The Original Asian Zodiac 5: The Twelve Earth Branches


(Continued from The Original Asian Zodiac 4: The Lunisolar Calendar)

The Twelve Earthly branches

2020 is the year of the Metal Rat on top of the earthen wall.  Sounds quite amazing doesn’t it?  That’s the power of the Can Chi working together to give you the whole picture.

Out of everything that has to do with the Asian Calendar, the twelve Earthly Branches take the cake as the most popular iconic pop stars of them all.  In most cases, they are the only thing that is even known about the calendar system due to their colorful animals and the way with which they have been popularized by mass media.


This was done by design.  Knowledge needs to be transferred down throughout the ages, so embedding them into folk songs and chants allow them to be remembered orally throughout the ages.

The twelve Earthly branches are taken directly out of the I Ching, but given some animal names so that it will be more easily remembered.  Truth be told, they could have been given any kind of name, because these designations are truly arbitrary.

We could have had a duck, a crane, a fish, an elephant, or a fox.  I would have also loved to have seen a turtle, a bird, a dolphin, or a salamander.  Any of these animals would have been good for the zodiac.

Instead, what we got were basically synonyms.  Just as we use trademarks as verbs (to hoover something up meant to vacuum) or nouns (a kleenex is a tissue), we also did the same thing with these animals.  These are the meanings of the synonyms that these animals represented.

The Twelve Zodiac Animals

  1. Rat – to provide nourishment, as in the seed of cosmos sprouts from nourishment
  2. Water Buffalo – Sửu to amass, as in gathering together, seedlings continue to grow
  3. Tiger – Dần to emerge, progress, as in seedlings emerging from the ground
  4. Cat – Mẹo to push up, as in pushing up from the ground
  5. Kronosaurus – Thìn movement, as in all things move to grow
  6. Snake – Tỵ to begin – the start of all things in the cosmos
  7. Horse – Ngọ to spread, increase, as in growing and spreading of leaves
  8. Goat – Mùito weaken, the gradual wilting of the leaves
  9. Monkey – Thânbody, the full ripening of the plant
  10. Chicken – Dậuto age, to mature and grow old
  11. Dog – Tuất to decrepitude – to fall apart, wither away
  12. Pig – Hợi reduce, as in the plant is reduced to a hard seed

These are the twelve Chi-Earth-yin-moon.  Each animal represents a number, ranging from 1 to 12, and that number applies to moments, minutes, hours, days, months, years.  Anything that can be counted will be counted according to this system.

Now, I know I said that all you need to know about these animals is that they each represent a single digit, but that’s only if you do not want to dig further into the deeper levels of meanings.  For those (like me) who are perennially curious about the obscure and the extraordinary, that’s not enough.  I wanna know more!

Good news for me is, there is a lot more to the twelve animals than just numeral indicators.  Did you notice that each of them actually have meanings?  Take a look at Rat.  The real meaning behind rat is to provide nourishment.  Pray tell, what does that remind you of?



The Missing I Ching of the Earthly Branches

Only those of us who actually opened a I Ching book and consulted it for years would have even realized that this is what it is…just various hexagrams taken from the I Ching.  Who else would even know that Nourishment is one of the hexagrams?

If I went out and grabbed a random Viet dude off the street and asked him if he knew where Nourishment came from, chances are high that he would probably think I was seriously on some kind of drug.

I say Viet dude because this should be part of a Viet’s basic family education, at least those who are children of the grapes.  Folk stories, sayings, folk songs are repleted with the I Ching hexagrams.


Hexagrams aside, the animals’ humanistic attributes actually got ascribed to them.  This is really funny, insofar as the kronosaurus is concerned since none of us have ever seen one and can only hope that approaches reality to a tiny extent.

Keep in mind that the I Ching was something that only kings and high level royalties had access to.

It was so valuable as a guiding tool for the governance of an entire country that it was kept as a sacred text only for the use of the enlightened few.  It was not something that the vast majority of the people would have even heard of.

This is why, when you read the translations of the I Ching, you must continually remind yourself that you are of royal birth, and that these are directives that you, as a royal person, must follow.

If you live your life with that mindset, your head will always be held high, partly because you will be proud to be a divine royal child (because that is really what you are), and partly to keep the crown from rolling off your head.

