The lunisolar calendar in Chinese Astrology:
The 60-year cycle consists of two separate cycles interacting with each other. The first is the cycle of ten heavenly stems, namely the Five Elements (in order Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water) in their Yin and Yang forms. The second is the cycle of the twelve Zodiac animal signs or Earthly Branches. They are in order as follows: the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep (ram or goat), monkey, rooster, dog, and boar . This combination of 5 elements × 12 animals creates the 60-year cycle, which always starts with Wood Rat and ends with Water Boar. Since the zodiac animal cycle of 12 is divisible by two, every zodiac sign can also only occur in either yin or yang: the dragon is always yang, the snake is always yin, etc. When trying to calculate the relevant year, an easy rule to follow is that years that end in an even number are yang, those that end with an odd number are yin.

The cycle proceeds as follows:

  • If the year ends in 0 it is Yang Metal.
  • If the year ends in 1 it is Yin Metal.
  • If the year ends in 2 it is Yang Water.
  • If the year ends in 3 it is Yin Water.
  • If the year ends in 4 it is Yang Wood.
  • If the year ends in 5 it is Yin Wood.
  • If the year ends in 6 it is Yang Fire.
  • If the year ends in 7 it is Yin Fire.
  • If the year ends in 8 it is Yang Earth.
  • If the year ends in 9 it is Yin Earth.

However, since the (traditional) Chinese zodiac follows the (lunisolar) Chinese calendar, the switch over date is the Chinese New Year, not January 1 as in the Gregorian calendar. Therefore, a person who was born in January or early February has the sign of the previous year. For example, if a person was born in January 1970, his or her element would still be Yin Earth, not Yang Metal. Similarly, although 1990 was called the year of the horse, anyone born from January 1 to January 26, 1990 was in fact born in the Year of the Snake (the sign of the previous year), because the 1990 Year of the Horse did not begin until January 27, 1990. For this reason, many online sign calculators (and Chinese restaurant placemats) will give a person the wrong sign if he/she was born in January or early February.

The start of a new Zodiac is also celebrated on Chinese New Year along with many other customs.

Five elements in Chinese Astrology:
The Yin or Yang is broken down into Five Elements (Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water) on top of the cycle of animals. These are modifiers and affect the characteristics of each of the 12 animal signs. Thus, each of the 12 animals are governed by an element plus a Yin Yang Direction. The Chinese conception of ‘element’ is therefore quite different to the Western one. The Western elements were seen as the basic building blocks of matter. The Chinese ‘elements’, by contrast, were seen as ever changing and moving forces or energies – one translation of xing is simply ‘the five changes’. The balance of yin and yang and the five elements in a person’s make-up has a major bearing on what is beneficial and effective for them in terms of feng shui, the Chinese form of geomancy. This is because each element is linked to a particular direction and season, and their different kinds of qì or life force.

Wood in Chinese Astrology:

  • The East
  • Spring
  • Azure Dragon
  • The Planet Jupiter
  • The Color Green
  • Liver and gallbladder
  • Generous, Warm, Persuasive, Co-operative, Seeks to Expand and Grow
  • Idealistic, Ethical, Enthusiastic, Seeks to Explore
  • Wood ‘Governs’ the Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon

Fire in Chinese Astrology:

  • The South
  • Summer
  • Vermilion Bird
  • The Planet Mars
  • The Color Red
  • Circulatory system and Heart
  • Dynamic, Humanitarian, Energetic, Passionate, Enterprising, Adventurous, Restless
  • Competitive, Leadership Skills, Strong, Single-minded, Loves a good laugh
  • Fire ‘Governs’ the Snake, Horse and Sheep.

Earth in Chinese Astrology:

  • Center
  • Three Enclosures, Change of seasons
  • The Yellow Dragon
  • The Planet Saturn
  • The Color Yellow
  • Digestive system, Spleen and stomach
  • Patient, Militaristic, Prudent, Stable, Reliable, Hard-working, Ambitious, Stubborn, and very energetic
  • Disciplined, Tenacious, Logical, Governed by Service and Duty to Others
  • ‘Governs’ Dragon, Rat, and Ox. It is the central balance of the elements and can lend qualities to all 12 animals as well.

Metal in Chinese Astrology:

  • The West
  • Autumn
  • White Tiger
  • The Planet Venus
  • The Color White
  • Respiratory system & Lungs Determined, Self-reliant, Unyielding, Strong, Tenacious, Forceful
  • Reserved, Needs Personal Space, Sophisticated, Seeks pleasure, caring, respectful
  • Metal ‘Governs’ the Monkey, Rooster, Dog.

Water in Chinese Astrology:

  • The North
  • Winter
  • Black Tortoise
  • The Planet Mercury
  • The Color Black
  • Skeletal/Excretory System and Lungs
  • Secretive, Charming, Intuitive, Compassionate, Sensitive, Creative
  • Flexible, Compliant, Eloquence, Intellectual
  • Water ‘Governs’ the Pig, Rat, Ox.

Element cycles in Chinese Astrology:

Interactions of Five Chinese Elements – Cycles of Balance and Cycles of Imbalance

The doctrine of five phases describes two Cycles of Balance, a generating or creation cycle and an overcoming or destruction cycle of interactions between the phases.

Generating: Wood feeds Fire; Fire creates Earth (ash); Earth bears Metal; Metal collects Water and Water nourishes Wood.

Overcoming: Wood parts earth; earth absorbs water; water quenches fire; fire melts metal and metal chops wood

The 12 zodiac animals in Chinese Astrology:

In Chinese astrology the zodiac of twelve animal signs represents twelve different types of personality. The zodiac traditionally begins with the sign of the Rat, and there are many stories about the Origins of the Chinese Zodiac which explain why this is so.

