Welcome to the David Victor Vector Blog

Welcome to the David Victor Vector blog. This is blog that covers religious observances around the world international affairs and global business. This blog describes religious holidays for most major religions as well as raising issues dealing with globalization, international business ethics, cross-cultural business communication and political events affecting business in an integrated world economy. I look forward your discussion and commentary on these articles and subjects. Enjoy!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Year of the Green Wood Horse: Some Background

Friday, January 31, 2014 begins the Year of the Horse. It is the beginning of the year 4711 (in some traditions, 4712) in the Asian lunar system, which is the Year of the Wood Horse.   

In today’s posting, I would like to share with you some specifics about the Year of the Horse as well as some background to the Asian Zodiac system as a whole.

That said, you may also be interested in reading three related posts on

1)  Lunar New Year Customs around the world at

2)  Year of the Horse: Business Impact  at   http://davidvictorvector.blogspot.com/2014/01/year-of-horse-business-impact.html

3) List of 145 Year of the Horse Festivals gives 145 major celebrations (parades, galas or other celebrations) for the Year of the Horse in 26 countries beyond where it is officially part of the tradition. Of these, 55 are in the United States, 23 in Canada, 18 in the United Kingdom, 13  in Australia,  and 8 in France with the others spread across the globe. You can read this at http://davidvictorvector.blogspot.com/2014/01/year-of-horse-celebrations-around-world.html

In today’s posting, though, we look only at the background to the Year of the Horse specifically and the Asian Zodiac system as a whole.

The Asian Zodiac Briefly Explained

The Asian Zodiac (or horoscope) associated with the Asian or Chinese New Year is taken very seriously by those who follow it in their tradition. The significance attributed to the combinations associated with the Asian horoscope affect business decisions, dates selected for important events such as weddings, and many other aspects of daily life. These views are widely shared, with a larger following than any single religion -- Western or Eastern. As a result, these beliefs should be treated with the respect accorded a religious belief (rather than with that of superstition as Western astrology is sometimes treated).

The Lunar Calendar

Because the Asian lunar calendar follows the moon, it seems to move within our solar-based Gregorian calendar. Moreover, the Gregorian calendar does not correspond fully with the Asian lunar calendar. Thus, January 31  marks the beginning of the Asian lunar calendar only this year  for the Year of the Horse (for instance, it began last year on February 10, 2013 with the last day of that year -- Year of the Snake -- falling on January 30, 2014).

The Twelve Animals of the Zodiac

The lunar calendar runs on a cycle of 12 years each represented by an animal.  The animals all have a balance of compatability or incompatability as represented in their place in the circle of the 12-year cycle. This year is the Year of the Horse.
The 12 Animals of the Zodiac

The 12 animals in their order are

  1. Rat
  2. Ox
  3. Tiger
  4. Rabbit
  5. Dragon
  6. Snake
  7. Horse
  8. Sheep
  9. Monkey
  10. Rooster
  11. Dog
  12. Pig

Each animal corresponds to a month of the lunar year. The horse, this year's governing animal,  corresponds to the seventh animal in the cycle.
Horse, Middle Tang Dynasty China, 8th Century CE
Los Angeles County Museum of Art

The Five Elements of the Wu Xing Cycle
Additionally, each 12-year cycle of animals runs on an additional cycle corresponding to the Wu Xing cycle of the five traditional Chinese elements. These are
  1. metal
  2. fire
  3. wood
  4. water
  5. earth
  6. Wu Xing Cycle

The five elements are in balance with each other, the basis of much of feng shui.

Each element is also associated with a color. In the case of wood, that color is green.

Combined, each element combines with each animal over a period of 60 years.  The current 12-year cycle combines with the element of Water. Thus, this year is the Year of the Green Wood Horse.  

Spiritual Importance of the Asian Horoscope

Many followers of the Asian zodiac have a formal religious belief in the importance of the animal element combinations associated with each year in the 60-year cycle. This is clearly the case for those practicing Taoism.