This is our Zodiac Hexagram, as translated by Richard Wilhelm

The Rat –


Hexagram 27 • To provide nourishment
Perseverance brings good fortune.
Pay heed to the providing of nourishment

And to what a man seeks
To fill his own mouth with.

I Ching Insights:
You will always know what people value most by how much they nourish that which is important to them.  The fashionistas value their appearances the most and will spend money to look their best.  The sports fans will never miss a home game, even if tickets cost a fortune.  And me, I never miss a morning coffee and a good book, even though both commodities have gone up in price.

This hexagram reminds us to provide nourishment,  be it time, care, or money, to ourselves (our health and well-being) and the important people (children, spouse, parents) in our lives first, before we focus on the less important aspects.

Standard personality characteristics:
People born in the year of the Rat are very socially active because you are intelligent, charming, quick-witted, practical, and ambitious.  You also happen to be  good at economizing (read cheap), but that’s considered a strength, since a person who spends a lot of money would be considered a wasteful person.  On the flip side, you Rats tend to be timid, stubborn, wordy, greedy, devious, too eager for power and love to gossip.

The Water Buffalo – Sửu


Hexagram 45 • Gathering Together
Success.  The king approaches his temple.
It furthers one to see the great man.
This brings success. Perseverance furthers.
To bring great offerings creates good fortune.
It furthers one to undertake something.

I Ching Insights:
Gatherings are both necessary and a possible danger.  While we need to join together to achieve great things (building a space community, teaching university auditoriums, etc.), there is also danger lurking (human bombs, COVID19, etc.).

You are the water buffalo.  Your strength is undeniable, as you carry the bulk of the work for your group.  This makes you a natural focal point to which people rally towards.  Don’t hide from the focal point.  It furthers the cause for people to see you as the great person you are.  The great offerings you bring are your natural talents and knowledge about the subject that you are undertaking.  If you are aware of your surroundings and the dangers that may lurk, you will be able to avert the dangers and achieve success

Standard personality characteristics:
Water Buffalo folks are said to be diligent, hard working, honest, creative, ambitious, cautious, patient and will calmly handle things in a steady manner.  Real salt of the earth folks, you are also known to be stubborn, narrow-minded, indifferent, prejudiced, slow, and not good at communication.  Don’t get me wrong.  You’re not shy.  You just don’t talk unless there is a reason to say something, as opposed to just yammering on and on, about everything and nothing at all.  If there is a type of person who is the opposite of me, it would have to be the Water Buffalo.

The Tiger – Dần


Hexagram 35  Progress, Emerging
The powerful prince
Is honored with horses in large numbers.
In a single day he is granted audience three times.

I Ching Insights:
You Tigers are solitary animals.  You each have your own territory which you defend ferociously, as this is what clinging fire will do.  However, there are other tigers who also have their own territories around yours.

The fact that each of you, as warlords in your own rights, can still coexist points to the fact that, just as tigers are able to socialize with other tigers when they come into contact with each other, so can you, when you meet others of the same high rank and power.  In fact, you are also able to rally the other leaders around a central figure so that great collaborations can occur.

Standard personality characteristics:
The most important characteristic of the Tiger-born is bravery.  You will look fear in the eye and roar vociferously…at least to scare them off.  You  are also friendly, competitive, charming and are blessed with a rich abundance of good luck, which often leads to being in places of authority such as kingship–or at the very least, a management position.  Your great confidence makes you competent leaders.  Conversely, you are likely to be impetuous, irritable, overindulged and very boastful.

The Cat – Mẹo


Hexagram 46 • Pushing Upward
Has supreme success.
One must see the great man.
Fear not.
Departure toward the south
Brings good fortune.

I Ching Insights:
The combination of wind and wood brings about grace and strength.  You are a cat, not a tiger, so your start to success begins further down the food chain.  Your spirit, however, is indomitable, and within you burns the ambitions of all felines great and small.  Long after the tiger’s fire has burned down to embers, you will shoot up and rise above the crowd, swaying to the winds of your destiny.

Success will require that you continue to exert that pushing upward in order to achieve what you wish, but you will reach supreme success as long as you do not give up. or give in to fear of the unknown.  Moving southward means moving forward, as south is akin to forward and north is akin to backwards, in the old days.  You must advance towards growth and the warmth of the light.

