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While it often takes a backseat to predictions of the Western zodiac — that which includes familiar signs like Taurus, Pisces, and Leo — the Chinese zodiac can be as influential and even more descriptive of human traits and actions.
As we near February 19 and the Chinese New Year, it becomes time to reflect on the history of the Chinese zodiac and what the New Year may have in store for those interested in Eastern astrology.
How the Chinese Calendar Works
According to tradition, China began with the Yellow Emperor, who ascended the throne in 2697 B.C.E., which means on February 19, China will celebrate the year 4712. Although it is easiest to explain China’s calendar as “lunar,” meaning it charts months and years based on the phase of the moon, in reality the system is much more complicated.
The Chinese calendar is plotted based on a cycle of 10 stems and 12 branches. The Chinese were (and are) strong believers in the Five Elements of Life, wood, fire, earth, metal, and water, as well as the balance of all things, yin and yang. Thus, the 10 stems are represented as five yin elements and five yang elements. The branches are then named after 12 recognizable animals: rat, cow, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep/goat, monkey, chicken, dog, and pig. A complete cycle occurs every 60 years, beginning with Yang Wood Rat and ending with Yin Water Pig. This year, the Chinese and devotees to their zodiac system will celebrate the year of Yin Wood Sheep — though it is important to note that some astrologists label this creature as the goat or the ram instead.
What to Expect in the Chinese New Year
Most spiritualists learned in the Chinese zodiac expect Yin Wood Sheep to be a year of general peace, harmony, and good fortune for all; however, individual fortunes are wholly dependent on one’s sign according to the Chinese zodiac. You can find your sign and your lucky element by tracing the stem-branch cycle to the year of your birth, but remember that the Chinese New Year does not perfectly align with the New Year of the popular Gregorian calendar.
The lucky element can provide basic information about the year ahead. Because Yin and Wood are both signs full of heat, and because sheep tend to be warm animals, people who find strength in fire — like earth, wood, and fire elementals — will likely prosper in the New Year. People who identify as metal elementals may also experience good fortune, as metal is often protected by earth and molded by fire. However, people with cooler temperaments, especially water elementals, may experience misfortune or unexpected challenges.
However, more beneficial is knowing the precise stem and branch of your birth. The branch in particular, the animal associated with the year of your birth, can give astrologists and spiritual advisors further insight into your year ahead. For example, skilled readers will be able to predict the upcoming status of such important aspects of life as career, wealth, relationships, and health.
Chinese astrology is a misunderstood and underutilized resource for those seriously interested in spiritual study. In preparation for the New Year, we urge you to learn more about your upcoming experiences in the year of Yin Wood Sheep.