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.