According to Chinese legend, the twelve animals quarreled one day as to who was to head the cycle of years. The gods were asked to decide and they held a contest; whoever was to reach the opposite bank of the river would be first, and the rest of the animals would receive their years according to their finish.
All the twelve animals gathered at the river bank and jumped in. Unknown to the ox, the rat had jumped upon his back. As the ox was about to jump ashore, the rat jumped off the ox’s back, and won the race. The pig, who was very lazy, ended up last. That is why the rat is the first year of the animal cycle, the ox second, and the pig last.
The Chinese animal signs are a 12-year cycle used for dating the years. They represent a cyclical concept of time, rather than the Western linear concept of time. In the Chinese calendar, the beginning of the year falls somewhere between late January and early February. The Chinese have adopted the Western calendar since 1911, but the lunar calendar is still used for festive occasions such as the Chinese New Year. Many Chinese calendars will print both the solar dates and the Chinese lunar dates.
A cultural sidelight of the animal signs in Chinese folklore is that horoscopes have developed around the animal signs, much like monthly horoscopes in the West have been developed for the different moon signs, Pisces, Aries, etc. For example, a Chinese horoscope may predict that a person born in the Year of the Horse would be, cheerful, popular, and loves to compliment others. These horoscopes are amusing, but not regarded seriously by the Chinese people.
Chinese Astrology is said by some scholars to be the oldest horoscope system in the world. However if you trace Western Astrology back to its Middle East roots, both types are likely to have been born in their current recognizable form around 3000 years BC, however they stem from entirely different beginnings as well as traditions and parts of the world.
The 12 animals are further flavored by the pervading element of that particular year (elements also revolve as a separate cycle). It is said that Buddha is responsible for the 12 animals as they were the only ones who came to bid him farewell into the next life.
Chinese Astrology is concerned with nature and its traits, the signs progress year by year, whereas Western Astrology cycles monthly. The consideration of Yin and Yang is a very great influence upon this subject, Yin being passive, female and receptive while Yang is aggressive, male and exploratory. The various permutations of these two essential forces in nature, places, organizations, events and humanity and the quest to achieve balance so that both operate together in harmony rather than opposing or canceling each other out are an essentially Oriental viewpoint and quest, they form the basis of many Far Eastern traditions and other influences in Chinese Society such as Feng Shui.
The 12 Animal Signs are : Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit (or Cat), Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat (or Sheep), Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig. The animal ruling year in which you were born has a profound influence on your life.
As the Chinese say, This is the animal that hides in your heart.
There are five elements; Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water, each adding a nuance of almost tactile character to the animal sign. Chinese Astrology is based on the Chinese calendar year of your birth or the year of an event. There are also many more nuances involving the month and day.
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