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What is Ziweidoushu / Polestar Fate Calculation? A brief review of the history

I was doing some historical research and trying to grasp the deep roots of Ziwei doushu 紫微斗數, the astrology/fate calculation system I hold, when I discovered some amazing figures that demonstrate some of the richness and uniqueness of the tradition. I should note that I inherited this tradition from Liu Ming, of Da Yuan Circle, and one of the founders of Five Branches University, the university I received my Masters in Chinese Medicine from.

While the details of how he came to carry and practice a living lineage of Ziwei doushu are somewhat interesting, they fit naturally into the multiple millennia history of this system of divination and fate assessment, like another stanza in a living poem.

The history of this tradition of interpreting patterns in nature and relating them to human experience and human meaning-making is rooted in Chinese cosmology and the philosophies of Yin-Yang, Heavenly Stems and Earthly Branches, Five Phases/Elements, and tracking the Lunar cycles. It's these same principles of organizing the universe that drew me into studying Chinese history and Chinese medicine. This fundamental cosmology has been synthesized with traditions that wound their way from across the globe and through centuries.

This is a simplified visualization of the astrological traditions that come together in the synthesis that is Ziwei doushu:

Simplified historical diagram of the transmission of astrological methods and traditions that have contributed to Ziwei doushu astrology.
Yoke, H. P. (2013), p. 81

It is deeply rooted in indigenous Chinese astrological methods while also synthesizing Hellenistic (Ptolemaic) and Persian and Indian (Hindu) components/elements. It's earliest documented references arrive through Tantric Buddhist and then later, Taoist texts. Some of these traditions intermingle before arriving in China around the 8th century, demonstrating the cultural richness of all of these traditions. Looking at the naming of the 12 houses across these traditions demonstrates some of the continuity and variability:

Table showing the various related traditions of natal astrology and the naming conventions of the 12 houses used in their systems.
Yoke, H. P. (2013), p. 80

Some of these methods are still practiced and studied today, each with a unique root as well as some overlapping aspects. The Ziwei doushu that I study/practice survived many dynasties and the Cultural Revolution, escaping to Taiwan, where it is most commonly practiced today. The lineage I am a part of is unique in that it survives in non-native, non-Chinese Americans who find the underlying philosophies deeply clarifying and valuable.

It is a truly synthesized system that adapts as it finds its way to those who appreciate its value and its wisdom.

As my recent client said in their reading, "You must be the real deal, Michael Brown," causing me to laugh as I replied that it's just the material handed down from our ancestors. I am just reading it.

In reflecting further, perhaps the "real deal" is in making it comprehensible to people outside of the Chinese philosophical framework and philosophy. And perhaps the real "real deal" is in continuing to practice this tradition, despite not fully understanding the mysterious story of how this system was formed and where it precisely comes from.

There is a humility that is cultivated in sharing this perspective each time I do a reading. I can't explain why readings can be so accurate but it does invite reflection on our human experience and the universal nature of our experience, despite it feeling so personal and special to each of us. There is something powerful in just recognizing our story outside of ourselves and being able to look at it more objectively. This is one of the gems of this and all forms of astrology, even if there is no explanation or justification for their empirical legitimacy.

If you are interested in looking at your life with me through this lens, feel free to check out how I do a reading.

14th century horoscope from the Zhengshi xing'an
Yoke, H. P. (2013), p. 75


Wikipedia contributors. (2022, February 19). Zi wei dou shu. Wikipedia.

Yoke, H. P. (2013). Chinese Mathematical Astrology: Reaching Out to the Stars (1st Edition). Routledge.

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