Rat (Yang, 1st Trine, Fixed Element Water): Forthright, disciplined, systematic, meticulous, charismatic, hardworking, industrious, charming, eloquent, sociable, shrewd. Can be manipulative, cruel, dictatorial, rigid, selfish, obstinate, critical, over-ambitious, ruthless, intolerant, scheming.

Ox (Yin, 2nd Trine, Fixed Element Water): Dependable, calm, methodical, patient, hardworking, ambitious, conventional, steady, modest, logical, resolute, tenacious. Can be stubborn, narrow-minded, materialistic, rigid, demanding.

Tiger (Yang, 3rd Trine, Fixed Element Wood): Unpredictable, rebellious, colorful, powerful, passionate, daring, impulsive, vigorous, stimulating, sincere, affectionate, humanitarian, generous. Can be restless, reckless, impatient, quick-tempered, obstinate, selfish.

Rabbit (Yin, 4th Trine, Fixed Element Wood): Gracious, kind, sensitive, soft-spoken, amiable, elegant, reserved, cautious, artistic, thorough, tender, self-assured, astute, compassionate, flexible. Can be moody, detached, superficial, self-indulgent, opportunistic, lazy.

Dragon (Yang, 1st Trine, Fixed Element Wood): Magnanimous, vigorous, strong, self-assured, proud, direct, eager, zealous, fiery, passionate, decisive, pioneering, ambitious, generous, loyal. Can be arrogant, tyrannical, demanding, eccentric, dogmatic, over-bearing, impetuous, brash.

Snake (Yin, 2nd Trine, Fixed Element Fire): Deep thinker, wise, mystic, graceful, soft-spoken, sensual, creative, prudent, shrewd, ambitious, elegant, cautious, responsible, calm, strong, constant, purposeful. Can be loner, bad communicator, possessive, hedonistic, self-doubting, distrustful, mendacious.

Horse (Yang, 3rd Trine, Fixed Element Fire): Cheerful, popular, quick-witted, changeable, earthy, perceptive, talkative, agile mentally and physically, magnetic, intelligent, astute, flexible, open-minded. Can be fickle, anxious, rude, gullible, stubborn, lack stability and perseverance.

Sheep (Yin, 4th Trine, Fixed Element Fire): Righteous, sincere, sympathetic, mild-mannered, shy, artistic, creative, gentle, compassionate, understanding, mothering, determined, peaceful, generous, seeks security. Can be moody, indecisive, over-passive, worrier, pessimistic, over-sensitive, complainer.

Monkey (Yang, 1st Trine, Fixed Element Metal): Inventor, motivator, improviser, quick-witted, inquisitive, flexible, innovative, problem solver, self-assured, sociable, polite, dignified, competitive, objective, factual, intellectual. Can be egotistical, vain, selfish, cunning, jealous, suspicious.

Rooster (Yin, 2nd Trine, Fixed Element Metal): Acute, neat, meticulous, organized, self-assured, decisive, conservative, critical, perfectionist, alert, zealous, practical, scientific, responsible. Can be over zealous and critical, puritanical, egotistical, abrasive, opinionated.

Dog (Yang, 3rd Trine, Fixed Element Metal): Honest, intelligent, straightforward, loyal, sense of justice and fair play, attractive, amiable, unpretentious, sociable, open-minded, idealistic, moralistic, practical, affectionate, dogged. Can be cynical, lazy, cold, judgmental, pessimistic, worrier, stubborn, quarrelsome.

Pig (Yin, 4th Trine, Fixed Element Water): Honest, simple, gallant, sturdy, sociable, peace-loving, patient, loyal, hard-working, trusting, sincere, calm, understanding, thoughtful, scrupulous, passionate, intelligent. Can be naive, over-reliant, self-indulgent, gullible, fatalistic, materialistic.

In Chinese astrology the animal signs assigned by year represent what others perceive you as being or how you present yourself. It is a common misconception that the animals assigned by year are the only signs, and many western descriptions of Chinese astrology draw solely on this system. In fact, there are also animal signs assigned by month (called inner animals) and hours of the day (called secret animals).

To sum it up, while a person might appear to be a dragon because they were born in the year of the dragon, they might also be a snake internally and an ox secretively. In total, this makes for 8,640 possible combinations (five elements x 12 animals in the 60 year cycle (12 x 5 = 60) , 12 months, 12 times of day) that a person might be. These are all critical for the proper use of Chinese astrology.

The months – the inner animals in Chinese Astrology:
The 12 animals are also linked to the traditional Chinese agricultural calendar, that runs alongside the better known lunar calendar. Instead of months, this calendar is divided into 24 two week segments known as Solar Terms. Each animal is linked to two of these solar terms for a period similar to the Western month. Unlike the 60 year lunar calendar, which can vary by as much as a month in relation to the Western calendar, the agricultural calendar varies by only one day, beginning on the Western February 3rd or 4th every year. Again unlike the cycle of the lunar years, which begins with the Rat, the agricultural calendar begins with the Tiger as it is the first animal of spring. An individual’s monthly animal sign is called their inner animal and is concerned with what motivates a person. Since this sign dictates the person’s love life and inner persona, it is critical to a proper understanding of the individual’s compatibility with other signs. As each sign is linked to a month of the solar year, it is thereby also linked to a season. Each of the elements are also linked to a season, and the element that shares a season with a sign is known as that sign’s fixed element. In other words, that element is believed to impart some of its characteristics to the sign concerned. The fixed element of each sign applies also to the year and hour signs, and not just the monthly sign. It is important to note that the fixed element is separate from the cycle of elements which interact with the signs in the 60 year cycle.

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