The I Ching is ancient and contains the core ideas of Chinese philosophy and cosmology. Its concepts strongly influenced astrology in China.
The I Ching, usually translated “Book of Changes,” is a collection of ancient Chinese texts most often referred to for the purpose of divination. Tradition has it that the trigrams, the basic concept of the book, was revealed to the legendary Chinese Emperor Fu Hsi (2953-2838 B.C.). It may even have originated from prehistoric divination techniques which date back as far as 5000 B.C. Further commentaries were added by King Wen and the Duke of Chou in the eleventh century B.C. Suffice it to say the I Ching is the aggregate texts of any number of authors and contains the major elements of ancient Chinese cosmology and philosophy. The I Ching and its basic concepts later contributed heavily to the development of Chinese astrology during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644).
Balance is the basic concept of all Chinese ancient philosophy and cosmology, the notion that the universe and all life is a blend of opposites in tension. When early Chinese philosophers looked around they saw male and female united in creation; light and dark united in the passing of days; summer and winter, spring and autumn combined in opposition to create the year. For every strength there was a weakness, for every desire a revulsion. They described this state of flux through antithetical forces using the concepts of “yin” and “yang.” The concept of yin encompasses the dark, cold, passive and female elements of creation; the concept of yang includes bright, hot, aggressive and male phenomenon. Both elements need the other to exist and nothing in the universe is purely one or the other. Thus yin is in the heart of yang and vice versa. The most common visual representation of the yin/yang concept is the two tear-drop swirls, one black, one white, each with a dot of the opposite color inside it and both encompassed in a circle. By extension then, everything can be expressed as a unique combination of yin and yang.
The basic building block of the I Ching is the trigram, the number three representing heaven, earth, and man; and being the perfect expression of centered balance. Yin and yang can combine eight different ways in combinations of three (two to the third power). Yin is represented by a broken line, while yang is represented by an unbroken line. Thus the trigram for ‘Heaven’ is three unbroken yang lines, one above the other, while the trigram for earth is three broken lines, one above the other. The remaining six trigram combinations of yin and yang represent the other six elemental forces of life. The eight elemental forces are: heaven, thunder, water (or ‘river’), mountain, earth, wind, fire and marsh (or ‘lake’). Each of these has associated characteristics and is linked to an animal, a compass point and a family member (father; mother; eldest, middle, and youngest sons and daughters).
One trigram alone however cannot describe a complex existential circumstance. Only when doubled to reflect both inner and outer worlds (or upper and lower, heaven and earth), that is when combined into hexagrams, can meditation on them illuminate a state of being. Each line of a hexagram is generated randomly by casting yarrow sticks or flipping three coins. The process is repeated six times as a hexagram is built from the bottom up. Meaning is then divined by the relationship of the hexagrams’ dualities. To make sure this relationship is not influence by willfulness it is cast by an orderly random process that emphasizes the link between the unconscious and the universe.
Astronomy truly is an ancient science in China. In fact, mankind’s first record of an eclipse of the Sun was made in China in 2136 BC. The first observatory was built during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). It is not surprising then that interest in astrology developed at this time as well. Naturally since their constellations were different their zodiac was different as well. It incorporated the underlying principals of the I Ching. The 12 signs of the Chinese zodiac are: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Hare, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, Pig. There are six domestic animals and six wild; six yin and six yang. Instead of ruling one month of the year as in Western astrology, a truly insignificant time relative to the eternal stars, each animal rules one year of a twelve year cycle. In addition to eight elemental forces, there are five basic elements that make up the physical, sensory world. These are: metal, water, wood, fire and earth (soil). When coupled with the five elements, Rat + metal for example, a Great Cycle of 60 years is created whereby each of the animals is conjoined with each element for one year. For example if you were born in 1950, your sign is Tiger, your element metal. This is known as the ‘White Tiger,’ white being the color of the element metal, west the direction associated with it and autumn the season. The next Tiger year, 1962 is a water sign, the Black Tiger. Black Tiger guards the north, and winter is his season.
The penchant for layered meaning that is so apparent in the I Ching is evident in Chinese astrology as well. Thus each of the elements is associated with a direction, a season, a flavor, an emotion, a body part, a fruit and more. The overriding impulse in the I Ching and Chinese astrology is for all-inclusiveness and complexity that reflects experience.