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Meanings and Elements
Written and illustrated by Grace Duong
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The Chinese Zodiac has been in place for more than 2000 years, used as an esoteric system to make sense of one’s personality, good fortune, and also destiny. The Chinese Zodiac incorporates the 12 Chinese Astrology Signs, seen as animals, and also the 5 Chinese Zodiac elements — Earth, Fire, Metal, Water, and Wood. The meanings of the elements are towards the end of this article if you’d like to read about yours!
What is the Chinese Zodiac?
In the Chinese Zodiac, the signs are based off the lunar calendar and the signs span for the entire year. This practice is dated for the past 2000 years, but can span even further than that as there is no exact origin date. This form of metaphysical reading has been used to predict anything from compatbility, to soul’s purpose, agriculture, collective needs like economic rises and falls, the outcome of wars, and even more.
The Chinese Zodiac is comprised of 12 animals, making each a Chinese Zodiac Sign. Each animal rules an entire year and its influence can flavor the year with its certain energy. The year that you were born marks the Chinese Zodiac that influences you and is known as your Chinese Zodiac sign, giving you characteristics of that animal that are blessed with both strengths and weaknesses. The element of that year further impacts certain personality traits and can add deeper understanding to your Chinese Zodiac Sign.
Since the Chinese Zodiac follows the lunar calendar, the start of the new Chinese Zodiac sign rolls around every Lunar New Year, which in largely Asian cultures, marks the new beginning of the year. The twelve animals in order are the Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat (or Sheep), Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig.
Today, we often use the Chinese Zodiac for our personal horoscopes, adding meaning to enrich our lives with personal knowledge that can influence our individual lives while being connected to the collective. According to historians, personal horoscopes arrived in China with Buddhism during the Han Dynasty (ca. 150 CE), acknowledging the individual journey within group consciousness.
The Mythology of the Chinese Zodiac
The mythology of the Chinese Zodiac has many variations of the tale, however the foundation of the story involves an Emperor who announced a great race between the 12 animals who were to compete against each other. The order of the twelve animals determined the order of how they are placed within the Chinese Zodiac.
The tale goes that the rat, using its wit and clever nature, hopped on the Ox’s shoulders, and jumped off when approaching the finish line, winning by a hair. The pig is said to be last because it stopped for a snack and a nap along the way.
Another Chinese legend says the Yellow Emperor created the animal signs around 2637 B.C. And yet another legend says Lord Buddha called on the animals of Earth to appear before him before he departed, with only 12 animals making their presence known to wish him farewell. These animals were rewarded by the order they arrived.
No matter the legend, the Chinese Zodiac remains an influential way for people to understand themselves and those around them, used in traditional fortune telling and in developing personal awareness alike.
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CHINESE ZODIAC ANIMALS
CHINESE ZODIAC ELEMENTS
Chinese Zodiac Animals Meanings
Cunning and clever, the influence of the year of the Rat gives you an ability to apply your intelligence and crafty perspective to succeed in a wide variety of environments and circumstances. Your friends know you to be charming and quick-witted, yet beneath your warm exterior lies an ambitious, focused internal life centered around bettering yourself and seeking out new opportunities. This pragmatic side proves especially valuable when it comes to managing your finances. You tend not to place a high value on material objects and are inclined to find the most cost-effective means of living your life without depriving yourself or those you love.
Your deft ability to seamlessly adapt to any social circle makes you a hit at any gathering as well as a great employee. Reading a room is typically your forte and often allows you to easily evaluate whether or not you want to pursue a friendship or romantic relationship with someone. However, given that you can be impulsive upon occasion, it’s key that you ensure your observations are grounded in objective truths and not your own projections or misconceptions before making any rash decisions. As long as you ensure your convictions are built on a solid foundation, you will continue to find success in both the professional and personal realms.
As an Ox, you may be known for your stubborn and conservative nature. Some may perceive you as narrow-minded given the intensity and focus that you possess, but, in actuality, these same traits are what make you so dependable. As an Ox, there is no task that is too labor-intensive or mentally taxing for you to take on and complete with a diligent, resolute attitude, showcasing your ability to persevere despite anything you may face. You view your personal development with a similar measured and patient approach. You understand that you are constantly evolving and are invested in yourself for the long-haul. After all, your most precious investment is you!
Despite this, when you slip up, your ego can make it hard for you to accept blame, rectify any damage done, and move forward. In these moments, turning toward your most humble self can save you from entering into negative cycles or repeating past offenses. In your relationships, you tend to have an “all or nothing” attitude. While others might find satisfaction in surface-level connections, you’re interested in deeper relationships that often require commitment for a rhythm to develop. This more traditional perspective might seem old-fashioned to some, but, as someone that likes to take their time and develop a plan before pursuing something new, whether it be a relationship or a professional endeavor, it offers you comfort and security.
