Astrology is intimately connected with modern Pagan rituals, to varying degrees. Even if you don't know astrology, per se, you probably time your rituals by the phase of the Moon, and possibly by the Moon's sign. But for most pagans in the Western World, the astrology that is used is still a Solar-based system, not a Lunar one.
Not so in the Orient. The Chinese calendar, unlike its Western counterpart, is Lunar-based. In fact, each year it begins at the exact moment of the first New Moon of the respective year. For us Westerners, this is always the first New Moon in the sign Aquarius. (This calendar must have something going for it...it is the oldest chronological system still in use, dating from at least 2637 BC.)
The Chinese Zodiac (and its derivatives in Japan and other Asian nations) is a very complex system, full of depth and meaning, and much more than just twelve signs, one for each year. Yet if you are like most Westerners, your only contact with it is discovering your Chinese zodiacal animal on the placemat at a restaurant.
What you probably didn't know is that the Oriental Zodiac is not simply a cycle of 12 years, but rather, 60 years. True, there are 12 zodiac signs.. But there are also 5 elements....Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water, and it takes 5x12 years before both cycles start again. So, you are not only an animal sign, but an element too. (So there are Fire Tigers and Water Tigers, Metal Rabbits (yours truly) and Wooden Rabbits.) A chart to look up your own year is at the end of this article.
(It is beyond the scope of this article, but each month is also ruled by an animal, as well as each two-hour section of each day.)
Five elements. Does this sound familiar? Take a look at Pentagrams.. Modern pagans associate the points of the pentagram like this: lower left point with Earth; lower right point with Fire; upper right point with Water; upper left point with Air; and the top point with Spirit. Some say this portrays Spirit ruling over the four elements.
The number five pervades every culture's spiritual foundation, so it is not surprising that it links the East and the West like this. Some examples of five include: The five stages of life, baby, adolescent, adult, middle age, old age; or, the five life turning points, birth, initiation, love, repose and death; the five senses; five digits on each hand and foot....I'm sure you could spend hours adding more examples of the power of the 5 in our lives.
In the orient, however, the five elements are equal in power. There is not one that rules over all of the other four. We could, in fact, fit the Oriental elements around the edge of a pentagram quite well, but then it would not matter which point went 'up'. In fact, it wouldn't matter if it pointed downwards, or to one of the sides.
The elements are directly connected to each other in the orient. Remember when you saw those chapters in the Bible with all the 'begats'? Well, the Asians believe that each element begats another in an endless cycle. Imagine, if you will, starting at some point on a pentagram with Earth (ruled, it seems, by Saturn.) Follow a line of the star across the pentagram and you will see Earth giving birth to Metal (ruled by Venus), which can be visualized as extracting metal from the rocks and soil. The next point is Water (ruled by Mercury), because Metal represents the container, as well as the pipe, that holds the water. Water begats Wood (ruled by Jupiter), the next point. How? Doesn't rain make the trees grow, producing wood? Fire (ruled by Mars) is next, and it takes no stretch of the imagination to see how wood, as fuel, is necessary for fire's existence (not to mention rubbing two sticks together.) Finally, Fire begets Earth. As fire reduces everything to ashes, everything returns to the earth.
Now, go around the outside of the circle, and you will see that each element keeps watch over the next one. The Asians adepts say that Earth is controlled by Wood, as the tree's roots must seek their nourishment from the soil. Wood is controlled by Metal, as even the largest tree can be felled by an axe. Metal is controlled by Fire, because Metal can only be forged with great heat. Fire is controlled by Water.....rather self-explanatory, eh? And Water is controlled by Earth, as canals are built to shape the direction water flows, or damns are created to hold the water back.
As you can see, in the Oriental scheme of things, each element is truly equal to the others.
The arrangements of the elements from Western and Eastern mysticism don't seem to line up quite one on one. But they have enough in common to really start the mind wondering. There are two possibilities here.
Fire, Earth and Water exist in both schemes. Does each of these have the same meaning in both systems? And if so, how do the other elements relate? Is Spirit linked up with Wood? That would make sense, if Spirit is the life force inherent in living, growing trees. But then how are Air and Metal related?
Or did something get lost in the translation, and Eastern Metal relates to Western Earth? Then does Eastern Spirit tie in to Western Fire? And how would you link up the other pairs?
One way to explore the possibilities is to look at what it means to be born under each element. The Oriental astrologers have a basic axiom that the element does not rule the sign, but rather that the element is as active as the sign will allow it to be. What this means is that if you are born under the sign of the Fire Cat, you can only be as fiery as the sign Cat will allow you to be.
Here is a brief description of people born under each element:
Earth - brings out the solid, reliable qualities in a person, and these people are the most practical members of their animal sign. They have excellent deductive abilities, foresight and organizational skills, making them excellent planners or administrators. They usually have a sound reason for everything they do. There is a tendency toward being too materialistic or too blind to other realms...
Metal - brings out the intense, resolute qualities in a person, and these people are the most rigid members of their animal sign. They are guided by strong feelings, and prefer to sort out problems alone rather than with the aide of others. There is a kind of 'electricity' about them, and they generate strong impulses in others. There is a tendency to not let go long after a situation should be ended.
