VIEW—FREEDOM and FATE
Astrology, 星命家, and Geomancy, 風水, are two premier subjects of the Chinese Traditional Mantic Arts. Their development in China over the last 2,500 years continues a tradition whose history is incalculable.
According to Chinese Astrology, human beings are a compound of Character, 性, Nature, 道德, and Fate, 命. Nature, the world, and human beings are a single interconnected, on-going cyclical pattern of self-arising and self-resolving movement called “Time.” Due to Time’s cyclical and repetitive nature (like the changing of day to night / night to day and the alternation of the 4 seasons), it becomes possible to name and characterize. In Chinese Astrology, the patterned movement of Time is called Qì, 氣.
We characterize Qì, or Time, by yīn-yáng, the 5 phases, and the 12 animals of the zodiac, a metaphoric language describing the facets and flavors of change itself. The real nature of our experience is a constantly unfolding, non-solidified, un-abiding movement of Qì. The profundity of Chinese Astrology is found in the direct experience that everything is compound and in a constant process of change, 易.
In human beings, these qualities compound during birth to create what we call “Qì Character.” In each moment, the universe exudes a certain pattern, and when you are born, you emerge as a living, embodied expression of that pattern. The pattern of the universe, patterns you. Our Qì Character does not dissolve until death and therefore constitutes our basic “capacity” to resolve Fate in this lifetime.
Fate is the predispositions we inherit from our many past lives and Ancestors, 宗, to re-create and solidify karmic patterns. As Liu Ming once said, “Fate’s most bitter edge is the apparently ‘un-learnable’ lesson – repeated inauspicious conduct. We have all probably said: ‘I can’t believe I did that again!’ Freedom’s worthless edge is sloth. Squandering freedom is common. Most of us spend most of our time in the vagaries in between.”
Because we are a compound of patterns in flux, we have no permanent or abiding self, for a permanent self could not interact with an impermanent flux. Our Original Nature is neither fixed nor unchanging. Our nature is Freedom, the freedom of light to move within space unimpeded, creating the appearance of solidity. Our Nature is Pristine Awareness, fundamentally empty, 空, and therefore free to manifest or project an apparent "world."
This freedom, what Buddhists call Emptiness, Śūnyatā, 舜若多, does not manifest chaotically. To the conceptual mind, freedom is chaos, húntun 餛飩, but because it is chaos, it manifests order, for chaos without order would be meaningless. It does so through rhythms of time, space, and light. The movement quality of time, space, and light create the “appearance” of an abiding “world” and “self,” subject and object, but upon investigation these appearances are empty projections. Their appearance is nothing other than movement, a dream, a vision, a film, a mirage, a phantasm of light that plays out in open space.
Fate and freedom interact and alternate. The way we use our freedom can untangle our fate or harden it into tighter knots. According to Chinese Astrology, this untangling process is immanent. All knots are predisposed to untangle. This is the Dào of Wúwéi, 無為. The story we imagine to be a “self” is Nature’s predisposition to manifest in limits that resolve back into Nature without a trace. In this way all animate beings are unborn. Human beings are not IN Nature. They are Nature. This is the principle of Dàodé, 道德.
Everything that goes out returns. Everything that is compound dissolves. Everything that struggles exhausts itself.
Follow what is compound back to its Simplicity. Trace what is Moving to its constant Unmoving.
Following and tracing I find No Two. No Two rises to Luminosity and descends to Always-so-of-itself.
Always-so-of-itself, what is it? The mirror’s capacity… We call it Dao. – Liu Ming
Welcome to the Year of the Yang Earth Dog, Wù Xū 戊 戌, also known as the Mountain Dog. Be warned—we each have a unique Qì Character and Fate. Therefore, we digest the year differently. There is no “auspicious year.” The following is a rough approximation.
Yang Earth is the Dog’s Native Element, so this is a double Earth year. For the Dog, Yang Earth represents territory. The impulse of Dog Qi surveys and guards the Earth and can traverse territory quickly through explosive movement. The Dog’s keen senses cover the land and go for miles. Yang Earth represents the virtue of support, stability, solidity, and alliance.
The intensity of the past two Fire-Metal Monkey/Rooster years, characterized by passion and delusion—enlightenment and clarity, the very heart of alchemical transformation, will stabilize, harmonize, settle, and every insight garnered has the chance to gain maturity and fruition in the grounded and stable image of the Earth Dog. In the cycle of Time, the Dog manifests the Vision of the Rooster and then guards what has been created with great devotion, for better or worse, so in the Pig year we can relax and enjoy the fruition of the 12-year cycle.
The intense scrutiny of the Fire Rooster has brought us great clarity, insight, and certainty of belief. The Rooster has crowed—the Dog will now follow orders. If you have been waiting for change, action, to move forward—Earth Dog is the Time. This year presents a capacity for action, manifestation, and fruition that has not been present for quite some time. So, look deeply into the past year and ask—what have I learned about the nature of Life? What do I want from life? And most importantly—whom do I care about?
Fire and Wood are “un-manifest,” invisible, so the past four years have provided little Qi for outer or worldly accomplishment. To have accomplished “worldly” goals would have proved both exhausting and frustrating. While the past four years have lacked manifestation, they have provided a tremendous inner intensity, a journey of self-discovery and transformation, and now is the Time to bring forward that intensity in the form of our most noble aspirations and insights, all that we demand of life, not for ourselves alone, but for those we care about.
Bring forward these aspirations with caution—the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and if we do not take care, whatever certainty the Rooster has created, the Dog Year will manifest, for better or worse—war, violence, territoriality—all possible in a Dog Year! Bring forward your aspiration with the question—how can I support and empower others? In the Dog Year, power is wielded not through leadership but from behind the scenes. This year is about the cheerleading squad, not the quarterback…follow the leader, but without leaders.
The Qi Character of the Earth Dog year will bring a powerful sense of social and family value in the form of the wolf-pack. We will be prompted to nourish our sense of loyalty and re-value all our relationships. Rooster year offered great reflection in terms of the “pecking order,” social hierarchies, power structures, sexual/gender/personal identity—who are we in relation to others? The movement to dismantle oppressive power structures and condemn sexual predation have been very characteristic of a Fire Rooster year; so has been the tendency of those in power to further entrench their beliefs.
Earth Dog year will provide a wonderful opportunity for the social and political change we are seeking, not through huge public demonstrations (that was Goat year), but through the strength of personal alliance—friendship, family, partnership—small, personal, local, grassroot demonstrations of conduct—how are we to change the world if we cannot change our ourselves, our family, our neighborhood?
Overall, this is a year of fairness and equality—all controversial issues will be given their due, revolutions may be successful, politics - liberal, and political oppression - opposed. Integrity and honesty can flourish under the Dog’s just influence, that is, if we use our freedom well.
Our culture is obsessed with dogs, so Dog Qi may be the easiest for us to understand. The greatest virtues of the Dog are subordination, service, and loyalty—think Samurai. Yin behavior when faithful and devoted; Yang behavior when a fierce guardian. If you want to make the best of Dog year, work to strengthen, heal, and solidify your alliances, and do so with altruism, kindness, and inclusivity—welcome everyone into the pack—some sniffing and growling is okay; I know we are all a little guarded after the chaos of the past two years. Do as the bumper sticker says—wag more, bark less.
Dog Qi functions based on a deep and simple principal of trust. When we meet a dog (the animals) we encounter a defensive territorial stance, so we put out our hand, they sniff; we pet them, offer treats. If their human shows acceptance and lets you into their home, dogs can quickly switch from defensive to slobbering love machines. The Dog’s instinct is to protect no matter what, so it perceives everything as a potential threat to those in its territory. But at its core, Dog Qi is overwhelmingly loving. Dogs alternate from growling to rolling over and showing you their belly. They go from “I can kill you,” to “do me!”
Show up for people like your dog shows up for you. You’ve had a rough day; you walk in the door and are met with waging tails and puppy licks—how much does this brighten your day? Imagine friends like this. Who shows up for you? Who is there without you having to ask? Who values you despite your flaws and shortcomings? To whom to will you offer these virtues?
Make time for people, for family, for dinner dates and quality time, for small gestures of love and loyalty. Ease up on the judgment. Stop double-checking to see if everyone is worthy of loyalty; value yourself and all others as perfectly lovable humans as you/they are. If they turn out to be jerks, who cares; shake it off like a wet dog. You can be friendly and warm without sacrificing your boundaries. Boundaries are healthy; walls are not.
Remember a time when someone supported you without reserve—keep this feeling in your heart throughout the year and approach each situation with an open heart. Also, please make time for yourself—every Dog has in them a touch of the lone wolf. Dogs are characteristically private and enjoy solitude. Enjoy yourself, but don’t hesitate to reach out; join the pack, or you may be forced to go at it alone.
Classical Chinese Medicine associates the Dog with the Pericardium, 心包, which represents social bonding, our capacity to love and be loved. Like the Xīnbāo, the function of the Dog is to protect what is most valuable—our precious Human Heart, 仁心. The Dog exemplifies "trauma informed care."
The past two Years have been about Mental Health, taking care of our “inner landscape.” We have been called to honor, understand, and destigmatize mental illness, to open the conversation around anxiety, depression, and the social construct called “mental illness.”
This year is about social welfare, equity, and equality. The Dog calls us to acknowledge the fact that humans are not meant to go through the world isolated or alone. The Dog loves everyone, regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, economic status, or legal documentation. In our culture, work, and social lives, we will be called to befriend, protect, and advocate for all those without support. So, speak up! Bark at injustice! Make the change, implement the policy, and stand firm at the lines that will not be crossed! In our personal lives, we will be called to nourish, heal, and process the deep traumas around our Heart, the ones that keep us from experiencing the true connection we desire. We will be called to let down our walls and let in love.
The New Year is, traditionally, a time for repentance and forgiveness, so wipe the slate clean; forgive those who’ve wronged you and let go of any judgmental Rooster Qi you’ve been holding onto—happy Dogs don’t hold grudges. The Dog’s ears and keen senses intuit and feel; they listen carefully and closely with the spirit of—how can I help?
The happy Dog is faithful, loving, loyal, caring, protective, helpful, intuitive, insightful, private, just, expansive, congenial, quiet, and calm under fire. The pathological Dog is territorial, stubborn, argumentative, spiteful, vain, rigid, stingy, critical, and frozen with anxiety.
Dog Qi most exemplifies the Buddhist Bodhisattva Ideal, so be like Guānyīn, the one who hears the cries of suffering throughout the six-realms, whose compassion is limitless.
I wish you the all the best in this New Year and hope you find true loyalty and devotion in your Heart.
Every harmful action I have done
With my body, speech, and mind
Overwhelmed by attachment, anger and confusion,
All these I openly lay bare before you.
While circling through all states of existence,
May I become an endless treasure of good qualities--
Gathering limitless pristine wisdom and positive potential.
May all beings have happiness and the cause of happiness.
May they be free of suffering and the cause of suffering.
May all beings remain in boundless equanimity, free from attachment and aversion!
 Liu Ming. Paraphrased from New Year's teachings, Wood Horse, 2014.
sIf you have stuck with me through these 12 Blogs, thank you. I was not sure I had enough to say about the 12 Animals to write this series, but apparently, I do. These 12 Symbols are basic but very important. Remember, from the Chinese perspective, the lunar year you were born determines the most fundamental aspect of your Qi Character. And we arrive, finally, to the Dog.
Traditionally, the Dog is 11th in the series, but as you will recall, I started with Pig, at the “end,” in honor of Liu Ming, who was a Fire Pig. Since the Stem and Branch Cycle circles, there is no beginning or end, so it doesn’t matter where we begin/end. In many ways, I think the Dog is a good place to end.
I’ll admit it, I’m a cat person. I grew up with cats. I have always loved dogs, but I never lived with them until now. Since I moved to Portland, I have been living with two adorably lovable dogs, and I now understand why people are “dog people,” and this is because of the primary characteristic of Dog Qi—loyalty. Those goobers are just always excited to see me no matter who I am or what I do.
Humans have a had a long relationship with dogs, which, strangely enough, began in China. People everywhere have been with wolves for a very long time; human hunters lived near and followed wolves and learned from them how to hunt. But for most of this time, we were separate and respected the independent nature of the wolf pack. At some point, to help us with the hunt, we captured wolf puppies and kept them close, turning them slowly over time to our side (cats, on the other hand, domesticated themselves).
According to legend, the Chinese were the first people to domesticate the wolf, and so the first breed of dog was the Chinese Chow. All dogs come from wolves, which is hard to believe when you look at a chihuahua next to a mastiff. This shape-shifting quality also gives us a fundamental insight in to Dog Qi that we can call subordination or adaptability.
The first dogs were bred for hunting and war. Soldiers trained dog companions to follow them into the heat of battle. They trained them to attack on command and defend to the death. When a soldier died, their dog remained and guarded the body, another insight about the Dog we can call faithful.
Dogs were also bred in Daoist families to guard temples. The Daoist legend of tiāngǒu, a great deity in the form of a Black Dog the size of a meteor, said to eat the sun or moon during an eclipse, is revered as a great protector, who guards children and chases away harmful spirits and demons.
From the Daoist point of view, the Dog represents strong Yin and Yang qualities, Yin when faithful and devoted and Yang when acting as the fierce guardian. As we get into the Key Terms of Dog Qi, this Yin-Yang quality will become apparent, although we must say the Dog is a pure Yang Character.
Because our culture is obsessed with dogs, Dog Qi may be the easiest for us to understand. Tigers, too, for Tigers are basically house cats. The modern domesticated dog tells us everything we need to know. And we can say generally, that people born in the Dog Year have dog like characteristics. Energetically, Dog Qi is complex but quite simple, which is why dogs were chosen as symbols of this pattern of time. Remember, each of the Twelve Animals is a symbol describing a pattern of Time in a sequence.
In the sequence, Monkey turns to Rooster turns to Dog, which is where we are now. Next year will be the Year of the Earth Dog, so we can learn something of this sequence now. In other words, Monkey breaks up the stuffy Goat, offering fun, excitement, adventure, and a bit of chaos. Monkey makes a bit of a mess, and Rooster, our current Year, puts everything back in order, offering precision, logic, reasoning, and hierarchy.
We are all right now running around trying to figure out what the hell is going on and what the hell to do about everything, but we remain in a yin conceptual domain and are taking little action; we're mostly just arguing. So, Rooster needs Dog to help. Once Rooster sets everything to order, the Dog comes to take orders, protect, serve, guard, and love whatever the sequence of Time has created. Dog Qi does not care what has been produced—it follows orders and guards with its life no matter what.
Dog Hour, from 7 – 9 pm, is the time of day when everything is complete but still active. We are supposed to be home and secure. Imagine the family guard dog, vigilant at their post, while the family relaxes after a long day. The dog does not rest until everyone is safe, secure, at ease. Dog Hour should be spent with family, friends, those close to you, enjoying the company of those with whom you share the virtue of loyalty. My best friends Dad is a Wood Dog, and he always stays up late and will only go to sleep after everyone and everything is secure. If you were born between 7 and 9pm, then you are half Dog.
The Native Element of the Dog is Yang Earth, which it shares with the Dragon, its opposite. For the Dragon, Yang Earth represents flight, breaking away from the ground through explosive, upward movement. For the Dog, Yang Earth represents territory. The impulse of Dog Qi surveys and guards the Earth and can traverse territory quickly through explosive movement. The Dog’s keen senses cover the land and go for miles. Yang Earth for the Dog also represents the virtues of support, stability, groundedness, solidity, and alliances.
Although they share the same Native Element, Dragon and Dog are opposites. The Dragon is the ultimate leader and represents the Emperor in Chinese Cosmology. The Dog, on the other hand, is the ultimate follower, supporter, assistant, subordinate—they find their Qi through subordination. Samurai Bushido philosophy exemplifies the virtues of the Dog, to die on the battlefield protecting one’s Master.
In general, Dogs should not be in charge and are out of place in positions of leadership. Strangely enough, our current “president,” the Dumpster, is a Fire Dog, potentially the most territorial and aggressive of Dogs, and so is George W. Bush. Both exemplify the disaster that happens when Dogs are put in charge, and both are stunning examples of Dog Qi out of balance and misplaced. Fire Dogs (all Fire characters) need great discipline and without it they dig up the garden, pee on the carpet, and bark at everyone. But let’s stay away from politics.
Despite being followers, Dogs are often complex and unique individuals. I am amazed at how many Dogs are famous artists and/or musicians. Elvis, John Waters, David Bowie, Cher, Leonard Cohen, and Prince to name a few. Prince is a fitting example of Dog Qi. He was an amazingly complex individual, very private, a revolutionary artist, and yet a staunch and devoted Jehovah’s Witness who devoted his life to serving and subordinating to evangelism. In this culture, Dogs often devote themselves to principals or symbols if they cannot find family or friends to protect.
To understand the Dog, we must look at territoriality and loyalty. Like the Tiger, the Dog has an alternating quality that is related to “territory,” which is why they are in a trine. Dog Qi functions based on a deep and simple principal of trust. When we meet a dog (the animals) we encounter a defensive territorial stance, so we put out our hand, they sniff; we pet them, offer treats. If their human shows acceptance and lets you into their home, dogs can quickly switch from defensive to slobbering love machines. The Dog’s instinct is to protect no matter what, so it perceives everything as a potential threat to those in its territory. But at its core, Dog Qi is overwhelmingly loving. So, Dogs alternate from growling to rolling over and showing you their belly. They go from “I can kill you,” to “do me!”
Dogs can be incredibly threatening and dangerous animals, but if well trained, we can feel comfortable with a giant mastiff guarding a newborn baby. This tells us what we need to know about Dog Qi. Dogs thrive and get their power from having something to protect, from taking orders, from following. They are the great exemplars of the virtue of Loyalty.
Loyalty is greatly misunderstood in our culture. We think that people need to earn our loyalty and trust by being “worthy.” But your dog does not give a shit if you’re worthy. You can be a total jerk, and they will still love you. Of course, you need to feed them, take them for walks, throw the ball. But your worthiness as a person is meaningless to them. They love unconditionally and purely.
Your dog is having an awesome time being loyal, and this is true loyalty. Once you choose to dedicate yourself to something or someone, you protect and defend no matter what. This is the Samurai code. It doesn’t matter if your Master is corrupt; you die for them. There is wisdom in this, believe it or not. Many people change sides, defect, or drop loyalty at the first sign of corruption. We hold others to standards of perfection and then freak out and run away when they falter, mostly to protect ourselves, which can be useful at times. Of course, in today’s world, so many leaders, teachers, and people in positions of power have proven themselves “unworthy.” But the Loyalty of Dog Qi is not about who you serve or even why; it is about the transformative qualities of love, surrender, devotion, and service, not for others but for yourself. This is called Guru Yoga in Tantra.
You can open your heart to anything, and it will transform you, if you do so from a deep place of self-love and acceptance without the need for trust. Without self-possession, devotion and surrender invite abuse. When trust gets involved, we get hurt or betrayed. And dogs can be betrayed, but their instinct is to open their heart without reservation, to give completely. We can all learn something from this.
Liu Ming used to say that trust is basically stupid. Everything will let you down because everything is impermanent, unstable, and everyone has their own complex karma to work out. If we put too much trust in others not to hurt us, we will be let down. Laozi said to trust the untrustworthy, which means give up the notion that trust is something valuable. This does not mean that you should mistrust people. On the contrary, it means accepting all people as valuable and worthy of your loyalty because they’re human. What would it be like to accept and love those who betray you unconditionally without creating resentment? This is the virtue of Dog Qi.
Those born in the Year of the Dog have all these virtues as instinct. The impulse of Dog Qi is to protect, guard, follow, serve, and love without giving up their individuality. Dogs are complete people but find their power through subordination.
So, again, the first key term for the Dog is Loyalty. Dogs are fantastic friends, partners, and family members. They often have close select circles, people they have let in to their world. When it comes to family, Dogs are loyal to the end. When it comes to friends, Dogs often have a process of choosing, sniffing out if you will, but once they accept you they are great companions and bond very deeply in relationship.
If relationships or friendships end, Dogs tend to carry the bond with them forever and may feel hurt for a long time. They can recognize “old friends” instantly and are sometimes too eager to jump into things. People can be overwhelmed with how quickly a Dog seems to know and accept you. Or, they can be put off by a Dog’s standoffishness or guard dog stance.
This loyalty is by nature protective. Dogs protect. They serve. This may take the form of protecting a younger sibling, a child, a boss, a teacher, a partner. Or, Dogs can protect ideas, teachings, or principles. Dogs very naturally express the Bodhisattva Ideal so cherished in Mahayana Buddhism. The great Tibetan teacher Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche was a Metal Dog, and if you watch footage of him, you will see that he served the Dharma and thousands of students but never put on shows about being a great master. He bowed to and honor everyone who came to him, and his love was vast and open.
