The Chinese Zodiac Story

The ancient art of Chinese astrology that uses the birth date and time of a person to determine their personality, lifestyle, health, career, and compatibility has a system that is based on a ten year Sun and Moon cycle that was once in conjunction with the agricultural calendar. Adding elements, Yin and Yang in female and male cosmic forces respectively, and, of course the attributes of the signs themselves, a person can receive a comprehensive interpretation of themselves as they relate to universal harmony and balance.

Like tall tales, mythology is full of differences and the story behind the naming of the twelve animals used in Chinese astrology is no different. There are two known legends, the first being about the Jade King meeting the animals out of boredom. The second legend of the naming of the Chinese zodiac is slightly different, although the players are all the same. Here is the second legend.

One day Heavenly God realized that he had no way of keeping track of time. The days, months, and year simply flowed together in an endless stream. He decided that having a calendar was a good idea. But how should he name the sections? He turned to his friend the Earth God and asked him to arrange a race of all of Earth's animals. The first twelve that made it across a river the Earth God chose would become the signs that comprised the Heavenly Gods new calendar. Excited at the prospect of winning, all the animals lined up ready to race.

As they were waiting to start the race across the river, Cat turned to his best friend Rat and asked him, "How can cross the river? I am afraid of water?" Ox, standing near them, sighed and asked, "How can I cross the river? My eyesight is terrible and I will get lost."

Rat looked at them both and smiled as he thought of an idea. He said to the Ox, "Cat and I can jump on your back and ride you across the river. You will keep us dry and we can be your eyes." They liked the plan so much, that they hopped up on Ox's back as the race began. They were doing so well, crossing the river so fast that all the other animals were left behind. But Rat, being a calculating and jealous little animal, snuck up behind Cat and pushed him into the river when the Ox got half-way across.

Ox didn't know what Rat had done and he continued on until he reached the opposite bank. As soon as they were out of the water, Rat jumped off of Ox's back, leaving him to find his way to the finish line by himself. Rat was the first to cross the river, securing his place in the Heavenly God's calendar. Ox came in second only because they had been so far ahead of everyone else. A little while later, Tiger emerged third, courageous and strong and wet. Rabbit, Dragon, and Snake were next. Horse and Sheep followed them. Monkey, Rooster, and Dog were the last to arrive.

But someone was missing. Heavenly God only counted twelve animals. They were one short. As he pondered this he saw the meticulous Pig cross the finish line, the last member of Heavenly God's calendar. He was given the twelfth spot.

Cat managed to get out of the river and across the finish line, but he was too late even. Even though Rat had betrayed him, the Heavenly God didn't change his mind, leaving Pig as the twelfth month. He was so happy with the animals that he decided to give them each a year of their own, granting everyone born beneath their sign the nature and qualities characteristic of the animal of the year.

As for Rat's betrayal? Well, watch a Cat and Rat one day. They are mortal enemies and now you know why.


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