For Taoists, the New Year is always of religious significance. This because in Taoism, the Lunar New Year's first day is a time when lesser deities or spirits are believed to ascend to the throne of the Jade Emperor (King of Heaven).  In Taoist tradition, the 12 animals were in a contest to greet the Jade Emperor; a 13th animal – the cat – was tricked by the rat (about five variations of how exist), which explains why cats have hated rats ever since.  A children's version of this story is told in an very pleasant rendition at the Topmarks education site. I encourage you to take a look at this version at http://www.topmarks.co.uk/ChineseNewYear/ZodiacStory.aspx

The 12 Zodiac animals
in their race

The New Year is a religious event as well for a great number of the sects of Buddhism, and most famously for Tibetan Buddhists. In Buddhist tradition, the 12 animals were in a race to do honor to Lord Buddha on the eve of his death.  The rat and cat story is part of this tradition, too.  Incidentally, the rat was the first animal to greet Buddha.  He did so by helping the ox (which had poor eyesight) find his way across a stream by riding on his head.  When the two reach Lord Buddha on the other shore, the rat jumped off the ox’s head, reaching Lord Buddha first.  

Additionally, though Confucianism is not technically a religion (but rather a philosophical system), its followers also traditional observe the lunar New Year to show reverence to their ancestors.  Because of this, even Christians and practitioners of other faiths in such countries as  as Korea or Vietnam generally celebrate the holiday. The same holds true for those people in cultures with strong Confucian customs who have no religion at all or for those with mixed traditions.

Personality Traits and Asian Astrological Year

Qing Dynasty Jade Horse carrying across the waves
a flaming jewel (symbol of Buddha's Doctrine)
Asian Art Museum, San Francisco
Many people attribute a great deal of significance to the personality traits attributed to the animal associated with the year in which they are born.  Each animal has its own traits, and then each animal and element combination has their own subtraits. These are explained later in the blog
Horse, Circle of the Zodiac (2011)
by Ai Weiwei
The Year of the Horse is associated with strength, high energy and intelligence. As with all Asian Horoscope years, those believers born in a previous Year of the Horse (e.g., 1930, 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990 or 2002) will find this year an especially auspicious year.
Horse and Rider, Silla Kingdom (6th Century CE)
National Museum of Korea, Seoul
It is important to note that the animal of one’s birth year is not seen as fully able to stand on its own in understanding an individual’s personality traits and tendencies. These must at a minimum, as we have discussed, take into account the associated five elements. Additionally, East Asian astrologers account for the inner or secret animal assigned by the day of the month and hour of the day on which one is born.  In all, there are 8640 combinations (e.g., 12 months, 5 elements, 12 months, 12 times of day).

Chinese Astrology Not A Particular Accurate Term

The system discussed here is often called Chinese astrology. This is a misnomer for two reasons.  First, the holiday is far more widely observed than in just China, especially in Korea, Singapore, Bhutan, Japan, Tibet, Mongolia and Vietnam as well as those from these backgrounds living in other countries. 

I have described the holiday in general in this post. In a future post, I will discuss followed the culturally specific differences in customs at the close of this summary.

East Asian lunar zodiac
That said, for all the culturally diverse places in which the Asian New Year is celebrated, the calendar on which it is based does have its origins in China. The first written records of the calendar and the celebration of the New Year date to China’s Shang Dynasty (1766-1050 BC), although traditionally it is believed to date back to the rule of the semi-mythical Yellow Emperor Huang Di around 2600 BC.

A second reason the phrase Chinese astrology is a misnomer is that the system really has nothing to do with constellations as astrology does in the West. It is less a reading of the stars than an interpretation of the importance of the time, date and year in which one is born.  To the extent that when one is born matters to Western-style astrology, there is a correspondence. Moreover, there is another similarity as the five elements in the system, in fact, do correspond with the five planets known in ancient China.

Because of these corresponding commonalities with Western astrology, many people call the Asian system’s combinations of animals and elements the lunar or Chinese “horoscope”.  This is a bit of a misnomer, however, not only for the reasons just described but because the way in which people view the two “horoscopes” is very different.  

The difference here is that many people (although with many exceptions) in Europe, Australia and the Americas consider the Western zodiac horoscope of star signs (Scorpio, Sagittarius, etc.) to be a form of superstition, a game or something believed only partially. 

This is NOT the case with the Asian lunar horoscope cycle, where people follow their sign very seriously. As a result, the system, though it transcends that of any specific religion, should be treated with the respect accorded religious beliefs. In any case, the point here is that in a cross-cultural and inter-religious sense, the issue of lunar horoscope animal element signs should be treated with respect.