While known for its ferocious nature, in the Chinese Zodiac the Tiger is known for being both tough and tender. Your loyalty, will-power, and charismatic energy allow you to captivate any room that you walk into. This ability to hold others’ attention can prove invaluable. However, you’ll want to balance your desire for external validation with an equally strong, built-in sense of self. This will ensure that you are better able to navigate the ups and downs we each inevitably face over the course of our lifetimes.
Your rebellious side can come out in playful, unexpected ways, including in your surprisingly gentle approach to romantic entanglements. You’re not afraid to think outside of the box and possess a growth mindset that allows you to accept failure as simply a part of life. When you do succeed, you may feel a strong itch to share your accomplishments with others, but beware! This can sometimes appear braggadocious or narcissistic. In order to maintain your relationships with those around you, you’ll want to balance your need for public acknowledgement with the high value you place on showing up for them. Keep your promises to them, and those you love will trust in you and continue to cheer you on!
The Rabbit is not necessarily known as the most ambitious of the animals in the Chinese Zodiac, yet its earnestness and gentle temperament are remarkable. You’re someone that is able to float through social interactions as if walking on air, yet you don’t have a desire to be the center of attention. While shy and seemingly introverted, you contain an easy-going and agreeable nature and are well-liked in your social circle, seeking to maintain this positive public perception whenever possible.
You are a skillful negotiator, a trait that is valuable given your distaste for conflict. This, coupled with your quick mind and pure heart, allows you to come up with compromises that are to the benefit of all. This beneficence is also evident in your willingness to prioritize the interests of your colleagues and your family over achieving personal gains. You understand that you are only as strong as those around you. At times, you have to remind yourself to show yourself the same level of compassion that you do your loved ones. Investing time in acts of self-care such as journaling or meditating might even spark your imagination, making your goals clearer and setting you on a path you never would’ve anticipated.
Fiery and self confident, your ambitious mentality exudes the “do what it takes” attitude embodied by the Dragon. While your goals may seem lofty to some, your confidence in your ability to achieve them prevents anyone else’s doubts from dissuading you. You are aware of the trials and tribulations that may come with taking the road less traveled as well as the amazing outcomes that past innovators and risk-takers have achieved through similar means. Be careful that your tenacity does not prevent you from acknowledging well-founded criticisms or words of wisdom that you could benefit from.
Pride is what propels you forward. You believe in the importance of the life you are dreaming up for yourself and are more than capable of defending it. At times, your rather volatile emotional landscape can prove overwhelming to those that you’re closest with, especially your romantic partners. Yet, although you may be quick to anger or take a defensive stance, you are not one to hold grudges. You know that you cannot fully understand anyone else’s circumstances, and, with this in mind, you remain willing to give others the benefit of the doubt. If day to day happenings have you feeling down, conjure the same creativity you’ve used in the past and channel it into finding new sources of excitement and energy.
Others might expect you to be cold blooded, but you prove them wrong about those born under the Snake with your serene temperament, ever-engaged mind, and love of experiences that light up your senses. You get bored easily, which translates into your desire to switch things up in your routines on a relatively frequent basis. In a similar vein, your self-assured, independent streak also manifests itself in a desire to live up to your high expectations of yourself. Luckily, you are capable of communicating effectively with others, so that they understand what you are looking for, not only from yourself but also what you hope they will bring to the table.
You don’t bite, but your mysterious nature can make it difficult for others to read you. You proceed with caution, and it can be hard for you to feel comfortable opening up to others. When you do let your guard down and reveal your vulnerable side, your friends are pleasantly surprised by your emotional intelligence. There will be moments when you are tempted to lash out rather than taking the high road, but if you allow your intuition to guide your actions, you can be confident in your decisions to lead the way.
Wild and free, like a rogue horse, there’s a part of your spirit that remains untamed. This boundless energy frequently alchemizes into a desire for more, generating a sense of restlessness and wanderlust in you. While you are driven and possess the grit necessary to get your work done, you sometimes struggle with seeing your professional and personal commitments to others through as your attention dwindles. Similarly, a lack of an interest in delving into the details of your finances can sometimes make managing your budget a struggle. Yet, if you harness some of your uncompromising nature and turn it toward holding yourself accountable, you can see tangible benefits.
Your sense of humor and extroverted, easy-going nature can make you seem like the most confident person in the room. However, while you have many friends and are capable of effortlessly prancing through a crowd, underneath your especially indomitable appearance lie your insecurities, just like anyone else. Your disdain for taking orders from authority figures coupled with your matter-of-fact point of view can prove to be challenging. Learning to listen to others and to open up and share your vulnerabilities, flaws and all, can result in pure magic.