Standard personality characteristics:
If you have ever owned a cat, you are pretty familiar with their unique personalities.  If you have ever owned rabbits, you also know how rabbits are.  Rabbits and cats are not interchangeable.  They are not comparable, and they cannot stand proxy for each other.

For those of you who are born in the year of Mẹo, understand that you cannot be a rabbit, no matter how hard you try.  Since you cats have been so short-changed all these years, I will spend a little more time to correct that mistake, and return to you, your rightful zodiac.

You are a carnivore, and a predator, NOT an herbivore and prey.  In the wild, rabbits run and hide when predators appear because they have little in the way of protection.  Likewise, in the wild, if cats cannot hunt, they will swiftly die because they must eat meat to survive.  They are first and foremost, a hunter, with hunter instincts and sharp, cunning reflexes.

You, the Cat, are creative, passionate, generous, warm-hearted, cheerful, and humorous.  But don’t get too cocky because you are also arrogant, stubborn, self-centered, lazy, inflexible, and you have a sliver of a mean streak.  Just like the Tiger, you’re a natural born leader, but far more dramatic and sly.  You often have many friends due to your generosity, and loyalty, and your creative self, combined with your self-confidence makes you extremely difficult to resist.  You are able to achieve anything you want, in any area of life you commit yourself to.  You go, cats.

The Kronosaurus – Thìn


Hexagram 49 • Revolution/Molting
On your own day
You are believed.
Supreme success,
Furthering through perseverance.
Remorse disappears.

I Ching Insights:
Molting is something that only affects certain groups of animals like reptiles, amphibians, arthropods, birds, and even a few arachnids, such as tarantulas.  This fits right in with our very cool air-breathing Thìn, who was an aquatic reptile.  It may seem as if it molts just to get a new skin, but molting actually prepares an animal for a new stage of growth.  This new growth stage is what you are here to experience, to go through, and to conquer.

It is quite intense and often creates a vulnerable time, as you are changing, but take heart. This is the day that I Ching has pointed out to be your own day.  It requires that you believe in yourself so that others can also believe in you.  So go ahead.  Lead your revolution, with no remorse, for you shall succeed.

Standard personality characteristics:
This is the other short-changed animal of the zodiac.  You may be dragon-like, but you are hardly mythical.  Although you no longer exist today, you were a real being, with your own traits and characteristics.

First off, you are a water being, and you are HUGE.  You look like a water snake, but you have four legs.  You also have a huge mouth filled with razor-sharp teeth.  It sounds as if I am describing a crocodile, but ancient writings depict thìn as being gigantic and able to crush entire ships with their mouths.  I don’t know that crocodiles can really do that…maybe a small canoe, but not a ship.  Kronosauruses, measuring in at 30 to 36 feet could though, hence the name Thuồng Luồng, or thìn, for the aquatic kronosaurus.

Thìn Krons have been used to represent the king himself, so in that respect, you are the epitome of authority and good fortune.  Krons are powerful, kind-hearted, successful, innovative, brave, healthy courageous and enterprising. However, you also tend to be conceited, scrutinizing, tactless, quick-tempered and over-confident.  These are all the leaders that a king exhibits.  Go on.  Be a king of your domain.

The Snake – Tỵ


Hexagram 1 • Creative, to begin
works sublime success
Furthering through perseverance.
success will come from primal depths of universe
everything depends upon seeking one’s happiness
in one way only, by perseverance in what is right. 

I Ching Insights:
The Creative is a very simple hexagram, yet, more has been written about it than any other hexagram, including the Receptive.  Its form is simple.  Six lines, no more no less, and completely unbroken.

It seems odd to assign the Creative to the very pliable, flexible Snake, but in truth, it would take the person who is very flexible and can adapt to anything the universe throws at it, to have the ability to make the correct choices.  If you are able to see clearly what the correct course of action is, but you are unable to take action due to some sort of inflexibility caused by physical or emotional blockage, then you will not be able to persevere towards your goal.  The I Ching is also very clear that success will only be assured if you persevere in doing the right thing.

Standard personality characteristics:
Similar to a Snake, those who are born under this sign is pliable, meaning you can adapt from one environment or idea to another without breaking a sweat. You are also wise, discreet, agile, attractive and full of sympathy. On the other hand, there is a tendency for them to be lazy, greedy, arrogant and indulging in self-admiration.