The Horse in Buddhist and Taoist Tradition

The horse in Buddhist and Taoist tradition originally not only was the most graceful and strongest runner on land but had great wings with which he soared through the skies and a great skill in the water so that he could swim easily for hours at a time.  Because the horse was so talented whether on land, in the skies or in the water, he grew very full of himself and haughty.  Man-Ho Kwok in his book on Chinese Astrology (listed in the bibliography below) relates the rest of this Taoist tale regarding the Horse and the Jade Emperor as follows:
One day he [the Horse] was asked to take a message to the Dragon King of the East Sea. Stopped by the King's guards on his way into the palace, he became furious and kick an unfortunate guard to death. When the Emperor heard of this, he ordered that the horse's wings be cut off and the horse placed underneath a great mountain. After two hundred years of agony beneath the mountain, the ancestor of humanity passed by. Hearing him, the horse cried out that he wished to dedicate his life to serving humanity. The ancestor was moved by this and used magic to free the horse. In thanks, the horse dedicated himself to humans, ploughing the fields, transporting goods and fighting bravely in battle. Consequently, when the animal signs were chosen, the horse was one of the first to be recommended by the people, and was duly appointed by the Jade Emperor in acknowledgement of their works.  (Kwok, p. 24)
Buddha's horse Kanthaka
(2nd Century) British Museum, London
The view of the horse has important positive associations with Buddhism as well. When Prince Siddhartha was not yet the Buddha, among his greatest attachments was to his faithful white horse Kanthaka.  Kanthaka took a part in nearly all events in the life of Siddhartha before he renounced the world on his path to becoming Lord Buddha. When Siddhartha renounced all things of the world, Kanthaka died of a broken heart and was reincarnated as a Brahmin.  

Special Regional Associations With The Horse

The horse has an especially important symbolic value within both Tibetan and Mongolian Buddhist traditions, both of which have within them the belief in the "wind horse" (lung-ta in Tibetan or khimorii in Mongolian). In both Tibetan and Mongolian traditions, the wind horse helps the soul on its journey to heaven. In China too the horse ties to the very earliest appearance of Buddhism's arrival in the country.
Tibetan lung-ta or "wind horse" 

The Horse in Tibetan Tradition

The wind horse in Tibetan Buddhism predates Buddhism as a shamanistic symbol in folk traditions (mi-cho, literally meaning "the religion of humans"). The religious use of the wind horse was not at first considered an accepted element of proper Buddhism (la-cho, or divine religion), but over time the two became interwoven. Today, the prayer flags used to bless their surroundings are called lung-ta, that is "wind horses."  
Tibetan prayer flags or "wind horses"
While other symbols are possible, the most common image appearing on the prayer flags is that of the horse with the three flaming jewels (symbols of the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha) carried on its back.  The prayer flags come in sets of five with each of the colors of the Five Pure Lights: blue, white, red, green and yellow. Tibetan Buddhist believe that the lung-ta spread peace, strength, wisdom and feelings of caring through the prayers and mantras associated with them. At this point, it is important to dispel a widespread myth about the prayer flags. Tibetan Buddhists do not see the lung-ta as specific prayers (which makes the name "prayer flag" a bit misleading). Rather, they see that the lung-ta disseminate prayer through the wind so that the prayers are for the general good of everyone rather than for a specific individual and a specific prayer. Thus, the wind horse is the symbol of the well-being of everyone. 

The Horse in Mongolian Tradition

In Mongolian Buddhism, the tradition of the "wind horse" (called khimorii or himori in Mongolian) is also a major symbol.  Indeed, so central is the wind horse to Mongolian identity it is the central image on the official state emblem of Mongolia. 

State Emblem of Mongolia

In Mongolian Buddhism, the horse is the symbol of good fortune and the fulfillment of wishes. Mongolian Buddhism is closely interwoven with shamanism that long predates Buddhism arrival in the country, and shamanism is widely practiced throughout modern Mongolian today. In Mongolian shamanism (and through it, associated Buddhism practice), the wind horse is the source of shamanistic power. It resides within the individual shaman (primarily located in his or her chest) and is the source of the shaman's power to do good deeds and to hold psychic power. The wind horse grows stronger with each good deed or good thought of the shaman and grows weaker with each bad deed or bad thought of the shaman. Because the horse is so central to the Mongolian concept of self-identity and good fortune, the Year of the Horse is a particularly propitious year there.

The Horse in Chinese Tradition
The horse as a symbol of Buddhism is among the oldest in Chinese history. In fact, the oldest Buddhist temple in China -- dating to 69 AD -- is the White Horse Temple in Luoyang, Henan Province.
White Horse Temple, Luoyang, Henan Province China
The White Horse Temple was established by the Chinese Emperor Ming-di of Han after he had a vision of the Buddha and sent representatives to India to find the source of his dream. The representatives returned to Luoyang (at the time the national capital) with two Buddhist monks riding on white horses. The two monks were Dharmaratna and Kasyapa Matanga (in Chinese Zhu Falan and Jia Yemoteng respectively) who came carrying Buddhist scriptures and statues.
Emperor Ming Di had a temple built which he named after the two white horses on which the monks arrived. It was at the White Horse Temple, in turn, where Dharmaratna and Kasyapa Matanga first translated the Sutra of Forty-Two Chapters into Chinese. Because of this, the horse has carried a long association with the introduction of Buddhism to the Chinese world.

