This talk introduces the Chinese Ghost Festival in some of its folk tradition aspects and as it relates to orthodox Daoist practice.
This talk introduces the Chinese Ghost Festival in some of its folk tradition aspects and as it relates to orthodox Daoist practice.
Horse Moon is the time of year when annual yang reaches its peak (summer solstice). The tidal hexagram associated with this moon is #44 (Copulation), ☰/☴, which suggests qi rising upward and losing its ground – and being brought back down to earth whether it wishes to or not. Because of the full-throttle nature of this moon, it is considered a precarious and inauspicious time – a time of pernicious heat, when seduction, aggression, and danger abound. Horse Moon is when cavalries in ancient China supposedly would march off to war. While certainly a time to be active, it is also a time to pull back the reins a bit, as unrestrained aggression or exuberance is likely at this time to lead to injury or exhaustion. “Calm down or crash” is the essential qi-message of Horse Moon. Hexagram 44 is about the severe consequences of failing to restrain ourselves – letting ourselves overheat.
Horse is the seventh animal in the 12-animal Chinese zodiac. Because the Chinese recognize the Tiger Moon, rather than the Rat Moon (winter solstice) as the beginning of the new year, Horse is considered the 5th Moon. Five is of course a significant number in Chinese numerology, symbolizing completion and balance – the Five Elements. Five also relates to the emperor, meaning the heart of any particular swirl of phenomena. Doubling a number emphasizes its quality, so the fifth day of Horse Moon – “Double-Five Day” – is considered particularly potent and precarious. This year, Double-Five Day is June 14.
According to Chinese legend, Qu Yuan, a loyal minister in the southern state of Chu during the Warring States period, was a fervent Chu nationalist and poet. When the Chu emperor joined forces with the aggressive Qin emperor, Qu Yuan drowned himself in a lake in despair on the fifth day of Horse Moon. The locals venerated Qu Yuan and gathered in dragon boats to splash the water, beat drums, and drop sticky rice into the water so that the fish would not eat his corpse. The Chinese still celebrate “Dragon Boat Festival” in veneration of Qu Yuan’s loyal character and national pride.
As with most aspects of the Chinese almanac, insofar as it interests Daoist practitioners, calendrical festivals are not merely about celebrating culture but calibrating qi. Observing Double-Five Day thus means entering summer with our eyes open – recognizing the danger of summer heat and watching how excess yang affects our conduct. Things can turn for the worse quickly and severely if we do not manage ourselves cautiously, so this is a time to check our conduct – assess our direction and momentum, and recognize that the rising winds beneath our wings are not going to last forever, so it is time to start looking downward to the ground to line ourselves up for a smooth landing – don’t get carried away.
If we are practicing internal cultivation, how well we manage this moon largely influences the qi that will be available to us in the heart of winter – exhaust ourselves or fly off the rails now, and we may stumble through the fall and spend the winter recovering rather than really deepening our cultivation. So this month, we are well advised to check ourselves, calibrate our conduct, and make ritual offerings – relax excess, cool down. Balance yang with yin. Pull back the reins from a gallop to a trot. Beat on drums and splash around in the water. Cool down now to retain some warmth as we head into winter.
The brilliant image above shows the twelve tidal hexagrams – I believe these are attributed to Wang Bi, the remarkable 3rd-century scholar who compiled the standard version of the Dao De Jing. This particular image was not developed until much later, as the classic “double-fish” taiji diagram in the middle was developed by Zhou Dunyi in the Song Dynasty.
To understand this image, note that the classical Chinese fengshui map orients south as “up” and north as “down”. It also serves as a clock, with midnight at the bottom and noon at the top (completing one circle per day). So if we are in the northern hemisphere facing south, Earth is below our feet and Heaven is above our head, and north is behind us and south is in front.
From this vantage, notice that the sun traverses the sky in a clockwise motion. At the depth of midnight there is no yang, just yin; at the height of noon there is no yin, just yang – but these don’t last long. Note that the hexagrams shown here are written with the bottom lines facing the center of the circle.
