Let me be honest—of all the 12 Qi Characters, I find Ox the most difficult to express. I often find myself stumbling to communicate the energetic experience of Ox to my clients, and often it comes out sounding negative. Perhaps, this is because I’m a Tiger, and as I will write about in my next blog, Tiger Qi is a rebellion against everything the Ox stands for, energetically speaking. Every astrologer, every person, is limited by the bias of their character—it is the lens through which we view the world. Naturally, with self reflection, our Four Pillars are available to us, and so they are the easiest to understand. But a Tiger can never become an Ox.
That being said, I know many Oxen. My father is an Earth Ox, and one of my childhood best friends is a Wood Ox. I entered kindergarten a year early, so many of my peers at school were Wood Ox, which makes a lot of sense to me in hindsight, for I never fit in, and many of my friends were also weirdo Tigers who didn’t fit in.
We herd children together, and school teachers (if they’re paying attention) should recognize that every year’s batch of kids is different, and yet each group is similar. So I was herded in with the Oxen, and although I find Ox Qi rather incomprehensible, I am intimate with it and will do my best to transmit the experience.
In many ways, the Ox is a symbol of China, for if China is anything, it is perseverant, and its traditions are enduring. China and the Ox represent the virtue of the heroic preserver, the continuity of Tradition. I am amazed that I am sitting here expressing a continuity of wisdom over 8,000 years old, a wisdom just as relevant and profound today as it was in ancient China.
In the scheme of the 10 Heavenly Stems, this continuity of tradition is represented by the Ox and its Native Element Yin Earth (which is also the Native Element of the Goat). The Chinese character for Earth contains two horizontal lines, representing a surface and a deep sense of stability.
There is no Earth season in Chinese Astrology, for Earth represents the continuity, the ground beneath the changing seasons. The symbol of the Ox, then, related to Yin (rather than Yang) Earth, expresses the strength of the plow animal, shaping the Earth beneath us.
China was one the world’s greatest agricultural societies, and the Ox was the main event which made this possible. The Chinese attempted to domesticate the Mongolian Horse for hundreds of years, but the wild nature of the Horse could not be made to plow. The Ox Clans brought the Ox up from the swampy regions of southern China, and as soon as they attached reigns to it, they were amazed to find the Ox walked in straight lines, plowing even furrows with no goading.
Farmers could let go of the reigns, and the Ox would plow forward, turn around, and come back on its own. Because of the Ox, China’s agricultural productivity increased exponentially, and in a few centuries China became the most successful and wealthy society on earth. The Ox was always then associated with the rewards of consistent hard work and the Confucian value of perseverance in what is right.
The Ox embodies a natural (Yin) strength achieved through gentleness rather than aggression. The western image of the gentle giant comes to mind. In Asia, it is not uncommon to see children fearlessly running side by side with these enormous animals. Oxen are strong, but they are not aggressive, and this is a valuable symbol for interpreting Ox Qi.
China and India are the world’s oldest continuous civilizations, but India was more or less invented by the British. Before British colonial rule, India was incredibly diverse and never consistently unified. The past 500 years of foreign rule in India forced the many subcultures of South Asia to unify, creating a melting pot responsible for what we now call “Hinduism.” Furthermore, India kept awful historical records, so studying anything Indian is questionable and often dubious.
China, on the other hand, was a Chinese invention, the intentional unification of 80 or more separate cultures into Dynasties that endured for over 2500 years, passing on a consistent and coherent tradition. China kept some of the most detailed and precise historical records on Earth. Of course, the continuity of this tradition was destroyed in the Cultural Revolution, but thankfully, due to the Ox like nature of China, we can have at least some confidence in the Chinese Tradition, which was preserved in places like Taiwan.
In order to really understand the nature of Ox Qi, we must look to the Tong Shu, the Chinese Calendar. The Ox rules the 12th Moon, the dead of winter and the hour 1-3am. Ox exemplifies the still, silent, calm, and slow power of winter. In the cycle of the day, Ox represents the middle of the night, the time of deep sleep, rest, and rejuvenation.
