Zodiac Animals In Chinese Astrology

Various theories abound on the origin of the animals in Chinese astrology. From the story of a dramatic race between animals to a banquet hosted by the Jade Emperor, Buddha. It is interesting to look at this mythology as it seems to reveal the personalities of the various animal Zodiac signs.

Some legends trace the emergence of the animals and the zodiac dating back to the time of the Yellow Emperor in the year 2600 BC. However, the earliest known artifacts depicting the astrological animals are from the Warring States era, a period of great development of the arts in China. This period ran from around 475-221 BC. This make Chinese astrology one of the oldest forms of divination (and rises interesting questions about Chinese astrology’s relationship with Vedic and Western astrology). Even Marco Polo commented on the seemly accuracy of Chinese astrologers and Chinese horoscopes
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The theory that the animal zodiac signs arise during the Warring States era predates another that speculates the animal zodiacs was created during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD). The popularity of the drawings and depictions of animals from the zodiac on pottery and other artifacts during the Tang Dynasty make this a popular theory as this shows physical evidence that animal zodiac signs had spread to the general population. It is not unlike today where many people wear astrological t-shirts, jewelry and/or have zodiac art in their homes.

The Asian trade route known as the Silk Road which ran from India to China and brought the Buddhist religion east is said to have also brought the animals to the animal zodiac calendar to China (and with it the mythology as to how the zodiac calendar was created).

The majority of legends as to why animals in the Asian zodiac calendar involve the Jade Emperor, or the Buddha. One story says that Buddha summoned all of the animals of the universe for a great banquet. The order in which the animals arrived at the palace determined the order in which they are seen on the calendar. This may reveal the level of commitment and curiosity of each of the animal zodiac signs.

Another version of the legend is similar. In this story Buddha arranged a race across a river for all of the animals to compete in. During the race the animals used their natural talents and characteristics to best each other. For example, the rat won the race through its sly ways by hitching a ride on the back of the fast swimming ox and winning by a nose. The snake is said to have ridden across the water on the hoof of a horse, only to frighten the horse on the other side and get shaken off. Thus, the snake took it’s zodiac position behind the horse. The dragon who should have won the race by virtue of it being able to fly. However, the powerful, but generous dragon stopped to help a village (or a rabbit depending on which version of the story is being told) and so finished the race in the middle of the pack.

As one can see from this version of the mythology, the character of the rat and snake are to be clever which sometimes works, sometimes not. The ox is committed and determined but needs to guard against being used by others. The dragon can win every time but often chooses to do what is best and not necessarily choose to win.

Another legend that explains the animals of the Chinese zodiac also concerns the Jade Emperor. It is told that Buddha desired to return order to the world and sought the help of the animals to do so. The twelve that are on the zodiac are the only species who volunteered and Buddha gave them a year of the zodiac according to the order they arrived in. Some versions of this story includes a race similar to others being used as the way to determine the order of the zodiac and return the world order. This legend may reveal that it will take all of us to put the world in order as well the character of each of the zodiac signs.

While we will never know exactly when the Chinese started using the animals as their representatives of the zodiac we do know that it is an ancient tradition and one that has come down through the ages and is with us today. We also know that all mythology was created to explain some form of the reality we share, both now, and in the past.

Should you be interested in a Chinese astrology reading, check out Chinese Horoscope Chat. There are also some dynamite astrologers available at Ask The Astrologers. You’ll also find some great information on Chinese astrology at Hubpages

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