These twelve hexagrams match the Twelve Earthly Branches, or zodiac animals. In this image, Pig is shown at the bottom (all yin lines), Snake at the top (all yang lines). Tiger is at the left (east), Monkey at the right (west). Rat (the first animal) extends out from Pig, with one yang line at the base and the rest yin. From here, yang gradually swells until it reaches the apex at Snake, and then gradually recedes back to Pig.
There is so much we can study based on this chart. I share it here simply with regard to the twelve moons, as these hexagrams describe the quality of each moon in the context of the rise & fall of the year. For example, Tiger Moon is the third moon (technically considered the first moon of the new year). The associated tidal hexagram is #11 (Grandeur), showing three yang lines below and three yin lines above – a state of perfect balance and harmony, thus an auspicious time to start the new year.
These tidal hexagrams are a different system from the bazi hexagrams we are covering in our Dark Moon Newsletter. I honestly don’t know how these systems relate to one another or their respective applications. But I think we should keep in mind that from the perspective of annual qi, Tiger (the third of the 12 tidal hexagrams) always relates to Hexagram #11, while Monkey (the ninth of 12) always relates to Hexagram 12. The numbers 3 & 9 relate to yang and are considered very auspicious, but as with yang, both Tiger & Monkey also come with great potential danger.
Tidal hexagrams notwithstanding, in terms of the Sexagenary Cycle of 60 moons that we use in the bazi, the various signs have different hexagram correspondences. The current moon for instance is Yang-Metal Tiger, which in the bazi relates to Hexagram #12, while Yang-Metal Monkey corresponds to Hexagram 11!
So as we continue this 60-moon observation, keep in mind this separate system of the Twelve Tidal Hexagrams governing the annual qi of each moon, and then within that context look at the bazi hexagram. Subscribe here to join me in this 60-moon project.
2021 is the year of the Yin-Metal Ox. What does that mean? See the description below and listen to my 2021 Yin-Metal Ox New Year Talk. For background on this system, see my introductory post on Chinese almanac-astrology and view these YouTube videos describing the Heavenly Stems, the Earthly Branches, and the Sexagenary Cycle.
Yin-Metal (xīn, 辛) is gentle inward focus – an easy ability to let go of the extraneous (falling leaves) and focus on what really matters. The image of Yin-Metal is a kettle or cauldron, suggesting a focused “cooking” or alchemical process. Ox (chǒu, 丑) is robust and hardworking. Disciplined and committed to getting the job done – plowing through the soil with great determination and power. Steadfast, reliable, and persevering – unwavering in its given direction. All that power and capacity does need direction. Its basic job is pulling qi up and out of the pit of yin – driving the shoot from the seed to the surface. Because of its single-minded commitment, it can be insensitive and stubborn toward anything that does not align with its goals. The native Phase of Ox is Yin-Earth; Earth nourishes Metal, so this is like Ox with its child – it is attentive and nourishing. Ox likes to work, and Yin-Metal likes to focus, so Metal Ox has a mindset of investment – open up to new opportunities and invest our resources (and labor) with care and precision. When Metal expresses through Ox it gets very happy – they work together well, taking long strides toward prosperity.
Metal Ox corresponds to Hexagram #58, Valley/Valley: “Open Exchange”. Open channels within meeting open channels without – a condition of open exchange and mutual benefit. Exchange means sharing ideas or swapping commodities – prosperous interaction. Conversation. Trade. The character (兌) suggests children in all 8 directions: open possibilities, pleasant and prosperous flow. This hexagram describes pure opportunity – no blockage and no funny games – take our resources, our potential, and drive it forward toward productive results. This is a time to take the qi that was released in Metal Rat and give it direction, give it purpose, and take it far. It is extremely auspicious for forward progress, especially with regard to growing wealth, building a business, or refining qi. Metal Ox is not just about reaping return on investment, however. Ox loves labor, and this hexagram is about the pure joy of hard work. It also means opening ourselves up to others – to open our mind and heart and mouth and freely exchange ideas. To open our wallet, to open up shop and share our resources with others – giving and receiving for mutual benefit. Interestingly, the trigram dui resembles a smiling mouth, so one dimension of this hexagram is people smiling together. The key for Metal Ox is opening ourselves to new opportunities, taking a direction, and going for it…enjoy.