Dogs naturally want to follow something or someone. Without this, their lives have no direction, no meaning. They often jump into devotion without forethought. Because of this, Dogs can stay in tough and even abusive situations for a long time out of misplaced loyalty; Pigs do this too, and so do Ox. Once they are devoted, that’s it. And it is hard for a Dog to break their bonds. They fear relationships, jobs, and community situations ending, for they may not know who they are outside these contexts. Dogs must cultivate strong boundaries and a sense of self, otherwise their loyalty can put them into danger.
Another flipside of this loyalty and protectiveness is territoriality, a kind of rigid quality. If Dogs have trauma or wounds they have not integrated, if their loyalty was not nurtured early on, they can tend to growl. Dogs can put up enormous walls and feel very rigid to others. Of course, behind this rigidness, Dogs are gushing with love. But, like attack dogs, their loyalty can be selective; they guard their territory. This territory can be people, ideas, beliefs, and so on. They can lash out and hurt others in defense of someone or something if they think they’re right or justified. Sometimes, this is necessary; sometimes people need protection and someone must be able to fight. Violence is available in the Dog. Dogs must, then, cultivate how to use their Yang aggressive qualities in appropriate ways—when is strong action necessary and when is it paranoid?
Dog Qi cares very deeply. Whatever they do, in whomever they invest, in wherever they choose to direct their Qi, Dogs give everything. The give too much. This caring quality can be unconditional in its true form. Of course, few people can actualize unconditional love and care, but Dogs are apt to accept people wholly. I am amazed when I look into the eyes of dogs (the animals) and see nothing but pure love, and Dog Qi has this abundance available.
Despite this quality of caring devotion, Dogs are by nature very private individuals. Every Dog has in them a touch of the lone wolf, which may be accentuated or understated depending on the individual. Dogs tend to have powerful private lives and love to be alone, which then alternates with their fierce companionship. When expressing their wolf side, Dogs feel at home in solitude. The flipside of this private individuality can be excessive vanity and concern with cultivating a unique self/appearance to give themselves power.
They tend to be very congenial and quiet, respectful of others. They keep to themselves. For this reason, they fit in very well into situations where there is a chain of command, like the military. It is natural for them to slide into a role, take orders, guard their platoon. They thrive in service oriented professions and make great waiters, social workers, police officers, assistants, anything where they put their energy into subordinating to a greater cause. Dogs are naturally very just and like righting wrongs.
Dogs tend to be very direct, blunt, and honest. This comes from a natural responsiveness which reacts very directly to the present situation. Often, these reactions can be sudden and taken without consideration, like a dog barking at the mailman.
When depleted, these qualities can become stubborn, stingy, and spiteful. Dogs can be excessively critical of others based on quick feelings and judgments. This blunt straight forward attitude can appear to others as egotistical and argumentative. Dogs can get into barking matches if they think they need to defend themselves or a situation they are invested in protecting.
The ears and the snout are an important part of the Dog symbol. The keen senses of the dog represent a kind of intuition and expansiveness. Dog Qi is very sensitive and picks up on even the slightest changes in the atmosphere. We have all noticed a dog laying on the ground, then all the sudden her ears twitch and she is up and barking before the humans realize anything has happened. This intuition feels the nature of situations, people, and environments in a sensory, embodied way. However, Dogs don’t often know what to do with their intuition and look to others for guidance and direction. But a Dog can smell danger coming a mile away.
Their observant quality produces great insight, and Dogs often have a lot to offer in terms of seeing things from multiple angles and through multiple dimensions. When everyone is stuck, they can offer a new way to “smell” rather than just see. Often their energetic sensory insights are right on without overthinking. Someone may appear a certain way, but if they don’t smell right, the Dog knows something is off.
The warrior nature of the Dog is always ready to jump into battle. They feel at home in danger and chaos and act as sturdy pillars of calm. They are cool under fire. When everything goes to shit, Dogs are usually relaxed and ready to jump in and do what is necessary to help. Their senses and intuition come alive in high intensity situations, which is great for sports and high stress jobs.
When depleted, or without training, Dogs can become rigid and frozen with anxiety, especially when emotions are on high. Dogs take in the energy of the environment, and if it is too much, they tremble, quake, and shiver with fear, unable to move, like a deer in the headlights. For this reason, Dogs need training and benefit greatly from the disciplined cultivation of sports, martial arts, debate, and so on, so that when they get into the heat of battle, their instincts can take over so they don’t get frozen with fear. This frozen nature may translate into an inability to make life decisions or have tough conversations. When balance, however, Dogs make quick decisions from the gut and don’t second guess things.
Dog Qi at its core has many virtues, and we go into this next year, which is why the Dog is a suitable place to end this series. Next Year will be an Earth Dog Year, which is the natural Dog. The auspice of the Dog year hinges on what we make of this one. Whatever plan the Fire Rooster comes up with, the Earth Dog will carry out the orders. Let’s hope it’s a good plan.
Considering the Five Dogs—Wood Dog is Puppy Qi, youthful, responsive, but naughty, may tear up the sofa, i.e. drain or ruin its good karma/resources. The Fire Dog can be trouble; forceful, vigorous, no fear of confrontation; without disciple, they will hurt others; with it—they make fierce and loyal guardians. The Earth Dog is stable, sturdy, dependable but likely to get stuck in patterns of stagnation. Metal Dogs possess the keenest senses, intellects, and intuitions, but are prone towards being too sensitive and potentially fixed in their loyalties. Water Dogs are the most emotional, generous, and kind but tend towards devotion driven by sentiment and will devote themselves to hopeless causes.
I hope you have enjoyed this exposition of Dog Qi, which completes our study of the Twelve Characters of Destiny. I encourage you to study your Year and Hour and also to remember that we can all express all Twelve Characters; these symbols are meant to cover the whole range of human behavior through time and have no rigid boundaries.
I hope you have found my take on the Animal Symbols helpful. Remember, Astrology is a tool for self-reflection that should make us gentle people. It should help us accept ourselves and others. Astrology is not a tool to escape or buffer from reality or exalt ourselves over others. May whatever insight this blog has produced be used for personal growth and spiritual realization for the benefit of all beings!
Due to the demand of school, I may not write for a while. Next, I hope to explore the 36 stars of the Polestar System and dive deeper into Tantrik and Daoist practice and cosmology—how do we integrate Astrology into the Dharma?
Thank you very much!
Welcome to the Fire Rooster Year! Before we explore the Character of Rooster Qi, I must say something--
Astrology is not fortunetelling. Period. Full stop.
Daoist Priests and Polestar Astrologers take a vow against fortunetelling. Astrology is often used in this way, but fortunetelling is an abuse of Divination. Fortunetelling predicts the future. But no future exists, only a present in movement, so what are we predicting? What is Astrology, then? Astrology is a form of Divination, a Mantic Art, what Ming called “Wisdom Science.” Astrology studies and describes the cyclical and self-resolving movements of Qi/Time. It does nothing other than describe the qualities of this movement with the assumption that we each relate to it differently based on the timeliness of our conception, womb time, and birth. Astrology suggests that we then use this information for self-reflection.
If it is Winter, you will tend to put on a jacket. Did I predict the future? Not really. This is where we find Astrology. It is not something to “believe in.” If you say you don’t believe in Astrology, then by all means, please, walk around in the middle of a Minnesota Winter in flip-flops and a tee-shirt, and please wake up and eat breakfast at 11 pm. You are free to do this. Wisdom Science understands that of our Original Nature is pristine open freedom, and that’s the difference. I can’t predict how you will use your freedom because then it wouldn’t be freedom! But I can say that Winter is Cold and not be surprised when you put on a jacket.
We always have the freedom to choose, and we can resist the cycles of Qi/Time. We can stay up late and eat whatever we want whenever we want. However, from the Chinese Astrological point of view, resisting nature, or living in disharmony with the cycles of Time/Qi, like eating after the sun goes down, is the secondary cause of illness and death.
The primary cause of all illness and death is birth. Period. The second is inappropriate conduct in regards to Astrology/Ancestral Fate. From the Chinese Perspective, no one dies from illness/disease—we die because we were born, and we speed up this process with disharmonious conduct in relation to the seasons of the Universal Calendar (Tongshu) and the personal Calendar of our Natal Chart. The third primary cause of illness is addressed by Chinese Medicine and deals with obstruction and inhibition in the flow of Qi from internal/external climatic factors that inhibit normal Qi flow.
Because I am not a fortuneteller, this blog will not make any predictions about the Fire Rooster Year. Rather, I will discuss the Rooster, and Fire Rooster, as a symbol, a possibility, a tendency due to the influence of Qi/Time. No Astrologer worth their salt will predict what will happen with certainty. We can only say what is likely to happen given the climate of Qi, like saying you may put on a jacket in the Winter. Any good Astrologer will present several interpretations and possibilities given your freedom within the context of the Qi/Time/Weather.
I could say—in a Rooster year, people may tend to argue more. This is a huge generalization, but I’m not talking about anything different than the weather. Rooster is just a much bigger, broader, and therefore more subtilized form of “weather.” It is the pervasive weather of the Universe for the next year, relative to planet Earth. The Chinese Tradition relates everything to internal and external weather, symbols describing movement (Qi) itself.
If we spin out into Astrological details and skip over the View Teachings, the outlook describing what the Universe and Human Beings are, then Astrology becomes easy to dismiss. In this blog, and in my upcoming book, I offer you the View Teachings of Chinese Astrology, so that we don’t spin out nitpicking details/pathologies, which is a tendency in Modern TCM, and to me constitutes a form of madness.
Of course, you may be skeptical of Astrology; that’s your freedom, and I don’t blame you. I only offer this as something to consider in the following Year. Astrology must be tested against your experience, but you’ve probably received the kindergarten version of Astrology (i.e. fortunetelling), so don’t be too quick to throw it out.
On January 28th, the Qi Pattern/Weather of the Year will shift from the Fire Monkey to the Fire Rooster. As I mentioned in the last Blog, the auspice of the Year, like the Fire Monkey, depends on how we use our freedom to navigate the Fire-Metal conundrum.
The Monkey and the Rooster are a pair, for they share the Native Element of Metal. Rooster is the Yin version of Metal, and Monkey is the Yang version. Since it is also a Fire Year, the same wisdom I described in the last Blog applies here. Fire melting Metal does not imply conflict, but conflict is possible if our conduct does not align/go with the tendency of this controlling cycle.
If Fire does not melt Metal, we get rigid, hard, stuck in our ways, and as we go, you will see the possibilities of how Rooster Qi can get stuck or fixated. Fire inspires, illuminates, and shines light on the broader context of our situation, softening the rigid qualities of Metal, which turns Metal to Water, which in turn extinguishes the consuming qualities of Fire.
The Fire Rooster is the least “Roostery” Rooster, since Fire controls the Rooster’s Native Element, meaning Fire softens the tendency of the Rooster to get stuck/rigid. However, if we overdo the Fire and bring too much passion, aggression, inspiration, and so on, then the positive qualities of Yin Metal, such as rational thinking, are eclipsed, and our conduct may drift towards the opposite—irrational thinking and fanaticism, which are depleted Rooster qualities.
The simple difference between this year and last is that Yang Fire-Metal turns to Yin Fire-Metal. We can say, generally, that the outward, expansive, mobile, and active Yang qualities of the Monkey in the past year will turn inward, contract, still, and tend towards the Yin qualities of the Rooster.
The Years rotate Yin-Yang-Yin-Yang, and so on, and Yin Years tend to be more Qi conservative, less dynamic. In many ways, the Rooster turns us inward to a mental/conceptual domain, which the Monkey established with its mischief. Rooster Qi, by nature, thinks a lot, and the Monkey has given us a lot to think about. Roosters practically need pharmaceuticals to stop thinking.
Yin Metal is refined, hidden, matured, withdrawn, distilled, fermented, hardened, crystalized, designated, subtilized, sublimated, conceptualized, symbolically portrayed as ore refined from the Earth through the process of Alchemy (Yang Metal), such as silver/gold, gemstones, and so on. Metal sinks downward drawing in.
I experience Yin Metal as the moment in Time when I form an opinion, when I recognize a thought, a pattern, when I refine my experience into ordered language and logic. Yang Metal represents the active moment of things becoming “thinged,” labled, and Yin Metal represents the subtle process of refining and drawing together all the details, and the Rooster is generally associated with “details,” corresponding to Virgo in Western Astrology.
I am happy to say that I am part Fire Rooster. I was born in a Fire Rooster Month, so everything I am about to discuss is part of my Qi Display. Again, the Month is not as potent as the Year-Hour, but it is part of me nonetheless. Hopefully, my personal experience as part Fire Rooster can shed light on the nature of this symbol.
The Rooster Symbol in China is complex and a bit confusing at times due to some conflicting images. In general, Rooster (also referred to as Phoenix) includes all birds, such as the crane, owl, and raven—anything with a beak. The Rooster of Chinese Astrology, however, refers to the cock, the male rooster, associated with fertility and aggression, but it is a decidedly Yin Symbol, hence the confusion. Originally, this Character was more associated with the owl, but over time the Chinese decided on the male rooster because of some specific symbolic qualities, which we will discuss.
In China, the Rooster, despite being male, is also a symbol of the Empress and of feminine Yin energy. Perhaps, it represents the subjugation of the Feminine, the Rooster lording over the Hens. The Dragon is a symbol of the Emperor, and together, they constitute a classical marriage pair in Chinese Synastry. Rooster/Bird/Crane all represent the grace, elegance, deportment, and dominance associated with the Empress of Chinese Royalty. The Rooster does not dominate with physical aggression; it dominates with emotion, appearance, ideology, intellect, belief—what we call “Yin Power.”
The Rooster symbol is obviously domestic, one of the barnyard signs. Remember, we’re not talking about hens; the Rooster performs very specific functions on the family farm. These functions form the primary set of symbols associated with the Rooster.
The first and most important symbolic aspect of the Rooster is the sharp beak. The beak represents precision, accuracy, the ability to peck things apart, like seeds, or ideas, to get to the essential quality within (Yin Metal). Crane style Gong Fu strikes at pressure points, hitting the opponent’s weak spots to bring them down with little effort. In the Rooster, this represents a certain capacity for analysis, and it also represents the possibility of getting fixated. Because roosters don’t have much of a memory, if you put their beak to a chalk line, they get stuck there and will peck all day at the chalk line, hypnotized, unable to break free.
The second symbolic aspect of the Rooster is the wings and the ability to “puff up.” When challenged, Roosters flap and beat their wings, taking in air, making themselves appear larger and more threatening than they are. This wing flapping often precedes the cockfight, in which Roosters dual to the death. The wings represent a certain competitive and aggressive nature that appears to be very threatening but is all hot air.
The Rooster puffs up and looks big, but it does not have much physical strength, which is another reason why it is a Yin Character. It makes a big show of wanting to fight but is weak and will not fight unless it knows it can win. When pushed, or backed into a corner, the beak and the claws are vicious, and Roosters can do some serious damage, but this is only after being abused.
Cockfighting is a cruel and abusive sport; they don’t want to fight, but when challenged they will rip each other to shreds becuase of competitive pride. Roosters can’t fly, so the wings are deceptive, Yin. Strange that the only bird in the Chinese Zodiac can’t fly, a capacity found only in the Dragon, who has no wings.
Crowing is the third symbolic aspect of the Rooster, the call to the Sun at dawn and dusk. Roosters are very vocal creatures. I lived with chickens and roosters in Thailand and they would crow all day, not just dawn and dusk. Crowing represents a capacity for eloquence and “Yin extroversion,” meaning Roosters have a such an intense inner experience that they need to get out, and because of the immense detail and complexity of their inner vision, the outer expression often reflects this, which can intimidate others.
For example, I don’t talk much until asked a question, after which I tend to firehose people with a wall of information they weren’t expecting. I really try to tone it down, but the volume of my inner experience is enormous. I can’t help it. People’s eyes usually get wide, as if to say…whoa, dude, slow down…and their facial expression often communicate regret or overwhelm about 15 seconds after they ask me a question.
The final symbolic aspect of the Rooster is sacrifice. Like the Goat and Ox, Roosters were often sacrificed in Daoist Ritual but for different reasons. Roosters were only sacrificed in rituals that required blood oaths. This symbolizes trust, a quality very important to Rooster Qi.
In Daoism, roosters were used to ward off poison, for roosters in the wild often eat snakes, scorpions, spiders, centipedes, and toads, what are called the Five Poisonous Creatures, which represent our different conflicting emotions. The Rooster has the capacity to digest and transform conflicting emotions into wisdom, and Amulets were often made bearing the Chinese Character for Rooster, used to ward off the Five Poisonous Creatures and their respective emotions.
To understand the Nature of each Qi Character, we must get to the root impulse represented by the Native Element. Control is the main impulse of the Rooster, symbolized by the Rooster lording over the Hens. Yin Metal can be an inward struggle, trying to hold on, control, keep things in order. Fire melts this control, which allows Metal to release and turn to Water, but as an impulse, Yin Metal holds on before death.
So, the Rooster can be wound a bit tight. Inwardly, their impulse is to subtly control, manipulate, and put their experience to order so that it does not go towards death (Water). This impulse has a lot of fear behind it, which the Rooster covers up with a world of intense conceptuality, like the Five on the Enneagram (I'm a Five, if you haven't noticed).
Rooster is the natural outcome of Monkey in the cycle of Time. The Goat attempts to put order to everything based on idealistic principals of interconnectedness; the Monkey says—that’ll never happen, and throws a wrench in the spokes, so to speak, potentially leaving behind a mess. We are now in a bit of a mess. Rooster, then, comes along and goes a bit crazy, working like mad to tidy up, organize all the shelves, label all the boxes, sweep everything under the rug, and put things back in their proper place, which the Dog then guards with its life, so the Pig can party.
Rooster Hour, from 5-7pm, is the time of completion. In China, this time of day is associated with “coming home to roost,” the time when all the chickens and animals make their way back to the barn. It is the “crepuscular hour,” the transition from day to night. Since Rooster Qi is associated with completion, precision, competition, and confidence, this is the time to go home and take pride in what you have done, to reflect and analyze. If you were born between 5 -7 pm, then you are also part Rooster.
As we go through these Key Terms, try to understand them as potential tendencies in the atmosphere of the coming year. Since I am generalizing about the Rooster, remember the relationship of Fire and Metal, and this will help to understand the Fire Rooster more specifically.
These tendencies, which I am here discussing in terms of Natal Astrology, can display as trends in social, cultural, political, environmental, familial, and romantic relationships. We study these principals in people/human behavior because we are people. If you can observe Rooster Qi in your Dad’s obsessive need to organize the tools in the garage, then you can understand how Rooster Qi might influence the political dynamics of a country.
The first Key Terms are critical and analytical. Like the Rat, the Rooster zooms in close and uses its beak (intellect) to break everything apart. The Rat takes things apart to make them small enough to carry, but the Rooster breaks open the seed to get to the important stuff inside. In other words, Rat detail does not include analysis; Rooster Qi does. This analytic, critical nature, an aspect of Yin Metal, extends to all aspects of the Rooster Display. Inwardly this often expresses as thinking, thinking, thinking—going over and over details, analyzing, reasoning, judging. Outwardly, this analysis penetrates behavior and speech—choosing their actions very carefully, second guessing, double checking. Outwardly, they are meticulous and tidy; they love to clean, organize, and are generally concerned with the outer appearance of things.
Naturally, this analytic nature lends itself to a certain kind of intelligence that is highly valued in our culture—problem solving. Roosters make natural engineers, mathematicians, and scientists but they also make great writers and artist, anything where they get to investigate and express detail and meaning. They make wonderful decorators, designers, and architects. Art critic is perhaps the most Roostery profession I can think of.
Rooster Qi is a kind of competence that can translate into many arenas. They have a tremendous capacity to learn systems, methods, approaches, and so on. They can apply these systems very adeptly to anything they want. There is no limit to what Rooster Qi can accomplish with efficiency, precision, and exactness. I’m sure this sounds wonderful, because our culture highly values these qualities and wants everyone to have them. Roosters are productive, but they have a difficult time relaxing.
Rooster Qi is naturally a bit high-strung, tense, uptight. This intelligent and intense thinking mind can get obsessed, close-minded, even fanatical. Roosters can fixate on problems to solve, situations to manage; they can go over and over things in their mind so much that they disconnect from reality. Of all the signs, I would say that Rooster Qi, especially the Metal/Water Rooster, is the most susceptible to mental health problems. They live in their heads, and the fixation (the beak) behind their Qi can get OCD, anal retentive, a little crazy at times. They’re prone to hypochondria.
Roosters benefit greatly from cultivating stillness, openness, and relaxation; they need to get into their bodies and out of their heads, which for them is a monumental task. When they try to drop into their bodies, their awareness tends to snap back up like a yo-yo.
