Image Source © Barbara Giordano via Fine Art America.
Today marks the start of the Asian New Year. Some of us are eating some amazing food which symbolizes luck, long life, happiness and prosperity, like Jiaozi dumplings, made to resemble ancient Chinese coins, and incredible cookies, like Kuih Loyang cookies (honeycomb, beehive or rose cookies) and Kueh Bangkit, melt-in-your mouth tapioca coconut cookies (recipes here and here). Spring rolls are made look like gold bars. Octagonal trays of togetherness celebrate the lucky number 8. Whole fish make wishes for abundance. Fa gao cakes, or 'fortune' cakes, steam in different colours, ideally rising in their bamboo steam baskets into a big smile (recipes here and here). Sweets bring sweetness to life in the coming year: check out traditional Chinese candies at Aji Ichiban (here), one of Hong Kong's largest candy and snack stores and an international franchise. People exchange ornately designed red and gold envelopes (Ang Pow envelopes) full of money. Fortune asked Chinese astrologers what was in store for us in 2015; they said 2015 would be all about the economy. It is not a year for risks, but still a year when the arts, writing, publication and all forms of creativity are highly favoured. Avoid conflict. Make home and the best comforts of domesticity your priorities. And in the year of the Goat or Sheep, "master the soft sell," "be a shepherd."
Sweets are popular at Asian New Year's celebrations. On the left, dragon cookies; top left Kuih Kapit, or love letter, cookies; top right, Kuih Rose cookies; bottom, pineapple tarts. Image Source: Illuminant Partners.
A selection of last year's New Year's delights in Singapore, from top: Nian Gao tarts at the Fullerton Hotel; Golden Piglet Shortcakes at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel; Koi-shaped Nian Gao steamed cakes filled with durian or mango-citrus pulp at the Peony Jade restaurant; and Fortune of Gold apricot and passionfruit poundcake at the Goodwood Park Hotel. Image Source: The Dining Table.
Chinese New Year Day: "The above image of a prince with three goats is captured from a hanging scroll of tapestry and embroidery ... [in the] Taiwan National Palace Museum, [and] was made in [the] Ching dynasty (1644-1911). The entire scroll contains three princes, three winter-plants and nine goats, which implies auspicious meanings for [the] new year. This artwork became a typical decoration for Chinese New Year." Image Source: Taiwan National Palace Museum.
After the feasting, people get down to the nitty gritty and predict the coming year with eastern astrology. Whether you tell time by the sun or the moon makes a difference in how you symbolically interpret human nature and destiny. Western astrology projects psychological profiles onto the 12 zodiac constellations which sit (or sat) directly overhead in every solar month. But Chinese astrology counts human psychological change and associated zodiacal figures by years and follows the months of the year from New Moon to New Moon; it tweaks this lunar system by referring to solar terms.
Either way, astrology and astronomy were once united disciplines, which connected our understanding of time-keeping and calendars to our consciousness of how time passes in our own lives, in other words, to our fates. In both traditions, the link between heavens and humans is forged by the elements, which are used to fine tune the psychological mythology. Tarot.com:
Chinese Astrology identifies the world as being comprised of five elements: Fire, Earth, Metal, Water and Wood. In the lunar calendar, each element is linked to a 2-year period, and governs the motivating forces in your life. Fire signs are inspired by excitement; Earth types are motivated to create secure foundations. People born under the Metal element are driven to create order, while Water types are compelled to form emotional bonds. People born under the Wood element are motivated to explore.
In western Astrology, four elements are identified: Fire, Earth, Air and Water. Each element is associated with three zodiac signs, and governs the prevailing psychology of each group. According to western Astrology, signs governed by the Fire element are impulsive, while Earth element signs are practical. People born under Air signs are intellectually oriented, whereas Water signs are driven by emotion.
The source of western astrology is ancient naked eye astronomy, which viewed the zodiac constellations in relation to the solar months. Claire Davies explains the astronomical view, although astrologers do not conform to this interpretation: "There are twelve zodiac constellations, in total. These mark regions of the sky that they lie along a line in the sky known as the ecliptic. This is the imaginary line that the Sun appears to follow in the sky, relative to the background stars, due to the motion of the Earth around the Sun over the course of one year ... . For instance, on September 1st, the Sun is located in the constellation of Leo. At the end of the month, on September 30th, it will have moved relative to the background stars such that it is now located in the constellation of Virgo, instead. The zodiac you are assigned by astrology is supposed to be the constellation that the Sun was in on the day of your birth. However, due to the precession of the Earth (which we will cover next month), the constellation that the Sun is located in on a specific day of the year changes over the course of hundreds of years. This means that most people don’t actually have the correct zodiac for their date of birth. For example, an astrologer would tell me that, due to my August birthday, my zodiac is Leo, the lion, whereas the Sun was located in the constellation of Cancer, the crab, on the day of my birth. In fact, during the August months you can still see the constellation of Leo in the sky, shortly after sunset." Image Source: sci@StAnd.
