's status, one applies for wisdom to the most exalted 13. Therefore [the stalks are] consulted through the medium of the ancestors.

154---The Position at the Divination (III A. 17a).

What is the place [taken by the divinator] to divine an [auspicious] time? [The divinator] takes his place in the west, and faces east; this is his position at the divination with the milfoil. During the divination he turns to the west, after it he turns back, and faces east. His standing in the east and his facing the west when he is consulting the stalks [,as when he is consulting the tortoise-shell,] means that the younger [east] consults the elder [west] 14.

155---The Clothes Worn at the Divination (III A. 17a).

With a cap of white deer-skin and white silk nether-garments gathered at the waist, [thus the divinator] applies [for advice] to the plain material [constituted by the milfoil and the tortoise- shell]. The Li says: "Clad with a cap of white deer-skin and white silk nether-garments gathered at the waist [the divinator] consults the stalks outside the gate of the ancestral temple" 15.

156---The Number of the Divining Officers (III A. 17b).

One opinion says: For the divination the Son of Heaven employs nine men, a Feudal Lord seven, a great officer five, a common officer three. The Shang shu [,however,] says: "Three men are [always] employed at the divination, and the [assenting] words of two of them are to be followed" 16.

157---The Divination with the Tortoise-Shell Follows After that with the Milfoil (III A. 17b).

Why is it that when by the divination with the milfoil neither a favourable nor an unfavourable indication is to be seen divination with the tortoise-shell is resorted to? The milfoil follows the way of the yang; it has many permutations, and by its permutations [things] come to completion 17.

158---The Scorching of the Tortoise-Shell (III A. 17b).

a. Why is the tortoise-shell scorched with a heated thorn-stick? 18 The Li tsa chi says: "The tortoise is the oldest among [the things belonging to] the yin, the milfoil is the oldest among [the things belonging to] the yang. Without water the dragon knows not where to dwell, without fire the tortoise cannot foretell" 19. It is the yang putting the yin into motion. A thorn-stick must be used. ....... 20 The Li san chêng chi says: "The tortoise-shell is scorched by means of a [heated] thorn-stick".

b. Since the tortoise-shell is moved [into action] by means of fire, why is not the milfoil moved [into action] by means of water? The milfoil is breathed upon 21, which amounts to the same thing.

159---Burying the Shell and Stalks (III A. 17b).

Why are the tortoise-shell and the stalks buried after they have been used up? Out of reverence, to avoid that the things which have been honoured should be polluted by men 22.

160---Quotations from the Chou Li (III A. 18a)

a. The Chou kuan says: "For all important events in a state divination is performed, first with the milfoil, then with the tortoise-shell" 23.

b. [Again:] "At the divination with the tortoise-shell the Sovereign judges the results from the configuration, the great officer from the colour, the common officer from the width of the cracks" 24.

c. [Again:] "At the divination with the tortoise-shell its height is examined, and a fire is made to operate upon the shell" 25.

d. [Again:] "The tortoises are received in autumn, their shells are prepared in spring" 26.


1. 蓍 shih. It is not exactly known what this plant was, see Botanicon Sini- cum, II. 246.

2. Shang shu chu shu, Hung fan, 11. 19a; L. 337. The Shang shu text also contains the statement 'consult with thy [own] heart", here omitted.

3. Apparently a quotation from ch. Hsi tz'ŭ of the Chou i (chu shu, 11. 35a; L. 373). The Chou i text, however, has "no greater" instead of "no better".

4. An untransmitted chapter of the collection of rites.

5. 清 , which probably should be read 精.

6. See n. 2.

7. 龜, 久 . Cf. Gr. Ser. nos. 985 and 993: *kiwog/kjwi/kuei and *kiug/ki?u/ kiu.

8. 蓍, 耄 . Ibid. nos. 552q and 1: *śĭbi?r/śi/shï and *g'ĭbinv;εr/g'ji/k'i. The explanation of kuei and shih given by the Po hu t'ung also occurs in the Shu chuan, quoted by the Ch'u hsüeh chi, 30. 29b, the Lun hêng (Forke, I. 182), and Liu Hsiang's I hsi tz'ŭ i 易 擊 辭 義(quoted in the sub-comm. on the Ch'ü li, Li chi chu shu, 3. 17b). The latter also adds that by their high ages the tortoise becomes a 'genius' ling, and the milfoil a 'spirit' sh ên (cf. also Legge's transl. of the Book of History, p. 335, note).

9. Pu 卜, fu 赴, shih 筮, hsin 信, kua 卦. The explanation does not make much sense. Liu Hsiang (l.c.) explains: "Pu means fu; [it indicates] the state of mind of one who is pressed to come; shih means wên 問 'to consult'; [it indicates] the affairs of one who consults the stalks". The Shih shuo 師 說, quoted at the same place, explains pu as fu 覆'to repeat', i.e. fu-shên 丨 審 , 'to re-examine', and shih as chüeh 決, i.e. chüeh-ting 丨 定 'to decide'.

