Calendars, whether written or symbolized by solstice markers and stone circles, are probably as old as humanity. Although today we think of calendars as ways of remembering holidays and other important dates as well as organizing or allocating time, they also have many other important uses. Calendars mark times for planting, harvesting, sailing (tides), healing, and blessing; they may advise us of things to do and things to avoid. The original time keepers are the sun, moon and stars, and calendrical systems are based on their movements.
The traditional Chinese calendar is based on the moon and is thus called the “Lunar Calendar”. The Lunar New Year is generally the second new moon after the winter solstice. In 2021, Chinese New Year’s Day is the new moon on February 12. The celebration lasts two weeks long and ends with the full moon, called the Festival of Heaven or Lantern Festival on February 26. The year of the ox ends on January 31, 2022.
Every year is represented by an animal and an element. In other words, if you were born in the year of the ox, it would be interesting to know if it is a water ox, a fire ox, a metal ox, an earth ox, or a wood ox.
2021 is a Metal Ox Year. However, each animal also relates to an element. The Ox is Earth. Hence, this is a Metal Earth Year. The first element “metal” is called the “heavenly stem” and represents spirituality. The second element, earth, is called the “earthly branch” and symbolizes the physical world, especially the environment and economy.
Elements may be either in harmony or conflict. This year the elements are in harmony. Because metal is mined from the earth, earth is considered the mother of metal. Thus, in this Year of the Ox, the earthly branch (earth element) is the source of the heavenly stem (metal). This indicates harmony of yin and yang, better environmental policies, economy more consistent with spirituality, and in general opportunities for positive change.
This is a good year to get things done, to leave the ruts, stagnation, and chaos of 2020. The ox is strong, hardworking, persevering, and honest. And because the ox is associated with agriculture, this is a year to plant new seeds of health and growth for ourselves and our communities.
Preparing for the New Year
Feb 11 New Year’s Eve. Families symbolically seal their doors with blessing charms and vertical scrolls of Chinese characters embossed on red paper. Examples include: “Enter and Leave in Peace,” “May Gold and Jade Fill Your Home,” and “Live Long as the Pine and Crane”.
Feb 12 New Year’s Day. At dawn open the front door to welcome the energy of the New Year. Some families set off firecrackers as a way of celebrating and to scare away any lingering negative forces. It is important to have a festive family meal and to wish a happy near year (bai nian) to friends, teachers, and family, especially older relatives who may have been unable to attend the family celebration. (During this unusual COVID pandemic year, many family meals will be with one’s household “pod”; visits may occur online, and some gifts, including the red envelopes described below, are likely to be delivered by mail or PayPal.)
Particular foods are believed to bring good fortune if eaten on New Year’s Day, including chicken (for good fortune), fish (for abundance), noodles (for longevity), and dumplings because they look like ancient gold ingots. Avoid duck, because the word duck (ya), sounds like a word that means to oppress. Also, don’t say the number four in Chinese (si), because it sounds like the word for death. On the other hand, some numbers are especially auspicious: three (san) because it sounds like life (sheng), six (liu) because it sounds like “flowing” (also pronounced liu), and eight (ba) because it sounds like wealth (fa). After the meal, the younger generation are happy to receive the traditional gift of red envelopes (hong bao) with money inside. My Taoist teacher, Dr. Huang, always gave me a red envelope on New Year’s Day and encouraged me to offer the same to my students. We also burned incense and performed special rituals at his Taoist altar.
Lucky and Unlucky Forces
The South direction is lucky this year in terms of health, wealth, and opportunity— a good direction to face, to travel, and for home renovation.
San Sha "Three Killing Forces" For every year, there is a direction of bad luck (called the San Sha)-- including disasters, financial loss, loss of reputation, and loss of relationships. This year the killing forces are in the East. That means it is best not to travel east, or do home renovation in the east side of your home or office, or disturb the ground by digging holes in the east side of your property. The latter would disturb the Lords of the Soil (Tu Di Gong and his wife, Tu Di Po), who influence prosperity and the well-being of ancestral spirits. It is best not to sit in the east side of a home or office (thus facing west). It is fine, however, to sit facing east. Do not buy or move into a house this year with an east facing main door. If you already have an east facing door, be sure to close it gently with minimal noise this year, in order not to disturb or awaken negative forces. A common way to prevent the baleful effects of the san sha is to place statues or images of three mythical beasts in the east part of your home. These are the pi xiu (also called pi yao) which looks like a winged lion, fu dog (guardian lion), and chi lin (also called a long ma “dragon horse” or Chinese unicorn) which has the body of a horse, head of a dragon, and scales like a carp.
Wu Huang "The Five Yellow Sick Forces" This year illness is associated with the southeast. It is best not to travel in a southeast direction or add a new southeast section to your home or business. If possible, avoid spending a great deal of time in the southeast section of your home. Also avoid bright lights and anything that represents fire in the southeast part of your home, since bright light and fire can activate the Sick Forces. If you already have a fireplace there, try using it less this year.
Tai Sui the Great Year Star, also called Grand Duke of Jupiter, is a spirit that is different each year, appointed to oversee the energies of the year and the world’s affairs. The Tai Sui spirit this year is the Han Dynasty General Yang Xin, noted for his strength, loyalty and patriotism. In 2021, Tai Sui is in the northeast. It is important to keep the northeast portion of your home especially clean. You may add positive energy to that corner with house plants. You can also ward off the influence of Tai Sui by placing in the northeast a statue of the mythical pi yao, winged lion.
In this Ox Year, Tai Sui is predicted to clash with those born in years of the Ox and Sheep, and to a lesser degree with Horse, Dog, and Dragon. If you were born in any of those years, then during 2021 it is best to take extra safety precautions, avoid arguments and risky behavior, and avert misfortune by engaging in virtuous and charitable activities. Chinese markets, feng shui shops, and some Chinese bookstores sell special Tai Sui ritual paper that may be burned as an offering to Tai Sui. Taoist temples offer more elaborate An Tai Sui (Pacifying Tai Sui) rituals. If you were born in a year that puts you at risk of Tai Sui affliction, it is best to do the An Tai Sui Ritual on Chinese New Year’s Day and, for extra protection, on the new and full moon throughout the year.
I would like to add a personal intuitive impression of the role of this year’s Tai Sui spirit: General Yang Xin. Emperor Wu sent General Yang as a Peace Envoy to the Xiongnu, a Central Asian confederation of nomadic and pastoral tribes. The General was rigid and unyielding, refusing to compromise or to even comply with tribal protocols. He believed that his own Han Chinese were a superior people, and his peace mission failed. I believe that Yang Xin’s presiding influence this year means several things: 1. Possibility of increasing conflict between nations and ethnicities 2. Continued or escalating lack of consideration for the needs and rights of indigenous people 3. The importance of compromise to prevent international conflict.
Your Mission, Should You Choose To Accept It
As you think about these traditional predictions, I want to remind you of a core principle of Taoism: adaptability. The astrological influences are just that: influences, and not, as they say, “written in stone”. Consider predictions as reminders to make better choices and meet challenges with responsibility and intelligence. If there are negative tendencies, you are called to leadership to help turn things around.