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Lunar New Year, Water Tiger, & Chinese Astrology as Indigenous Calendar Wisdom Traditions

Updated: Feb 3, 2022

Happy Lunar New Year!

A new year has arrived. In many indigenous Asian cultures and traditions, the new year is marked with the arrival of the first solar term, typically considered the end of Winter and the beginning of Spring. Time and space are marked by cyclical patterns which influence our lives and remind us of our reliance on these cycles. The most prominent pattern we are familiar with is the four major seasons. Following the changes of nature by tracking the heavenly sky and the seasons on earth has been central to indigenous cultures, both in Asia and here in the Americas. This practice of paying attention is central to personal and communal health by keeping us engaged in the natural rhythms that grow our food, determine our behaviors, and alter our physiology. As practitioners of Chinese medicine and medical providers that value a holistic view of the world, paying attention to these traditions is a part of our practice of medicine.

Basics of the 60-Year Cycle - Ganzhi 干支

The tradition of symbolically characterizing various cycles of time and reflecting on these cycles and our place in them, brings us the Chinese Heavenly Stem (10) and Earthly Branch (12) system, also known as the Sexegenary Cycle - ganzhi 干支, in use in Central Asia since around the middle of the 3rd century BCE. This is where we get the phases (or 5 elements: earth, metal, wood, fire, & water) and the 12 animals associated with Chinese astrology.

The cycles of Yin and Yang, the five phases/elements, and the 12 animals all rotate in a 60 cycle pattern, commonly known to be associated with the year, but in astrological and medical applications, these cycles are often applied to the month, the day, and the hour one is born. These are ways of tracking and organizing complex, interrelated dimensions of space and time. Applying these rubrics to time attempts to organize and simplify what would otherwise seem endless and overwhelming.

Soyombo and several buddhist, tengrist and chinese zodiac symbols in a wall mosaic.
Bouette. - Personal picture of Bouette from Wikipedia; Created: 10 October 2006

2022 - The Year of the Yang Water Tiger

This year’s alignment of Stems and Branches gives us the “Water Tiger”. The ‘tiger’ being the 3rd of 12 phases, 虎, hǔ/Tiger’s innate nature is Yang Wood - in other words, it is indicative of the early stages of a process. “Water” Tiger is ‘Water on Wood’ - a water-natured Tiger. There is an emphasis on the ‘Water’ nature of the year, which augments dimensions of the inherent qualities of ‘Tiger’.

There are many possible layers and dimensions to consider, but most articles you read will stick to the basics of just “Tiger” and some occasionally add the additional layer of the Heavenly Stem elements, which for this year is Yang Water.

Sexagenary cycle years spirals aligned with calendar year dates.
Sexagenary cycle years spirals, uploaded to Wikipedia by Cmglee - Uploaded: 25 January 2020

It is helpful to understand these words and ideas as descriptions of phases of time, or aspects of space. The Stem-and-Branch system is a time-keeping, cognitive tool that organizes human reality into symbolic categories that refer to real patterns in nature and human experiences. For example:

Water represents the annual season of Winter, the direction of North, Kidneys/Bladder as organs and physiological functions, death, darkness, wisdom, acceptance, dissolution, and fear.

Wood represents the season of Spring, the direction of East, Liver/Gallbladder organs and physiological functions, birth, beginnings, imagination, and new life.

If you can understand this system of organizing everything via stages of a process or relational aspects in nature, then you begin to unravel the wisdom of these astrological traditions. The most basic concept to understand is that this is a way of tracking and organizing space & time to best orient oneself to the living world. If you don’t have a map, you probably have no idea where you are or where to go.

Spring Marks the New Year

The arrival of every new year is marked by the Spring season, where the light returns due to the shifting planetary axis. As the amount of daily light increases, darkness retreats, and along with the light comes warmth and all the myriad changes observed in nature; e.g. animal migrations & mating, blossoms, appearance of certain food crops, temperature changes, immune and metabolic changes in our bodies, and the associated human behaviors in response.

This experience of shifting from Winter to Spring is what is symbolized in the image of what is called “Tiger” being the first Wood phase/moon of the year. This year, a Tiger Year, in many ways, is a whole year of ‘Spring-like’ or ‘Wood’ qualities.

Water Tiger - What Does It Highlight?

In terms of annual progressions of stem and branch combinations that mark the years, this year is dominated by Water Tiger.

