Chinese Lunar and Zodiac History

A lunar year is made up of twelve months with twenty-nine and a half days in each month. Every two and a half months an additional month is added creating a lunar leap year. The beginning of each lunar month is marked by the New Moon on a Western calendar.

The Chinese calendar counts years in cycles of sixty years. Each year has a label consisting of two parts. The first component is the celestial stem being one of the five elements. The second component is the terrestrial branch being one of the twelve animal (zodiac) signs. The equation becomes five multiplied by twelve equaling sixty, or one cycle in the Chinese calendar.

Much of Chinese philosophy is built around the belief in the five elements and their abilities to interact with and create relationships between natural phenomena. The five elements have been part of Chinese culture almost from the beginning. Interestingly, few people outside the Asian world understand the importance of the five elements, especially how each relates to the workings of the Chinese Zodiac.

There are five universal elements in Chinese philosophy: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. The elements were associated with five planets in ancient times, Jupiter (Wood), Mars (Fire), Saturn (Earth), Venus (Metal) and Mercury (Water). Astrologers read the planets’ positioning to understand what influences would be dominant in a person’s life.

The elements are also associated with colors: Green (Wood), Red (Fire), Brown (Earth), White (Metal) and Black (Water). The elements are further associated with the animal zodiac signs. Every twelve-year sequence, the animal takes on one of the elements, until all five have been used.

The 12 animals that appear on the Chinese Zodiac calendar include a rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. It’s an unusual combination of animals for sure, and their appearance on the Chinese Zodiac is the topic of countless legends and is deeply embedded in Chinese mythology.

Most stories do seem to agree on one thing: the animals that make up the signs, or the 12 equal parts of the Chinese Zodiac, were the animals that appeared in response to an invitation. As a reward for appearing, these 12 animals were included on the Chinese Zodiac. As interesting as the story of the animals is, there’s much more to the origin of the Chinese Zodiac than that.

Astrology has for years played a significant role in Chinese culture. The depiction on a circular chart of 12 different animals representing the 12-year cycle of the Chinese lunar calendar was built on the foundation of astronomy and Chinese astrology which has itself been in existence for over 5,000 years.

Along with birth year animals, the Chinese Zodiac also represents inner animals and secret animals. We’re probably all aware of the 12 animals or signs depicted on the Chinese Zodiac. Based on our year of birth, we understand that we’re born under the sign of the Dog, or the Ox, or one of the 10 other signs. But the truth is it’s the inner animals and the secret animals that actually tell the most about who we really are and what our futures hold.

What does Chinese Feng Shui have to do with the Chinese Zodiac? More than you probably realize. Both Feng Shui and the Chinese Zodiac are based in part on the interactions of the 5 elements on one’s destiny. These 5 elements of metal, water, wood, fire and Earth have been a driving force in Chinese culture for thousands of years.

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