Burning Bright

This past Sunday began the Year of the Tiger.

Jim took the picture of this Lion Dancer in 2009.

Sadly, Jim and I missed the dances and demonstrations at our local Chinese Cultural Center because he was under the weather. Even so, I still felt festive, because this is “my” year.

I’m not sure exactly when I learned I was born in the Year of the Tiger, but by the year I turned twelve (that is, the first Tiger year since my birth) Kellogg introduced a campaign for Frosted Flakes that made certain that I wouldn’t forget.

Does anyone else remember the jingle? It went something like: “This is the Year of the Tiger/ Have breakfast with the Tiger of the Year!”

Kid that I was, I felt good about the fuss – even though I was a shy, bookish seventh grader who felt all knees and elbows, not tigerish at all.

Even then, though, I wondered about how everyone born in the same year could be said to be the same. It would take the passing of a couple more Tiger years before I got around to learning the answer.

First of all, the cycle of the Chinese zodiac is not twelve years, but sixty: twelve Earthly branches combined with the ten Heavenly Stems. In later centuries, the twelve Earthly Branches came to be associated with the twelve animals we all know and love – if from nowhere else than the paper place mats in Chinese restaurants.

The Ten Heavenly Stems came to be associated with the five elements. Yes. Five. No typo. The Chinese consider the universe to be divided into five elements: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water.

I consulted the charts and learned that “my” year is a Water Tiger year. Still, I wasn’t satisfied. Did that mean I was the same as every other Water Tiger? Again, the answer is “no.” Chinese astrology is as complex as its more familiar Western counterpart. Time of birth, right down to the minute, plays a role. When casting a horoscope, you need to adjust for your Time Zone, so even location of birth matters.

It’s funny but, although I had similar questions about Western Astrology (my brother and I are both Virgos, both born on the same day, but not twins and certainly no more alike than we are like either of our sisters), I never bothered to learn how to calculate horoscopes by that system. It just didn’t catch my fancy as the Chinese system did. My buddy David Weber has said he’s positive that in another life I was Chinese or Japanese… Whatever, it’s certain that I love the details of what used to be called “Oriental” cultures.

That love has had an enthusiastic outlet in my most recent novels: Thirteen Orphans, Nine Gates, and the forthcoming Five Odd Honors. Although the main setting for these novels is the modern United States, I had a grand time weaving in elements of Chinese culture and cosmology.

To answer the obvious next question… No. Pearl Bright, the Tiger of the Thirteen Orphans, isn’t me, but there are times I wouldn’t mind being her.

2 Responses to “Burning Bright”

  1. heteromeles Says:

    Happy New Year!

    Something to giggle about. I married a wonderful oriental woman (I’m anglo), and our birthdays are nine days apart. We have very similar Chinese and western astrological natal charts, unsurprisingly.

    What is fun is that her western chart better fits her personality than does her Chinese, chart, whereas my chinese chart fits my personality much better. Go figure.

    If you’re interested, I actually figured out a way for any group of people to do a good, scientific test of astrology, using nothing but their personal horoscopes. It’s a bit of work, but you do learn a lot about how astrology really works (hint: I’m not a believer).

  2. Jane Lindskold Says:

    Thanks for the offer, but I think I’ll bow out.

    My interest in horoscopes tends to fall in the direction of living mythology. I’m fascinated by how some of the things we think of as “old” are often quite new or, if old, have been given new life by the cultures that adopt them.

    Happy New Year!

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