Tiger is Yang Wood - the first glint of Yang light breaking through the darkness of night, or the first blossoms of early Spring. It is the spark that pulls forth perpetual life from the endless emptiness of space-time. It is associated with courage, with enthusiasm, and the energy that comes from the almost magical experience of an initiating impulse. It is the part of a project where ideas guide us towards action.

But this year is Water Tiger, which augments the innate Tiger nature with added depths of wisdom, sentimentality, fear, and immensity. It widens the capacity of imagination, deepens human connection, and invites a broader view of potentials (opportunities/threats) waiting for us all in the future.

Tiger is essentially a kind of energetic emergence that is associated with imaginative and creative spontaneity powerfully expressing itself. This essence is like a tiger leaping from seemingly nowhere to pounce on a new idea or the awakening of a hunter’s impulse to focus everything powerfully towards a specific goal.

The Tiger, or the natural qualities and experiences it represents, also reflects the less welcome vulnerabilities of things that are new or fresh.

The Water Tiger typifies a potential murky and still vulnerable beginning - the precariousness of something with no precedent mired in a vast space of emotional uncertainty. It is a sensitive time of excitement and anxiety. Much of our world has dramatically changed and the Water Tiger represents the natural complexity, immensity, and, at times, overwhelming response to a world of change where patience, care, and some courage can go a long way.

This year, as reflected in Tiger, gives us a boost of creativity, adaptability, and change - a leap from the past that is novel and potentially unexpected. It also invites us to wisely wait and watch as opportunity and risk are still settling in the future-space before us.

As we step into this new year, we are invited to consider these aspects of nature - the many symbols and myths that humans created to use as a map to navigate the vast uncertainty and mystery of our world.

Where are the opportunities, the insights, the flickers of light in the darkness?
Are they sparks of risk (fire) or opportunity (gold)?
Where are the delicate sprouts pushing through the rubble?
And which ones do we nurture with our precious resources?
What are the connections and underground pathways that will lead us on the next hunt?

The Water Tiger combination invites us to ask:

Can we wait in the vast silence long enough to learn its secrets before we leap into a world that is more generous, more sensitive, and more alive?

Painting of Ojibwe star maps with the loon as a central figure represented in this image where the sky looks like a giant body of water.
Maang "Doorkeeper of the North", A. Lee, 2014, mixed media on panel

Personal Readings for the Year

You may be wondering how this coming year impacts you more personally.

Our teacher, Liu Ming gave public readings every Chinese New Year. It was these events that inspired Michael to study more deeply with him. Ming liked to use the metaphor of life as a “buffet” to help explain how we relate to the astrology of the year. He would describe the opportunities of the year like options in a buffet. Depending on your innate astrological character, you will have a particular way of seeing, experiencing, and showing up “at the buffet.” In a very general sense, how you enjoy and “digest” what the year has to offer is particular to your Stem-and-Branch arrangement based on your year of birth.

Instead of giving superficial readings of the various signs which you can find easily online, Michael is offering focused personalized readings. In the Polestar Astrology system, fate is seen as opportunities and obligations that can potentially be influenced and directed by free will. There is an interplay between freedom and fate - opportunity and obligation.

Michael will dive into your specific Ziwei Doushu Polestar birth chart, looking at how you can show up at the buffet this year with the most insight and perspective.

  • You will learn about your essential character patterns, your primary fate patterns, and your capacity to navigate your fate.

  • You will walk away with more tools to navigate life’s opportunities and challenges.

  • You will have a deeper understanding of your larger life story within the context of this year.

  • Come with specific questions or areas where you’re looking for some added insight.

Michael is offering a new, more focused consultation timed for 30 minutes at $120. You If you’re interested, please sign up to get added to the waitlist for 2022.

Dr. Michael E. Brown, DACM, L.Ac. is a student of Ziwei Doushu polestar astrology in the lineage of Liu Ming of Da Yuan Circle. He has spent many hours with Ming and the Da Yuan Circle community, studying and completing the Mantic Arts, Nourishing Within, Healing Apprenticeship, and the Chinese Astrology materials/courses. As a registered tribal member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, he values indigenous wisdom systems and sees value in practicing and honoring these wisdom traditions to maintain good relations with Nature, our ancestors, and humanity’s place between Heaven and Earth. Michael is honored and grateful to carry these living wisdom traditions, sharing them for the benefit of all beings.

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