Everyone knows they should be asleep from 1-3am. Qi wise, this is the time of day when we are most apt to fall into deep sleep. Even insomniacs can fall asleep during this hour. The tendency of Ox hour is to draw us deep into the dark, silent, still, calm, and peaceful nature of “don’t know.” During Ox hour, you should be like a catfish, hidden in the murky depths of your unconscious.
Ox Qi is therefore described as sedate, sleepy, calm, stable, which is reflected in the Ox Character. Ox is the wisdom of thoughtlessness and steadfastness. In China, Oxen are also associated with Kwan Yin, the goddess of compassion and wisdom, because of their peaceful and gentle nature. In India, the Cow is revered and worshiped as a symbol of nourishment and the abundance of the Earth.
So the first quality of Ox Qi is calm, in the modern parlance “chill.” Ox is by nature easy going and relaxed. This easy going nature comes from the symbol of the Ox’s size and strength—not much can kill an Ox. They are not intimidated or scared easily. Their strength is unquestionable and therefore unhurried, unrushed, natural. Left alone in the wild, Oxen tend to just stand around eating grass, but when put to work they can do anything. Ox Qi, Yin Earth, is grounded and steady. Qi wise, this comes out as a kind of natural dignity, at home in their self and skin.
In terms of the Five Elemental Oxen, the Wood Ox would be the least grounded Ox, and my Wood Ox friends would probably identify the least with the following exposition.
The natural strength of the Ox demonstrates as a kind of self-assured confidence. Oxen tend to believe resolutely (and often unconsciously) that their way of seeing the world and their way of doings things is normal. “Doesn’t everyone do that?” or “this is the way we’ve always done it” are very Ox statements. In the Classical Tradition, this is often described as “conventional.” Even the strangest Oxen I have known do their strangeness in a conventional, consistent, and dependable way. Most of them think their strangeness is normal and can be perplexed when others do not share their views.
This confidence often demonstrates as being just and committed. The Ox is a symbol of the Confucian values of family, society, and nature, which are fundamentally rooted in equality and the fair distribution of resources. Oxen often possess a strong sense of justice, which makes them good leaders. Oxen are natural born leaders and are at their best when in charge and constantly challenged.
Ox are the most likely to receive criticism for being “stuck in their ways,” for not growing/changing/improving/etc. That being said, the consistent and dependable nature of the Ox is natural and the least apt towards innovation, which is not to say they are not creative. It is detrimental to expect an Ox to change based on abstract notions of self-improvement. Their wisdom comes from their consistency, and it is harmful to force them to change—they won’t. The Tiger, then, is the opposite—we’re always changing, and it is a disservice to expect us to be consistent.
The calm nature of the Ox often expresses as quiet and reserved, but this is not always the case. I have known plenty of extroverted Oxen. That being said, Ox tends towards a kind of “sleepiness,” which can be literal. Oxen are often champion sleepers and can cure most illness with deep sleep. They also possess a strong physical constitution by nature and are long lived, rarely taken out by illness or injury.
Ox Qi is unflappable (my favorite word in the English language btw) and “thick skinned.” Of all the Characters, Ox (and Pig) are the least likely to be traumatized. Ox Qi has a tremendous capacity to undergo hardship and difficulties and come through unscathed. The difficulties my Father has faced would have probably killed most people, but he came through everything with wisdom.
Despite the calm nature of Ox Qi, they are tenacious and uncompromising. It is the nature of the Ox to work, to plow forward, to lead, and to take on responsibility. They need tasks, and they need to be constantly challenged, otherwise their strength is wasted and stagnates.
They often have a strong work ethic and lead lives of great accomplishment. By nature, they are dependable, reliable, consistent, punctual, and so on, all characteristics of Yin Earth—the manifestation of smooth, steady, even Qi. Although they are often materially successful, they usually lack attachment to material things because they are self sufficient and don’t need much.
