We have exited the Year of the Dragon and are now firmly in the Year of the Snake—whatever that may portend. Sunday, Feb. 10, was the Lunar New Year, which is observed in China and many other parts of the world with even more enthusiasm than the western New Year is here.
According to Chinese astrology and the 12-animal Chinese Zodiac, Snake years bring unexpected transformations, and people born in one are intelligent, attractive and materialistic—or something like that. (Sorry, I wasn’t able to nail the attributes of Snakeness; my online research yielded many colorful opinions but no clear consensus.)
This, of course, is Chinese astrology at its least sophisticated level, just as the daily horoscopes that appear in western newspapers are western astrology at its least sophisticated level.
Serious Chinese astrology is far more complex. You may have been born in a Year of the Snake, but your Snake traits are only how others see you. You’re also associated with three other signs based upon your month of birth (your “inner” animal), your day of birth (your “true” animal) and your hour of birth (your “secret” animal). So you could actually be four animals wrapped up in one life. .
Making predictions for what will happen during the year is also more complicated than you’d think. More than 2,000 years ago, the Chinese devised a base-60 counting system that is no longer used for counting but remains key to astrology. Each of the 12 animals of the Chinese Zodiac can have five different natures—wood, fire, earth, metal or water—for a total of 60 possibilities. So 2013 isn’t just a Year of the Snake, it’s a Year of the Water Snake, which adds more variables to an already imprecise equation.
A 60-year cycle also means personal experience is of little help. The last time we had a Year of the Water Snake was 1953. Unlike many of you, I was alive then—but I was 11; it’s tough to imagine what my 71st year will be like based on what I remember from my 11th year.
However, complicated or not, the Chinese zodiac has powerful appeal!
Snake images and Snake predictions have been everywhere these last few weeks, even in mainstream western media. Colorful, slithery Snake images grab the eye, and Snake predictions speak to our deep desire to know what’s coming, how our lives may change, and what we can do about it.
The ancient Chinese observed the cyclic nature of many aspects of the cosmos, things like the movements of the sun and the moon and the resultant seasons on earth, and figured that there must be cycles in human affairs, too, cycles related to the natural rhythms of the cosmos. The more I practice qigong, the more I appreciate this.
But then the doubting side of my mind wants to know:
What about global warming? What about the exponential growth in science and technology? We’re cloning body parts and beings. Our computers are getting smaller and running faster. Thanks to Google, the folks in Kansas City now have Internet service that is 100 times faster than what you and I have and faster, I suspect, than my brain.
Faster, faster, faster. Will things begin to slow down and let us settle into cyclic sustainability? Will human beings somehow transmute from being carbon-based to being crystal-based and able to vibrate at a higher frequency, as one of my friends believes? Or will we simply become one with our computers, cellphones and Facebook accounts as faster becomes oblivion? If cycles are involved here, they must be really big cycles—or maybe they’re not cycles but spirals, as another friend suggests.
As I ponder this, I can feel my brain getting tied up in squishy gray knots, so I should probably just go do some qigong and maybe re-read what I wrote in A Doubter’s Journey about letting go of over-thinking.
Whatever the nature of its truth, the Chinese Zodiac is a comforting notion. How nice to think that the year 2073 might be as comprehensible, as humanly hospitable, as Water Snake-like, as 1953 or 2013!
Plus, Chinese astrology is great fun to explore during the Lunar New Year period—more fun than making resolutions for self-improvement or hanging out with an old man with a scythe and a toddler in baggy diapers.
So, yes, let’s hear it for the Snake!
Oh, and one more thing. I would just like to say to the makers of fortune cookies that they really need to come up with better fortunes (and yes, I know that Chinese fortune cookies are strictly an American phenomenon).
“Good things come in small packages” and “It is better to get something done late than never,” the two sayings I received at a Chinese New Year party this year, are not fortunes; they are opinions. “You like Chinese food,” a saying I once received at a Chinese restaurant, is not a fortune; it’s a “well, duh.”
A fortune is something like “You will find money on the sidewalk this month” or “An old friend is about to re-enter your life in a new way.”