10. Shang shu chu shu, Chin t'êng, 12.11a; L. 355. This quotation refers to the famous story of the Duke of Chou wishing to sacrifice himself for his sick brother King Wu. Ku Chieh-kang, who has translated the Chin t'êng into modern Chinese, paraphrases this sentence as: "thereupon he ordered the three divinators each to consult the three tortoise-shells" (Ku shih pien, II. 69). The Shih chi (M.H. IV. 91) paraphrases: "thereupon he approached [the altars of] the three Kings [T'ai, Chi, and Wên, his ancestors], and consulted the tortoises".

11. I li chu shu, 1. 1a; C. 1, where the text does not contain the word 'outside', which, however, is implied (acc. to Chia Kung-yen's sub-comm.).

12. I.e., the figures are first drawn on the ground in the temple and then transferred to a board in the doorway outside the threshold by the recorder of the divination, see the beginning paragraphs of ch. Shih kuan li of the I li, and the note in Steele's transl. I, p. 261.

13. 先 祖 Liu (73. 4b) takes the word 'ancestors' to be superfluous.

14. Cf. the I li, l.c. (C. 1-2). The divinator first stands facing east to receive the order from the host. Then he turns round and divines facing west. After the divination he turns east again to announce the result of the divination to the host. At the divination with the tortoise-shell the same positions are taken, see ch. Shih sang li of the I li, C. 477-479.

15. The quotation cannot be identified, but cf. ch. Tsa chi of the Li chi (C. II. 122).

16. Shang shu chu shu, Hung fan, 11. 18b; L. 335. This paragraph gives two different opinions concerning the number of divinators employed. The second opinion, based on the Shang shu quotation, is corroborated by the Chou li, ch. Ta pu (B. II. 69) and ch. Shih jên (B. II. 80), and the Kung yang chuan, Hsi 31 (Kung yang chu shu, 12.25b).

17. I muss confess that the explanation here offered is not clear to me. In important affairs both methods of divination were employed, first by the milfoil, then by the tortoise-shell, the latter being decisive (see comm. and sub-comm. ch. Chan jên, Chou li chu shu, 24. 26a-b).

18. For a description of how in this way cracks are made on the shell see the Chou li, ch. Chui jên (B. II. 77) and the I li, ch. Shih sang li (C. 477 ff).

19. The quotation does not occur in the present Li chi. The Ta tai li chi, ch. Tsêng tzŭ t'ien yüan, 5. 8b; Wi. 130, contains the statement: "Without wind the dragon cannot fly, without fire the tortoise cannot fortell; in both cases it is the cooperation of the yin and the yang" 皆 陰 陽 之 際 也 (Wilhelm translates: "das sind die Berührungen der lichten und dunklen Kraft"). The Kuan tzŭ, ch. Shui ti, 39.75 says: "The tortoise lives in water, and manifests itself by fire."

20. The text reads: 必 以 荆 者 取 其 究 音 也 . The meaning of this sentence is declared by Lu to be wei-hsiang 'unclear'. Ch'ên (7. 21a-b) suggests the reading: 荆 者 何 究 音 也, in which he takes chiu-yin 究 音 as the (technical) name for thorn-stick, the sentence thus meaning: "What is the thorn-stick? The chiu-yin". This emendation seems rather farfetched. The technical name for the thorn-stick used at the divination is ch'u-t'un 楚 焞, see I li chu shu, Shih sang li, 12. 58b; C. 477. It is possible that yin is an error for ching 竟, which gives sense to the expression chiu-ching, but even then the sentence remains unintelligible.

21. 嘔 ou. Sun I-jang (Cha i, 10. 4a) reads 漚 ou, i.e. ou-cho 丨 濯 'to rinse in water'.

22. Cf. ch. Ch'ü li of the Li chi (chu shu, 3. 13b; C. 1. 57), and Chêng Hsüan's remark in his comm.: "to avoid that they should be polluted by men".

23. Chou li chu shu, Shih jên, 24.28b: B. II. 81.

24. Ibid., Chan j ên, 24. 26b; B. II. 79. The Chou li text has 占 instead of 視 and 史 instead of 士. I have followed Chêng Hsüan's comm. for the translation of mo 墨 as 'the width of the cracks', cf. Biot's note 5, l.c.

25. Ibid., Pu shih, 24. 21b; B. II. 75.

26. Ibid., Kuei j ên, 24. 23b; B. II. 74.

<Previous Section>
<Next Section>
IATHPublished by The Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, © Copyright 2003 by Anne Kinney and the University of Virginia