Is there an Asian “Wheel of the Year”?
Consider these eight solar terms, their dates based on solar longitude (the path of the sun) and how they compare to close equivalents in the pagan Wheel of the Year:
The Four Beginnings 四立
1. 立春 Start of Spring Feb. 3–5
2. 立夏 Start of Summer May 5–7
3. 立秋 Start of Autumn Aug. 7–9
4. 立冬 Start of Winter Nov. 7–8
Equinoxes & Solstices 分/至
5. 春分 Vernal Equinox Mar. 20–22
6. 秋分 Autumnal Equinox Sep. 22–24
7. 夏至 Summer Solstice Jun. 21–22
8. 冬至 Winter Solstice Dec. 21–23
I apologize in advance if my mode of presentation here is going to be a bit overwhelming. In retrospect, I should have taken more time thinking on pedagogy and how best to organize this material so it’s less everything-all-at-once. =)
The video and this companion write-up will give you a crash course quick overview of the East Asian lunisolar calendar system.
In Mandarin, the calendar system is called the Nónglì 農曆. This calendar/astrological system is also found in Korean, Japanese, and Vietnamese metaphysics, so it’s not limited to the Chinese.
Sometimes I’ll describe it as Taoist-Buddhist, as it tends to be found in both esoteric Taoism and Buddhism. However, many folk religious and shamanic traditions across East Asia work with this system as well.
Here’s what the 24 solar terms of the lunisolar calendar system looks like, charted on a wheel:
The 24 solar terms correspond two by two with the 12 lunar cycles in a calendar year (give or take…hence we have the situation of leap years, etc.). The 12 lunar cycles are marked by the 12 zodiac animals.
It’s also kind of an intrigue that “3 primes” emerge from the Wu Xing alchemical phase correspondences along that outer-most wheel– Fire, Metal, and Water.
The inner wheel highlighted in yellow designates the magus’s Ba Gua or eight trigram correspondences to the solar terms marking eight seasonal points on the wheel of the year (minority view). In the subsequent tables of this write-up, I title it the “Thaumaturge’s Taiji” (“MAGUS“).
While the innermost circle of trigrams corresponds to the natural cycle (majority view). In the subsequent tables I title this “Natural Cycle of the Taiji” (“NATURE“).
The two inner circles, one numbered up to 36 and the other up to 72 (princely rulers), are not correspondences, but in concept move and cycle at a different pace from the calendar system (sun’s path and moon cycles). When the 36 or 72 forces align in particular ways, natural disasters befall. Or so goes the traditional astrological theory.
And here’s a more detailed chart of the eight solar terms covered in the video:
Note that there are two different trigram (Ba Gua) correspondences to the solar terms:
- NATURE (Natural Cycle of the Taiji): Indicates the quality of natural qi innate to that time of the year.
- MAGUS (Thaumaturge’s Taiji): Indicates the quality of qi the ceremonial magician would want to harness and amplify that time of the year. (Ex. Fire during the winter solstice to heat up the natural cycle of cold; Water during the summer solstice to hydrate and quench, preventing drought, etc.)
This table lists out the 24 solar terms, which are based on solar longitude, and their corresponding lunar month cycles:
Highlighted in yellow are the eight solar terms I discuss in the video: the four equinoxes (分, fēn) and solstices (至, zhì) and the four beginnings (四立, sì lì).
The summer solstice is the peak of yang and the winter solstice is the peak of yin. The equinoxes are when yin and yang are balanced.
Quantitative changes to the proportions of yin and yang during the time of year lead to qualitative changes to the environment.
The four beginnings (start of spring, start of summer, start of autumn, and start of winter) are four cardinal points that open each season.
Even though we call them beginnings, they actually mark conclusions. So, for instance, the solar term “Start of Spring” in the first week of February in fact marks the ending of winter; the “Start of Summer” in the first week of May in fact marks the ending of spring, and so on.
The calendar system is an integration of the moon phases, a cycle of twelve signs corresponding with the twelve earthly branches, a unit of measuring time.
The trigram and I Ching hexagram correspondences express the qi energy quality of each seasonal point, i.e. the broken lines express the yin quality and the solid lines express the yang quality. So, for example, of the Twelve Hexagrams of the Son of Heaven 天子卦, lunar month 10, corresponding to November – December, is expressed by all 6 yin lines (cold), whereas lunar month 4, around the summer solstice, is expressed by all 6 yang lines (heat).