Rooster intelligence and capacity has profound confidence. Like the peacock or male rooster, Rooster Qi tends to be confident, a bit of a show-off, not physically per-se, but mentally for sure. They like to strut their stuff, tout their abilities, and talk a big game. This may manifest as certainty; they know they’re correct, that their argument is valid and will therefore attempt to dominate in conversation, which can lead to argument.
Confidence is a positive virtue, but it can easily lead to arrogance, rudeness, and pride. Roosters can be very proud. They tend to generate strong and rigid self-images that can’t stand being challenged. This also leads to vanity, which can be concerned with physical appearance but also with what Asian cultures call “saving face,” maintain a good public image.
Roosters are trustworthy, honest, challenging, and forthright. They tend to speak very directly and concisely. In conversation, they tend to challenge other people, for they like to debate. The Tibetan tradition of analytical debate is very Rooster. Tibetan Buddhists have a very well developed system of logic from Mahayāna Buddhism, which they use to develop wisdom.
You begin with a clear format of statement and rebuttal from a defender and questioner. You clearly define all the terms you are using. You and your opponent put forth arguments. You attempt to find the gakcha, the crux of the other person’s view and then you use logic to undermine it, pointing to the emptiness of all fixed views. This process, if done correctly, undermines our conceptual mind and shows us the structures of logic that we use to construct false views about Reality. Ultimately, it points to the non-conceptual state beyond all logic. Again, very Rooster.
The flipside of this turns harshly competitive, snobby, blunt, vulgar, and tactless. Rooster Qi can be volatile and erupt without consideration for others. They can be so sure of their view that they will argue it to the death, pecking and ripping with beak and claw. This impulse to challenge can be competitive, so much so that they will argue even if they know they’re wrong, just so they can be right, so they can win and be in control. They may put down and criticize others, making them feel stupid, and they can do this unintentionally. Roosters need to develop big open minds and include as many points of view as possible in their experience.
Rooster Qi tends be very social and spontaneous. The Rooster tends to be concerned with social dynamics in terms of hierarchy, structure, the “pecking order.” By nature, Roosters love socializing and fun; they like the dynamics of social interaction and relationships. Although they are prone to spontaneous displays of showmanship, invoking reactions from and interactions between others, they are acutely aware of social structure. They like to know where they stand with people; they feel secure knowing who is doing what and with whom. Everyone should have a job, a role, clearly defined. They like to know the reasons why people act the way they do. In the end, Rooster feel uncertain if these things are not defined, and they love being the ones to put everyone to order. This social certainy reflects the sacrifice of the Rooster, the blood oath, making a pact.
Depleted, Roosters can be aloof and closed off. If they lose face, or if their ideas about how others perceive them, about their role in life, fall apart, they may question everything and distance themselves until they can figure it out. They can be overwhelmed by the amount of detail they take in, and if it is more than they can handle, they crumble.
It can be difficult to approach them when they close off; they need to relax on their own and come to conclusions naturally so they can feel in control. If you confront them, they are likely to snap back and get more entrenched in their difficulties. Roosters are adept at justifying their feelings, and if those feelings turn to self-hate or blame, or to blaming others, they can’t be talked out of their point of view. They will, however, respond to logic if that logic is well presented and offers them structure to work with.
Rooster Qi is intense and by nature alert, inspired, and insightful. Roosters, on the farm, are guardians. They are vigilant, observant, watchful, and always alert, aware, perceptive. Rooster Qi can be luminous, awake, present. At its best, Rooster Qi is bright and inspired by life, and they are psyched to wake up and crow. Roosters have an amazing capacity to pay attention and focus. The category of meditation called Vipassanā, which means to investigate with clear or distinct seeing/observation, is very Rooster. Vipassanā is often translated as Insight Meditation, and insight is the ideal outcome of the Rooster analysis.
I would, however, not recommend Vipassanā to most Roosters, especially if they are depleted. They can be too focused, too analytical, too vigilant, and Vipassanā can make them even crazier. If clarity is not met with its sister, calm, then clarity and insight can produce agitation. Roosters can become hyperaware of how messed up everything is, and they may spin off into irritation and reactivity. Non-conceptual meditation, called Zuòwàng, sitting and forgetting, is much healthier for Roosters.
Finally, along with Rabbits, the Rooster is the most sexual of the signs. Everyone is a sexual sign. But as a symbol, we all know what is said about Rabbits and Roosters. If you have one rooster in the barn, all 60 chickens will be laying eggs. The sexual appetite of the Rooster is large. Both signs use sexuality as a form of power but in different ways. Roosters tend to dominate and Rabbits tend to submit.
Each element adds a different flavor to this general image. Wood Roosters are the most spontaneous, idealistic, and inspired and are the most likely to forgive and forget. I’ll get to the Fire Rooster last. Earth adds stability and conventionality to the fussy Rooster image, but the capacity of Earth makes them so strong that they easily go into overwhelm at the amount of complexity they imagine they can handle. Metal Roosters, the Natural Rooster, are the most meticulous, articulate, and fussy of the bunch, prone to mental instability, and often their ability to analyze is a cover for their delicate mental/emotional state. Water puts the Rooster capacity over the edge into mystical territories, so much so that they lack the focus of other Roosters and are the most susceptible to possession and madness. I have met some scary Water Roosters.
The Fire Rooster, the Character of the coming Year, my Month, is the most sensual and restless of the Roosters. They are bright and luminous, able to focus like laser beams, yet they can collapse under too many difficulties. They have strong ambition and yet the Fire-Metal dynamic causes them to flip-flop between iron-clad confidence and hopelessness. Fire Roosters tend to be unapologetic, anti-social, and embarrassment is unknow to them. They probably have the most ferocious sex drive off all the Roosters.
I’m no fortuneteller, but I can speculate about what this image means for the coming Year. The climate of Fire Rooster is intense. Monkey has worked everyone into a bit of a frenzy, and now this critical, analytic, argumentative capacity will be available to everyone. Remember, if our passion turns to aggression, if our inspiration becomes excessive, then in a Year like this, people are more likely to argue, especially over definitions, ideas, beliefs, borders, boundaries, and so on. Expect fanaticism in politics and public discourse. People are more likely to get worked up over compelling rhetoric. Our logic may fail us; or we may twist logic toward selfish and closeminded ideals.
If we meet the Year with an open mind, and if we maintain our health, then the Year offers an amazing ability to focus, organize, and get shit done. This Year, we can see through fanaticism to the conceptual structures beneath and liberate our old fixed patterns. We can soften the hard edges around what we think is possible and envision beautiful and realistic possibilities.
Navigating the Fire-Metal conundrum is simple. Over the coming Year, notice when you get worked up over thoughts, stories, and ideas; notice when you get excitable or excessive in your aspiration; see yourself challenging others; recognize when you’re hard on yourself because of some future ideal of what you’re supposed to be, what’s supposed to happen—notice all this and relax; drop it. Relax and find the thread of inspiration that guides the Fire Rooster. Fire Rooster is luminosity—the Light of the Mind. It can be so powerful that it will do anything to display this Light. Relax and find that the Light naturally goes where it needs; in fact; it’s everywhere. Inspiration and insight are everywhere.
This is a great Year to self-reflect and take stock in a realistic and practical way. Pay attention to your mental health and wellbeing. Easy on the entertainment. Rooster can get drawn into the computer for hours. Relax social-media and stop throwing your opinions at everyone. Don’t believe everything you read, or think. Easy on the idealism. Look forward but don’t strain—remember there’s no future, only a present with a direction/momentum. The direction of the present is not fixed, but it tends to go where the Qi of the Year pushes it. Fire Rooster will ask us to soften our views/opinions to seek logical possibilities.
I know—Trump. With all the political rhetoric being shoved down your throat, this Rooster image may sound a little scary. But remember, the auspice of the Year is created by our Freedom, by how our Character digests the Qi buffet. Ming always likened the Year to a buffet. We go along and choose what our appetite inspires in us; some people belch, others fart, some are sleepy, and some are inspired and energized. There is no other Year available. Fire Rooster is what’s on the menu. I hope you’re prepared to digest it.
Thanks for reading about the Rooster, and stay tuned for the final instalment of the 12 Characters of Destiny as I examine the Dog.
Love and Blessings in the New Year!
At long last, we make it to the Qi Character of the Year—Monkey. It has been a Monkey of a year, for sure. I feel like I don’t even need to explain the Fire Monkey, for the year has been such a great lesson. Of course, everyone experienced the buffet of the year differently based on their own Character, but the public image via the shitshow that is internet media suggests that the Year has been difficult for many.
The Fire Monkey is a bit like Heath Ledger’s Joker from Batman. It came to show us the futility of all our plans. This kind of disruption must be available in the cycle of time, or else we may think time is linear, heading towards some perfect future. Fire Monkey set fire to all that.
There is no perfect future; any peak experience progressing toward a better future can only turn into its opposite. Period. Repeat—things only get better temporarily; they only get worse temporarily. Wisdom is relaxation, riding the cyclical waves of Yin-Yang, not working productively towards a greater future (this is lunacy). Monkey reminds us of this. The more we resist natural chaos, the more dramatic our fall.
Many are bashing 2016, and I don’t want to associate all this negativity with the Monkey. The Fire Monkey offers a profound wisdom that has been poking you in the plans all year—have you noticed? I hope I can share with you the Wisdom of the Monkey and change your perspective on the last year.
As a Tiger, Monkey Qi is my opposite. Many misunderstand the diametric relationship in Chinese Astrology. On the cheesy folk level, what you find in most books on the Twelve Animals, they say—Tiger-Monkey, Pig-Snake, Dragon-Dog—oh, very bad! But this level of Astrology assumes that ordinary people have little to no capacity for self-reflection, which may be true—I don’t know.
The diametric is a mirror relationship. Spiritually, they are complementary opposites, which tend to polarize and attract, creating a fascination with each other’s differences. The relationship of opposites can be explosive and prone to volatility, but this explosive quality has tremendous potential for transformation if met with self-reflection.
I have many close Monkey friends, and I love all of them, for they mirror myself back to me. When presented with the Monkey perspective, I scratch my head and go—wow, I would not have thought of that! There is a great YouTube video of a monkey messing with tigers, jumping off the tree, pulling the tiger’s tail and then jumping out of reach—such is the Monkey-Tiger dance.
This year, too, has been a fantastic mirror—tough, one of the most difficult of my life, an internal struggle mostly, but good lord, I’ve learned a lot. As a Tiger, I have a difficult time understanding the Monkey, so hopefully this will make sense. I encourage you to study your opposite, as I have, and let it reveal to you your own Character. The opposites are—Rat-Horse, Ox-Goat, Tiger-Monkey, Rabbit-Rooster, Dragon-Dog, and Snake-Pig.
As I delve into Monkey Qi, I encourage you to reflect on your experience of this year. I will not review the events of this year considering the Monkey, so let these symbols speak to you through your own experience. The Twelve Characters are best learned in your day to day lived experience.
Every 60 years, every 60 months, every 60 days, every 60 hours, we pass through everyone we will ever meet, energetically speaking. Every day, I look at the Character of the Day and then simply feel, reflect, and observe as I go about my life. Today is a Water Dragon day, for example. What does this feel like? How does my experience reflect this Qi? Find out the Character of your friends and family and simply observe the way they interact given their Character relationships—this is the best way to learn Chinese Astrology.
Asia adores the Monkey. It is a very rich symbol in Chinese Cosmology. Monkeys are common all over Asia, particularly, the gibbon and macaque, and many cultural myths surround them. Both China and Tibet share stories of ancient Monkey Ancestors; perhaps, they had a natural understanding of “evolution.” Chinese folk religion regards monkeys as supernatural beings, and many myths about monkey spirits, monkey demons, and half-monkey/human hybrids abound throughout China’s history. In general, Monkeys are depicted much like humans, both foolish and wise. In the Chinese Zodiac, Monkey represents the fated human flaw so heavily debated throughout the history of religion—desire.
We find Monkey in the transmission of Buddhism to China, which began around the 2nd century B.C.E, most famously depicted in the 16th century Ming Dynasty novel, Journey to the West, which was later abridged by English author Arthur Waley in the widely read novel titled Monkey.
In this story, the Buddha seeks a Chinese pilgrim to journey West to India and retrieve the Buddhist Scriptures so that Chinese people could be enlightened (typical Buddhist evangelism, as if the Chinese Tradition was not rich enough). Based on the legendary Tang Dynasty Monk Xuánzàng, the main character Tripitika, volunteers, goes, and returns successful after many trials and tribulations.
Gautama Buddha and the Bodhisattva Guanyin, enlist three protectors to help him along the way, including the famous Sūn Wùkōng —the Monkey King, who was imprisoned under a mountain by the Buddha for rebelling against Heaven. Sūn Wùkōng is a trickster, able to shapeshift and transform his appearance. In the journey, the Monkey King becomes a disciple of Xuánzàng and undergoes transformation from trickster rebel to enlightened sage.
Early Buddhism used many monkey similes. We have all heard of the famous “Monkey Mind.” The Samyutta Nikaya says, "Just as a monkey roaming through a forest grabs hold of one branch, lets that go and grabs another, then lets that go and grabs still another, so too that which is called 'mind' and 'mentality' and 'consciousness' arises as one thing and ceases as another by day and by night." As Monkeys helped to transmit the Buddhist Scriptures, they became allegories for the transformation of Monkey to Enlightened Mind.
The Monkey King was initially a Daoist Immortal before being worked into Buddhism. Daoism, too, tells many tales of the Monkey. Zhuangzi’s famous tales goes, “Once upon a time, there was a monkey keeper who was feeding little chestnuts to his charges. ‘I'll give you three in the morning and four in the evening,’ he told them. All the monkeys were angry. ‘All right, then,’ said the keeper, ‘I'll give you four in the morning and three in the evening.’ All the monkeys were happy with this arrangement. Without adversely affecting either the name or the reality of the amount that he fed them, the keeper acted in accordance with the feelings of the monkeys. He too recognized the mutual dependence of "this" and " that." Consequently, the sage harmonizes the right and wrong of things and rests at the center of the celestial potter's wheel.” Here the Monkey and Sage dichotomy depicts the transformation from delusion to enlightenment, implying that nothing happens other than a shift in perspective.
Liu Ming played with this famous tale in his book Dragon’s Play. Here, Ming used the image of Monkey and Sage to represent our dual nature of energy and awareness. The delicate balancing act between these two, between freedom and control, is the dance of duality that every human must integrate to follow the Way.
At its core, Monkey Qi represents this perilous balancing act, like the monkey swinging through the trees, balancing from branch to branch. Monkeys are poised between the sacred and the profane, fluctuating between materialism and austerity, selfish fantasy and visionary wisdom. Every Human has this dance inside them. Though depicted as Godlike, Monkey Qi symbolizes the weakness commonly associated with humans—desire, which keeps them dancing between the poles.
This may sound dramatic, but Monkey Qi is fundamentally playful. The Chinese never thought to demonize desire like the West. Even Buddhism could not make judgmental moralists of the Chinese (to the Chinese morality is Astrological). Monkey’s balancing act is not a battle between good and evil where order wins over chaos. Both are natural aspects of our being—Yin-Yang. We must make friends with both, and Monkey Qi forever plays with this dynamic.
Ultimately, to tell a Monkey (or anyone) to sit still and control Monkey Mind is stupid. Monkeys must play. They are the Wisdom of Playfulness and Survival. The playfulness of Monkey Qi is a sleight of hand poking fun at the seriousness of “good and evil,” revealing duality as a game, a playful situation rather than the cause of “suffering.” If you put your Monkey Mind in a cage called meditation—how will this lead to freedom?
The myth that the mind must be trained is stupid; concentration (when excessive) is madness, especially to the Monkey. Training the monkey/ox/horse, or whatever metaphor you want to use for the mind, implies that your Nature and Duality are problematic—they’re not; your Nature is perfectly free as it is. Meditation is an expression of your Nature, not an exercise in making it behave.
I lived with Monkeys on an island in Thailand for a period and learned a lot watching them. I found them to be very social creatures. They roamed about the island in packs and would march down the beach in big monkey processions. Momma monkeys carried babies on their backs, and they had groups with leaders and sidekicks.
They were unbelievably curious, and everything they did was playful. They would wrestle around, jump on everything, and investigate all they came across. A monkey once jumped on my table while I was eating breakfast, snatched the coffee mug out of my hand along with a handful of sugar packets, ran off into the trees, and then preceded to throw the sugar packets at me. They would also lunge at me bearing their teeth—perhaps they knew I was a Tiger.
We find the impulse of Monkey Qi in its Native Element—Yang Metal. Yang Metal examines, refines, distills, transforms; it is precision, ingenuity, and imagination, the active conceptual mind used for problem solving; it is our capacity for vision which internalizes, draws in, and goes towards Water, which is full blown mysticism. This active conceptual quality of Yang Metal is the so-called Monkey Mind, but the virtue of this is imagination, self-reflection, wit, and intellect, which are obviously important qualities.
Like the Five Tigers, the Five Elemental Monkeys are very different. This year has been a Fire Monkey year, and “Fire melts Metal.” This is not conflict, but it can generate conflict! The kè or controlling relationship between the elements is necessary for Qi to keep moving, and each controlling relationship is different. When Fire melts Metal, inspiration and vitality soften our rigid thinking, releasing boundaries and hardness, and turn Metal to Water. When this becomes overactive, or “insulting,” the passionate, aggressive, and consuming qualities of Fire lead to hyperactivity, erratic behavior, and excessive disordered thinking. This Year, then, offered the possibility of tremendous inspiration, to push beyond the limits of imagination, but if met with too much Fire/aggression, then the Year also offered the possibility of profound delusion and irrational behavior.
In the beginning of the Year, I told many people—anything can happen in a Fire Monkey year, depending on how we negotiate the Fire-Metal conundrum. This is the kind of year we could have ran with inspiration, softened the boarders of what was possible, and for example—elected Bernie Sanders. Or, this was the kind of year in which people’s fear and paranoia could consume them, generating aggression and eclipsing the rational mind, and for example—we could elect Donald Trump. No further comment. All of this is available in the cycles of Time based on how we negotiate these Elemental Qi Character Cycles.
The Wood Monkey is the most playful, the least serious, and the most resilient of Monkeys. The Fire Monkey we know. Earth Monkeys are more grounded but a bit at odds with being on the ground, since their Monkey impulse tells them to swing. Metal Monkeys are the most natural and at home in their Monkeyness. And Water Monkeys push the mischievous boundaries of Monkey Qi into unknown, possibly dark, mystical territories—not even Heaven can perceive what they’re up to.
The impulse of Monkey Qi, which may shed some light on the past year—the impulse of Yang Metal, tests limits and pushes boundaries, seeking the release of Water; Monkeys define life by taking risks. Life without risk—why bother? Where is the fun in that? Monkeys like to poke, play, push, and test possibilities. They seek adventure, excitement, to keep on moving. Stagnation is death to the Monkey. They seek to go as far out as they can into extreme situations, places, experiences, and so on, just so they can bounce back and say “wow, that was cool!”
Yang Metal generates what I call “scanning Qi.” Monkeys in their natural environment always scan for danger—where are the Tigers? Monkey Qi provides a broad pervasive awareness of the environment and all the details within. Monkey feels the precise movement and activity of the jungle and is at home in the chaos. Silence, stillness, serenity—this spells doom for the Monkey; what’s coming to kill me? Monkey keeps moving, staying forever on its toes/tail.
Monkeys (this category includes apes) and Human Beings share many similarities, and these similarities highlight many of the Key Terms we will discuss. Humans, arguably, became dominant because of our ability to use tools and problem solve, which is mostly due to having thumbs.
Monkey Hour is from 3-5pm. Monkey Qi is associated with planning, strategizing, projecting, adapting, and imagining, so Monkey Hour is the time to look forward to the next day or week and plan. It is the time to cease productivity and to shift into imagination. During Monkey Hour, our Qi naturally anticipates the end of the day and the transition into night. It is a time of adaptation; soon we must head home, but before we do, we must digest the experience of the day, adapt accordingly, and anticipate what may come. Since Monkey Qi is playful, this is the time to end the seriousness of work, “quitting time,” when you should joke and have fun with co-workers before heading home. If you were born between 3-5 pm, you are also part Monkey.
If the Goat teaches us about social responsibility, justice, order, harmony, fairness, and interconnection, then Monkey teaches us that none of this is serious. When Goat gets on a high horse and its rhetoric starts working people up—here come the Monkeys.