As a work animal, the Ox is independent and yet carries others. Oxen are not usually loners however. They do not rely on other people but rather others tend to rely on them; they are protectors. They take it upon themselves to do things for other people and rarely ask anything in return. The independence, strength, and conventionality of the ox cause them to assume responsibility for everything. They can see it as their mission to carry others and the world on their shoulders.
Recently, I was working on a school project with some lab partners, and we collectively made a mistake. Immediately, our Ox partner assumed the blame and saw the situation as her fault, apologizing for letting the group down. We assured her that we were all responsible, but her reaction was to assume leadership as if she carried the group. This Ox tendency while natural can be heavy for Ox characters, generating problems and hardships in order to demonstrate their strength.
Ox Qi is also loyal and supportive, sometimes to a fault. It is hard to get on the bad side of an Ox, and if you become a jerk they probably don’t notice. Once they accept others, they usually do so for life and will protect them until the end. Sometimes, they can stay in difficult situations for a long time out of duty or responsibility.
Oxen tend to be outdoorsy and at home in Nature. The natural element of Yin Earth lends to a deep connection with nature and a desire to connect to the wilderness and seek refuge in solitude. I have known many an Ox with a strong sense of adventure.
Finally, Ox is sincere, humble, and often sweet, sometimes naive. The image of the Ox is a gentle doe eyed cow. Generally, Oxen are honest and straightforward and not mysterious or confusing in their intentions. They mean what they say and are always sincere in their beliefs and efforts.
Of course, when discussing Qi Character we must look at the virtue displays, but we must also look at the constricted qualities of the same virtues. This is the basis of Astrology as a wisdom path.
Ox Qi can tend toward a kind of seriousness, and Oxen tend to grow up very fast. They often miss out on childhood and become children later in life, especially the Fire Ox. This seriousness can also turn sullen, depressed, and even humorless. Oxen are, perhaps, the most susceptible to “toxic seriousness” and their experience can become very heavy and downtrodden (Wood Ox being the least susceptible).
The heavy and dense quality of Yin Earth can turn to a kind of insensitivity and thoughtlessness. Many of the Oxen I know have been accused of being oblivious, unaware, and clueless. Oxen tend to “not notice” things, people, situations, and they can hurt or offend others by become aloof and dull.
The routine, conventional, and consistent qualities can easily get “stuck in a rut.” Oxen possess an immense capacity to do the same old thing, and they can become slaves to their own conventions—physically, mental, spiritually. Their confidence can be quite convinced and unwilling to change. Furthermore, they can be fearful of change and resist the messages of others for a long time.
Oxen can be ruthless is crossed. As I mentioned, it is hard to get on the bad side of an Ox, but when you do, they can become belligerent and hold grudges for a long time, fixated in their opinions about others and situations. They can have a difficult time letting things go, bringing up the past, repeating patterns of negativity, stuck in a loop. Once drawn into confrontation, Ox Qi can be a scary and formidable adversary (Hitler was a Fire Ox!).
Finally, they can be too strong for their own good. If they are not challenged, they can use their strength to deplete themselves without noticing and break down in old age. Or they can generate problems and challenges where there are none and become their own worst enemies.
All that being said, Ox Qi has a tremendous capacity for resolving Fate. I am always impressed by Ox characters, and I have been blessed to know many in my life.
If you want a great model for Ox Qi, look at Obama—classic Ox (Metal Ox if you’re curious).
In these brief expositions, I can only hope to give you a taste of each Qi Character as a basis for self-reflection, and I want to insist that I am talking about patterns of energy and how they tend to manifest in people. The qualities of Ox Qi, and all Qi Characters, are found everywhere in nature, and in the end, we are talking about Time. Ox is a pattern in Time.
Remember, Astrology is the study of Time, and the View Teachings say that we express the natural tendencies of whatever pattern displays in the cyclical procession of Time. Rat Qi turns to Ox which turns to Tiger.
Stay tuned next time for my exposition of Tiger Qi, which happens to be my Qi Character.
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.