The Goat is gentle, but if you cross it, its herd will rally around in support! You are known for keeping to yourself, but you would steadfastly walk on fire in order to resiliently fight for those that you love. This is one of the magical things about those born under the auspices of this animal – they are simultaneously polite to others and resolute in their stances. You desire stability and tend to seek it out in the form of groups of other like-minded individuals that you can grow and learn from. Sometimes anxieties around the best way to preserve these relationships can fill you with worry that you’re not enough, even if in reality you’re doing more than anyone else. Value the worth that others see inside of you too.
While it’s easier said than done, try to avoid overthinking these social dynamics. You’ve got your herd’s back, and they, in turn, have got yours! Your considerate nature can leave you vulnerable to others’ ill intentions. Remember, you can maintain your amicable demeanor and stellar reputation while also protecting yourself. Others could learn from your peaceful approach to conflict and your willingness to cede time and attention to your friends and family. However, make sure that your needs are being met, and, if they aren’t, challenge yourself to get comfortable advocating for what you want.
Playful, flexible, and even a little naughty, the Monkey’s magnetic energy attracts an interesting crowd of friends and admirers. As those that have been in your presence know, the monkey’s confidence is contagious! You carry yourself with a boisterous, fun attitude that belies your intellect and ability to seamlessly pick up new skills. Your flexibility allows you to successfully navigate different settings without losing touch with the aspects of yourself and values that make you uniquely yourself. You’re ready to bring your strong desire to innovate along with you as you seize every opportunity that you’re presented with.
Although at times you may risk coming off as exuberant, others often find themselves drawn to you as someone that they can easily relate to. Plus, they can live vicariously through your impulsive, sometimes shocking acts! On the other hand, your sense of humor might not always align with that of those around you, and you may risk going a bit too far. Should you find that you’ve crossed the line, a sincere apology can go a long way in smoothing over any sources of disappointment or discomfort, with a genuine approach making all the difference.
In the Chinese Zodiac, the Rooster is associated with being capable of divining the future, as it awakes each of us with its call every morning. Thus, those born in conjunction with this animal may feel as though they have a particularly intense connection with their own intuition as well as with the universe at large. At times, you may feel as though your mind cannot fully comprehend and articulate in words what your gut is telling you. Rather than allow this to overwhelm you, you can find ways to embrace the gift of your foresight without wishing you could mold it into something tangible.
You are dedicated to keeping a firm boundary between your personal life and your career, desiring to create a balance that promotes your well-being. When it comes to your relationships, you are known for your fidelity and the impeccability of your words. In your professional life, you are perceptive and resourceful, which allows you to come up with unexpected, innovative solutions. Despite your abilities, you may feel as though you’re on the brink of falling down a perfection-seeking spiral. Don’t allow your desire to reach new heights prevent you from admiring the view from where you’re at in the current moment. Your power lies in your presence.
There is a reason that dogs are considered man’s best friend! Those lucky enough to fall under this category are known for their loyalty, ingenuity, and sincerity. Whether in business or in love, you make especially great partners who will do anything for the ones you value most. Bold and direct, you’re known for your bark, however remember to back up your words with action! Only then will you instill faith in your loyal followers.
You are not likely to fall in love at first sight, but, when you do, you’re in it for the rollercoaster of emotions that is sure to follow. Your ability to forgive others for any missteps is second to none and allows your partners to grow alongside you through times of challenges and triumphs. The joy you take in helping others, whether by volunteering your time or offering to carry the burden, it is a beautiful reminder of how we can always positively impact others through simple acts of service.
While the misconception that the Pig in the Chinese Zodiac are typically lazy folks, the opposite is true. The influence of the Pig can make you compassionate, sympathetic, and honest. You always choose to believe that others have the best of intentions, sometimes to your own detriment. You deeply value your friends and are quick to step up to the plate in their time of need without expecting anything in return. The Pig is a prized bounty and often blessed with good fortune.
You manage to occupy positions of authority gracefully without losing your sense of humor. You are not prone to arguing and prefer to simply look at past disagreements as water under the bridge. Even amidst praise from others, you tend to remain your own worst critic, concentrating on your flaws rather than all of your positive attributes. What would you be capable of if you channeled that same energy into celebrating yourself? Treat yourself as you would treat others and let yourself off the hook from time to time. With self compassion and awareness, you can illuminate a path forward that displays an unprecedented generosity of spirit towards yourself that inevitably will spill out to those around you.
