I get asked a lot about Chinese astrology – not least because I’ve always intended to include it within my website but haven’t yet done so. There is a good reason for this and it’s the simple fact that Chinese astrology is complex whilst web pages need to be simple and quickly assimilated. A single web page for Chinese astrology rapidly turns into several pages of fine details. It’s also very different to Western astrology, using different points of reference both astronomical and cultural. Most of us will be able to say “I’m a Dragon/Tiger/Rat etc” and have a broad idea of the very general characteristics of that sign but few of us will have a clear understanding of their Chinese star signature and how it is determined. Here then, as we began the Year of The Rabbit (Metal, Yin), 78th Cycle (or 79th depending on which calendar version you ascribe to) is a potted summary…
Western astrology is based on a simple twelve months repeating cycle – the Zodiac. Chinese astrology has a zodiac of 12 signs – the Earthly branches – but is based on a sixty year cycle. The mechanics of this are simple enough: Chinese astrology developed in tandem with astronomy which originally recognised five major planets: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. Astrology ascribed key elements to these planets – water (Mercury), metal (Venus), fire (Mars), wood (Jupiter), earth (Saturn). Each of the twelve signs spans a year – this was derived from the orbit of Jupiter (11.86 years) – and each sign comes in five elemental varieties (eg Water Rat, Metal Rat, Fire Rat, Wood Rat, Earth Rat). 5 x 12 = 60. Simples? To a degree, yes. But the sixty year cycle is also derived from two separate but interacting cycles – the Earthly branches, asmentioned above -the twelve zodiac signs rat, ox, tiger, rabbit (aka cat), dragon, snake, horse, sheep (aka ram or goat), monkey, rooster, dog, and pig (aka boar)- and in that order; and the ten heavenly stems – these are the five elements mentioned earlier, each in their ying and yang forms – 5×2=10. As the 12 earthly branches, which give us the animal signs, is divisible by two, each of the animal signs is either a Yin year or a Yang year and this is referred to as the sign’s polarity. Yin years end in odd numbers, Yang years in even numbers. Whilst each animal sign is either Yin or Yang (Rats are always Yang, Oxes are always Yin for example), this is tempered by the heavenly stem which adds the element. From 0 to 9, the ordering is metal, metal; water, water; wood, wood; fire, fire; earth, earth. And Yang and Yin, in that order:
0 Metal Yang
1 Metal Yin
2 Water Yang
3 Water Yin
4 Wood Yang
5 Wood Yin
6 Fire Yang
7 Fire Yin
8 Earth Yang
9 Earth Yin
Thus, years ending in 0 are Metal, Yang years, years ending in 1 are Metal Yin years – 2010 was a Yang Metal Tiger year, whilst 2011 is a Yin Metal Rabbit. It won’t be a Tiger year again until 2022 when it will be a Yang Water Tiger. Tiger is always Yang. Rabbit is always Yin and the next Rabbit year will be a Water Rabbit in 2023. It won’t be a Metal Tiger year again until 2060.
In their true order, the cycle actually begins with Metal Rat (Yang) and ends with Earth Pig (Yin). We are today 28 years into the current 60 year cycle (the 78th, or 79th cycle depending on which calendar is used). Chinese astrology uses a lunisolar calendar which begins with lichun – literally the start of spring, around 4th February, this being what we call the Chinese New Year. It’s necessary to bear in mind that someone born, for example, in January of 2011 is, for the purposes of Chinese astrology, born in a year that ends with a 0 – ie Metal Tiger and not Metal Rabbit. This applies, of course, to every year.
The five elements are of crucial importance in Chinese astrology, at least equal in importance to the animal sign, and the emphasis added by the Yin or Yang factor shows the importance of trinity in Chinese astrology- earth, water and the heavens. Those familiar with the I Ching will not be surprised to learn that the elements in Chinese astrology are seen as being transformative agents of change or transformative energies, not unlike the I Ching’s ‘moving lines’ concept but quite unlike Western astrology’s elements which are seen as building blocks.
Just as you realise the importance of how different a Metal Tiger might be to a Wood Tiger or a Water Tiger, a further degree of complexity comes into the picture. Placing a person within the Chinese astrological system requires a calculation involving the birth day, the birth season/month and the birth hour. In addition to the birth year, this means that a person’s star signature in Chinese astrology is made up of four signs. Three of these are the key elements for any person: –
1. The year of birth relates to a person’s family background and position in society, strongly linked with family ancestry, the grandparents which is a cultural emphasis far more marked in Chinese society. As of today (Feb 4 2011) its a (Metal) Rabbit year – remember, the order of the signs, as given above, is rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, pig. Next February then brings The Year of the Dragon.
2. The birth month or season (note that months are different under the Chinese calendar) determines the ‘inner animal’ – this indicates childhood upbringing, a transformative influence on character and behaviour manifested in adult life.
The Tiger from February 4 to March 5, The Rabbit March 6 to April 4, and The Dragon from April 5 to May 4.
The Snake from May 5 to June 5, The Horse June 6 to July 6, and The Sheep from July 7 to August 6.
The Monkey from August 7 to September 7, The Rooster 8 September to October 7, The Dog 8 October to 7 November.
The Pig from November 7 until 6 December, The Rat 7 December to January 5th and The Ox from January 6th to February 3rd.
3. The hour of birth determines a person’s ‘secret animal’ – the true person within often only revealed under stress:
11 p.m. – 1 a.m Rat,
1 a.m. – 3 a.m. Ox,
3 a.m. – 5 a.m. Tiger,
5 a.m. – 7 a.m. Rabbit,
7 a.m. – 9 a.m. Dragon,
9 a.m. – 11 a.m. Snake,
11 a.m. – 1 p.m. Horse,
1 p.m. – 3 p.m. Sheep,
3 p.m. – 5 p.m. Monkey,
5 p.m. – 7 p.m. Rooster,
7 p.m. – 9 p.m. Dog,
9 p.m. – 11 p.m. Pig
The day of birth also has some bearing – each animal sign rules one day but that works on the 5 elements x 12 signs basis, each elementary type of animal, and this makes a 60 days basis and things do get complicated… this is more a feature of day to day horoscopic forecasting than birth-charting and it goes beyond the scope of this article.
Intriguingly though, just as the two astrologies seem to be at their most diverse, essential similarities become apparent. Western subjects often focus on the Sun sign without considering the importance, significance and contribution of the Moon sign and the Ascendant in the birth chart. Good western astrology also breaks each sun sign down into four ‘sub signs’ and can be further focused for fine detail by looking at the actual day itself.
Chinese astrology focuses on temperament and character and the interplays and stresses between these two facets, the first being that of predisposition, inclination and tendency whilst the second being that of actual behaviour, habits and learned (current) disposition. It attempts to identify the natural, innate person as opposed to the personality which has been mutated and transformed by life experience, to find nature before nurture and to help us understand our lives by looking at them backwards, as Kierkegaard suggested, whilst living them forwards.