The First Key term, then, is curious. Think Curious George. Like the Monkey stealing my sugar packets, Monkey people have an intense desire to investigate, to understand, to peak behind the curtain, to get to the bottom of things, and to pull the rug out from under people. They often seek professions, lifestyles, and hobbies that express this curiosity, and they tend to be spiritual seekers who rebel against committing to a single path, for there is always another branch, another tree with more fruit. Monkeys are in danger of what Chogyam Trungpa called spiritual Materialism—getting into the spiritual path because it offers fun and exciting experiences, which Monkey is very curious about. This curiosity goes hand and hand with the Monkey’s naturally playful disposition.
On the flipside, curiosity turns to erratic and frantic behavior—yes, Monkey Mind. By nature, Monkeys have a profound capacity for distraction. When depleted their minds scatter, race, and push them into a thousand places at once. This erratic behavior can cause them to quit jobs, abandon projects, change their minds, and waffle back and forth unable to make decisions. Monkey Qi defines compulsive (rather than impulsive) behavior, and they can easily spin out into addiction and self-destructive tendencies.
Monkeys are playful, funny; they joke and like to mess with people. In their hearts, Monkeys do not take life seriously. They are not grave or morbid. They view life as a playful act. Alan Watts once said—life is musical in nature, and we are supposed to dance while the music is being played. When other people are morbid, Monkeys want to tickle them. Monkeys want to pull the rug out from under peoples plans. When confronted with hard decisions, the Monkey response is usually—play! This can confound other people who want them to commit and be responsible. Tiger, Monkey’s opposite, hates to be messed with and we can tend towards toxic moodiness, hence the Monkey pulling the Tiger’s tail.
This playfulness is also imitative in nature. Monkey see, Monkey do. Monkey, like Snake, learns by imitating. They can watch someone do something, and then do it better than them. While Snakes do this by becoming the teacher, Monkeys do so by adaptation and cleverness, which is part of the shapeshifting trickster image. If you show off in front of a Monkey, they may just make a fool of you, and they are not afraid to make fools of themselves.
Monkeys have powerful imaginations and are extremely intelligent and innovative people. The Monkey imagination is beyond visionary. Monkeys can climb high in the trees and see far out beyond the branches. This imagination, being Yang, is creative, and Monkey ranks as one of the “artistic” types. If Monkeys can sit still, they are capable of being great artists. If not, Monkey Qi expresses profound intelligence, the ability to learn and change the way things are done.
Monkey Qi scans, schemes, plans, and looks for solutions. When confronted with a problem or danger, the Monkey will look for options, ways around; they want to sneak past danger and with sleight of hand fool the Tiger. I was once sitting in traffic with my Godmother, a Wood Monkey, and we hit a traffic jam. Her immediate response was to google alternate routes and look up traffic reports. My response was to sit there; it never even occurred to me that there was another option, for the Tiger response to danger is to pounce forward like a freight train, while the Monkey is the acrobat, nimbly escaping obstacles.
Monkey Qi is resourceful. Monkeys can find, utilize, and manipulate resources to their advantage unlike any other sign. They can be amazingly productive when put to these kinds of tasks, and they demonstrate the Human capacity to create and make tools for survival. This is an immense social and professional skill that I envy, for it is completely beyond me. Monkeys are incredibly capable beings, able to learn and master many skills. They tend, however, to be Jacks of all Trades and Masters of None.
When depleted, this capacity for imagination and innovation turns to fantasy and delusion. Monkeys are masters of creating and living in fantasy worlds, what we can call “storylandia.” Their scheming can generate many versions of reality, and at their worst, Monkeys buy into them and can spin out in alternate realities, which they find fascinating, entertaining. Monkey Qi tends to indulge fantasy because it is fun. Again, this is a playful act, so Monkeys can test the limits of sanity and bounce back.
Monkeys demonstrate the fact that nothing is real or solid in the way you think it is. There is no true relative reality; everything relative is empty of inherent meaning. Insanity comes from taking the relative world too serious; when we see the transparent nature of everything, we are likely to go crazy, but Monkeys think it’s funny. Push this too far and you get Heath Ledger’s Joker.
Monkey defines adaptation, resilience, and responsiveness. Physically, they are one of the most resilient signs and can bounce back quickly from the most serious illness. They are likely to flirt with death and danger and then make fun of everyone for getting morbid. They heal fast, and respond quickly to their environment. Monkeys can perceive the energetics of an environment with incredible precision, although they are not very intuitive and tend to make lots of stories about what they perceive, which may or may not be accurate.
Monkeys can be very nervous, anxious, and paranoid. They constantly perceive themselves in a situation of danger or threat, and their tendency towards fantasy can produce panic, worry, and fear. The active nature of Monkey Qi will create danger and threat where there is none, which is an unconscious result of the Monkey playfulness. They may create stories and danger just to have something to do, something to overcome, so that they can have cool stories to tell their friends.
The Monkey resourcefulness can turn cunning, crafty, manipulative. When depleted, they may use their intelligence to mess with social situations, turn friends against each other, gossip, tell stories, make drama. Monkeys can be very deceptive, and pretend/act in mischievous ways for fun. They can use their abilities to dominate others intellectually and their wit can turn ruthless. If Monkey perceives the game of the world as cruel, then Monkey Qi can even turn criminal like the Joker.
Finally, Monkeys can be very avoidant. Rather than deal with things head on, like the Tiger, they will dance around issues for a long time and never confront the tough decisions. Of course, I’m a Tiger, so that’s my bias. Confronting things head on can be disastrous, and the Tiger impulse can leap over their actual situation. Monkey Qi responsiveness, when not avoidant, knows when to duck, when to avoid confrontation, for it senses when the danger is coming.
Monkeys often lead incredibly interesting and exciting lives. Their impulse for fun and adventure often takes them to wild places. They always have interesting stories to tell and love to regale you about that time they almost died when there were in the place doing the thing.
Because of this impulse, Monkeys often dance between this world and the next. They have powerful desires that propel them towards materialism, and at the same time, their instinct tells them the world is a game. Monkeys fluctuate between materialism and austerity. If they can reconcile this dance, they are capable of profound wisdom. They reveal the cosmic joke, the Play of Consciousness.
Reconciling the Monkey dance, again, has nothing to do with putting Monkey in a cage. Monkeys need not punish themselves with harsh discipline because they are erratic. Monkey needs only to climb high into the tallest tree and see beyond to the enormous context of Space. Our Nature is something like Space, which hosts all duality equally. Harsh order and discipline is exalting one side over the other, which only creates more Chaos, which is what Monkey comes to show us.
This year has shown us many of these qualities, demonstrated at large in our culture, politics, and environment, which the media has blown out of proportion. Sometimes it appears Monkey paranoia and delusion has gotten the better of people. This tends to happen in Fire Years, especially in the case of the Fire-Metal conundrum, which continues with the Fire Rooster.
The Wisdom of the Year has been telling us all along that our plans for a stable, happy, bright, productive future are foolish. Everything we build is a castle in the sand. We need not fear the tide.
The world seems to be going in a dark direction and that’s because it is. This darkness however is not morbid. All kinds of unnatural structures are decaying and falling apart, and the more we cling to them and make stories of how we will keep building the tower higher and higher towards perfection, the more painful it feels when Fire Monkey comes along to kick over your sandcastle and laugh at you.
Rather than get angry and thrown gasoline on the Fire Rooster, which is another delicate transition which I will explore in the next blog, try relaxing. Open to the what the Fire Monkey has shown you. The Wisdom of the Monkey is not a threat and the sky is not falling. Destruction must occur for there to be new growth.
I was hoping that we would, “feel the Bern,” for the symbol of Bernie Sanders represented so much needed pruning, healthy destruction. But such is Time; our Freedom creates the auspice of what potential is available, and Trump was available. Trump represents destruction, which while necessary, will probably be unhealthy. In my next blog, I hope to offer some insight on how to make use of the next year, so that this destruction can offer us the transformation we need.
I hope you enjoyed this exploration of the Monkey, and I hope it has shed some light on the past year. Stay tuned for my New Year’s exploration of the Rooster!
The Lunar Year of 2015, the Wood Goat Year, was one of the best and most interesting times of my life. I learned a lot about the nature of the Goat in this strange adventure. Liu Ming’s advice for the Wood Goat was my guiding force throughout the year, from the last public New Year’s talk that he gave. Reflecting on it now has brought me great insight.
In the Wood Goat Year, I found myself in the great unknown; the Wood Horse Year compelled me to stomp on everything in my life, end the only loving relationship I’ve ever had, sell everything I owned, and move to the other side of the world in search of “spiritual freedom.”
I moved to Thailand to train with my teacher and to be part of an intentional spiritual permaculture community. A month after my move to Thailand, the Wood Goat shift reset everything, and the impulse and impatience of the Wood Horse flipped, reflecting to me the broad and healing lessons of the Goat. This shift put my life into a context I had never experienced before.
I found myself alone in community (a long story) and very aware of it, adrift in a foreign land, and very quickly, all my fantasies about being a great Yogi disappeared. The naïve vision of enlightenment I had perpetuated for years expanded to include so many things about life I thought I could ignore—career, finances, partnership…I assumed that if I followed the spiritual path that these things would just sort themselves out. Yeah right.
The Goat Year showed me that not only would they not sort themselves out, but that these “worldly” aspects of life were an essential part of my Path, which as it turns out is all inclusive. This shift coincided roughly with the beginning of my Saturn Return, a time for “growing up” that comes along every 27-31 years, and that is still kicking my ass.
After a lot of personal honesty, transparency, and self-reflection, I returned to the US resolved to find a Partner, establish a Career, and set myself up for the long-term, in-the-world, householder path to liberation in one lifetime. So here I am, slowly trying to establish said goals.
Astrology has been an immense help along the way, which I began studying in earnest during my travels (previously it had only been a hobby); it gave me a language to understand the cycles I found myself in. As I study, contemplate, and meditate, I realize more and more that our lives are these cycle, and that we have a lot less freedom than we think—karma is not individual; we flow along in ever widening rings of influence.
The Goat was a fantastic symbol for me during this transition, for the Goat represents many of the values that I came to value, which do not come naturally for Tigers. I hope to share these values with you in this blog.
Humans and Goats have been living happily together for a long, long time, at least 30,000 years. The Goat is very happily domesticated. The symbol of the Goat in Chinese Astrology is tied intimately to the Goat’s longstanding relationship with both nomads and agrarian humans.
The Goat is most notably a symbol of sacrifice, specifically to the Ancestors. Humans have been ritually sacrificing Goats for a long time, probably since before they were domesticated. This may sound grim for the Goats, and it probably is from their perspective, but as a symbol, this sacrifice is more about being honored than about being killed. I have seen many Goat related rituals, and believe it or not, they are very well taken care of, until their throat is slit.
There is a very important Star in Polestar Astrology called Yang Ren—the Goat Blade. In Tantric Iconography, Ḍākinīs are often depicted holding a hooked blade, used for draining a goat of blood very quickly—this is Yang Ren. It represents a place in our life where we are fated to make a big sacrifice or loss. The kind of experience you look back at and say—that was tough, but I would not be who I am today if I had not gone through that; such is the nature of the Goat.
The Goat spoken of in Chinese Astrology is the wild mountain goat, the big wooly ram, and the domesticated goat. Despite the masculine image of rams butting heads, the Goat is decidedly Yin, and represents the opposite of aggression. The Native Element of the Goat is Yin Earth, which it shares with its opposite the Ox. Four Animals share the Native Element of Earth, and each portray it in different ways.
The Goat’s relationship to Yin Earth demonstrates amazing ability of Goats to be surefooted in all terrains. If you google mountain goats, you will find some incredible images of goats scaling shear vertical cliffs. This is not a Yang skill. It must take incredible finesse and delicate balance to do this. This image portrays a central theme of Goat Qi—adaptability. Goats are masters of adapting to their environment, and they have happily adapted to wherever humans have taken them.
Yin Earth is all about balance, nourishment, support, solidity, groundedness, alliances, abundance, mothering, nurturing, and so on. The Ox represents these qualities in the continuity of Earth, for the Ox is the steadfast container and maintainer of Tradition. The Goat represents these same qualities in the refinement and reform of tradition, for the Goat is the Wisdom of Beauty, Justice, Symmetry, Order, and Harmony.
The Ox preserves and the Goat renews; it recognizes what has gotten old and stuffy and seeks to reinvigorate tradition. Unlike the Tiger, which seeks to break the boundaries of tradition and liberate people from order, the Goat seeks to refine order to higher degrees. The Goat wants tradition, but it wants tradition to serve the people, so it wants a bloodless and peaceful revolution. The Tiger, the Horse, the Dragon, the Monkey, the Dog—all will potentially shed blood, but the Goat will not. Don’t mistake the butting heads for aggression; I have lived with Goats, and this is an innocent and playful act—it’s more about being flustered.
In short, the Goat represents the virtues and difficulties of the dreaded word—politics. Goats are the idealists, the most astute and aware of social circumstances.
The Goat defines the herd animal and instinct. Having lived with Goats, watching them every day, they clearly have a hive-mind. They run, jump, eat, and play together, and as soon as one takes off in a new direction, they all bounce along after each other without hesitation. When a Goat is lost from the herd, it gets seriously distressed, but when it’s with the clan it is as happy as can be.
At a deeper level, the herd mentality of the Goat, and of Goat Qi, derives from a sense of inclusion that expresses an even deeper truth about the interconnected nature of everything. Goat Qi represents interbeing, interdependence, the intimate Web of Life, the symbiotic relationships that define Nature.
Of all the Twelve Characters, the Goat is said to be closest to this interbeing—they feel it on a deep, embodied level. Goats see the way everything, people and nature, is connected. And so, the impulse of the Goat is always for the herd, the greater good. They seek to sacrifice themselves for the benefit of others. The outer symbol of ritual sacrifice also communicates an inner one—the Goat is willing to give up its own needs so others can thrive. They are the most egalitarian of all the Signs.
Of all the Twelve Characters, the Goat is said to be the most artistic and aesthetic. The Goat feels connected to everything and wants everyone else to feel this way too. But this interconnected web is beyond words and cannot be described. So, the instinct of the Goat is to express and communicate what is beyond words—in other words, Art. Or better yet—Qi. The Goat wants to communicate the direct experience of Qi—the dynamic flowing way in which everything relates to everything else.
The Goat seeks to make the world beautiful, harmonious, balanced. Because Goats feel the deeper way in which everything is connected, they get flustered when the surface does not match the depths. They, therefore, seek order, to refine the outer expression to remind others of what lies beneath the surface.
Goat Art is aesthetic, classical. Tiger Art defies convention while the Goat defines it. They are therefore in a constant dialogue. Goat art expresses order, symmetry, tasteful arrangement, and elegance. Feng Shui, the art and auspice of placement, is a very Goat like endeavor.
The Goat is the natural outcome of the Horse. The Horse manifests, constructs, and brings the World in to being, and the Goat is sort of like the interior decorator (Feng Shui is not interior decorating, by the way). They take the raw, and sometimes messy situation of the Horse and make it orderly, expressing the harmonious relationships of Qi in space.
As we go through these key words, remember this basic impulse—to communicate and express our connection beyond words. This is the heart of Goat Qi. The Goat also represents sustainability and social welfare/responsibility—it represents the fact that we’re all responsible for each other—always have been, always will be. In Buddhism, this principal is called Sangha.
In general, Goat Qi is soft, peaceful, gentle, introverted—Yin. It is impossible not to smile when watching goats. They are freaking adorable and fundamentally goofy creatures, kind of like big puppies. Within three hours of birth, kid goats are jumping around, happily bouncing with amusing playfulness, looking for a cliff to climb, nibbling on everything.
The Goat Hour, from 1 pm to 3 pm, is basically time to “herd up,” as Ming called it. Since Goat Qi is associated with the herd, with social order, cooperation, compromising, harmony, justice, fairness, and so on, Goat Hour, then, is the time to work and be with others and cultivate friendship and teamwork. This is the time to get together and do things in groups and to refine and adjust the productivity of Horse Hour. Once we create something, we must step back and adjust our creation to accord with social context and welfare. Building a table is useless if we do not sit down to eat, and what good is eating alone if your friends are hungry? Goat Hour is also the time for art and aesthetics. It is a time to paint, write, sing, or just stare out into the landscape and contemplate your humanity. If you were born during this time of the day, you are also part Goat.
So, the first Key Terms are easy-going, sweet, gentle, agreeable. Goats have a naturally relaxed slightly silly/goofy disposition. Earth Characters by nature, especially Yin Earth, are what we refer to as “chill.” Yin Earth is stable, slow, grounded. Goat Characters don’t get worked up easily and are happy to go with the flow, follow the group. Goats tend to be ordinary nice/kind people. Everyone can be a nice person, of course, and the Goat symbolizes this quality in all of us. By respecting and acknowledging other people and their needs, by recognizing we are part of a herd, we naturally become kind, generous, nice—self-centeredness is not part of Goat Qi.
The depleted version of this, however, is intolerance and crankiness. When Goats find themselves alone, isolated, or if they’re raised in a poor community environment where their instincts are stunted, Goats tend to be fussy, cranky, moody, and even intolerant of others. At their best, the political vision of the Goat is all inclusive, and the flipside of this is well-known the world over—we tolerate our in-group and hate the rest. The possibility for political unrest is most strongly demonstrated in the Monkey/Tiger dynamic, but this begins in the Goat with the desire to create order, which in the cycle of time turns almost immediately into its opposite.
Well know comedian Louis CK, a Fire Goat, is the perfect example of Goat crankiness and tolerance. His comedy communicates the positive and negative qualities of Goat Qi very well. He is an astute social critic, and despite his crudeness, his view is very inclusive—he excepts and celebrates everyone and at the same time makes jokes about how much he hates people. Furthermore, his show, Louie, especially in its last few seasons, was extremely artistic and poignant.
So, then, the next important Key Word is aesthetic/artistic—both visual and musical. Not all goats are necessarily great artists and musicians, but this instinct to make the world beautiful and to express the ineffable must come out in some form. For some Goats, it may come out in the way they dress—always matching, trendy. In others, it may express through poetry or playing guitar. For others, it may be in their career as a graphic designer. And of course, Goats make natural painters, artists in the classical sense. Michelangelo, Mark Twain—both Goats.
The gentle demeanor of Goat Qi goes hand with another very important quality—cooperation. Goats seek cooperation and compromise on all levels and generally hate confrontation, like the Rabbit. Goats want everyone to get along; they are peacemakers who offer up solutions and treaties. They will often compromise their own needs to make others happy, which depletes them in the long run.
If they keep compromising and cooperating to make others happy, Goats will eventually turn cranky and get unbelievable stubborn, hence the butting heads. Goats will dig into their position and compromise can turn to entrenched argumentation. Goats must commit to self-care and speak up about needs. Otherwise, they will be nice, nice, nice and then explode.
The Goat, who naturally seeks communication and understanding, can turn completely flustered and uncommunicative. Normally, they are quite eloquent, but when depleted, they just start butting heads and can hardly get out coherent thoughts/sentences. They fear confrontation, and so they tend to let things build until things turn to head butting and stubbornness.
On the flipside, Goats are the masters of persuasion and charm. Goat Qi can eloquently and poetically express grand principals like harmony and justice—rhetoric, political and personal, is a Goat affair. Their natural insight into social dynamics and structure offers them a social capacity unknown to many signs. They can read a group and know how to inspire and work up a crowd by invoking universal human principles. Goats tend to be very quiet, introverted, but are prone to make dramatic speeches when provoked.
The calm, quiet, easy going nature of Goat Qi can also turn impatient. Goats tend to be fussy perfectionists. They want everything to go just right. So, they may try to engineer their life, relationships, situations. Roosters and Rats tend to fuss over what, to the rest of us, are unimportant details, but the Goat fusses over the whole situation. If a Goat throws a dinner party, they don’t mind so much about how the table is arranged, but they will be certain to sit you next to someone who will change your life. They may work very hard to create the right social environment for magic, and if it falls apart they may obsess over what went wrong, while the Rooster is still making sure the silverware is in the right place.
Goats are part of the “social trine” of the Chinese Zodiac, along with Pigs and Rabbits. The social aspect of the Goat is all about generosity, encouragement, and social support. Goats need a herd; they need friends, family; without support they wither, get depressed, and feel hopeless, anxious, fearful. Alone, they worry and fret. Around others, they thrive and are the most supportive, encouraging, and generous people. Goats don’t need a big herd per se, small family, a few close friends is fine, but they can also get along in big groups, as longs as that group represents “clan/tribe” for them. Alone, they will naturally seek to create tribe. They make naturally family people, parents, grandparents, friends, and so on. Goats easily take on social support roles, even if it only for a select few.
Goats have a deep spiritual capacity to recognize relationship and interconnectedness. All the great spiritual traditions teach that we’re all connected, that everything is everything, and so on—you’ve probably heard it all before. This realization that we’re all One is a Goat realization, so it is easier for Goat Characters to see this. Compassion and generosity, therefore, come naturally to them. This is not the case for all signs—Tigers, Snakes, Dragons all need education in this regard, for their independent nature can disregard and struggle with the need to connect with other humans.
