This week’s podcast is on the topics of Chinese astrology and Feng Shui. Rosie Francis, a Feng Shui consultant from the UK, talks about the basis for Chinese astrology and gives us some tips for using Feng Shui in our daily lives. In honor of the topic, I’m also running a guest post from Matthew Chapman, an expert on Chinese Astrology and Feng Shui from San Francisco, California. Matthew gives us some fascinating insight into the history and methods of Chinese astrology.This is part of what I hope will be a continuing series on special topics on various spiritual disciplines that can be used in conjunction with the more common basic elements of Western astrology. Here’s a link to Rosie Francis’s website Red 8 Feng Shui.
Ba Zi, the Four Pillars of Destiny Chinese Astrology
Chinese Astrology began in Siberia to predict weather and food availability. The nomads used the astronomical patterns to find out when they should migrate, and where to find good pasture. They saw the stars and correlated this information with their lives. This slowly developed into a pattern, which became the Chinese Calendar, or Tong Shu.
These northern people moved south when the ice returned about 5000 years ago. They settled in what is now Central China, and began to use this in a more systematic way. An early written language meant that the Chinese have one of the best-documented histories, and the patterns and activities that occurred were recorded and reviewed for all aspects of life. They correlated things like natural disasters, uprisings, and the lives of the royal court with these patterns, creating an empirical database that is now over 4000 years old. About 200 BC, when the Qin Emperor united central China, this science of astrology, calendar management and Date Selection became a strong force supported by the government. By the 12 century, the government had an astrology department of over 18,000 officials!
Chinese Astrology has two different methods. The one used most in Asia and the rest of the world is Ba Zi, or Four Pillars of Destiny. Another form is Zi Wei Dou Shu, used for the royal family, and little used today in the West.
Ba Zi is based upon the Chinese Solar Calendar. Each period, year, month, day and hour is defined by one of 60 combinations of the Jia Zi, or Heavenly Stems and Earthly Branches. This ongoing pattern is called the Cosmic Flow. This calendar has been in place for over 4000 years. It has never been changed due to political ideas, like the Christian calendar, and is very accurate. Western Calendars still have accuracy problems, because they changed their system on religious activity, and not upon the actual pattern of the movement of the Earth. The Chinese today use the Lunar Calendar for agriculture and festivals.
This is the primary difference between Chinese Astrology and Western or Vedic forms. Next, is the fact that Western Astrology is based upon the stars, the planets, and the orbits of these bodies. Chinese Astrology is no longer based upon stars. It is based upon a pattern of energy or Qi (chi) that never changes. The correlations between what were at first astronomical observances, and patterns of human activity is what we use to determine a person’s character, and how they will fit in with these patterns.
How does Ba Zi work? We start by looking at the Natal chart, consisting of 4 Pillars, representing the Year, Month, Day and Hour of Birth. Each of these has 2 characters (Ba Zi means 8 Characters). The top character is the Heavenly Stem, and is the Yin or Yang form of one of the 5 Elements (Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water). This is the outer expression of who we are. The lower character is one of the 12 Chinese Zodiac animals (Rat, Pig, Ox, etc.). These are called Earthly Branches. This is the deeper expression of who we are. These Earthly Branches also have the Yin and Yang of the Elements within them. For instance, we are in the Year of the Metal Tiger. The Tiger is defined by Yang Wood, but has in it hidden Yang Water and Yang Earth.
Ba Zi also has a Luck Cycle chart, with luck pillars of 10 years. Each of these also has a combination of Stems and Branches which, in combination with the Natal chart, tells us how life will go for a person.
A key feature is to find balance and harmony within the chart. Too much of one element creates an imbalance, and from this we find Helpful Elements. When these balancing elements are present in the Cosmic Flow, we consider this a lucky period, or when we are well supported. Lack of these elements means more difficulties. We also see the relationships within the Branches. We look for clashes and combinations that have different meanings. And the Natal chart is broken into different aspects of our lives and relationships, so the combinations affect those aspects as well.
For instance, a person born in a Monkey Year may experience physical or financial difficulty in this Year of the Tiger, since these animals clash. A person born in a Snake Year may have relationship or emotional problems, since the Tiger is a ‘Harm’ to the Snake. Add this to the Stem or Element of the year, and we see exactly how this may enfold.
Each element has other meanings to a person, based upon their Self-Element. A self-element of Earth, especially a weak one, will have problems in a Metal Tiger Year, since Metal drains Earth by its action of producing it (we dig ore from the earth), and is controlled by Wood (tree roots displace earth). For an Earth person, Metal also represents output, children and expression. Wood indicates power, and for a woman, the husband.
A solid understanding of Yin and Yang, and the Five Elements of Chinese Medicine are required to understand this system. And that is why it is so closely related to Feng Shui, which uses the same principles. In fact, an Earthly Branch or Zodiac animal defines each house. If you happen to clash with this sign, the house may cause problems for you.
Like all systems, this is complex and a good astrologer can pinpoint many things. In its simpler forms, like horoscopes, where we only look at the year of birth and the current year, month or day, we are missing the bulk of the interactions, though they can give a general clue as to what my happen. And a good reading is not fortune telling. It is advising a person on how they fit into the Cosmic Flow. It’s always better to ‘go with the flow.’
Matthew Chapman, CFSC