Water - brings out a powerful need to communicate thoughts, feelings to others, and thus to influence how they think and feel. They tend to be the most adaptable members of their animal sign. There is a knack for noticing things that will soon become important, and can truly wear down their opponent through persistence, without being pushy or intrusive. There is a tendency to depend too much on others, or of being inconstant.
Wood - brings out a strong need to be moral, and to know the basic values of everything. They have the most open, generous nature of any member of their animal sign. Interests are wide and varied, and they usually love to expand their horizons, as well as those of others. Usually generous by nature. There is a tendency to have too many irons in the fire, spreading themselves to the breaking point.
Fire - brings out the leadership and decisiveness in its natives, and they are the most adventurous, aggressive members of their animal sign. They are good at motivating others, innovating...and they are real 'doers'.. Usually they dominate the field with their creativity. There is a tendency to be overambitious, impatient and self-centered.
So, how do these elements stack up to our Western ones? Drop me a line and let me know how you perceive them. (Maat's note: the email is invalid.) I guess I would be remiss if I didn't give a brief description of each of the twelve animal types, so here they are. Very briefly:
Rat - is hard working, very easy to get along with in general, and extremely generous to people he/she is fond of. On the surface, the Rat appears quite reserved, but it is actually a case of remarkable self-control because inside, he/she is easily agitated. He/she is interested in everything and everyone, and when negative, gossips, criticizes and nags.
Ox - is dependable, calm, methodical, and patient. Duty is very important to the Ox, and he/she must be careful not to become a workaholic. The appearance is quiet, undemonstrative, but within you will find a very powerful mind...one that can take charge when the situation warrants. Tradition is cherished by the Ox. When negative, he/she is too rigid, too narrow-minded, and can be quite naive in affairs of the heart.
Tiger - has a dynamic personality, with a love of life that can be quite contagious. In fact, around a Tiger one cannot remain indifferent! He/she has a restlessness and a need to always be doing something, and is usually known for a great sense of humor. There is a total involvement to whatever the current passion happens to be, but this can change to something else momentarily. When negative, there is a quick temper and a suspicious nature.
Rabbit - is said to derive his/her essence from the Moon itself, and is gracious, kind and sensitive to others. There is a softspokeness about the Rabbit, yet he/she makes an excellent diplomat. Like the Western sign Cancer, Rabbits tend to be moody, and can appear quite indifferent to the opinions of others 'on the surface', but in truth they are quite sensitive to criticism. When negative, he/she is too imaginative, oversensitive or painfully indifferent.
Dragon - is magnanimous and vital, and sees life as full of creative potential. Others wonder how the Dragon always seems to have energy to draw upon. There is a dislike of pettiness, and a love of doing anything on a large scale. In fact, the Dragon bears a strong resemblance to the Western sign of Leo. He/she loves an audience, is magnetic, and seems born to dictate orders. At worst, he/she is egotistical, too brusque, or too callous.
Snake - is the deepest thinker, and the most difficult personality to get to know well. There is a strong bent toward philosophy, as well as a love of the finer things in life. He/she trusts his/her own counsel more than that of anyone else, and is not the best at communicating with others. Yet, they have powerful minds, pondering deep thoughts. At worst, he/she is possessive, vengeful and unforgiving.
Horse - is usually cheerful, and popular. There is quick wit, and an undercurrent of raw sex-appeal. He/she is a seeker of adventure at heart, and has a strong desire for independence. As you can imagine, it is not easy for a Horse to stay in a relationship, and most go in and out quite a lot. There is an impetuousness here which can be quite charming, but at worst the Horse is inconsistent, and has an explosive temper.
Sheep - is caring, even to the point of being easily taken in by the sob stories of others. There is a strong artistic streak, and the Sheep is known for his/her creativity. On the outside he/she can appear subdued, and shy, but inside there is a determination that can be unshaking and passionate. He/she instinctively knows how to placate or evade enemies. Negatively, he/she is overly theatrical, pessimistic, or withdrawn.
Monkey - is the most inventive, improvisational sign of the twelve, quick witted and clever. He/she is versatile, and a learns quickly, and makes an excellent mimic, or actor/actress. Many have equated the Monkey with the Western sign Gemini, because they are both known for their childlike curiosity and joy. Negatively, he/she tends to have a superiority complex about his/her mind and cleverness.
Rooster - can be quite assertive, and self-assured, and just like the image of the barnyard animal, usually struts around with pride in his/her appearance. They are eccentric, though, moreso than the other eleven put together. It seems there are two types: those that are very talkative, and those that are the watchers, seeing right through people. When negative, you find him/her to be very opinionated, or with delusions of grandeur.
Dog - is loyal, with a passion for justice and fairplay. Rarely demanding, usually friendly and unpretentious, the Dog seems to have friends everywhere. Of course, it doesn't hurt that there is an inherent sex appeal, too. When there is trouble, call your Dog friend and he/she won't be able to resist helping you out. At worst he/she worries too much, is obstinate and unbending.
Boar - seeks peace and harmony, and prefers to let fights die down rather than fueling them. If there must be a fight, a Boar fights fair. He/she is truly the 'nice guy', simple, honest and trustworthy. Yet the Boar is also known to avidly pursue pleasure, and must be careful to avoid excess. He/she is a good listener, and non-judgmental. At worst, the pursuit of pleasure can become obsessive, and has a great difficulty saying 'No'.
Look for your year here: Chinese Zodiac
~ by Zane B. Stein, Copyright 1996
Used with permission from the author