How to Use the Yao Staves

I thought for quite a long time exactly what to call these things, that could perhaps more appropriately could be referred to as “dice” but I didn’t want to emphasize their possible use a divination device in themselves, but rather as a tool to replace the practice of stopping to pick up a pen or pencil to write down each line. From my first experience with the Oracle I felt a disconnect with the flow of the Stalks -or even coins, for that matter if I have to pick up a pencil and draw a line.

Staves (end view)

The first time I saw such a set of “staves” used, it was a lightbulb bursting into illumination for me. Yes, you can toss the staves and create a hexagram, just like six dice, but the purpose I envisioned then was to create a smoother way of working with Yarrow stalks!


Since I began working with the I Ching as a primary source of wisdom, I quickly found a set of stalks to use. My first 50 sticks were actually the long Cattail stems I collected from the side of a pond in Irving, Texas. It took me years to encounter Yarrow growing in the Rocky Mountains and, perhaps surprisingly, the time I spent there only afforded me the opportunity to collect the ferny leaves and appreciate the healthy scent of this lovely plant.

It was not until that late time of year in Austin that I found the plants growing long stalks and white flowers on them. Even then, I did not find enough good material for more than a single set for my own use. I did not feel justified to mow down an entire field of these “weeds” for more than my immediate needs! I felt a strong connection to the nature of this plant was needed for me to offer them to others, and it took several years to establish my own plants, of course.

So with that in mind as a basis for connection with the I Ching oracle, it seems to me the Staves need to be similarly consecrated as divinatory tools if they are to function well together with the Yarrow. Their function is to act as a memory device, and for me as a record-keeper to translate the connected movements.

Staves ib Box

Set of Staves in Special Box

I personally like to keep a set of staves nearby as a kind of reference for any number of other purposes, including use as a musical mnomic. How does this work?

If you become familiar enough with the solid and moving lines, the Yin and the Yang of things and events, there is a kind of language there you can use. The Trigrams:

1. of Heaven, Sky or Air, then
2. Wind, then
3. Thunder, then
4. Water, then
5. Mountain, then
6. Earth, then
7. Fire, then
8. Lake or Valley…

…each have a universal meaning that can be used to express something, and coupled with another trigram, will have a special meaning together in the cycle of growth and decay expressed in the I Ching. The relationship of a pair of trigrams is a microcosm that relates a specific meaning you can carry with you as a means of expression.

Since these trigrams create a set of relationships it is natural to apply the meanings to an abundance of processes just as the Old Ones did in Asia for many centuries. I am working on s kind of musical tablature for Guqin at present, and expect this may take some time, but it is only one of many applications I can think of besides the Oracular use. Your own imagination can be similarly stimulated, and your connection to the trigrams more enriched by the use of the “Staves”

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2 Responses to How to Use the Yao Staves

  1. Darrell Wayne Owens says:

    what does the X means and the dot means?

  2. Lpkaster says:

     “In the I Ching interpretations, casts of 7 and 8 are broken or Yin (female) and whole Yang (male) ‘stationary’ lines, while casts of 6 and 9 are “Old” Yin (female) or “Old” Yang (male) ‘moving’ lines.”

    The O indicates a moving Yang line that will change, by opening to a Yin line. The X indicates a moving Yin line that joins to form a Yang line. When you read the commentaries these moving lines have special meanings to be considered. When the lines move, you may want to read the new Hexagram that is formed.

    If you use the Yao Staves by simply rolling them there will undoubtedly be more moving lines. I recommend the use of Yarrow stalks or the Long Dice to produce the salient Hexagram in a more naturally occurring process.