Full of kinetic energy, Fire brings out your unruly passionate side. This can yield either beautiful results or destruction, depending on the level of control you have over this element’s influence. Fire leads you to experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, ranging from euphoric joy and creative bursts to more intense emotions like anger and resentment. At certain moments, you may feel tempted to burn bridges, severing ties with individuals you once relied upon when your ego is hurt. When that happens, remember to take a step back to tend to your wounds – taking the space and becoming a little less raw in your interactions can put out unnecessary fires and prove more valuable than you can imagine.
Under the influence of Fire, you bravely continue your search for complete fulfillment and find yourself frequently seeking out new environments, experiences, and people that look promising. You are always up for a challenge and enjoy moments when you’re able to soak up the sensation of being the center of attention. Your spontaneity and adventurous nature are the envy of those around you that wish they could live such bold lives. Yet, just as Fire cannot exist without Wood, remember that you would not be able to seek out these new locales without the support of those that love you. Set an example for the life you wish to live, and others will flock to you like a moth to the flame.
Earth thrives on the knowledge that the key to thriving in this world is held in moderation. You are focused yet able to see beyond yourself, serious yet not incapable of laughing at yourself, worried yet not overcome by pessimistic musings. As you increase your awareness, you are able to view your livelihood through an objective lens and balance rewarding yourself for your successes with recognizing areas where you can improve. You know that equilibrium isn’t something you obtain but, rather, is a constant process you choose to engage with every day.
This element also brings out your loyalty to your friends and family and your desire to nurture others. Just as the Earth offers us a source of the nourishment we need to survive — you are inspired to create a space where others feel loved and protected. It is key that in doing so, you avoid ostracizing those you wish to protect by inadvertently making them feel smothered or as though you are seeking to control them. As they say, “If you build it, they will come,” so focus on cultivating a life that others want to be a part of and have faith that your people will join you in creating a beautiful world fit for generations to come.
Just like Metal, you are known for being unyielding and rigid when it comes to your beliefs. At times, your devotion to your values may appear more like stubbornness, which can lead you to unfairly judge others or to look at things from a jaded perspective. Yet, as the adage “A diamond is just a piece of coal that did well under pressure” proves, you are not incapable of adapting. The challenge that this element invites you to pursue is to maintain your commitment to yourself, your work, and your beliefs without gripping them so tightly that you find yourself isolated from others.
You have exceptionally high standards for yourself, which you pursue with equal amounts of ambition and discipline. You are your own greatest competition and are constantly seeking to improve. Yet, lest you forget, life is about more than titles you can attach to your name or accomplishments. You can healthily allow yourself a break now and then without it diminishing your dedication to bettering yourself and achieving success. As far as others’ perceptions go, if anything, they might relish a reminder that you too are human and see it as an opportunity to bond over shared simple luxuries like a great meal, a beautiful view, or a hearty laugh.
The element Water highlights the beauty hidden in the depths below the surface, inspiring you to showcase the layers of your personality to those around you, as if they’re ethereal coral reefs full of gorgeous and unidentified species. You are typically seen as a quiet, introspective individual with a peaceful demeanor and mysterious flair. Water encourages you to utilize your intuition, drifting with the tides when it’s suitable and swimming against the current when your gut tells you something is not right.You are aware of potential dangers that may come your way, but, rather than being fearful, you are armed with inner wisdom and guidance should a metaphorical hurricane cross your path.
Under Water’s influence, your empathetic nature and creativity are brought to the forefront. You are able to easily connect with others and have the capacity to hold deep space when they need it. Take space to regenerate whenever you start to feel drained as this can sometimes be overwhelming. Rather than letting this be a source of anxiety, try to appreciate the fact that you have gained the trust and respect of those in your vicinity. As you get to know others, you are able to look at them as a mirror to heal yourself. Investing in your intuition will be fruitful, as this is actually investing in your most prized possession – you!
Rooted firmly in the earth, the element of Wood provides a grounded yet flexible basis upon which you can grow into the individual that you are meant to be. Wood provides stability and strength, allowing you to clearly align your actions with your sense of purpose. This element encourages you to remain true to yourself yet remain flexible so that you can easily adapt to any challenges that you face. Motivated by a social consciousness mindset, an idealistic perspective pervades your thoughts and fills your spirit as you envision the path to this new, fully realized version of yourself.
However, these changes will not take shape if you simply wait passively. In order to take full advantage of your gifts, you must take concrete action, perhaps expanding beyond your comfort zone in the process. While your generous nature makes you inclined to share your bounty with those around you, it is key that you set firm boundaries and expectations with others so as to avoid any misunderstandings. Just as a tree’s roots gradually expand outward over time, your transformation may also take months, if not years. Have patience with yourself and stay rooted into your core beliefs. Allow yourself to change over time, the flexibility to shape your values as you grow from seedling into a towering tree, amassing power as the gentle giant that you are.