Home Forums Diplomate Discussion Winter Solstice (冬至 Dōngzhì ‘Winter Culminates’) and the Astronomical (not Astrological) Correlations of the Twelve Earthly Branches from the Chinese Calendar

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      Tyler Rowe

      Happy Winter Solstice!Friday 22nd December is Winter Solstice (冬至 Dōngzhì ‘Winter Culminates’) and it’s a fascinating time of year to see the Astronomical (not Astrological) correlations of the Twelve Earthly branches from the Chinese Calendar. The 12 earthly branches can be used to indicate months, hours and even years – all in cycles of twelve. 北斗 Běi dǒu the ‘Northern Ladle’ (aka Big Dipper) is the key asterism in Chinese Astronomy that determines these. There is a Chinese idiom about the passing of time – 星移斗轉 Xīngyí Dǒuzhuàn ‘the stars move, the ladle revolves’. The Northern Ladle revolves around the North star and forms the basis of our cardinal elemental directions (wood – east; fire – south; metal – west and water – north).Months: Like a giant seasonal clock in the sky, the handle of the ladle points to the direction associated with each of the twelve branches in the successive months of the year. At midnight on Winter Solstice in December, the handle points to the branch 子 Zǐ North. At midnight on Summer Solstice in June, it points to 午 Wǔ South; midnight at Autumn Equinox in September, 酉 Yǒu West and Spring Equinox in March, 卯 Mǎo East. In between each of these cardinal directions are two more monthly directions to total 12 – January 丑 Chǒu, February 寅 Yín, April 辰 Chén, May 巳 Sì, July 未 Wèi, August 申 Shēn, October 戌 Xū and November 亥 Hài.Hours:If you were go out and have a clear view of the ladle for 24 hours (which is of course impossible) starting at midnight on Winter Solstice, you would see something pretty amazing. As mentioned above the handle would point to 子 Zǐ North at midnight, but two hours later at 2am the ladle would indicate 丑 Chǒu, another two hours after that at 4am 寅 Yín, 6am 辰 Chén etc. These are the centre points of the Chinese double hours and the ladle becomes the hour hand of a celestial clock.Years: Jupiter’s orbit is approximately 12 years. The yearly direction of Jupiter, the ‘Jupiter Station’ indicates the Earthly Branch of the year. According to Chinese Astronomy this year Jupiter is in the West, therefore the year branch is 酉 Yǒu. At the You month (September), the handle of the ladle will point to the WestConfusing yes, but awesome too. This is a big part of the astronomical basis of the Chinese calendar and not usually well understood, but there’s some big brains around here…

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