2015, the Wood Goat Year, showed us many of these Goat themes. Political awareness and social welfare were high, and across the globe people began to speak up for the marginalized, underprivileged, minorities, and so on. This began an important trend which exploded a bit in this Monkey Year (next blog)—as a society, especially in the millennial generation, we will not stand for bigotry, intolerance, sexism, patriarchy, inequality, and oppression any more, dammit.
The Goat Year set this in motion. It brought forward all the ways in which our cultures, especially in the USA, are divided. The transition from Goat to Monkey is delicate and sort of went haywire due to the elemental nature of Wood going to Fire. I’ll say more about this in the next blog on the Monkey.
Personally, the Goat year was very healing for me in many ways. Ming’s advice for Tigers was essentially to heal, which the gentle and supportive nature of Goat Qi encourages. All these Goat qualities of relationship, social support, and service all came forward in my life. The Wood Goat was a reset button for me. I re-valued my life, and started all over again.
After my year living abroad, I found myself back in the States, somehow practicing Chinese Astrology, which I never expected. If you had told me ten years ago that I would end up being a Chinese Astrologer, I would have laughed. I also made the decision to pursue Chinese Medicine, which brought me here to Portland and started a whole new chapter in my life.
Looking back, I am very grateful for the Goat Year. As a Tiger, I admire the qualities of the Goat and the rest of the Social Trine. In the next blog, I will review the past year and explore my opposite—the Monkey! It has been a hell of a year…stay tuned.
We’ve made it to number eight of twelve as Snake Qi turns to Horse. Before we move on, however, I think we need to back up and look again, briefly, at the idea of Character. For it is too easy to get simplistic studying these primary symbols.
The Character of our Year is fundamental in our Qi Display, so these twelve symbols are important to study and understand, especially at an energetic level. We want to understand the impulse that lies at the base of these patterns, and I hope that I have been able to communicate this so far. The impulse of each Character is beyond words. These impulses generate identifiable patterns. But we must ask—patterns of what?
Time. Each Qi Character communicates a felt pattern in time; in Astrology, Qi is time. Time/Qi is movement itself, rhythm, not a thing moving—just movement, and we only know movement because of duration. This duration is a spectrum we call light. Qi can be called light/energy, visible because it moves at different frequencies.
Time flows in a circle. This circle is very lopsided; the Twelve-Animal cycle of Time is like a whirlwind, a tornado. At some parts, it spins fast; at some, it spins slow; some parts are big messy gusts of wind, and in some parts, wind funnels into a point, and so.
We are a swirling together of many patterns of wind/movement; the pattern of the Year, Month, Day, and Hour are primary among many others. The Qi movement of the Year is the deepest flow of Time relative to Earth, technically related to the 12-year Jupiter cycle, the largest object in the Solar System besides the Sun, and it therefore represents the deepest part of our experience. The impression made at the time of birth, when we first breathe in the Qi/ “wind” of the universe outside the womb, imprints a deep, deep pattern on us that we become and express our entire life. That moment is an incredible shock, which is probably why we cry, and it leaves a lasting impression.
The Qi of the Year is the deepest, and the Qi of the hour is the most “up front.” The Hour imprints a surface expression, which then dances with the deeper expression of the Year. These two together are primary. The Month and Day also imprint on us, but these patterns have more of an effect on our constitution and life cycles in relation to the seasons.
We must remember that we are complex. The image of the Year is basic, simple, and profound. As I write these blogs and you consider your Character, remember that these images are fundamental and only a doorway into the complexity of your Astrological makeup. I encourage people to identify with the Year, but you have Four Pillars, and Solar/Lunar Indictors, and a Fate Chart, etc. The wisdom of the Year encourages us to find out what we have in common with others rather than on what makes us a unique snowflake.
So, we move now into the Pattern of Horse Qi, part of my own Character, and it is appropriate that the Horse is an ancient symbol of the Wind, Prana/Vayu, Qi, Lung (in Tibetan). In Tantra and East/Central Asian Shamanism, the image if the “Wind Horse,” the Lungta, is an allegory for the Human Spirit of Awakening.
The symbol of the Horse is an ancient and powerful Shamanic symbol central to the cultures of Mongolia, China, and Tibet. To understand the Symbol of the Horse, we must understand the role of the Horse in these ancient cultures as a symbol of freedom and expansion. The Horse, in many ways, shaped their history, mostly due to warfare.
The Horse spoken of in Chinese Mythology is the Mongolian rather than the Arabian Horse, which any equestrian person will tell you are very different kinds of horses. The Chinese attempted to train the Mongolian horse to work for a long time, but no amount of breeding and whipping coerced them to plow straight furrows, for they had no attention span and were wild in nature. Eventually, the Chinese would discover the ox/water-buffalo from the south, which revolutionized agriculture. But what of the horse?
Mongolians and the famous Genghis Khan would bring down the horse as an instrument of war. The Mongolian Horse and the bow and arrow allowed Genghis and his grandson Kublai to dominate Asia. When the Chinese first saw Mongolians riding horses into battle, arrows and swords flying, they discovered the true power of the horse, which had been abandoned in China as a plow animal. The first depictions of the Horse were a lot like the Dragon and many of these elements would make their way into the depiction of the Dragon, for the Horse road so fast it appeared to be flying.
They let the reigns down, put on a war saddle, and the Horse came to life. With just a little direction, rather than strict control, the Mongolian Horse became the most productive tool in the Chinese military and aided in the great expansion of the Tang Dynasty. Emperors and Generals bred them successfully for war throughout Chinese history, and they were always associated with martial arts and warriorship.
The image of the War Horse represents the Horse’s native element—Yang Fire. The Fire Horse is an explosion of force, a wild stallion, uncontrollable yet capable of immense power and control if directed with skill. Like fire, the Horse represents a powerful tool which can be either creative or destructive, depending on use.
The true impulse of the Horse is to run free, wild, explode out, which is why Horses and Tigers get along, for the Tiger represents a similar explosion of force. The Tiger, Yang Wood, is an immature, childlike impulse, while the Horse, Yang Fire, is the teenage, adolescent, angsty, rebellion, leaping over boundaries and running wild. Each elemental version of the Horse, then, represents a relationship to this impulse.
The impulse of Yang Fire is to energize, catalyze, activate, stimulate, transform, overpower/overcome, surprise, rebel, destroy, and excite. All Horse Characters have this lying in their nature. I was born on a Metal Horse Day, so this is part of my Character, albeit not as potently as the Year/Hour. Hopefully, then I will be able to share some personal insight into the nature of the Horse, which I must say is an important part of me.
The Metal Horse, of which I am in part, and of whom I know many (1990), the “Horse in the Stall,” has a fundamental difficulty with this explosive nature—Fire “melts” Metal, leading to a kind of self-conflict and doubt. The Metal Horse wrestles between freedom and control, but their Metal exteriors makes them capable of control and self-discipline in a way the Fire Horse is not.
The Fire Horse is a pure wild stallion, and traditionally in China they would have been sent with Fire Tigers to the military as cannon fodder. On the opposite end of the spectrum the Water Horse, the least “horsey” Horse, is more like a Clydesdale, or the Budweiser Horse, the explosion extinguished, happy to be trained and trot around.
The symbol of the Horse has a lot to do with the animal itself. Horses are big, physical, all muscle and tendons. The Mongolian horse has a huge ass and hind legs which makes them powerful runners and jumpers. This physicality represents a kind of embodiment, so Horse Qi is by nature very embodied—the impulse of the Horse is to feel, be, and do immediately, rather than think.
Horse’s opposite, the Rat, has the opposite impulse—Rat Qi tends to think and scheme, while the Horse represents what Ch’an Buddhism calls “no-mind.” No-mind represents embodied action without thinking and planning. Horse Qi is “doing,” but without great pre-meditation, like a Ch’an Monk sweeping the courtyard or raking stones in the garden. Horse Qi lends itself to the non-conceptual state.
Horse Qi is the Wisdom of Manifestation. If the Rat represents everything splintered into pieces, needing to be organized and put back together, the Horse represents the final manifestation of this in the cycle of Time. Everything manifesting and functioning efficiently. Horse is D.I.Y. and manufacturing—the strength to work and put things together. The Horse is all about working and doing, like the Ox, but they are the Yang version—muscle, speed, and power, and they can burn out, while Oxen can slowly plow forever.
Horse Qi is also the outcome of the Snake. If Snake represents a kind of cynical, piercing emptiness, capable of disembodied depression, the flipside of this, Big Yin turning to Yang, is a kind of straightforward, logical, no-nonsense practicality. The Snake questions whether the world even exists, and the Horse just gets to work. Emptiness roaring back to form. Why think about emptiness when there is stuff to do?
The Horse represents an “edgy” balance, part wild, part trained, and this gives the Horse a certain regal dignity; they allow us to use their strength, but if they want they can leap the fence and take off. The Horse’s strong, independent nature, when set to orderly tasks, is extraordinarily successful. For the Horse, stuff is to do things with, and they tend not to need anything unless it represents “work,” even if that work is spiritual.
Horse Hour, from 11 am to 1 pm, or High Noon, is the full height of the Sun. It is the time of day when we are at our peak and most productive. It is the time for work, labor, getting stuff done. It is Yang Fire, the bright, burning heat of Summer, when light is the most active, warming, moving, catalyzing. If you were born between 11 am and 1 pm then you should also consider yourself part Horse.
So, the first Key Word for the Horse is social, gregarious yet independent. Horses in the wild are social animals, running in packs. Having a social life, seeking social interaction and engagement, is very important to the Horse Character. Like the Goat, the herd instinct is part of the Horse, but the social nature of the Horse is much different. Despite the herd mentality, Horses seek to be independent, and so the social impulse is often somewhat competitive. Horses are showman, like Clydesdales. They want to socialize, but they also want to run free and impress everyone with their speed and strength. They tend to be gregarious, sociable, fond of parties and having fun. They can, of course, be introverted, but the direction of Yang Fire is outward moving. Horse can enjoy solitude, but their inward expression moves out.
At their best, Horses tend to be blessed with a “sunny” disposition. They can be bright, open, cheerful, optimistic. Yang Fire tends to look on the bright side of life. The Horse disposition tends toward innocence, which often attracts people to them. Their sunny optimism lends naturally towards humor. Horses are often jokesters; funny is key to the Horse mentality; such is the term “horsing around.” All the Horses I know like to play and horse around. They’re natural comedians.
On the flipside, the independence and social qualities of the Horse can turn anti-social, even criminal and violent. At their best, Horses are not loners, but the nature of Yang Fire is hot-tempered, angry, rebellious. Their anger can lead to outbursts, which are often thoughtless. The tendency to do/act without thinking can have consequences. The bucking bronco can stamp on people, situations, relationships, and so on. If their attempts at sociability don’t go their way, they can ride off into the sunset, never to be seen again.
In general, the independent, wild quality of the Horse should/can never be held in. Like the Dragon and Tiger, any attempt to box in or control a Horse will be met with disaster. If restrained, they become bitter and exhibit destructive behavior. Horses can be “tamed,” but inside, their nature is wild. Self-discipline for Horses is like harnessing a wild animal. The Horse nature is fast; they do and act quickly without hesitation.
With training and proper direction, Horse Qi can be put to work and is associated with strength and industry. Horses have an immense capacity to get shit done, to be the “work horse,” as we say. Horse Qi represents the all-American virtue of productivity—just get me back to work. For many Horses, life is about work, and without something to do, they get restless, bored, and feel useless. Horse restlessness can be profound; they need to direct themselves to tasks, projects, whether that is learning, reading, building, exercising, organizing, etc.
Horse Qi represents craft and trade work, D.I.Y, practical and functional art. Tiger or Monkey may represent abstract art, but Horse art you can sit in, or do something with, like pottery, the dying virtue of the craft-guilds. Ming used to jokingly refer to Horses being kind of like lumberjacks/carpenters/handy-men. Home Depot could be called “Horse Depot.” Horses express themselves through creating, manifesting. If they do not create, they stagnate. Of course, not all Horses are handy-men (handy-people?), but they all express some fundamental need to manifest/create.
On a deeper level, this work mentality comes from embodiment, vitality, and physicality. Horses need to move and use their bodies. They need to run, hike, workout, anything to get moving, or else they get restless. Horses by nature are also very “outdoorsy,” for this physicality cannot stay indoors too long. Horses yearn for the great outdoors and open plains and need to connect with the eternal blue sky.
On an even deeper level, this embodiment represents the Horses profound capacity to feel. Despite their strong exteriors, Horses are very emotional, but they tend to express emotion more through doing rather than saying. Ming once joked of “Horse love,” which was a Dad letting his Son use his tools. The Horse may be affectionate, but they often show rather than tell and not always through touchy-feely means. Horse Qi may not be all hugs, and if a Horse Dad makes his Son a swing-set, this is pure love, because he made it for him.
The thoughtless, active, and embodied quality of the Horse can be sort of accident-prone. Horses can have a carelessness that tends to “not notice.” Physically, this can lead to self-injury, knocking things over, spilling coffee on your lap, falling off your bike, and so on. Mentally/emotionally, Horse may have difficulty noticing and acknowledging other people’s feelings, and they may say and act carelessly, and stomp all over others.
The reverse of being accident prone is cleverness. Horse Qi represents what is now called “MacGyver” ingenuity—the ability to problem solve in a kind of practical way, throwing a bunch of stuff together into makeshift solutions. They can take something broken and find ten ways to put it back together. Or not. Horses can also be very clumsy.
This ingenuity also express the virtue of thoughtlessness, which is the ability to work efficiently through embodied skill. All the “Zen and the Art of…” books represent Horse Qi. You practice and practice and practice archery, each time getting in your own way because you keep thinking. And the thousandth time, you relax and release the arrow without effort. Watching master craftspeople, chefs, dancers, anyone who embodies a skill, is a Horse Qi ballet.
This cleverness also lends itself to a kind of eloquence and talkativeness—think Mr. Ed. "A horse is a horse, of course, of course, and no one can talk to a horse, of course." Horses make great orators and speakers, or they just love to chat. Horse Qi can put their cleverness and ingenuity to work anywhere, including speech, and they love to impress people with this clever eloquence. This eloquence comes from a kind of direct honesty. Horses are honest because they don’t overthink. And so, their rhetoric can be very profound; they just say what others feel. This often creates a kind of magnetism. Horses are attractive people. Their strength, cleverness, and ability are what most people seek yet never find, for Horse Qi is full manifestation without complication.
This capacity can lead to arrogance and stubbornness, but horses are arrogant without realizing it. Horse stubbornness is a kind of know-it-all showoff bravado, but it does not show off because it thinks it is better than people—it just loves showing off. They need to do something with all their strength.
Horses have a hard time not giving people advice, telling people how to do things—they know best. Horse stubbornness is demonstrated in the old cliché of men not wanting to stop and ask for directions or call a repairman (repair person? Geez, how gendered is our language?).
The Horse personality is consistent and simple. Like the Ox, they tend to remain constant in their thoughts, actions, lifestyle—they’re not prone to major changes in terms of personality. You may not see a Horse for ten years and no matter how much they have changed, they seem like the same old person. They may be wild, adventurous, world traveling people, but nonetheless, they seem consistent.
Some Characters, like the Snake, are a mystery. The Horse, being the outcome of Snake, is no mystery. What you see is what you get. Horse Qi is not about plumbing the depths. Which is not to say they’re not deep. The Horse Character does not play games; they do not mislead, misdirect, or manipulate; they just are and do. All that would require too much thinking.
The Horse symbol is one of power, majesty, freedom. The Lungta, the Wind Horse, symbolizes the human spirit of adventure but also aggression. The Horse is raw, dynamic power and strength, pure vitality; it rides hard and can burn out in a blaze of glory, dying with honor on the battlefield. The Horse characterizes the wild shamanic nomads of Central Asia, Mongolia, Tibet, and Northern/Western China. It is the wide-open expanse of the great plains and eternal blue sky. Freedom is the impulse of the Horse, dancing with the edge of restrain.
Horse Qi is a turning point in the Zodiac. From here, the Horse turns to Goat and the cycle begins to resolve itself. The rest of the Zodiac represents a kind of completion, a return to source. I hope you enjoyed this exposition of the Horse.
In the last Blog, I tried to communicate the ineffable nature of the Dragon, which may have been confusing, and I’m afraid the Snake may be worse. The Dragon may be ineffable due to its unlimited potential, but it is the Yang version of potential, meaning it is the result of full manifestation, EXTREME YANG, and is therefore easier for us to understand in this Yang culture. As a culture, we get “doing,” but “being,” on the other hand, is a mystery. The Snake represents this Mystery—the Yin to the Dragon’s Yang.
Yin is manifestation, the condensation of everything into apparent form, which turns into Yang, the expression of form through movement and dynamism. As Yin expresses into Yang, it opens, expands, and rises to Heaven, becoming more and more transparent, heading back towards the un-manifest. Dragon Qi symbolizes the height of this expression and movement—all of manifestation integrated, directed, and flying free, Yin going all the way to Extreme Yang.
Yin-Yang Theory teaches that Yin and Yang turn into one another and that Extreme Yang gives way and turns into Extreme Yin, which is symbolized in the Chinese Zodiac by the Snake. The Snake is EXTREME YIN, the flipside of the Dragon. In the Dragon, the entire Zodiac is manifest and expressing. In the Snake, the entire Zodiac is in seed/potential form having been expressed fully and then having disappeared, leaving behind a complete, open, and transparent vacuity. Snake is the Emptiness, Potential, and Openness that hosts all Form. Snake Qi is the empty spoke in the center of the turning Wheel.
Pig Qi, which is where we began our exploration of the Zodiac, while similar, is Snake’s opposite. Pig Qi expresses Yin Water, the dissolution of everything at the end of the cycle. Snake is not a dissolution, for dissolution is a gradual process. Snake is not gradual. Snake is the sudden and extreme flip from Yang to Yin, sort of like the popping of a bubble, or a Snake striking its prey. Dragon Qi expands until…pop! This sudden flip from everything to nothing is said to represent Yin Fire, the native element of the Snake.
Even in the appearance of complete emptiness, total vacuity, there is Yang, a spark, an ember, a warmth pulsating, undulating in the Void. For all Emptiness is pregnant with unlimited potential. Emptiness is said to contain all potential. Every possibility is inherent in Emptiness; the entire universe resides in and emerges from space. In Tantra, Space is called the Inexhaustible Treasury. Everything comes from Space, yet Space is never altered, stained, harmed, or destroyed. It is Indestructible— “Vajra,” immaculate and pristine. Of all the Twelve Animals, Snake is said to be closest to this pristine, open, spacious quality of life. Snake, Yin Fire, is the warmth, the radiant nature of Life present in the Void.
Yin Fire also represents the nature of Snake Hour, from 9 am to 11 am—the time of day after the Sun has appeared and begins to slowly warm the Earth. Snake Hour is bright and transparent; it is the gap between the great manifestation of Sunrise (the Dragon) and the productivity of Midday (the Horse). Snake Hour is said to be a time of revelation, transparency, and reflection, where we process and gather ourselves before being productive. If you were born during this time of day, then you are part Snake.
Yin Fire is the slow smoldering transformation of a simmering fire, like a crock-pot as opposed to a BBQ. It is the catalytic force of alchemy and cooking—stimulating, energizing, yet still, pulsating, warming, consuming, mesmerizing; it is internal rather than external vigor. The Snake is a symbol of the Heart, the Shen, the still, warm beating center of things, awake and alive, yet passive/yin, for the Heart beats without effort.
The symbol of the Snake is immensely old and traces itself back to China’s “Shamanic” roots. The Snake symbol is universal, and its expression is similar across cultures. Unlike some cultures, the Chinese conception of the Snake is not evil or sinister—it is Yin. It represents the unknown/unknowable world, the subterranean, the submerged, the unconscious.
There is no “evil,” in the Chinese view of Life, but Yin does have a dark side, and the Snake can be a symbol of darkness. This darkness, however, is the basis for transformation. We cannot truly transform unless we consider all our dark places; we must turn up all the rocks and look at the creepy crawlies beneath the surface. Snake is what lies beneath the surface.
In this sense, the Snake is like the Rabbit, but taken to another level. The Rabbit is submerged in the unconscious subterranean world, but the Snake is that world; it sees through it unattached, where the Rabbit innocence is potentially lost in the static of the ethers. Snake Qi sees through the nature of appearances, and so Snake Characters are said to lead lives that are uniquely self-reflective and insightful. It is in the Character of Snake to reflect, to mirror, to question, and to peak behind the curtains.