Personality Traits Associated with Year of the Horse
It is important, again, to emphasize that for many people, the traits described here are taken very seriously and, by many others, at least somewhat seriously. The descriptions that follow are general traits. Professional astrologers in East Asia bore down through the specific year in the 60-year cycle (the element), the specific day and the specific hour of birth. As mentioned above, this produces 8640 possible permutations. The characteristics of any given year's zodiac animal, therefore, is considered by believers to be a very general influence.

Positive Horse Traits

Netsuke horse
18th Century Japan
Victoria & Albert Museum, London
Those born in the Year of the Horse are – on the positive side -- considered to be naturally optimistic, highly innovative and blessed with great charisma and exceptional persuasion skills.  As the Chinesezodiac.org site puts it,

These are the natural salespeople of the Chinese Zodiac. Their upbeat and physically magnetic nature combines with a love of thinking up new ideas. They love to help anyone and anything to get ahead, including themselves. Horses will do a good job. They want to succeed. Never underestimate a Horse native’s power of persuasion. http://www.chinesezodiac.org/horse#personality
Horse people are thought to be among the most outgoing of the signs and among the hardest workers. They are also restless, with a strong need to live freely and roam. As one online site explains:

Horse is an active and energetic sign. Horse is the sign of ardor. Those born under this sign are cheerful, full of energy, determined, popular,and smart. His adventurous spirit makes him eager to try new things and treat life like voyage...Free-spirited and open-minded, they are very likable. Their enthusiasm and vivacity make them famous. http://chinesehoroscop-e.com/Horse%20Zodiac.html 
Finally, people born in the Year of the Horse are excellent travelers, comfortable wherever they roam and adaptable to all sorts of cultures and settings they encounter.

Negative Traits
On the negative side, people born in the Year of the Horse are believed to be extremely difficult to characterize, as nearly every attribute is tempered by its opposite.. In other words, as the Suite 101 article "Chinese Zodiac Signs" explains: "People born in the Year of the Horse often have contradictory traits."

For example, while Horse people are extroverted and comfortable in crowds, they often prefer to work alone. Similarly, while they are described as having a strong need for intimacy, they fear being "penned in" without the ability to roam freely.

The one straightforward negative trait believers attribute to people born in the Year of the Horse is that they tend to be hot-tempered and narcissistic  As one Chinese Astrology site puts it:
The Horse is hot-blooded, hot-headed and impatient. He is a bit of an egoist, well, selfish sometimes, that it is rare for him to interest himself in any problems except his own. And though this egoist works only for himself and for his own success, his work nevertheless benefits everybody. http://www.chinesezodiac.org/horse

Horse, Qin Dynasty
Terracotta Army Museum, Xian, China

Year of the Wood Horse Predictions

Galloping Horse
by Xu Beihong (1895-1953)
Predictions for the Year of the Wood Horse are based on the personality attributes ascribed to the characteristics believed to describe all people born under the Horse zodiac sign. The attributes of wood are then superimposed on this.

While the personality attributes of people born in the Year of the Horse were described in greater detail above, generally speaking they are seen as being able to act very quickly. They are also perceived as having exceptional persistence and endurance, high energy, and an outgoing personality that natural attracts friendships.

The central characteristic of years governed by the element of wood is growth. This is often added to a tendency for people to lean on others and to take on more than they can handle.

The Year of the Wood Horse, in turn, combines these attributes. The result is a year (for everyone) of rapid personal and business growth, especially for those who pursue such growth with high energy and persistence. As astrologer Susan Levitt puts it:

The Wood Horse year is a time of fast victories, unexpected adventure, and surprising romance. It is an excellent year for travel, and the more far away and off the beaten path the better. Energy is high and production is rewarded. Decisive action, not procrastination, brings victory. But you have to act fast in a Horse year. http://susanlevitt.com/astrology/horse-year-2014/

The professional astrologer Paul Ng takes this further, balancing the year within the 60-year cycle. Ng explains that this is the Mountain-Wind Urn year in that cycle, with an uneven balance of yin and yang (2 yang influences as against 4 yin ones). He indicates a year of storminess in a 60-year occurence of the "Water Thunder Storage" so that "Clouds and thunder cross one another, with rain arriving. This hints the beginning of many things, such as our infancy stage." http://www.paulng.com/CMS/uploads/2014-geo.pdf 

Happy Year of the Wood Horse!

