Azure Dragon Of The East Meets White Tiger Of The West

The Azure Dragon, a heavenly symbol

China must have the single most complicated astronomical and astrological hierarchy there is. I thought Vedic was difficult! Ha!

Chinese astrology is not for the faint of heart, not if you’re doing it properly. Now, those of us in the West like to mess around with our Chinese “sign,” and we think, perhaps, that we know what we’re doing when we say “I am a Golden Earth Boar, with Rooster rising.” Ha! I say again. You don’t know nuthin’. And guess what? I am not going to try to explain the 10 stems and the 12 branches to you. You can do your own research, and eat your peas, too. Okay, if you insist on knowing more, look here, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The Chinese got started down this torturous path as early as the Neolithic period. A king’s grave from 5,300 BCE was discovered bounded by the four animals that represented the quadrants of the night sky: the Azure Dragon of the East (which comprised constellations seen in the spring sky); the White Tiger of the West, with constellations seen in autumn; the Vermillion Bird of the South, representing summer constellations; and finally, the Black Tortoise of the North, representing winter constellations.

Neolithic gravesite, China; animals of the four quadrants formed from seashells

Within each animal or quadrant, you would find multiple constellations, in other words.

As an example of what I’m talking about, take a look here and here.

Because I make it my job to lift only the best information from others’ websites, I am quoting a (hopefully) reliable source to explain how these quadrants functioned for Chinese astronomers:

The constellations or Xiù (宿) are grouped by the four directions, East, West, South and North. Because the stars revolve around the celestial Pole, it is seen as the center of heaven and belongs to all directions; it is divided into three regions of sky surrounding Polaris (北极星 Běijíxīng). The three regions are: the Purple Forbidden Enclosure (紫微垣, Zǐ Wēi Yuán), the Supreme Palace Enclosure (太微垣, Tài Wēi Yuán) and the Heavenly Market Enclosure (天市垣, Tiān Shì Yuán). These regions reflect the organization of the dynastic hierarchy on earth, with the Purple Forbidden Enclosure being the most important. The concept that earthly government is organized like that of heaven gives its structure and actions legitimacy and supports the Mandate of Heaven.

So once again, we see that astrology is inherently political. The Chinese relied on it to provide them with much the same kinds of certainties for their emperor’s sake as did the Mesopotamians. However, for our own sakes, rather than preserving the integrity of the emperor’s lineage, we shall conclude with this summation of the difficulty of Chinese astrology from wikipedia, which says it much more succinctly than I can at this moment:

The animal signs assigned by year represent what others perceive you as being or how you present yourself. It is a common misconception that the animals assigned by year are the only signs, and many western descriptions of Chinese astrology draw solely on this system. In fact, there are also animal signs assigned by monthday, and hours of the day. The combination of one’s birth year, month, day and hour are a part of the ‘four pillars’ of Chinese astrology which determine one’s fate.

To sum it up, while a person might appear to be a dragon because they were born in the year of the dragon, they might also be a snake based on their birth month and an ox based on their birthday and a Ram based on their birth hour.

Paper cut-out of zodiac; notice the all-important unifying yin/yang symbol in the center

Next time, the Chinese star-chart, and a focus on specific astrologers.