NASA's explanation of western astrology includes the 'missing' thirteenth sign of Ophiuchus, the Serpent Bearer, between Scorpio and Sagittarius, which was discarded from common use by the Babylonians because they were working with a 12 month calendar. Image Source: NASA.
Chinese Zodiac signs by year. Image Source (2013) © English Club.
The Chinese annual Zodiac runs as follows:
- Rat – 鼠 (子) (Yang, 1st Trine, Fixed Element Water)
- Ox – 牛 (丑) (Yin, 2nd Trine, Fixed Element Water)
- Tiger – 虎 (寅) (Yang, 3rd Trine, Fixed Element Wood)
- Rabbit – 兔 or 兎 (卯) (Yin, 4th Trine, Fixed Element Wood)
- Dragon – 龍 / 龙 (辰) (Yang, 1st Trine, Fixed Element Wood)
- Snake – 蛇 (巳) (Yin, 2nd Trine, Fixed Element Fire)
- Horse – 馬 / 马 (午) (Yang, 3rd Trine, Fixed Element Fire)
- Goat – 羊 (未) (Yin, 4th Trine, Fixed Element Fire)
- Monkey – 猴 (申) (Yang, 1st Trine, Fixed Element Metal)
- Rooster – 雞 / 鸡 (酉) (Yin, 2nd Trine, Fixed Element Metal)
- Dog – 狗 / 犬 (戌) (Yang, 3rd Trine, Fixed Element Metal)
- Pig – 豬 / 猪 (亥) (Yin, 4th Trine, Fixed Element Water)
After a strong emphasis on the lunar phase at the moment of a person's birth, the Four Pillar branch of Chinese astrology departs from the semi-astronomical time-keeping of western astrology. It makes its predictions based on 10,000 years of preceding human history listed in a giant calendar. Astrologers read back through cycles of time, measured by lunar months and solar turns, and back through generation upon generation, influenced by different combinations of elements, which achieve different balances. Wiki:"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 internally, an Ox truly and Goat secretively. In total, this makes for 103,680 possible combinations (60 year cycle (5 elements × 12 animals) × 12 months × 12 days × 12 periods of the day) that a person might be. These are all considered critical for the proper use of Chinese astrology."
Comparisons have been made between Western astrology and [the Four Pillars system or] Ba Zi. However, unlike astrology, Ba Zi analysis does not look at an 'alignment' of celestial bodies of stars and planets but is based on the 'alignment' of blocks of time delineated by the Wan Nian Li (萬年曆), the "10,000-year" Chinese almanac.
From there, it gets very complicated and metaphysical, because Chinese astrology ties these aspects to the yin-yang balance found in the Nineteen Principles of the Infinite Universe; from Gypsy Stop:
DAO - Seven Principles Of The Infinite Universe
- All phenomena are a differentiation of One Infinity.
- Everything changes.
- All antagonisms are complementary.
- Nothing is equal, all things are unique.
- All things have a front, and a back.
- The greater the front, the greater the back.
- What has a beginning, has an end.
- One Infinity manifests itself into two Universal - complementary and antagonistic - tendencies, called yin and yang, in a cycle of endless change.
- Yin and yang are manifested continuously through the infinite movement of One Infinite Universe.
- Yin is centrifugal, flowing in spiral movement inward out and clock-wise. Yang is centripetal, flowing in spiral movement outward in, and counter-clockwise; together creating all energy and all things. Yang energy - or Heaven force - is produced by the sun and is received through our crown chakra; Yin energy – or Earth force – is produced by the earth and is received through our base chakra. Together Heaven and Earth force create our spiritual canal alongside our body.
- Yin attracts yang, yang attracts yin.
- Yin repels yang, yang repels yin.
- Yin and yang combined in varying proportions produce different phenomena, their powers of attraction and repulsion representing the degree of difference or similarity.
- All phenomena are ephemeral, constantly changing their constitution, condition or direction from yin to yang and from yang to yin: yin becoming yang, yang becoming yin.
- Nothing is solely yin nor solely yang. All visible and invisible phenomena carry both tendencies in varying intensities.
- Nothing is neutral. There is always a domination of yin or yang.
- Great yin attracts small yin. Great yang attracts small yang.
- Yin in its extreme and ultimate state of expansion creates yang. Yang in its extreme and ultimate state of contraction produces yin.
- All physical manifestations hold yang in the center and carry yin on their backs.
In the Chinese lunar calendar, this is the Year of the Yin Green Wood Goat (19 February 2015 - 7 February 2016). Also depicted as a Ram or Sheep, this ungulate's year is represented by associated qualities: not rocking the boat, pacifistic conciliation, truces, acceptance of systemic limits and functions. From China Highlights:
Tarot.com offers a positive overview (here):People born in a year of the Goat are generally believed to be gentle mild-mannered, shy, stable, sympathetic, amicable, and brimming with a strong sense of kindheartedness and justice.
