Dragon Boat Festival


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 (2021), 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.

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