The impulse of Snake Qi, Big Yin, is sinking, gathering, descending, internalizing, seeking stillness, silence. Like Snakes in the wild, Snake Qi seeks to be hidden, unseen, to blend in with the environment. Snake people, therefore, have a natural inclination to “disappear,” to hide, to renounce, to recede from the world by blending in with the surroundings. A Snake might look like a vine on the tree, so it is there, present in the world, but it is not the vine, not what it appears to be.
Snake Qi is by nature not what it appears to be; it is unknowable and ineffable. Big Yin defies all labels and definitions. Emptiness, by “definition,” is beyond conceptual elaboration, as the Buddhists say. As I mentioned in the last Blog, the Snake represents the inner open capacity at the heart of the Zodiac to become any of the other 11 Characters without being defined by them, while the Dragon actually is all 11 Characters embodied.
This unknowable quality is said to be the source of an unmatched charm. Snakes have the capacity to become anything and anybody without being attached, for they represent all potential. They have all the Capacity of all 11 Characters available, like the Dragon, but they are not defined by nor do they take pride in what they display. They are mystery even to themselves.
Their instinct is to hide, but they can hide in a crowded room, because they are inwardly unknowable. You can “know” a Snake for years and still not know who they are. And this is not deceptive, because they aren’t anybody (no one is really), and this is their power.
Snakes are a mystery, to themselves and to other people. They cannot be known. Remember this as I get into the Key Words. We may use words to describe Snake Qi, but Snakes are not these words. The Snake symbolizes the reality that no one is what they think they are, nor are we how others perceive us. We are all a mystery. You can never really know another person—not really. We are all symbols to each other.
In China, the Snake is the Sorcerer Philosopher and symbolizes the process of Alchemy and inner transformation, for the Snake sheds its skin. It is always in the process of becoming something else. They also represent what Liu Ming called “striking force,” like Muhammad Ali (a Snake), an aspect of the Fire Element, the ability to remain perfectly still and then strike, act, seemingly out of nowhere like a snake paralyzing its prey.
Social-political pundit John Oliver, a Fire Snake, the Natural Snake, is a great example of Snake Qi. On camera, he is charming and yet venomous; his ability to see through appearances to the reality of situations and then strike with deadly force is mesmerizing. Yet, if you watch interviews with him outside of his show, he appears to be a completely different person. He claims not to be a journalist, not to have political motivations; he completely embodies his role and is unattached; he is not what he appears to be, which is not to say he is deceptive. On camera, he becomes a role and then sheds his skin. The Snake succeeds when they have fooled everybody into thinking they’re a certain way yet secretly they remain unattached and beyond everything.
Bernie Sanders, a Metal Snake, is another great example of Snake Qi with his vision, wisdom, insight, and ability to see through social structure to the heart of things. He, too, displays the striking force, delivering political statements so penetrating and direct that he inspires millions. He is fully in the world yet not “of it.” He cares deeply but is unattached, which is why I think he has maintained his unrelenting integrity for so many years without losing heart.
The Key Terms for the Snake are, again, how they appear, but not actually how they are. You may know or be a Snake and not identify with these labels, and that’s fine. No person is truly their Character; it is merely a pattern, a tendency of our Qi to display. Snake Qi is symbolic of the idea that we can all transcend our limitations through detachment.
The first Key Term, then, is deeply reflective. In many ways, it is not easy to be a Snake. Snakes are natural mystics in a non-mystic world. Snake Qi can be called penetrating insight. Without trying, Snakes have the tendency to see through things, through the nature of appearance to essential qualities. Since Snake Qi is naturally open and empty, it is natural for Snakes to reflect on life and on their situation, for their Qi display is in direct contrast with what society tells us. With training, this can lead to insight. But if Snakes are told from an early age that the world is solid, that people are real, that situations are concrete, and that they must “be somebody,” then they will fake it and pretend, while internally they may experience deep depression, resentment, and even fear.
As it turns out, Reality can be frightening to glimpse. Imagine finding out that up and down are meaningless—this is called vertigo. My teacher calls this the “round world,” as opposed to the “square world.” In the round world, i.e. in Reality, we don’t have a leg to stand on; all concepts are relative, and nothing has any inherent meaning. If you do not grasp at solidity, then this realization liberates you, and emptiness becomes the source of much giggling. If you grasp, emptiness inspires terror, nihilism, and possibly suicidal tendencies. Snakes may feel that the world is meaningless, that everyone is a fake, that everything is make believe non-sense. And they may feel crazy because they see this and no one else does.
Depleted, Snake Qi can turn to paranoia. If they are not taught to trust their insight, their vision into what lies beneath the surface, they can get into trouble. Seeing signs, hearing voices—all very Snakey, like Rabbit Qi in this sense. The truth is that there are voices—the universe is full of psychic static, and people project their thoughts and emotions all over the place with little discretion. While Rabbits tend to feel the emotional, energetic, embodied quality of this static, Snakes tend to see into the more “psychic” mental dimension of things.
Snake Qi is transparent and clear, and Snakes are probably the most distant from the rich direct experience of the senses, embodied in Snake’s opposite, the Pig. Snakes can easily be disembodied and live in a flat mental world, which can turn to nihilism. They may mistrust the display of the world. On the other hand, this transparency offers insight.
If Snakes go with their insight, they become wise. The Snake is synonymous with wisdom. On the surface, this wisdom comes from a natural observant quality, which comes from the Snakes impulse to lie still, wait, and watch. Snakes tend to observe and attend very closely to details, which lends to profound intelligence. On a deeper level, Snake wisdom is both visionary and philosophical. In Buddhism, wisdom is identical to śūnyatā, emptiness; they are synonymous. Emptiness is another blog, but at the deepest level, Snake Qi represents this side of reality.
Snakes can be too smart for their own good, capable of immense calculation and planning. Of course, everyone can be intelligent, but Snake intelligence encapsulates the concept of genius. This kind of intelligence often goes hand and hand with depression. Snakes have the opposite of “ignorance is bliss.” Rather, Snake intelligence tends to obsess about how messed up the world is and about messed up they are themselves, leading to cynicism/skepticism, and very often depression. This depression does not need a cause, for Snake Qi is by nature depressed, sinking, and dark, energetically speaking. So, Snakes can appear moody and brooding.
The Snake tendency towards depression can turn to self-loathing, however, especially if their intelligence is not put to more creative outlets. Intelligence can easily turn to hatred either at the world or at themselves. When Snakes are not successful, when they do not find an outlet for their vision, they can turn bitter and negative, criticizing everything and everyone, picking apart their own faults as well.
Because of their visionary and creative qualities, Snakes make natural artists. Snakes want to leave the world behind. They want to follow their vision to the end and lose themselves beyond the horizon. They want to disappear. Snake Qi is a vision quest, a spirit journey into the unknown, the underworld. In their imagination, Snakes see through this world to others and realms beyond. They may even have tangible visions in their waking life.
So, Snakes can be a bit weird, although others may never know, for Snakes are the best at hiding. Snakes must find a way to express this weirdness, especially through art/creativity. The challenge for the Snake is to go out into the beyond and come back. They must bring their vision back to the ordinary world and share it with others. Snakes are often inventive innovators, and Snake years often produce breakthroughs in society. Without art, the Snake has no way of communicating Reality as they experience it, whether through painting or poetry or film, Snakes communicate the dreamlike nature of reality, such as Pablo Picasso or Edgar Allen Poe (both Snakes).
Snakes tend to be solitary and reclusive. All the Snakes I know, either by year or hour, tend to seek and enjoy time alone (of course everyone can), and some even dream of being hermits. Snakes take great pleasure when no one knows where they are or what they’re up to. Furthermore, they tend to be rather evasive, which is both positive and negative. The Snake tendency towards evasiveness can be a skill, knowing when to duck, avoid, and do nothing. To others, this evasive quality can appear distant, aloof, avoidant, and secretive. You’re never quite sure about them—think Snape from Harry Potter. Snake Qi is also very discrete, which again can appear both positive and negative.
Spiritually, it is a very good idea to be discrete, humble; showing off and making a big flap about yourself can create many challenges. Snakes tend towards the opposite; they tend to be quiet, never revealing their real experience to anyone, even when that experience is profound. Being discrete is the Snake form of camouflage, hiding in plain sight.
Since Snake Qi is Big Yin, and because its impulse is to disappear towards stillness and silence, Snakes are naturally calm, patient, and slow in their display. Chill is the word. Snake Qi is the opposite of scattered, and in its depleted state it can turn to laziness and lethargy. But in general, Snakes are relaxed and calm people; they have a big open capacity to host other people’s craziness. This calm nature can be called meditative. And many Snakes I know have a natural inclination towards meditation as an expression of their Qi, which also has an immense capacity for trance.
The Yin Fire nature of the Snake is also hypnotizing and trance inducing. Think Snake charmers. Snakes have an alluring charm because of their mysteriousness. People want to figure them out, and Snakes love this, because they love avoiding and evading people’s attempts to figure them out, to pin them down.
Snakes can play with this, and so they have a certain social capacity. They make great actors and can become anyone, like method acting. They can use this capacity for social advantage, which we call “Yin Power.” Yin Power is essentially manipulation, which is not inherently bad, although it can be used that way. It can be used for good too; like many Snake qualities, manipulation evades judgment…we’re just not sure about it.
Ming once told a story of a friend who learned to speak Chinese by simply becoming the teacher, imitating his mannerisms, dress, body language, and so on. Monkeys have this capacity too. Rather than learn the language, this person just became someone who already knew it—very Snakey.
Snakes can embody a social role for years, at work for example, even if it is not who they really are. They can work for years as a salesperson, and then one day become a carpenter. This changeability may sound bad, but not for Snakes necessarily, for they are unattached. Snakes can love and be fascinated by material things, and then sell everything they own without a second thought. Snake Qi loves to shed its skin, to change appearances, to transform, to drop attachments and move on. In the Chinese Tradition, the Snake, like the Rabbit, is associated with the practice of Inner Alchemy, refining our experience backward to Source.
The ability to become anything, take on any form, when depleted, can turn helpless. Depleted, Snakes can feel empty, without inner and outer resources, unable to manifest things in the world. The tendency to not take the “real world” seriously, can appear to others as lack of ambition, but Snakes don’t really have ordinary worldly ambition; their ambitions in life tend to reflect a deeper impulse, which is most often just to understand this strange world of appearances, this ephemeral dance we’re all born into; Snakes are perplexed as to why everyone takes the life game so seriously.
I mean why bother? Why bother constructing wealth and systems of value when everything falls apart? Of course, if a Fire Snake chooses to be successful, they can outdo everyone and make us all look like fools, but they would never believe in what they’re doing.
Hopefully this does not sound too negative. But negativity must be available in the cycle of time. We must remember that in the Chinese View, there is no real negativity/evil, but there is Yin. And all Yin Characters represent the necessity of darkness in the cycle of time. Darkness, depression, destruction, and so on, must be available in Time, otherwise everything would grind to a halt. Of course, not all Snakes are depressed, but they do represent that tendency.
The Snake symbol is rich and deep. In the collective imagination, Snakes conjure up primal, primordial, shamanic images, like Ouroboros, the Serpent eating its own tail. If you want to understand Snake Qi, simply look to these images, for they all speak the wisdom of the Snake.
I hope you enjoyed and were thoroughly confused by this exposition of Snake Qi! Stay tuned as Snake turns to Horse.
Chinese Astrology and culture has a long-standing love affair with the Dragon, the mystical culmination of the Celestial Zodiac. During Dragon years, everyone in China tries to get pregnant. In the Chinese mind, the promise of a male Dragon son represents a potential for greatness unmatched in the other signs. For the Dragon has always been a symbol of the Emperor and the power of Heaven.
(To the Western mind, the Chinese preference for male children is, of course, problematic. A Fire Dragon daughter born in a small fishing village would have been considered too much trouble and would have most likely been “given back to the ancestors,” i.e. thrown down a well, and many Chinese families today still choose to abort Horse, Dragon, and Tiger daughters, especially the rebellious Fire types, for they are considered disruptions to society.)
I have been looking forward to and dreading my exploration of Dragon Qi. I was born in a Metal Dragon hour, so I am half Dragon, for the year and the hour form the primary image of someone’s Qi Character/Signature. Therefore, I am excited to explore and share with you part of my own Character. Like the Tiger, studying the Dragon has been a great source of personal revelation, and I hope I can offer some of the insight gained from my self-reflection.
When I first began studying this tradition, I did not account for Daylight Savings (a bane of Astrologers) and thought I was born in Snake Hour. Eventually, it occurred to me that some weird rule made up by Germans during WWI about setting the clocks back an hour was probably irrelevant to the Immortal Currents of Fate, so I shifted my chart back an hour and had to reassess my Character and Fate. An argument can be made that whatever the government writes down is your fate, which is a very Chinese idea. But, I have now done many readings in which the chart adjusted for Daylight Savings is clearly more accurate, including my own, so I stick with the adjustment.
I had convinced myself that I was half Snake, and it took a lot of self-reflection to accept the Dragon. I have always been quiet, introverted, and gentle. The powerful dynamic image of the Metal Dragon did not seem to fit, especially with my primary Character, the Tiger, which is a potentially catastrophic combination, sort of like strapping a rocket (Dragon) into a slingshot (Tiger) like Wile E. Coyote. But after a thorough study of the Dragon, I have come to accept this side of myself and embrace it as part of my potential, and I will share my expression of Dragon Qi as we go. Although I may be reserved/reluctant in my expression, I am not in my energy, and that was the difference—I was confusing nature with nurture.
Since a young age, I have learned to repress/suppress my energy in many ways, and I misidentified my Qi because of this. I now work to unleash my Dragon nature, within reason, for I have a ridiculous Qi capacity that, quite frankly, scares me. The only famous person I have encounter so far with a similar combination is Che Guevara, an Earth Dragon born in Fire Dragon Month on a Wood Tiger Day in a Fire Tiger Hour, which is a bit scary. I have an Earth Dragon friend born in Tiger hour, and he and I are basically the same dude. Fearing my own nature, I have worked very hard since I was young to manage it, because I recognized right away that it was potentially destructive, but like Che Guevara, it is also revolutionary. When I am at my best, the Dragon comes out, and I love this side of myself and, in many ways, prefer it to the Tiger.
I dread discussing the Dragon because it cannot be defined. Whenever I do readings for Dragons or Snakes, I throw my hands up and say “?!” As the mystical Yin-Yang culmination at the center of the Zodiac, the Dragon and Snake are defined by being ineffable, characterized by their unknowable quality, but in different ways. The Snake is Big Yin, emptiness, and the Dragon is Big Yang, fullness. The Snake represents the inner open capacity to become any of the other 11 without being them, but the Dragon actually is all 11 Characters embodied.
The symbol of the Dragon, then, is a synthesis. If you look at depictions of the Chinese Dragon you will see that it is a composite of every animal. According to tradition, it is said to have the whiskers of the Rat, the face and horns of the Ox, the claws and teeth of the Tiger, the belly of the Rabbit, the body of the Snake, the legs of the Horse, the goatee of the Goat, the wit (or brain) of the Monkey, the crest of the Rooster, the ears of the Dog, and the snout of the Pig.
The Dragon is the only animal of the 12 capable of flight, an important part of the symbol, and yet it is rarely depicted with wings, for its ability to fly is super natural. It is the only supernatural animal in the group, and people question its existence.
But the Chinese never questioned the existence of Dragons because everyone knew they were controlling the weather and water. Dragons were thought to be behind the clouds, causing storms, floods, and rain. If you could ride to the source of a great storm or flood, then maybe you could see one and earn the title “Dragon.”
The synthesis of all 11 into the supernatural Dragon represents infinite potential, which is the first and most important thing we can say about Dragons. Dragon Qi is said to have the qualities, capacities, and skills of all 11 and the power to express all or none of them if they choose, sort of like the 9 on the enneagram. The Dragon can choose to deny its potential, which is why Dragons need a path. Their infinite potential is meaningless to the Chinese unless it is turned away from selfishness and towards self-reflection, dedicated to the benefit of others.
Ming used to say that each Character is like a tool box with a specific set of tools/skills, but the Dragon tool box just has a Dragon in it. In other words, we don’t know what Dragons are for. They are a paradox outside the paradigm, and often they are an enigma to their friends and family. The Snake is an enigma even to themselves, but Dragons, while mysterious, are often very self-confident and assured, which is part of what baffles people about them.
Historically, the Dragon is a symbol of the Emperor and the Rising Sun to the East, the ruling power of Heaven from an unknown mystical origin. Because of their potential, Dragons were considered great leaders, capable of the biggest most inclusive view with the most compassion. So, it is easy to understand why the Chinese revere the Dragon and the Emperor.
There is a mountain of lore around the Dragon symbol, but let’s get into the Character. I will do my best to make this specific, but again, Dragons may be all or none of this, and the uncultivated Dragon may be a mess of everything all at once, unable to make sense of themselves.
The Dragon’s native element is Yang Earth, which is also shared by Dragon’s opposite, the Dog. They each express the virtues of Yang Earth in different ways. For the Dragon, Yang Earth represents flight—the ability to break away from the Earth, symbolizing the Dragon’s capacity to see and travel beyond. The Dog represents territory and the ability to intuit, cover, and protect the terrain.
Yang Earth represents manifestation, confidence, alliance, leadership, wealth, abundance, balance, caring, and power—yang expressions as opposed to the Yin aspects of Earth (nourishing, mothering, stabilizing, supporting, etc.) By nature, the Dragon has these capacities, but often has difficulty expressing them without training. And of course, each Elemental Dragon has their own challenges.
Dragons can have a difficult time expressing their greatness in a mature and grounded way because of the expansive nature of Dragon Qi. If there is one thing we can say about Dragon Qi—it is big, sometimes too big. Dragon Qi is pervasive and expansive. It is Big Yang exploding out into heaven, into the sky, seeking to fly beyond and above all boundaries. In myself, I feel this as an outward expanding “bigness,” hard to put into words. This bigness, in my view, is what tends to give Dragons characteristics we can talk about, which they otherwise transcend.
The transcendent quality of the Dragon makes them natural mystics, and often people with Dragon Qi are interested in spiritual occult traditions, especially those with extraordinary cosmologies. The way Dragons experience themselves and the universe is just too big for ordinary views. To me, Bruce Lee was the quintessential Dragon (Metal Dragon born in Earth Dragon Hour), and his life was a demonstration of the mystical power of Dragon Qi.
Dragons see through and beyond ordinary appearances like the Snake, but unlike the Snake, their powerful expansive Qi pushes them towards action. Dragons want to go beyond and actualize their potential, and they can go further than any other sign. If a Dragon chooses to leave the world, they will never be seen again; if they choose to embrace the world, they go into it deeply and lose themselves in the service of greatness.
So now we get into key words. And like last time, I am going to discuss the key words in charged/depleted pairs. Remember, each positive virtue of a Character has a flipside when we become depleted.
The first is strong or powerful. The Yang Earth Character of the Dragon has a strength unmatched by any of the other 11 Characters. Dragon strength is different than say Ox or Horse strength. Ox strength represents the capacity to carry, maintain, and endure, and horse strength represents the power to manifest, work, and accomplish, but Dragon strength is not related to any specific capacity and is better represented by the power of a great storm, the strength of nature unleashed. We marvel at the strength of nature, and we respect and fear its destructive side. The power of water, when harvested by a dam, can generate immense energy, yet uncontrolled, a tidal wave can demolish a town. We do not consider tidal waves evil, yet we mourn and fear nature’s destruction. In the same way, Dragon strength is immense, raw, wild and can be destructive, but like the dam it can be harnessed for good.
This strength, the explosive Yang, can turn to profound compulsiveness. Dragon Qi can be overwhelming, and Dragons can be a handful, bundles of energy that need channels in which to flow lest they flow everywhere. Like Tiger Qi, Dragon Qi has an explosive outward moving quality, symbolized by flight, that can propel Dragons toward uncontrolled action and reaction. This compulsive strength can be physical, mental, or emotional and can manifest as patterns of unruly behavior or speech, speaking freely and challenging everyone and every idea as a demonstration of power, especially Fire Dragons. In general, Dragons need an outlet where they can demonstrate their strength otherwise they will destroy themselves.
The strength of the Dragon feels very natural and becomes a kind of confidence, not necessarily social confidence but self-assuredness and confidence in view. Dragons know they’re right. Other Characters have this too, Roosters for example, but the Rooster arrives at confidence through analysis. The Dragon does no analysis; we’re born assured and cannot be convinced otherwise. I may whine and complain, but I know why I was born and the world just doesn’t fit into my plan; since I was born I have had a big grandiose vision. The problem is that nothing can live up to the Dragon’s vision, so it is hard for us to come back down to Earth. Dragons feel like they’re the rulers of the universe, masters of destiny, the most capable, the smartest, the best, and so on.