The Horse – Ngọ


Hexagram 42 • Increase
It furthers one
To undertake something.
It furthers one to cross the great water.

I Ching Insights:
You are a horse, which means you are goal-driven and are always striving to reach that next stage in your development.  However, most of your goals are large and require group effort to speed up the processing time.

For any worthwhile endeavor to increase in development, there must be a tacit agreement from those at a higher level to give consent for those at the lower level to proceed.  It also requires a certain amount of sacrifice on those in power, but it must be done, and further more, it must be done on time.  The time to be able to increase development is limited, so you must take advantage of this time to increase, or you lose the chance to do so.

Standard personality characteristics:
For the person born under the sign of the Horse, you possess an indomitable spirit, born from a desire to always strive towards a goal.  You are clever, active, energetic, quick-witted, fashionable, agile, popular among others and you have a unique ability to persuade others.  You can be a bit on the selfish side, and you are arrogant and over-confident, but that’s a horse for you.

The Goat – Mùi


Hexagram 41 • Decrease
combined with sincerity,
brings about supreme good fortune
Without blame. One may be persevering in this.
It furthers one to undertake something.
How is this to be carried out?
One may use two small bowls for the sacrifice.

I Ching Insights:
It’s easy to be bad-ass when times are plentiful.  Resources are abundant and you look like a natural hero no matter what you do.  But what if times are hard?  What if times are so hard that you have to decrease output in order to preserve the integrity of the whole?

The idea then is to decrease in a way that those who are affected will not feel as if they have been hurt, solely for the benefit of those in charge.  In such times, if you decrease the expenses of the flagrantly pretentious ceremonial aspects, those who are affected by the tightening of the belt will be more accepting of the sacrifices.

It would be a form of austerity for all and not just for the poor, as was shown in the 1990s, when the fashion of the day was dreary thrift-shop type clothes in various shades of brown.  It didn’t matter where you went to purchase clothing, everything from high-end to dollar stores looked as if they came out of thrift shops.  Insofar as you being a high class goat with good taste, it would behoove you to tone it down so as to maintain goodwill in times of austerity.

Standard personality characteristics:
Those of you born under the sign of the goat are social animals in that you can exhibit solidarity, harmony and calmness when you are part of a group.  You are polite, mild mannered, shy, imaginative, determined and furthermore, you are one of the few who have good taste. On the negative side, you are sometimes pessimistic, unrealistic, short-sighted and slow to come round to an idea.

The Monkey – Thân


Hexagram 2 • Receptive
brings about sublime success,
Furthering through the perseverance of a mare.
If the superior man undertakes something and tries to lead, He goes astray;
But if he follows, he finds guidance.
It is favorable to find friends in the west and south,
To forego friends in the east and north.
Quiet perseverance brings good fortune.

I Ching Insights:
Let me first dispel the notion that the Receptive yin is not as important as the Creative yang, or that the Receptive must always defer to the Creative for everything due to the hierarchy that the males have established.

I don’t care what the ancients say.  I am telling you that yin and yang are equal forces.  I can even prove that scientifically.  If yin is weaker than yang, the I Ching sphere would collapse and cease to exist.  Since the I Ching sphere is the basic unit of everything, this would mean that everything would cease to exist.

And this is why we need more women Taoists.  There needs to be a balanced view.  All we ever hear from are male Taoists who would be happy to continue the idea that yin is weaker than yang, that yin must defer to yang, that yin must follow yang.  I am saying that sometimes yang leads and yin follows, and in equal proportions, sometimes yin leads and yang follows.

So if you feel that you could do a much better job than whoever is leading at the moment, I say go for it.  (drops microphone)

Standard personality characteristics:
You Monkeys are a hoot.  You are cheerful and energetic by nature and usually represent flexibility.  You are wise, intelligent, confident, charismatic, loyal, inventive and have leadership. Unfortunately, you are also egotistical, arrogant, crafty, restless and a bit of a snob.

Chicken – Dậu


Hexagram 28 • Maturing
The ridgepole sags to the breaking point.
It furthers one to have somewhere to go.

I Ching Insights:
A ridgepole is the highest horizontal beam in a roof, where all the other rafters join up against.  It’s where Santa Clause parks his sleigh when he slides down the chimney.  For a ridgepole to sag, this means either too much weight has been placed on it somehow, or it could be that the ridgepole is so old that it can no longer hold up the roof.

