Thursday, August 6, 2009

“A Guiding Light in Interesting Times”: A Review of The Toltec I Ching: 64 Keys to Inspired Action in the New World

by Martha Ramirez-Oropeza and William Douglas Horden (Larson Publications, 2009,

There is an ancient Eastern curse that says “May you live in interesting times.”

A quick glance at the daily headlines tells us that, a decade or so into the twenty-first century, these times certainly fit the bill.

As an artist who uses the principles of shamanism and aspects of other spiritual systems to both create and to teach, I am always looking for new sources of inspiration and insight. As a father, husband, and mentor to young people, I am continually seeking means to clarification and ways of making sense and gaining peace in highly stressful and complicated times.

Over the past two decades, I have found ways of using tarot, runes, and other devices to help. I have stayed away from the I Ching because of all the many tools for insight and divination, I have found the hexagrams and casting of the coins to be complicated and hard to make sense of.

The authors of The Toltec I Ching, Martha Ramirez-Oropeza and William Douglas Horden, have changed that with this brand new book. I found their text both enlightening and easy to follow, and their approach of marrying a Chinese system with a Mesoamerican one yields abundant fruit.

First, a few words about the authors. Ramirez-Oropeza, according to the dust cover, is “a mural painter, a performer in popular theatre, and a researcher/lecturer of the Nahuatl pre-Hispanic codices of Mexico.” Nahuatl, according to several sources, is a language that traces back to the Aztecs. The word itself is translated as “good, clear sound.” Horden “has researched indigenous divinatory systems of ancient China and Mexico with passion and independence since 1969. He is steeped in the shamanic world view.”

Perhaps it is because the authors and I are kindred spirits that the book spoke so clearly and resonantly to me. We certainly do come from similar paths. The promotional materials sent by the publisher reference The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz and the Peaceful Warrior books by Dan Millman, which sit well-worn and many-times-read on my bookshelf. They have become old friends, as The Toltec I Ching no doubt shall.

What is new and key to this book is the focus on Balance. East and West, Masculine and Feminine, the 64 hexagram paintings and descriptions move away from the male, aristocratic biases that have mired the I Ching in the past, and call strongly upon the feminine creative principle in providing much-needed guidance.

The book, with its Mesoamerican influences, also situates its contents in the coming of December 21, 2012, when the Mayan calendar ends one age in anticipation of another. Writers such as John Major Jenkins and Daniel Pinchbeck see 2012 as the doorway to a new evolutionary and spiritual time for humanity, and I hope that this book will join with theirs to help educate those who have misunderstood 2012 as a time of cataclysm and Armageddon. A quick scroll through the History Channel listings or the anticipation around a new movie coming out this December illustrate that for every philosopher-shaman that sees 2012 as a time of opportunity and positive change there are others who want to use it to breed fear and make a few dollars playing into it.

Now to the substance of the book.

The opening material is clear, concise, and uplifting. The “Introduction” details all of the aspects of the authors’ process and rationale for combining the two systems that I have thus far mentioned. The “Casting and Interpreting the Oracle” section takes the reader through the process from casting the coins to producing the hexagrams that will guide the reading. As I mentioned, there is no complicated language or convoluted steps as one often finds in previous I Ching manuals. I was casting my first coins not very long after cracking the spine.

The hexagram paintings are, in a word, beautiful. For me, this is important, as I use half a dozen different decks of tarot for inspiration and creation, all chosen for the meditative and conscious dreaming potential of their artwork. The paintings translate the Toltec tenets, symbols, and ways of living into spiritually stimulating visuals that merge with the prose explanations on several levels of resonation.

The text explanations are broken into sections that will be familiar to users of the tarot. They are Image, Interpretation, Action, Intent, and Summary. I have found, after multiple readings, that the Line Change explanations that follow these sections, which have confused me in past experiences with the I Ching, offer action-oriented guidance for bridging the present and future aspects of each reading. Being that I have come to see divinatory tools as “organizing principles” as I seek help in fulfilling my many roles, the Line Change explanations are one of the highlights of the book.

I have used The Toltec I Ching to gain clarity and direction for several important aspects of my life that are sitting on the cusp of vital change in the past several weeks and I find it to be a great help. I have come away from a reading feeling empowered, with a heart full of guiding principles to apply as I navigate my way through the personal, professional, global, and universal changes that are at work in my life.

I heart-fully recommend this book to users of divinatory tools, those interested in the symbol systems of the Toltecs, Aztecs, and Mayans, and those who see or wish to see 2012 and the twenty-first century as a time, not of curses and apocalypse, but of great opportunity for humanity to enter a new and blessed phase of existence.

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