With training, we can be, but often, this self-assured confidence is over-confident and all talk, what we call “delusions of grandeur.” So, Dragons are often very selfish and “egotistical” in the ordinary sense. Dragons often feel like royalty, like everything should be given to them, like they’re already awesome and should be rewarded justly. We may even have low self-esteem, but that’s because people just don’t get how awesome we are, so it’s their fault not ours, or so we think. We can be attention hungry and expect others to acknowledge us regardless of what we do.
The Dragon can be so confident in their abilities that they never actually work to do anything. Often, we need big reality checks, to “eat humble pie,” and we need to put in the time and effort to master something. And when we do, this natural confidence in our abilities can be actualized and taken to great heights like Bruce Lee.
Dragons, therefore, possess a natural charisma. Something about their power, confidence, and ineffability becomes enigmatic and impressive to others. To me, Patrick Steward, Captain Jean-Luc Picard, a Metal Dragon and fantastic Shakespearean actor, is a great example of the Dragon charisma. He exudes a natural confidence.
Dragons are a mystery to others and defy labels. At their best, Dragons love showmanship and can be flamboyant and outgoing. I have never been outgoing in an extroverted sense, but when I am “unleashed,” put into a situation where I can demonstrate my abilities, I can be very charismatic and authoritative. Dragons often have big personalities, even if that personality is introverted.
The outgoing nature of the Dragon is based on a kind of ambition and adventurous spirit. Grand is the only scale Dragons work with. We have a big, broad, expansive, and inclusive vision, the capacity to see a panoramic picture. Philosophically, the Dragon has a view/insight no other Character is capable of and can fly out beyond the clouds. Dragons seek grand Peter Pan style adventure. Small goals and narrow ideas seem insignificant, unimportant—why bother?
Dragons have a tremendous capacity for fantasy and envision themselves to be great magnanimous beings; we take the whole “I want to grow up to be an astronaut” to ridiculous proportions. We may live in a fantasy world in which we are invincible and infallible. I have only ever been interested in big lofty spiritual goals and, sorry, nothing in this world can live up to my aspiration to be liberated for the benefit of all beings. A personal vision may not necessarily be defined, but Dragons feel destined for greatness. Living in the clouds, fantasizing of greatness, Dragons can appear aloof and distant, difficult for others to connect with.
On the flipside, we are unrealistic. Nothing can live up to the Dragon’s scale. It is hard for Dragons to sweat the small stuff, to pay attention to details. Dragons are a telescope looking out to the stars, not a microscope. We can be unrealistic with everything—our own abilities, our plans, our expectations of others.
Dragons are also dramatic. We can make a big deal out of small things because big is how we roll. When things don’t go our way, and when things fall short of expectations, Dragons are sarcastic drama queens. The feeling of bigness, too, can lead to being insensitive, blunt, and unconcerned with people’s feelings, except for our own, of which we “make mountains of mole hills.”
The power and self-assuredness of the Dragon can be assertive, willful, confident, dedicated, and demanding. Dragons demand the best from themselves and from others and tend to assert and insist upon their opinion, which is both a virtue and a challenge. To be a leader, one must be assertive and able to make decisions, and the Dragon is the most skillful leader and should not be put in subordinate positions. They thrive in leadership roles, but without feet on the ground, they can fly over the little guy. Once the Dragon has developed their heart, their assertive willfulness can accomplish greatness for better or worse, like Che Guevara.
If turned toward the spiritual path, this capacity to assert will power, to connect to the Yang expression of Heaven, can be unparalleled. A great example of this is the late teacher and Earth Dragon Swami Rudrananda, otherwise known as Rudi. His book, Spiritual Cannibalism, is a fantastic exposition of Dragon Qi applied to the spiritual path. Rudi had titanic willpower and dedication, and he taught people to essentially “eat” and be nourished by everything as energy, to become what Tantra calls a viśvaboghi, a digester of the universe. Unfortunately, not many people possess Rudi’s willpower and fall short of his example (this includes most of his students teaching today). Not everyone can live up to the Dragon’s vision, but he was inspiring nonetheless.
The final positive virtue I will offer of the Dragon is generosity. It may sound like Dragons have a lot of potentially challenging qualities, but we must remember that they have unlimited potential. The Dragon can display all virtues to the grandest scale. Dragon Qi is big and overflows all boundaries, which naturally turns to generosity. The flipside we discussed is selfishness, but the Dragon can give and demonstrate tremendous sacrifice for others. Of any sign, the Dragon is the most likely to die for others or for a cause.
I must reiterate again that Dragon Qi is a paradox that cannot be defined other than to say it is unlimited Yang creative potential. The qualities I have discussed are merely an attempt to discuss what happens when Dragon Qi is confined in human Character. Dragons can be anything or nothing if they choose, and they represent a culmination of the Zodiac, everything rolled into one, exploding out.
My Mantic Arts teacher, Liu Ming, wrote a book on the stages of human spiritual development called Dragon’s Play. In the book, the Dragon represents the twelfth and final stage of human life, the greatest expression of Yang Qi and human potential—the Rainbow Light Body, Ja lü in Tibetan, Prakāśakāya/Tejokāya in Sanskrit, and Hóngshēn in Chinese. In Daoist and Tantric cultivation, a practitioner of the Way is said to draw all of creation into their heart or navel creating a “cosmic egg/immortal fetus,” an expression of ultimate Yin, the return to Source. The result of Ultimate Yin turns to Ultimate Yang, which is the Dragon, ultimate freedom bursting from the Egg, light flowing freely and consciously into all dimensions, consciously becoming the Universe, which other people witness as a display of Light. The Dragon is the primordial gesture of the Dao itself, the demonstration of Source Qi’s power to become everything, which all humans are destined for.
This may sound fantastic, but of course, everyone, every Character has this potential too; it is not limited to Dragons. Dragons are just a symbol of our unlimited potential. Dragon Characters need a path otherwise this potential is meaningless. Above all, Dragons need training; we need a path, but we must never be controlled. Dragons must be left alone to follow their own way, or they will eat you.
Dragons, like Rabbits, exemplify the relationship between Character and Fate. An Earth Dragon born in the ghetto with no opportunity to demonstrate their leadership capacity might become a gang leader, go to prison, and be king inmate. A Dragon born without major obstacles and challenges will most like destroy themselves; their strength demands "big" Fate.
The Five Dragons each demonstrate a different flavor of Dragon Qi, the Wood Dragon (Laughing Dragon) being the most creative and light hearted, the Fire Dragon (Sky Dragon) the most challenging and explosive, the Earth Dragon (Yielding Dragon) the most grounded and regal, the Metal Dragon (Angry Dragon) the most powerful and articulate, and the Water Dragon (Rain Dragon) the most nurturing and mystical.
I hope you enjoyed this exposition of Dragon Qi. Stay tuned as I attempt to discuss the other ineffable Character, the mystical Snake, Big Yin, the sorcerer philosopher.
Hello Astrology Fans! I have finished a month long retreat/training in Traditional Kuṇḍalinī-Hatha Yoga, which I am excited to share, and I am sitting here in a café in Chiang Mai, Thailand, also excited to continue my Blog. I apologize for the long silence, but such is the nature of retreat. When last we left off, I explored the Character of Tiger Qi, which is my own Character. As promised, we now move forward as Tiger changes to Rabbit.
Like the Ox, I feel close to Rabbit Qi, for so many of my friends were born in the Lunar Year of 1987, the Year of the Fire Rabbit.
Rabbit Qi opens us into a dimension of experience we have not yet explored, a dimension unique among the 12 Animals—what we can call “intuition.”
When studying the cycle of 12, we must remember that each Animal transforms into the next in a meaningful, although non-linear, way. The cycle is a whirlwind, centripetal and centrifugal, a tornado of energy, which flows in a kind of lopsided pattern.
If the Ox represents strength, tolerance, and continuity, and the Tiger represents an escape from continuity, through rebellion, creativity, and change, then the Rabbit represents the result of the Tiger’s impulsive revolutionary bluster, which is a kind of raw, open, vulnerable sensitivity, represented by the Rabbit’s native element—Yin Wood.
Yin Wood is innocence, spontaneity, flexibility, renewal, humility, gentleness, sensitivity, subordination, and potentiality. While Yang Wood represents a naïve impulsive force to come into being, Yin Wood demonstrates the outcome of that force, which is exposed, raw, tender, but with great creative potential, like a sprout emerging from the earth, ready to grow into a mighty oak. The Tiger represents the brave and daring impulse of the sprout to arise at all into the danger of the world, and the Rabbit is the tender shoot needing protection and nurturing to thrive.
The Tiger represents a necessary rebellion against stagnation, and the insight of the Rabbit understands that rules (Ox) must have intuition if they are to be free of stagnation. Revolution cannot be sustained (hence the Tiger’s struggle) and should end with a refreshed look at things, and we call this the Rabbit.
The Rabbit sees into and understands the Tiger’s rebellion with a kind of empathy that is beyond the Tiger’s grasp, which is why it is the natural outcome of Tiger Qi. The mystical state (Tiger) needs heart (Rabbit). When this succeeds, the outcome is the Dragon, which is unlimited potential.
In the Chinese View, the qualities of the Rabbit are best described by the term “Lunar,” and the history of the Rabbit as a symbol comes from the Moon. The Chinese call the Moon Tai Yin, which just means Great Yin, so Rabbits are obviously very Yin. When the Chinese look at the Moon, they see a Rabbit. Americans see cheese, or something, but the Chinese see a Rabbit. In other words, Rabbits are lunar creatures; they come from the moon and are seen as manifestations of moonlight.
Rabbits were, therefore, revered, and it was considered very bad luck to harm or eat them. It is surprising how rarely they were eaten, since the ancient Chinese ate nearly everything else. This says something very important about the Rabbit—that they should be protected and revered for what they offer. Daoist alchemists saw the Rabbit as being/producing an elixir of longevity, a nectar from the bardo of night turning to day, from mist and moonlight. The Rabbit, therefore, became of symbol of the inner world, or Nei, associated with Nei Dan or Nei Gong, the practices of Internal Alchemy.
The Rabbit rules the dawn, from 5 am to 7 am, and these Lunar creatures are most active during this crepuscular hour. To understand Rabbit Qi, simply take a walk in the woods at 6 am. The energy is gentle, vibrant, soft, and transparent. For the dawn is a time of transition. Light emerges, and we awake, emerging from the subconscious, and dreams cross into our waking reality.
The lunar image of the Rabbit represents their strong need to escape the light of day, their fear of confrontation, a symbol of the delicate, sensitive, and vulnerable nature of Rabbit Qi. And while this may sound “weak” to some, the Chinese Tradition insists that weakness is very important. Some Characters are strong; some are weak, and each contributes something very important to society.
Traditional Chinese Medicine diverged from Roman Medicine based on this very principal. Around the turn of the Common Era, the main form of medicine around the world was bleeding, which was a very strong treatment that often killed the weak. Romans responded by saying, “good; the weak are unworthy Roman citizens.” The Chinese, on the other hand, said, “wait; perhaps weak people are sensitive and have something to offer society that strong people overlook.” So the bleeding needles became smaller; the treatments became weaker, and according to some, acupuncture developed as a natural outcome of earlier more forceful bleeding treatments.
(Side note—at the turn of the Common Era, the Chinese were already well aware of circulation, whereas the Romans had special chairs that leaned to tip your blood out; the West did not discover circulation until quite recently by comparison. In my opinion, our medicine is still very Roman.)
The instinct to preserve sensitive people is a Rabbit instinct, and Chinese Medicine is “sensitive” or weak medicine and proud of it. Western Medicine is “strong,” and sees nothing strange about hack-sawing people’s sternums open and pulling their lungs out. Nor do they see anything wrong with poisoning people as the main form of treatment (pharmaceuticals). In my eyes, the Rabbit is a symbol of Chinese Medicine, for it represents the sensitive, intuitive, and gentle approach to life.
Energetically, the Rabbit is submerged in the “subconscious” stream flowing beneath everything, a mumbling dialogue our energy has with itself, a constant flow of imagination, and a smooth flow of emotional response going on all the time. Rabbits are like an exposed wire, picking up on signals invisible to the rest of us. This raw exposed quality has many interesting manifestations in terms of Character, but before we discuss these in key terms, we must look deeper into the symbol of the actual animal itself—think bunnies.
The Rabbit or Hare is very small and soft, and they’re not predators capable of defending themselves, so they hide, a symbol of their fragility and paranoia. They are the prey, and anything can come to eat them. They often live in burrows or bushes, a symbol of being beneath, hidden, submerged in the subconscious stream, protected from the light. The burrow also represents the Rabbit’s “nesting instinct,” which manifests in their need for safety and security. They have big sensitive ears, like satellites picking up on frequencies all around them. They live in communal families (Water Ship Down anyone?), a symbol of their social nature and of the importance of relationships to Rabbit Qi. Finally, despite their delicate appearance, they have powerful hind legs and are capable of being absolutely vicious if back into a corner. All of these symbols will become clear as we go through the key terms.
That being said, in order to understand the Rabbit, we must understand its social instinct, which we call “dependent.” Above all, Rabbit Qi is vulnerable yet profound in its intuitive capacity, so Rabbits seek safety, protection, alliance, and stability in the form of “home.” When the Rabbit feels safe, secure, and has a tribe/circle of close friends, or a strong protector/partner, or they own their own home, then they shine; they become the Dragon—powerful and dynamic leaders with insight and heart, capable and successful. If Rabbits have strong sibling or parental guardians, they can learn their power early in life. If they are hurt or alone they close off, put up armor, and their intuitive gifts are often repressed and come out as defensive and vicious.
Not only do Rabbits need good protection as children, but they need an environment that nurtures their intuition. A Rabbit child may be sitting in math class and start channeling spirits from the hills behind the school, drawn to go outside or sing or paint. Instead, they get told to shut up, sit still, and listen. They then internalize and go into their own world, unable to cope with math class. Distracted, they get a D and get told they're stupid. If this happens enough, a Rabbit can close off and not recover their intuition until much later in life if ever.
So the first key term is gentle. The gentle quality of Rabbit people is not always apparent, especially with Fire Rabbits, and this has a lot to do with their childhoods, family circumstances, and current relationships. In their nature though, Rabbits are sweet, kind, nice, and peace loving. Most Rabbits I meet, or people born in Rabbit Hour, have a good natured sweetness to them that I find immediately apparent, but sometimes this sweetness is lying under the surface and comes out only after they trust you.
Conversely, at their worst, Rabbits turn vicious. Energetically, they are like bunnies, so people think they can do anything they want to them or in front of them. They are more often than not the victims of trauma and abuse. Because of their sweet and timid nature, Rabbits can remain frozen, scared, and take abuse for a long time until it becomes intolerable, in which case they often lash out and end their abuse/suffering in vicious and violent ways. I often say, hell hath no fury like a Rabbit scorned. Ming used to say, “Watch out for those hind legs!” When they’re hurt, Rabbits have a potential for darkness far beyond the other signs.
Rabbits are usually quiet by nature, for they are always listening and can’t help it, which is symbolized by the big ears. Rabbits feel at home being hidden, quiet, listening to the ethers. Ming was once interpreting for a Tibetan Lama when a student came back from retreat. The Lama asked, “How was your meditation?” The student replied, “It was amazing; by the second month, my mind was so quiet, I could hear the thinking of the people in the town below me!” This is a very Rabbit response…now I can hear everyone!
On the flipside, being quiet and humble by nature can turn to being a gossipy chatterbox. Rabbits can have a profound capacity for talking, which comes from being slightly nervous all the time. Relaxed and in their power, Rabbits feel no need to speak and are natural listeners, but when out of their element and vulnerable, they tend to speak uncontrollably, trying to get a handle on the situation. I recently met a 5 year old Metal Rabbit, who although sweet as could be, was so skittish and nervous that he never stopped asking questions, as if trying to understanding everything and pin down his environment. Furthermore, since Rabbits are socially dependent in nature, they can use speech and gossip as a tool for manipulation, talking people up and down in order to gain advantage. Rabbits hate confrontation of all kinds, but when back into a corner, they can retaliate with the nastiest most hurtful vitriol you have ever heard.
The positive flipside of this, then, is that Rabbits can be incredibly sweet, supportive, and loving. Rabbits, by nature, are supportive and caring friends, partners, lovers, and parents. The Rabbit is perhaps the most “domestic” of the 12 Animals. Rabbit Qi seeks to nest, to nurture, and to create a loving and supportive environment in which they and others can thrive. I can’t tell you how many Rabbits I know who have become kindergarten/elementary school teachers.
From birth, Rabbits possess a strong social drive to create family and friendship, to bond with others and create tribe/clan, and to belong to and feel part of a group or community. In their hearts, they are not loners, although when in pain they can hide from the world as not to be seen or hurt again. When Rabbits find their home, their tribe, they thrive and become great leaders or successful entrepreneurs. Empowered, Rabbits are among the most authoritative and confident of the 12 Animals, which is how Rabbit turns to Dragon.
Early in life Rabbits often seek a stable base to get “security” taken care of. They can often appear very independent to others, but as soon as they have a protector, a guardian, a home base, something to rely on, they lose their independent nature and become dependent so they can let their other gifts, which need support, come forward. To others, the Rabbit can appear deceptive and lazy, but this is a very lopsided “American” understanding—that everyone needs to be a rugged independent individual. Rabbits yearn to let go of their independence to merge with family, friends, lovers, and so on, in order to offer their big squishy hearts. Others often become dependent on them for nurturing and emotional support, which is part of the Rabbit gift.
Rabbits have a powerful even mystical connection to objects, especially those related to the home—furniture, clothing, cookware, and so on. They love to “feather their nests” and often collect material possessions. They derive nourishment from things/stuff. A Rabbit will make home wherever they go. Travelling, they may bring their power objects and set up a cozy warm environment in a hotel room for the night (Pigs do this too).
This connection with objects is related to the Rabbit’s heightened sense of aesthetics. Rabbits are creative designers with a natural sense of Feng Shui, the auspice of placement. This aesthetic sensibility lends to a deep appreciate into the nature of beauty, which offers artistic depth to the Rabbit sweetness.
Rabbits are naturally intuitive and empathetic. We can also call this subliminal or subconscious. Rabbits are like a radar dish; internally they are open receivers. Rabbits can walk into a room and can immediately feel everything going on. They can sense everyone’s mood, their body language; they intuitively perceive all the unconscious signals people put out through their “energy.” A Rabbit might actually see your Aura.
Obviously, this has positive and negative consequences. Positively speaking, Rabbits have an unusual capacity to feel, to empathize, and their intuition, when properly trained, gives them tremendous emotional intelligence and insight into others/the world.
On the other hand, it is very easy to mistake intuition for wisdom—they are not the same thing. There is a lot of “static” in the universe, most of which is just psychic garbage floating around. The subconscious ethers, the invisible world of ghosts and spirits, the hum of negative habitual emotional facilitation that people emit all the time without knowing it—Rabbits feel all of this more than the other signs. If their vulnerability is exposed to too many influences, their intuition can go haywire from too much “noise.”
Rabbits cannot shut down their intuition. They really should not live in cities, places where there is too much activity, data, noise, pollution, people, and so on. If the apartment building they live in has too much thinking, they can go crazy and not know why. This sensitivity is often embodied, which can lead to all kinds of allergies. They can be affected by minute changes in the weather. In general, they should live somewhere dull.
It may seem unusual to channel a nature spirit, but actually it isn’t. A Rabbit may easily go into a trance and channel a nature spirit, and others may think this is profound, and Rabbits may think so too. But anyone who has seen into the spirit world can tell you that it is absolutely full of useless, dumb, confused, greedy, and hungry spirits milling around all over the place that will appear as anything in order to feed on your Kidney Qi. It may seem “special” to be a trance medium, but actually, you’re just lunch. It is, of course, possible to be a wise medium, but this takes a lot of training, which is the purpose of Daoism. Daoism is basically ritual training to manage the spirit world. Rabbits are natural Daoists, and should receive this training early on, so they don’t become lunch.
Practically speaking, Rabbits are often lunch for other people. Just like most disembodied spirits are looking to feed on others, so are most people who are not self-possessed. Rabbits are easy prey to aggressive people looking to dominate and feed on others. Because Rabbits want to merge and depend, they easily attach to the wrong people. Relationships of all kinds are crucial for the Rabbit. They need training to be self-possessed, and they need to be very careful about who they choose to let in. If a healthy Rabbit lets you into to their world, you should feel blessed, because they are the greatest support.
The receptivity of the Rabbit makes them the most susceptible to paranoia, schizophrenia, anxiety, nervous disorders, and so on. Rabbits can be scattered, twitchy, and they can constantly feel threatened. Rabbits need training in their emotional intelligence from an early age, otherwise they can become “weird,” even crazy. In traditional terms, they are the most susceptible to possession, for they hear the voices of the Ancestors, and can perceive ghosts/demons more than other signs, especially as children. If they have good training, they make amazing counselors, teachers, guides, social workers, and they love serving and supporting others.