Want to Learn More

Chinese Horoscop-e.com, "Horse"   http://chinesehoroscop-e.com/Horse%20Zodiac.html

Chinese Zodiac.org, "Year of the Horse"  http://www.chinesezodiac.org/horse#personality

Man-ho Kwok, Chinese Astrology: Forecast Your Future from Your Chinese Horoscope, Tuttle Publishing, 1997.

Theodora Lau, The Handbook of Chinese Horoscopes (6th edition), Collins Reference, 2007.

Kah Joon Liow, "12 Chinese Zodiac Sign," Living Chinese Symbols http://www.living-chinese-symbols.com/12-chinese-zodiac-sign.html

Levitt, Susan, "Horse Year 2014": http://susanlevitt.com/astrology/horse-year-2014/

Paul Ng, "Predictions for 2014 (Year of the Wooden Horse)"  http://www.paulng.com/CMS/uploads/2014-geo.pdf

Online Chinese Astrology http://www.onlinechineseastrology.com/

Topmarks Education, "Zodiac Story, Chinese New Year."  http://www.topmarks.co.uk/ChineseNewYear/ZodiacStory.aspx

David Twicken, Five Element Chinese Astrology Made Easy, iUniverse, 2000.

Suzanne White, The New Chinese Astrology, Thomas Dunne Books, 2009.

Shelly Wu, Chinese Astrology: Exploring the Eastern Zodiac, New Page Books, 2005.

Derek Walters, The Complete Guide to Chinese Astrology, Watkins Publishing, 2005.

Ho-Peng Yoke, Chinese Mathematical Astrology: Reaching Out to the Stars, Routledge, 2003. This is the pre-eminent book on the mathematical science of Asian lunar horoscope calculations. It is downloadable at http://www.ebook3000.com/Chinese-Mathematical-Astrology--Reaching-out-for-the-stars--Needham-Research-Institute-Series-_130932.html

Clip Art Sources:
Yin Yang animation: http://www.eharrishome.com/Kungfu.html

The 12 Zodiac animals in their race:  http://media.photobucket.com/image/recent/firefoxthief/zodiaccolor.jpg'

Qing Dynasty Jade Horse with flaming jewel, Asian Museum, San Francisco: http://searchcollection.asianart.org/media/view/Objects/10449/8008?t:state:flow=7cb6396b-1064-4517-b439-15a54105cdfd

Horse and Rider, Silla Kingdom (6th Century CE), National Museum of Korea, Seoul:  http://www.museum.go.kr/program/relic/relicDetailEng.jsp?menuID=002005002&relicDetailID=15206&relicID=3802

Ai Weiwei, Horse from Circle of the Zodiac, 2011: http://www.designboom.com/art/ai-weiwei-circle-of-animals-zodiac-heads-world-tour/

East Asian Lunar Zodiac:  http://www.china-family-adventure.com/chinese-zodiac.html

Horse, Qin Dynasty Terracotta Army Museum, Xian, China:  http://www.emuseumstore.com/Chinese-Xian-Warrior-Horse-Terracotta-Statue-Large_p_3398.html

Galloping Horse by Xu Beihong (1895-1953): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:XuBeihong-Pferd.jpg

Buddha's horse Kanthaka  (2nd Century) British Museum, London:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Siddharta_parting_from_Kanthaka_and_Chandaka_BM_OA1880.65.jpg

Tibetan Lung-ta flag:http://vg.sitesalive.com/saturday-updates/qa/view/149/

Tibetan prayer flags or "wind horses": http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Prayerflags.jpg

State emblem of Mongolia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:State_emblem_of_Mongolia.svg

 White Horse Temple, Luoyang, Henan Province, China: http://www.buddhistedu.org/en/culture/buddhist-culture/218-the-white-horse-temple-first-buddhist-temple-in-china

Netsuke horse, 18th Century Japan, Victoria & Albert Museum, London: http://www.vam.ac.uk/__data/assets/image/0017/227042/2997-large_290x435.jpg 

Red horse design at start of personality trait description:  http://www.china-tour.cn/China-Pictures/Chinese_Zodiac_Horse.htm


1 comment:

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