Chinese Astrology

Written by Mary

Chinese Astrology is based on aspects of astronomy, religion, and the traditional Chinese calendar. Most people today know the names of the 12 Chinese Signs: The Rat, the Ox, the Tiger, the Rabbit, the Dragon, the Snake, the Horse, the Goat, the Monkey, the Rooster, the Dog, and the Pig. In Chinese tradition, these 12 animals have a considerable influence on the life, destiny and character of a person.

Chinese Astrology made its appearance during the reign of Emperor Huang Di in 2637 BC, during which 111 stars were also named and classified. The Chinese Emperors banned the practice of astrology outside of court, fearing that it could help their adversaries. The Imperial Court liked to seek advice from astrologists, who would be able to tell them if it were the right moment to conquer a particular region.

This is the very reason for the mistrust and banning of astrology outside of court. The fact that the Emperor advocated this ban shows just how much it was respected at the time: everyone believed in it. The Chinese invented several astrological systems, which could be likened to a kind of numerology. In the beginning, in fact, these systems actually allowed farmers to know when they could plant their crops or start work on important tasks.

This astrology was thus more concerned with the Earth than the planets of our solar system. The Chinese New Year begins on 4th (or 5th) February, and not on the first day of the new spring moon, as was the case for the astrology of the 111 stars taught in the Imperial Court.

The Basis of Chinese Astrology

Below are a few examples of Chinese astrological systems:

− The system of the 28 positions of the Moon, which only considers the Moon.
– The astrology of the 9 stars, which is used in Feng Shui and is based on the magic square of the 9-year cycle. This system takes into account the direction of the stars forming the Great Bear, as well as its polar star and 8 other stars.
– The astrology of the 4 Pillars of Destiny. In this system, astrologists use the astral data of a person's birth; they look at the time and date of birth, and the 5 corresponding elements. It is a very complex system elaborated during the Tang and Song Dynasties, and called Zi Wei Dou Shu in Chinese.

For Chinese astrologists, the following 5 planets correspond to the 5 elements: Jupiter is Wood, Mars is Fire, Venus is Metal, Saturn is Earth, and Mercury is Water.

Colours are also attributed to the elements: Green is Metal, in conjunction with Venus; Grey is attributed to Water, along with Mercury; Blue is assigned to Wood, and so Jupiter; Red is associated with Fire, and thus Mars; Black is attributed to Earth, and thereby Saturn. Chinese astrologists of old thought that the positions of the planets, and of the Sun and Moon (called the supreme Yin and Yang),as well as the passing of comets at the moment of a person's birth, would all influence that person's fate. Jupiter is without a doubt the most important planet – its cycle was studied to calculate the years, and moreover, according to the traditional Chinese religion, each new Chinese year belongs to a Tai Sui deity, which is symbolised by Jupiter.

There are 28 Lunar Mansions (xiu) in Chinese Astrology, which correspond to the cycle of the Moon. The whole Zodiac is divided into 4 quarters, called xiang. The 4 quarters are all represented by an animal totem. The names of the different Mansions are very old, and experts do not know their exact meaning. The names are completely different to the 88 Western constellations. The most northern quarter has a turtle for its animal totem, similar to the Nadou asterism within the Sagittarius constellation, and in which the Mansion of Dou is found. This Mansion is very important, because it is the Mansion which co-ordinates births and deaths.

The Chinese marked out three Enclosures at the North Celestial Pole: the Purple Forbidden Enclosure, the Supreme Palace Enclosure, and the Heavenly Market Enclosure. Chinese Astrology has always been an integral part of Chinese culture, and a good many legends are told about the stars. It is not unusual to name stars after important people. The heavens have a history, which Chinese Astrology recounts through its legends.

The animal cycles (astrological signs) correspond to binary cycles of Yin-Yang. Each animal is attributed to a year. The Dragon, for example, is always Yang, and the Goat is always Yin. One extremely fascinating coincidence is that this distinction can also be found in the Gregorian calendar – evenly-numbered years are Yang, and odd-numbered years are Yin.

Combined with the cycle of the 5 elements (Metal, Water, Wood, Fire and Earth),there is an overall cycle of 60 years. This results in years such as that of the Golden Rat, the Water Ox, or the Wooden Tiger. Marriages were often arranged by taking the astrological signs of the couple into account, and it is a fact that these marriages were able to easily last a lifetime, even without the couple sharing anything in common – love could develop over time. This was not the case in the West, but the complete opposite, in fact.

Key Points

Each birth year corresponds to one of the 12 animals of the Chinese horoscope. There is actually a legend recounting that before he died, Buddha called together all of the living animals on Earth. Only 12 among them came before him, and so to thank them for this gesture, Buddha named each year of the lunar cycle after one of the 12 animals who had come to say goodbye to him.

Quick and cunning, the Rat was first to arrive. Next was the courageous Ox, then the Tiger, burning bright, and the peaceful Rabbit. The Dragon arrived fifth, followed by the Snake. The Horse was the seventh, then the Goat, the Monkey, the Rooster, the Dog, and finally, the Pig. This legend explains the birth of the Chinese Zodiac in a metaphorical way. The animal reigning over your birth year has an important influence on both your character and your fate.


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