In either case, get the heck out before the whole house collapses on top of you.  Find a new place to live.  It does further one to have somewhere to go.  It’s better than being homeless, although being homeless is better than being crushed to death.

You need to take action as quickly as possible.  There is no salvaging this situation.

Standard personality characteristics:
Chickens are supposed to represent punctuality because they wake people up on time.  I don’t know how punctual you are, but you chickens are beautiful, kind-hearted, hard-working, courageous, independent, humorous and honest.  You are also a neat freak and will keep your home beautifully organized. On the flip side, you tend to be arrogant, self-aggrandizing, and can often be superstitious.

The Dog – Tuất


Hexagram 18 • Decay
Has supreme success.
It furthers one to cross the great water.
Before the starting point, three days.
After the starting point, three days.

I Ching Insights:
Decay can occur in several different ways: neglect, rigid adherence to outdated traditions, weakness in going up against what is causing the decay, or actively causing decay via actions that we have taken.

If we are charged with correcting the mistakes of another, i.e. to rectify that which caused the decay, it is not too late.  It can be done, but there must be planning and follow-through.  That’s what the three days before and after the starting point is talking about.  Take ‘three days’ to plan how you are going to go about fixing the decay.  Do the work.  Then take ‘three days’ and make sure the work is perfect–follow through.

Standard personality characteristics:
Those of you who are born under the sign of the Dog, you are said to embody some very good human characteristics.  You are loyal, honest, friendly, faithful, smart, straightforward, venerable and have a strong sense of responsibility. On the negative side, you can be a bit self-righteous , cold, terribly stubborn, slippery, critical of others and you could use a bit of social skills.

Pig – Hợi


Hexagram 36 • Reducing, Darkening
In adversity
It furthers one to be persevering.

I Ching Insights:
Sometimes it’s best not to shine too brightly.  Sometimes, you need to hide the light so that you can maintain your work, secretly, sacredly, and without external interference.

In times of danger, in times of strife, it is not wise to allow light to shine as a beacon because that will cause the enemy to find you.  The idea then is to maintain your inner strength in the face of difficulties in a way that does not expose you to the dangers that surround you.

The difficulties will eventually pass, and at that time, if you are able to maintain your integrity, you will then be able to move ahead with your plans, without having endangered yourself.

Standard personality characteristics:
You Pigs are a lucky bunch.  You are mild-mannered, carefree, fun-loving, and you have good luck with fortune and wealth. You tend to be happy, easygoing, honest, trusting, educated, sincere and brave. Sometimes, you can get stubborn, and you are a bit naive, and over-reliant on the good nature of others.  You can be self-indulgent, are easy to anger, and you are materialistic.  It’s not fair, but others sometimes think you are lazy.  That’s not really true, but it’s hard to dissuade those who think pigs are lazy.

Wrapping up the Earthly Branches


And there you go folks.  I did my best to present the I Ching as it pertains to the ten Heavenly Stems.  The Pig ends this section of the Original Asian Zodiac 5, with all the I Ching information provided, but before we can go crazy and start figuring out what our zodiac signs say about us, I have to explain a little bit about the Heavenly Stems.

Just knowing about the Earthly Branches is only half of what you need to really dig into the zodiac, even though that’s what most astrologers do nowadays.  Unfortunately, they are missing a lot.  Understanding the 12 animals of the zodiac gives us a lot of information, but it is way too simplistic, and nowhere near enough to calculate out the details that only the I Ching can provide.

It is not enough to merely consult the star charts for the zodiac on the 12 animals.  Without the deeper understanding of the I Ching hexagrams that these animals were drawn from, all that can be seen is an ephemeral shadow on the wall.

We have one other cycle which figure into the main cycle which I need to add to this series before I am tentatively done (I say tentatively, because there is always more information that I can add to this subject, if I have time).  There is still the ten Thiên Can, which I have yet to discuss.  Between these twelve Địa Chi plus the ten Thiên Can, we will have the complete Asian Zodiac.  These two, the Stems and Branches, are collectively called Can Chi.  So hang tight and I will get the Heavenly Branches posted asap.

(Continue onto The Original Asian Zodiac 6: The Ten Heavenly Stems)

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