Chinese almanac-astrology is a practice of observing the ever-revolving cycle of yin & yang, the five elemental qi-phases, and twelve zodiac animal totems that symbolize specific, dynamic qualities of qi. These “Heavenly Stems” & “Earthly Branches” combine to form a “Sexagenary Cycle” – a revolving array of 60 distinct qi-patterns that arise in myriad expressions in space & time. These shapes or patterns spontaneously arise, transform, and resolve as Heaven & Earth interact. In terms of the almanac, we can view these as 60 dimensions of time.
The Stems & Branches combine in Four Pillars based on the movements of the Sun, Moon, & Earth. The Four Pillars are the Year, Moon, Day, and 120-minute Hour – each Pillar revolves through the Sexagenary Cycle, so there are cycles of 60 years, 60 moons, 60 days, & 60 “hours”. I have completed a 60-day observation, am 13 years into a 60-year observation, and in 2020 began a 60-moon observation.
Toward the end of 2020, I began publishing Dark Moon Newsletter, a complimentary public newsletter introducing the Heavenly Stem & Earthly Branch of the new moon in accordance with classical Chinese almanac-astrology (bāzì, 八字), along with a corresponding hexagram from the 3,000-year old Zhou Yi Jing to provide additional depth and dynamism on the qi-quality of the coming moon. The system I am presenting uses the actual lunar cycle, based on the Stems & Branches and Zhou Yi Jing hexagram correspondences attributed to the neo-Confucian philosopher Shao Yong of the Song Dynasty. My monthly write-ups serve to bridge these two systems, which I think provides tremendous perspective to further the reader’s study of either system.
The qi-descriptions in my newsletters suggest a general auspice for each respective moon; however, we also need to view each moon within the more influential context of the year. The days & hours also come into play, and our capacity to digest this revolving qi is influenced by our own natal chart as well as our conduct. Not to mention other aspects of the almanac and astrology that are beyond the scope of this particular project.
We can observe the almanac in different ways. At the heart of the practice is adapting our conduct to align with the qi of the moment. Observing the almanac – and its sister practice, divining with the Zhou Yi Jing – can assist us in navigating the fluctuating auspices of time. The purpose of this practice does not center around gaining some advantage or reaching some exalted state – in our lineage, we understand that observing and adjusting and expressing appropriately each moment is itself Dao-De.
My primary almanac-astrology teacher liked to say that as the Four Pillars (year, moon, day, hour) revolve, it is like a revolving buffet of qi – the quality is not always the same, and if we want to digest the qi of the moment well, it can help to know something of its quality. But we don’t need to stuff our heads with too much information – just enough to open our eye to perceive and adjust.
I encourage you to study these monthly images to perceive a gestalt “qi-pattern” within yourself and the world around you during each respective moon. But as with everything we do here, hold it lightly and don’t push it too hard. Don’t believe or disbelieve; simply observe and watch for the qi-pattern to reveal itself.
The purpose of this observation is not necessarily understanding the auspice of each specific moon – mainly it’s using the moon cycle as a way to observe these 60 expressions of qi, to spend a full lunar cycle contemplating and becoming familiar with each sign. After five years we will have become familiar with the full “canon of qi”. We can and I think should also observe these qi-expressions in the cycles of years, days, & hours as our appetite for this practice stirs.
Let’s dive in. I will explain the system bit-by-bit in the moons ahead. Subscribe here to join me in this 60-moon project.