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The Origins of the Chinese Zodiac

Keen Category: Astrology Advice

A red Chinese zodiac wheel

The Chinese Zodiac is steeped in Buddhist symbols and mythology, but celebration of the Chinese New Year predates Buddha himself. While the West has January 1 as its start for each New Year, the Chinese New Year is based on the cycle of the Moon. In the West it would be calculated as the New Moon in Aquarius. It can occur no sooner than January 19 and no later than February 19. While every New Moon is a symbol of new beginnings, for over four thousand years the Chinese people have celebrated their New Year only after the Moon and Sun meet up in Aquarius.

Legend has it that when the Buddha ascended to Nirvana, twelve animals came to wish him goodbye. Buddha was touched by this and his final wish on earth was that each animal be given rulership over a year. The order that the animals arrived determined the order of the Chinese zodiac, starting with Buddha's good friend, the Rat.

Prior to the inclusion of the first Buddha's wishes, each Lunar New Year was demarcated by a cycle of five elements (Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water). Unlike the annual rotation of Chinese Zodiac animals, an element has rulership over two consecutive years. With the addition of Buddha's friends, a sixty-year cycle now occurs before an animal and an element match up again.

Here is how the cycle works: If you were born after the Lunar New Year in 1976, you are a Fire Dragon. It will be the year of the dragon every twelve years (1988, 2000, 2012, etc.) and a fire year for two years beginning every ten years (1986 and 87, 1996 and 97, etc.). It will not be a fire dragon year again until 2036.

How to Determine Your Chinese Animal Sign

Check the corresponding years below to see what your Chinese animal sign is. Understand that the Chinese New Year corresponds with the new moon in Aquarius and begins on January 20 at the earliest and February 19 at the latest. If your birthday falls between January 1 and January 20, your Chinese animal sign is the one still in power from the year before. If you were born between January 20 and February 19, consult your psychic to find out if you were born before or after the new moon in Aquarius in your birth year in order to determine your Chinese animal sign. If you were born after February 19, your Chinese animal sign corresponds with the birth year listed below.

The Connection Between the Chinese Zodiac and Western Astrology

Recent research indicates that the origins of the Chinese zodiac may be more scientific. Around the time that Buddhism was growing in popularity in Asia, knowledge of the ways of Western astrology was growing as well. Jupiter, the planet of luck and expansion has a twelve-year cycle. Since the New Moon in a sign represents the end of one era and the beginning of another, it makes sense that the New Moon in Aquarius would ring in the "Jupiter" New Year, as Jupiter was the ancient ruler of Pisces – the zodiac sign directly following Aquarius.

There is evidence of course, that each Chinese zodiac animal was actually borrowed from the West:

  • The Rat ( 鼠 ) Corresponds to Aries 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008

    It makes sense that the Rat was substituted as the first sign of the zodiac. In China, rats are not loved but the sighting of a rat is said to foretell a busy day ahead, corresponding with the move-on personality embodied by Aries.

  • The Ox ( 牛 ) Corresponds to Taurus 1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009

    This is an obvious match; almost proof alone of the synchronicity of these zodiac systems.

  • The Tiger ( 虎 ) Corresponds to Gemini 1926, 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010

    A Tiger has contrasting stripes – dark and light, like the twin energies of Gemini. Even though the Tiger is a merciless beast of prey, it is also a beautiful kitty cat. Anyone who knows a Gemini is aware that they can go from compliant kitten to fearsome predator in the blink of an eye.

  • The Rabbit ( 兔 ) Corresponds to Cancer 1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011

    While a Crab retreats to its shell, a Rabbit hides in its hole. Both signs emphasize a need for security to protect the sentimental emotions that are too close to the surface.

  • The Dragon ( 龍 ) Corresponds to Leo 1928, 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000

    The king of the jungle in Lion-free China is most definitely the Dragon. The leadership and self-assurance of these signs matches all too well to be dismissed as coincidence.

  • The Snake ( 蛇 ) Corresponds to Virgo 1929, 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001

    In the West, the Snake represents the devil tempting Adam and Eve. In the East, the Snake represents a clever and resourceful animal that moves fast without feet. This aligns well with Virgo, the zodiac sign that is a repository of knowledge and solutions.

  • The Horse ( 馬 ) Corresponds to Libra 1930, 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002

    The Scales of Libra are an inanimate object. But they represent the duality of being independent and yet being a partner. The Horse matches up well with the zodiac's balancing act as an animal that is in partnership with humans but remains its own boss when the yoke is lifted.

  • The Sheep ( 羊 ) Corresponds to Scorpio 1931, 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003

    The Sheep might also be the sign of Aries as the Ram, but the characteristics of a brutal, aloof mountain goat do not match up with the Chinese view of the Sheep and its sheep siblings. In China, sheep have always been viewed as loyal animals whose prolific reproduction is a harbinger of sexual intimacy. Scorpio is the sexiest sign of the zodiac and is fiercely loyal. The Sheep is also the quietest animal, reinforcing the nature of Scorpionic secrecy.

  • The Monkey ( 猴 ) Corresponds to Sagittarius 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004

    While the West's mythological half-man/half beast Satyr represents the Sagittarian sense of adventure, the optimistic and mischievous Monkey is obviously akin to the freedom-loving members of this sign.

  • The Rooster ( 雞 ) Corresponds to Capricorn 1933, 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005

    The sign of the Goat in the West rules over the security of the establishment. Roosters were once money, literally, in ancient China. The foundation of the establishment is represented well by this proud, and valuable bird.

  • The Dog ( 狗 ) Corresponds to Aquarius 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006

    The Western zodiac sign of doing one's part for the greater good is well-symbolized in the dog, man's best friend in China, Europe or wherever humans and canines travel together.

  • The Pig ( 豬 ) Corresponds to Pisces 1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007

    Some Chinese zodiacs refer to the pig as the Wild Boar, a fierce creature that is impossible to tame. Others see the well-fed farm pig as a sufficient symbol. But it is the inherent duality of this animal association that most closely mimics the Fish of Pisces – always illustrated as a pair of fish as far back as ancient Babylonia. The Piscean urge to be of independent service is well matched with the need for those born in the year of the pig to be a part of the greater society at large but always on their own terms.