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.
Tiger's Play--the View Teachings of Chinese Astrology
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