The Rabbit’s health and well being has everything to do with how they handle their emotional facilitation. An uneven flow of emotion is the ground of all their illness and compromises their immune system. If they undergo surgery, for example, and the nurse says something terrible before they go under, there will be complications in the surgery. If they feel that the surgeon “understands them,” the surgery will go perfectly no matter what happens. It is important to understand that Rabbits do not “think” this way; it is the nature of their Qi. They’re vulnerable.
Rabbits possess an amazing social charm; they can be incredibly seductive and sexy, mesmerizing and alluring, and they can appear as a kind of “prize” to others wanting to “catch” them. This skill comes from their social instinct, and at their best, Rabbits bring out the best in others, bringing people together and inspiring them. At their worst, this social skill is opportunistic, and they use their charm to gain advantage over others socially.
They can manipulate and control others, especially with their sexuality. Rabbits are by nature one of the most sexual signs (Rabbits can reproduce like crazy in the wild), and they can use their sexual power as a tool of leverage over others as another way to gain security. The need to be safe, if driven unconsciously by fear, can turn Rabbits into superficial snobs who will do anything just to secure a partner or good social standing.
Rabbits are by nature full of love; they are diverse and accepting of everyone. They are unique in their emotional intelligence and empathy. And their intuition is a beautiful gift. Anyone born during Rabbit Hour as well has this capacity.
Rabbits also teach us a lot about the central relationship between Character and Fate in Chinese Astrology. Rabbits have amazing potential, and yet they’re delicate and have no built in “muscle,” so their blooming in life is very dependent upon the circumstances of Fate. If a Rabbit has good fated relationships with partners, family, and Feng Shui, then they bloom. If their relationships are haunted, then they tend to be held back and can become very self destructive. If Rabbits are hurt or feel unsafe, they will do anything including take their own life. Rabbits have the potential to go darker than any other sign, which most people do not want to talk about, but I will say it again: hell hath no fury like a Rabbit scorned. So Fate for Rabbits is very important. Rabbits also bloom when they have modest or gentle fate. A Rabbit born with big Fate to be president is most certainly an affliction.
Free of Fate, Rabbits can most certainly go into the category of mystic and have a tremendous capacity for self-cultivation.
In terms of the Five Rabbits, Wood Rabbits are the most natural and the most vulnerable, probably the sweetest and most sensitive of all 60 signs. Fire Rabbits are the most independent, stubborn, and angsty—the teenage Rabbit. Earth/Metal Rabbits are the most mature, secure, and stable, the least Rabbity Rabbits. And the Water Rabbits are beyond profound, mystical, yet they are perhaps the most troubled and paranoid.
Hopefully, this gives you a window into the depth of Rabbit Qi, the stream beneath appearances. Stay tuned, as Rabbit turns to Dragon, the mystical synthesis of the Zodiac.
I have read a number of popular books on the Chinese Zodiac, and I can usually tell the Character of the author. However, I have never read an author who admits their Character upfront, which is strange to me. Personal Astrology is usually considered private, and people are often discrete when discussing it in traditional cultures, but not usually among family and friends, for it is considered an essential guide to relating. Most writing on the Chinese Zodiac is, to me, impersonal, and descriptions are usually lopsided. Writers often exalt or diminish certain animals based on their personal Character’s bias.
Personally, I see Astrology as a tool for self-reflection. Any consideration of Astrology begins with the study your own Character and Fate. I can only understand the 12 Animals through my primary Character—the Yang Fire Tiger, and I display this Character until death; it is my capacity to resolve Fate/Karma.
The Tiger relates differently with each animal. In other words, no description of the 12 Animals can be fair or equal, for they do not relate equally. The 12 Animals are patterns of Qi, and some match like a Phillips Head Screw and Screwdriver. Others may relate to one another like dialing a cell phone with a sledge hammer, or as the saying goes—like a square peg in a round hole. So I am up front about my Astrology; I have even published my birth time. To a Monkey (Tiger’s opposite), my way of life may seem like a sledge hammer.
I am a Fire Tiger. Therefore, this exploration of Tiger Qi will be fundamentally different than my other expositions, because this one I know from the inside out. And remember, the Year is primary in a person’s Qi Character. I cannot help that this is personal, perhaps even emotional, for understanding the Tiger has been a tremendous source of personal revelation. I imagine that other Tigers will resonate with this, but perhaps not. Hopefully, my personal experience does not get in the way too much.
Although the Chinese love the Tiger, it is in many ways the antithesis of China. It therefore holds a special place in Chinese Cosmology. For the Chinese always welcome chaos because no healthy society can function without destruction and renewal.
In my last blog on the Ox, I mention that the Ox is a symbol of China, and the Tiger is a rebellion against everything the Ox stands for, energetically speaking. In the Cycle of Time, Ox Qi transforms into Tiger Qi. If Ox represents the stability, continuity, tradition, and consistency of Yin Earth, the Tiger, whose nature is Yang Wood, represents a forceful breaking away from all these qualities, for Wood eats/destroys/controls Earth in the Five Element Cycle.
In order to understand Tiger Qi, we must understand its Native Element—Yang Wood. Yang Wood is the first element in the cycle, which is why the Tiger Moon coincides with the Chinese New Year and the first day of Spring.
Yang Wood is the fresh, dynamic, naive, innocent, pliant, new, unformed, spontaneous, impulsive, and forceful arising of movement from complete stillness. Yang Wood is invisible, pure; it represents birth, initiation, renewal, potentiality, creativity, and adaptation. Force arising from stillness—this is the Tiger. Imagine a cat, still and unmoving, pouncing on their pray.
Like all the Animal Characters, the Tiger has many layers, both historic and symbolic. These symbols hold the key to understanding each animal, in this case the Tiger, as a pattern of Qi in the Cycle of Time.
Historically, the Tiger is the most successful predator of humans, and conversely, humans are the only successful predator of Tigers. At one point, there were millions of Tigers in Asia. Many of the earliest recorded human remains were found with the bones of Tigers, which has puzzled archaeologists for years. They’re not sure who killed whom.
In the Han Dynasty, the number one cause of death among peasants listed in medical records (besides war) was Tigers. They roamed freely and would wander into villages at whim, eating anything that came in their path. In short, Tigers disrupted orderly society (as do Tiger People), which is why they’re the antithesis of China.
The Han Government waged war on Tigers, and in less than a century they murdered over 3 million of them. This trend continued, which is why the Tiger came close to extinction in Asia but has since been coming back.
Famous Generals were depicted wearing Tiger skins as a symbol of their fearlessness in battle. Killing a Tiger earned you the title “Tiger.” The Chinese character for Tiger depicts a bow drawn and about to fire, implying a long history of hunting Tigers.
We can call the early religion of China “Animistic Shamanism,” which later became Daoism. Rural and tribal religion was officiated by Shaman Priests who were great arbiters of the Spirit World. Today they are known as “Red Hat Daoists.” “Black Hat Daoists” are the Orthodox Priests who uphold the more official lineages.
Alive, Tigers presented great threat, but dead they were considered the most powerful spirit protector. Part of the war on Tigers, then, was to “put them on the other side,” so to speak. After the systematic murder of Tigers, Shaman priests would work to command Tiger Spirits. Zhang Dao-Ling, the founder of Orthodox Daoism, is depicted riding a Tiger, symbolizing his command of the Spirit World.
This trend is also found in Tantra, for Tigers were just as common in India, and great Tantric Masters and Deities are often depicted sitting on Tiger skins, wearing Tiger shawls, using Tigers as pillows, and so on. This symbolizes that a practitioner has conquered their fear and impulsiveness. Tiger Qi is considered the Wisdom of Fearlessness and the Victory over Danger.
Still to this day, it is common in China to write the Chinese symbol for Tiger on doors or amulets in order to ward off fire, theft, illness, and possession. The Tiger is a symbol of exorcism, dispossession, power, and warriorship. In many Martial Art traditions the Tiger is depicted with the Dragon in a Yin-Yang Symbol. Tigers (such as myself) born in Dragon Hour are considered to have adept potential to be Shaman/Warriors and should receive training very early in life.
This may sound impressive, but the Tiger Character is complex and not easy to understand. I often say—it isn’t easy being a Tiger. So before delving into the Key Terms, we must backup and examine the primary symbol of the Tiger—its stripes. The Tiger is striped. Tigers wish they could be lions or panthers (i.e. one color), but we cannot; we have stripes, and this symbolizes a fundamentally dual nature, which Tigers seek their whole lives to reconcile.
This dual nature comes from Yang Wood. Yang Wood is pure impulse. So the first and most important thing we can say about Tigers is that they’re impulsive, which causes a kind of alternating or lurching quality symbolized by the stripes.
The impulse of the Tiger is always to change, to break free, to innovate, to create, to destroy, to jump headfirst. Tigers feel the full force of primal energy with startling intensity. By nature, this impulsive lurching often causes inconsistent and unreliable behavior, which confuses others.
This behavior is often perceived as aggressive—the Tiger needs to hunt. But really, Tiger Qi is in a constant intimate interaction with its surroundings, deeply sensitive, drawing all other energies into it, alert to minute changes, moods, emotions, ready to pounce in an instant. Even when resting, we are like a loaded weapon. Without challenges, we can be champion loafers, lazy housecats, but we are always primed to jump and knock things over.
Tiger Qi is very physical; we need to use our bodies. By nature, Tigers possess strong constitutions and boundless energy, which can express complete stillness, meditative equipoise, and an immense physical capacity, vitality, and endurance.
Tiger Qi is fully present, ready for action, but it is naïve; Wood Element is always naïve. Liu Ming told the story of a Tiger running through the jungle, leaping over obstacles—suddenly, the Tiger leaps off a cliff. Halfway down, the Tiger realizes—oh, I’m falling! In other words, Tiger Qi lurches, jumps eagerly into danger, and often doesn’t realize its mistakes until too late.
Our stripes, our impulsiveness, make us difficult for others to understand. The stripes denote a powerful need to act, to connect, to be in the world, to love, and at the same time to run away, to hide, to be still, and to be alone in our caves.
Tigers are solitary animals. They are independent and need huge territories in which to roam. By nature, Tigers are hard to pair up with, so Tiger Characters tend to pair with other Tigers. In the wild, Tigers mate and then go their separate ways. If there are too many cubs born, the parents may actually kill a few as not to encroach on their hunting territory.
Tigers are pillars of strength and capacity, but then they disappear. They can be the life of the party, and then you may not see them for three months. We often jump full force into things, and then abandon them, and then we must abandon our abandoning, and so on. I cannot tell you how many times I have done this. We’re always changing, never consistent, but this is actually our power.
Yang Wood is spontaneity, creativity, and innovation. We may not be reliable, but we can change things, break the mold, think outside the box (although we’re not very practical and have a hard time making our creativity actually manifest).
Tiger Qi rebels against everything no matter what; we hate to be confined, and we hate expectations. This rebellion is impossible to control and can only be handled with our own self-discipline. We have to see outside ourselves and choose self-discipline. The Tiger finds their Qi power when fear becomes transparent and their power turns to natural discipline and leadership.
With training, Tigers make tremendous warriors, soldiers, fighters, shaman; they are heroic and noble defenders. Without training, the impulsive force of the Tiger can be disastrous, manifesting as intense anger and frequent losses of temper. Violence is the most available in the Tiger (also in Dragon, Horse, Pig, Rabbit), for some of the Characters must be willing to fight, and all Tigers need to recognize this part of them and accept it in order to be whole.
The influence of Tiger Qi is powerful; Tiger’s have a magnetic, hypnotizing quality, and they are often charismatic, dynamic, and innovative leaders and great orators. That being said, their inconsistency and unreliability dictates that they should not be in charge. Tigers are meant to inspire, dazzle, and then disappear. They are exemplars of power, action, and creativity.
Out of all the animals, Tigers, Goats, and Monkeys are considered the most creative and artistic (of course everyone can be artistic). Tiger Art is very “Jackson Pollock,” very modern. The impulse to splatter paint on a wall and call it art in order to break convention is a Tiger impulse. Yang Wood is imagination and an immense appetite for knowledge, information, and expression.
Because of our stripes, our impulsiveness, Tigers are seen to have the greatest capacity for self-destruction. The alternating quality of our stripes and our forceful internal impulse can cause great inner conflict and turmoil, and we can be our own worst enemies. It is hard for Tigers, with our unpredictable, impulsive creativity and strangeness, to find a place in the world, to accomplish anything and remain consistent, which goes against the grain of ordinary culture that expects us to get a job and be the same person all the time. We rebel, and without the proper environment and support we self destruct.
Tigers need unconditional acceptance, love, and tolerance. This is why Pigs are a great support, for they are the most tolerant. Oxen, too, are quite tolerant. Others need to know that we will always “let you down” if you expect constancy from us. It may sound harsh, but the only way Tigers can be in relationship is if others manage to not need us. We will do our best and need training in this regard, but we will most likely show you our stripes.
Because of the Tiger’s dual nature and tendency towards inner conflict and self-destruction, they tend toward great spiritual awakening. Many Tigers become mystics hell bent on the spiritual path, seeking the reconciliation and union of their opposites. Many Tigers become famous spiritual teachers, many of which have been an inspiration to me. My personal favorites—Alan Watts, Thomas Merton, Walt Whitman, Namkai Norbu, my Guru—Dharma Bodhi, Alan Wallace, and Adyashanti to name a few. I always recommend that everyone “google” famous people born in their year for inspiration.
Tiger Years can be explosive, bold—a time of extremes when life is experienced on a grand scale, with drama and excitement. The classics say—expect political rebellion and military coups.
So now we get to the Key Words. The first are courageous, daring, brave. Tiger Qi, again, represents fearlessness, a kind of Samurai mentality, hurling into danger, charging into the unknown, seeking adventure. This courage comes from a deep flirting with death in the core of our being, for Yang Wood emerges from death (Yin Water). This courage lends to being strong-willed, seeking to conquer the fear of death, and despite our impulsiveness, Tigers have famously terrifying will power, usually to accomplish or study strange and unusual things.
Tiger Qi is energetic, passionate, and enthusiastic. The force of Yang Wood is both physically and mentally expressed in the Tiger. Physically active, even hyperactive, Tigers can be balls of energy, freely expressing themselves in all kinds of uncontrollable ways, which is why they need self-discipline early in life. Discipline forced upon them will most likely be rebelled against.
Mentally and energetically, this unstoppable energy bubbles forth as enthusiasm and dedication. Tigers usually get really, really into things and champion what they love. If you’re around me for more than a minute, you will undoubtedly hear me ramble about the Dharma, Astrology, Chinese Medicine, and so on, and I don’t shut up. Once we love something, or someone, we become incredibly dedicated. However, this dedication rarely leads to mastery, unless we can direct/focus our will, which is part of our challenge.
Tigers are by nature unconventional, free-thinkers, who never conform. We have to do things differently and in our own way. Our mission is to break convention, shatter expectations, destroy boundaries, and forge new ground. I admit this is not easy for others or for us. But Tiger Qi is pure inspiration, fresh and new.
This unconventionality goes hand and hand with imagination and creativity. Tigers are natural poets, musicians, and artists. Walt Whitman, to me, is a fantastic example of the Tiger’s creative expression. I have dedicated huge amounts of energy towards creative expression—music, writing, art, astrology, mediation; at my best, I feel like an inexhaustible well. Of course, I have abandoned everything at some point and made no “career” out of my endeavors, but I’m trying to put it all together.
Tiger Qi is competitive. Tigers are always looking for opportunities to demonstrate their strength, mostly to themselves. The Tiger’s motivation often derives from inner conflict however, from our dual nature, as a need to prove something to ourselves. So often, we compete with ourselves and test this competition through others.
Tigers are honest due to our naivety. Yang Wood does not have maturity or discretion, so Tigers tend to wear their hearts on their sleeves. We usually don’t make very good actors, due to an inability to be anything other than what we are. Because of this we can be incredibly vulnerable. As Cubs/kids, Tigers are very vulnerable, and if traumatized we can get stuck in arrested development.
Tigers are often very dignified in their expression. Imagine a big noble jungle cat. Or, just look at any house cat that spends all day licking itself. This dignity lends to what the Chinese call the “Awesome Deportment,” and Tigers often find great value in cultivating and expressing a powerful or impressive image. Places, things, skills all must have power, meaning, and significance to add to the Tiger expression, otherwise we’re not interested. Tigers can treat people this way too; we love everybody, but to get us really interested, we must be mesmerized and impressed.
Finally, Tigers are considered lucky and generous. Luck is a very Chinese idea, and some Characters are considered to have it more than others. Luck is defined by being in the right place at the right time, which is usually a matter of Fate. At their best, Tiger’s are gregarious pleasure seekers who love sharing their luck with others.
So now we get to the flipside of all this—of course, this is about self reflection, so we must admit to the depleted qualities of Tiger Qi.
As I have already mentioned, our impulsiveness can turn to a profound restless/rebellion. All Yang Characters are prone to be restless, but Tiger restlessness is scary and goes hand in hand with feeling confined, stuck, in need of exploding out of our situation.
If we do not have problems/obstacle, we often create them in order to have something to rebel against, something to break out of, something to pounce on. We are rebels without a cause, our own worst enemies.
Tigers, especially Fire Tigers, can be risk taking landmines of passion and emotion. Uncontrolled drama and half-baked scheming can make their lives calamitous. Something usually becomes a “savior,” whether it is a teacher/mentor, a partner, a child. Tigers need to be regulated, so family is good for them if they can settle down. At our worst, we are indecisive, always second guessing, so having others take over, a strong partner for example, can be a blessing.
Often, we are so busy generating problems that we are inconsiderate of others. At our best, Tigers are incredibly generous and part of our path is to learn to give, let go, and see outside our problems to a bigger picture. Our inconsiderateness can come from being self-involved, morose, negative, and moody. Tiger Qi can go very dark, but it always comes back, which is part of our stripes. No matter how dark it gets, we can always turn to see the light.
Our restlessness can lead to a unique kind of stubborn egotism, thinking and being utterly convinced we are right (Ox, Horse, Dog, and Goat do this as well). Tigers are unchallenged in the wild; they have no natural predators. We are flustered, confused, and bewildered when challenged, for in the end, Tigers are sure they’re right, and we’re going to do what we want, and we’re probably not going to change our minds. It is difficult to convince us otherwise unless we can adopt things as our own idea, like in the movie Inception. Because of their strength, Tigers usually want to dominate situations, be in charge, which can come across as aggressive, egotistical, and overbearing.
Finally, the Tiger’s dignity and deportment can lead to tremendous vanity and pride. Tigers can be very concerned about their appearance and the opinions of others, although we’ll never admit it. Tigers are very sensitive to criticism and rejection and can be wounded deeply by others if we do not possess a strong sense of self-love/self-possession.
As you can probably tell, I have a love/hate relationship with my Tigerness, which is classic Tiger. It is classical that Tiger Qi is difficult, so I’m not making this up. Studying Tiger Qi has been a personal revelation.
Many of the qualities I do not like about myself, that I wish I could change, I find written in plain English in two dollar paperbacks on the 12 Animals. The suggestion of Chinese Astrology is that our Qi Character does not change. I must learn to live with my impulsiveness and find the best way to “go with it,” channel it, and express it for the benefit of others.
Tiger Qi is an immense capacity when it is trained and focused. So I am grateful that I have had a strong sense of self-discipline and a spiritual path since I was young. This has done a lot to temper by extremely Yang/Aggressive Character. I must insist, too, that I am a Fire Tiger, which is like a “teenage” Tiger. Fire Characters have a perpetual teenage angst. Wood Characters are forever children, Fire—teenagers, Earth—adults/mature, Metal—middle aged, Water—elderly. Since Wood feeds Fire, the Fire Tiger is particularly explosive and traditionally seen as good cannon-fodder.
The Earth Tiger would be the most grounded and stable, the Metal Tiger the most disciplined and refined, the Water Tiger the most dramatic and morose, and the Wood Tiger the most natural and at ease with their impulsiveness. Fire Tigers are a handful, so I tip my hat to my peers, born in the lunar year of 86.
Of course, this can be tempered a lot by the hour. A Tiger born in Pig, Rabbit, Goat, any of the Yin Hours, can be softened a great deal in terms of the basic Tiger expression. As I go through the 12 Animals, remember that we have Four Pillars. The Year is primary, but we also have a Month, Day, and Hour.
I hope you enjoyed this exposition of Tiger Qi. Next up, the Tiger turns to the Rabbit!
Tiger's Play--the View Teachings of Chinese Astrology
This page is your source for short, pithy articles on the view teachings of Chinese Astrology. Here, I will share everything I have learned about how to follow Astrology as a spiritual path.