They have very delicate thoughts, strong creativity, and perseverance, and acquire professional skills well. Although they look gentle on the surface, they are tough on the inside, always insisting on their own opinions in their minds. They have strong inner resilience and excellent defensive instincts.Though they prefer to be in groups, they do not want to be the center of attention. They are reserved and quiet, most likely because they like spending much time in their thoughts. ... People born in the year of the goat prefer to work in a team. ... They are not crazy about status and power. Unless asked, they won't ever volunteer for anything and act as leaders. ...
There is a popular Chinese folk saying 'Only one out of ten people born in a year of the Goat finds happiness' (十羊九不全), which means most babies born in a year of the Goat are destined for failed marriages, unhappy families, and bad luck. Most Chinese people also believe that babies born in a Goat year will grow up to be followers rather than leaders.
Despite the positive spin, astrology's Chinese system of divination seems to forecast a lunar year of naïveté, conformity and mediocrity, of going along to get along, of not bucking the system but blandly settling into it, and of not seeing dangers and challenges in the world. Because these balancing qualities are not celebrated in our competitive world (as they say on the Web to 'sheeple'), the Year of the Goat made me think about a larger challenge of modern life: conformity versus alienation. Tomorrow: how does one move past that dichotomy to celebrate the Goat's or Sheep's finer qualities?A placid herbivore, the Sheep is an animal associated with peace and tranquility. Therefore, 2015 will be distinguished for its diplomacy, harmony and philanthropy. This is a wonderful time to extend an olive branch to enemies and forgive past wrongs. People undergoing divorces will be able to arrive at amicable settlements. Legal battles can be resolved by arbitration, and class-action settlements can come to satisfying conclusions for all parties involved.Sheep years are associated with courtesy and cooperation. Forming romantic and business partnerships will prove successful. It's also a good time to breathe new life into stale marriages. Tender gestures, loving communications and considerate behavior will strengthen good unions and repair strained ones. Getting engaged or married is highly favored in 2015, as is forming a business alliance or creative partnership.The arts are associated with the Sheep. Creative types will be especially prolific this year, taking time to write, paint, design and play music at every opportunity. Even people who aren't especially imaginative will be able to devise brilliant breakthroughs to stubborn problems.Artists won't be the only ones making extra money in 2015. A nurturing sign, Sheep years favor caring professions. Careers involving nursing, teaching, catering, farming, restaurants and hotels should thrive. ...
Of course, every sign has its weak points. It's difficult to make decisions during Sheep years. When choices become critical, it may be easier to flip a coin than deliberate endlessly between two options. Pessimism can also be a problem in 2015. Beware of giving in to despair at the first sign of trouble. ...Ruled by the Wood element, 2015 is an excellent year for educational initiatives. Going back to school, earning an advanced degrees and winning scholarships are all favored. Honesty is the best policy during Wood years. Be truthful in all areas of life. People who tell even white lies can encounter terrible difficulties. On the plus side, Wood is associated with justice. If you've been the victim of unethical behavior, file a court case. Justice will prevail. You might even be able to settle out of court, because dishonest people will be eager to avoid trouble.A flexible element, Wood years favor compromise. Instead of insisting on doing things a certain way, work to meet in the middle. People who are flexible will reap significant rewards during 2015. Getting adjusted to unfamiliar environments should be easier than usual. Any changes that are imposed to the old routine will be beneficial. Don't cling to outmoded traditions and set routines; moving with the times will pay off handsomely in the Year of the Wood Sheep.Wood is associated with fresh growth. Embarking on a romance, launching a business and having a baby are all favored. Many people will abandon dead-end jobs for more promising careers in 2015. Endeavors involving computers, electronics, scientific research and communications are all favored. Teaching and writing can also prove profitable alternatives for people seeking career changes.
Compassion is a virtue during Wood years. Volunteering at charitable institutions, raising funds for good causes and championing the underdog will attract good fortune. This is no time for world-weary cynicism. Remember that people are essentially good and the universe is endlessly bountiful. Such a positive attitude will reap significant rewards this year. Wood years do encourage self-sufficiency, so forcing needy people to stand on their own may be the best form of help you can offer.
The Wood element favors exploration. Therefore, travel will be beneficial throughout the year. Exploring foreign countries and experiencing different cultures will lead to tremendous breakthroughs. The more exotic the destination, the better the trip will be. People who are willing to venture out of their comfort zones will have tremendous breakthroughs in 2015. Wood years are associated with excessive spending, so traveling on a budget is strongly advised. ...Powers of persuasion are strong during years ruled by the Wood element. This is a great time to ask for favors and request forbearance. If you want to expunge your record, make a fresh start or improve your credit, 2015 is a great time to do so. Gather recommendations from influential people. Repay debts. Attend training courses or go to rehab.