The twelve moons of one lunar year are expressed as twelve zodiac animal signs as noted in the table above. So not only does each zodiac animal correspond with a lunisolar year (e.g., Year of the Tiger, Year of the Rabbit, etc.), each also corresponds with a lunar month (or cycle), new moon through full and ending with the dark moon.
The twelve earthly branches also correspond with ascendant hours in astrology. There’s an as above, so below; as within, so without, where the microcosm is a perfect and complete representation of the macrocosm, and vice versa when it comes to the Asian calendar and astrological system.
The earthly branches, marking both moon phases and ascendant hours, correspond to the Ba Gua eight trigrams as follows:
The ten heavenly stems correspond with what had been the ten-day week in the ancient Chinese calendar system:
And now we get to the solar aspect of the lunisolar calendar.
The 360 degree revolution or path of the sun is subdivided into 24 solar terms. Each solar term marks a particular longitudinal degree of the sun’s position along that path, called the Yellow Path (or Golden Path)– 黃道, Huáng Dào.
The twelve earthly branches and ten heavenly stems combine to form 60 pairings, which represent a calendar cycle of 60 lunisolar years. This is called the sexagenary calendar:
And here’s how the 60-year calendar cycle looks charted on a wheel:
Marking the Yellow Path, there are Four Perfected Hexagrams representing the equinoxes and solstices, whereas the trigram Thunder doubled (Thunder over Thunder, Hexagram 51) corresponds with the spring equinox, and Fire doubled (Fire over Fire, Hexagram 30) corresponds with the summer solstice, and so on.
Each hexagram in the I Ching consists of 6 lines. With 4 Perfected Hexagrams marking the four quadrants (equinoxes and solstices), we get 24 solar terms (6 x 4), which correspond with the lines or yao of the Perfected Hexagrams as follows:
Superimposing the Four Perfected Hexagrams (as they correspond with the solar terms) with the Twelve Lunar Months and the Ba Gua eight trigrams, the following cycle is charted:
All of these tables and charts are found in my next book I Ching, The Oracle (forthcoming 2023) with more in-depth discussions. This post is merely to provide a broad overview and summary of the system.
The diagram below charts the eight seasonal points that are somewhat reminiscent of the eight festivals of the Western pagan Wheel of the Year, determined by a similar rationale process of agricultural seasons marked by the annual cycle of equinoxes, solstices, and their midterms.
As noted in the video, there are differing orders of trigram to directional and seasonal correspondences. The above is a diagram of what I refer to as the thaumaturgical order, as it’s the one most likely to be utilized in ritual magic and alchemy.
The above is a comparison of the Thaumaturge’s ordering and the natural cycle. As I pointed out in the video, the equinoxes are the only points of agreement, which makes sense, given that they mark the line of the equator, and the ascendant and descendant.
To give an example of why the difference: Fire corresponds naturally with summer due to the heat, and so per the Natural Cycle, the trigram Fire is the summer solstice. However, heat is what you most need to combat the cold of winter and survive/thrive.
Thus per the Thaumaturge’s Cycle, the trigram Fire corresponds with the winter solstice, as that is when the magus or alchemist would most want to harness the qi power of Fire.
And here’s how the eight tirgrams of the Ba Gua correspond with the eight lunar phases:
Note how the full moon phase correspondence, Heaven, is the polarity of the new moon correspondence, Earth. A waxing crescent plus a waning gibbous, as it appears to us, equals a whole. Likewise, the yin (broken) lines of Thunder transform into yang (solid) lines in Wind, and the yang lines into yin. Fire and Water are balanced opposites neutralizing one another, corresponding respectively to the first quarter and third quarter moons. And same with the balance of yin and yang in the waxing gibbous plus the waning crescent moons.
By the way, believing that the flow of qi in the greater cosmos on a macroscopic scale can also determine the flow of qi in the individual home on a microscopic level, feng shui principles follow the same metaphysical principles as astrology, numerology (the Lo Shu magic square), and the Wheel of the Year:
Initial encounters with this calendar system can be daunting because the maths of it is fairly extensive, not to mention the layers upon layers of correspondences.
And yet the more you study this system, the more impressed by it you’ll be.
The mathematical precision of it, how everything divides or multiplies so perfectly, how aligned the macro and micro are reinforce a conviction that there is some semblance of universal truth here.
Plus, if you ever get into Traditional Chinese Medicine (any form of it, everything from herbalism to acupuncture and acupressure), qi gong, tai chi, feng shui, any form of East Asian astrology (there are many systems), Taoist ritual magic, or you just want to improve your chances at abundant harvests in your backyard garden, then you’ll want to gain a foothold understanding of this wheel of the year.