Liojen Oracle Basics: Heavenly Stems and Earthly Branch

admin's picture

1. Heavenly Stems
Heavenly Stems are a Chinese system of ordinals that first appear during the Shang dynasty, ca. 1250 BC, as the names of the ten days of the week. They were also used in Shang-period ritual as names for dead family members, who were offered sacrifices on the corresponding day of the Shang week. The Heavenly Stems were used in combination with the Earthly Branches, a similar cycle of twelve days, to produce a compound cycle of sixty days. Subsequently, the Heavenly Stems lost their original function as names for days of the week and dead kin, and acquired many other uses, the most prominent and long lasting of which was their use together with the Earthly Branches as a 60-year calendrical cycle.

Table
 

 

Celestial
Stem

Chinese Mandarin
Pinyin

Cantonese
Jyutping

Yin and Yang
(
陰陽)

Wu Xing
(
五行)

Wu xing
correlations

1

jiǎ

gaap3

陽 (yang)

木 (wood)

東 East

2

jyut6

陰 (yin)

3

bǐng

bing2

陽 (yang)

火 (fire)

南 South

4

dīng

ding1

陰 (yin)

5

mou6

陽 (yang)

土 (earth)

中 Middle

6

gei2

陰 (yin)

7

gēng

gang1

陽 (yang)

金 (metal)

西 West

8

xīn

san1

陰 (yin)

9

rén

jam4

陽 (yang)

水 (water)

北 North

10

guǐ

gwai3

陰 (yin)


 

1-1. Origin
The Shang people believed that there were ten suns, each of which appeared in order in a ten-day cycle (旬; xún). The Heavenly Stems (tiāngān 天干) were the names of the ten suns, which may have designated world ages as did the Five Suns and the Six Ages of the World of Saint Augustine. They were found in the given names of the kings of the Shang in their Temple Names. These consisted of a relational term (Father, Mother, Grandfather, Grandmother) to which was added one of the ten gān names (e.g. Grandfather Jia). These names are often found on Shang bronzes designating whom the bronze was honoring (and on which day of the week their rites would have been performed, that day matching the day designated by their name). David Keightley, a leader scholar of ancient China and its bronzes, believes that the gān names were chosen posthumously through divination. Some historians think the ruling class of the Shang had ten clans, but it is not clear whether their society reflected the myth or vice versa. The associations with Yin-Yang and the Five Elements developed later, after the collapse of the Shang Dynasty.
 

The literal meaning of the characters was roughly as follows.

 

Celestial
Stem

Meaning

Original

Modern

shell

first (book I, person A etc.), helmet, armor, words related to beetles, crustaceans, methyl group, fingernails, toenails

fishguts

second (book II, person B etc.), twist, words related to the ethyl group

fishtail

third, bright, fire, fishtail (rare)

nail

fourth, male adult, robust, T-shaped, to strike, a surname

lance

(not used)

threads on a loom

self

evening star

age (of person)

to offend superiors

bitter, piquant, toilsome

burden

to shoulder, to trust with office

disposed grass

(not used)

 

1-2. Relationship Between Heavenly Stems

The five “compatibilities” of Heavenly Stems:
甲 (jiǎ) and 己 (jǐ), be of compatible combination, giving rise to Earth;
乙 (yǐ) and 庚 (gēng), be of compatible combination, giving rise to Metal;
丙 (bing) and 辛 (xīn), be of compatible combination, giving rise to Water;
丁 (ding) and 壬 (rén), be of compatible combination, giving rise to Wood;
戊 (wù) and 癸 (guǐ), be of compatible combination, giving rise to Fire.

 

2. Earthly Branches

2-1. Introduction
Earthly Branche system was built from observations of the orbit of Jupiter. Chinese astronomers divided the celestial circle into 12 sections to follow the orbit of 歲星 Suìxīng (Jupiter, the Year Star). Astronomers rounded the orbit of Suixing to 12 years (from 11.86). Suixing was associated with 攝提 and sometimes called Sheti.

In correlative thinking, the twelve years of the Jupiter cycle also identify the twelve months of the year, twelve animals, directions, seasons, and Chinese hour in the form of double-hours. When a Branch is used for a double hour, the listed periods are meant. When used for an exact time of a day, it is the center of the period. For instance, 午 (the Horse) means noon or a period from 11am to 1pm.

 

Chinese seasons are based on observations of the sun and stars. Many Chinese calendrical systems have started the new year on the second new moon after the winter solstice.

The Earthly Branches are today used with the Heavenly Stems in the current version of the "traditional Chinese calendar" and in Taoism. The Ganzhi (Stem-Branch) combination is a fairly new way to mark time; in the second millennium BC Shang era it was the ten Heavenly Stems that provided the names of the days of the week. The Branches are as old as the Stems (and according to recent archaeology may actually be older), but the Stems were tied to the ritual calendars of Chinese kings. They were not part of the calendrical systems of the majority of Chinese.

 

The twelve branches

 

 

Earthly
Branch

Mandarin

Chinese
zodiac

Direction

Season

Lunar Month

Double Hour

 
 

1

Rat

0° (north)

winter

Month 11

11pm to 1am (midnight)

 

2

chǒu

Ox

30°

Month 12

1am to 3am

 

3

yín

Tiger

60°

spring

Month 1

3am to 5am

 

4

mǎo

Rabbit

90° (east)

Month 2

5am to 7am

 

5

chén

Dragon

120°

Month 3

7am to 9 am

 

6

Snake

150°

summer

Month 4

9am to 11am

 

7

Horse

180° (south)

Month 5

11am to 1pm (noon)

 

8

wèi

Goat

210°

Month 6

1pm to 3pm

 

9

shēn

Monkey

240°

autumn

Month 7

3pm to 5pm

 

10

yǒu

Rooster

270° (west)

Month 8

5pm to 7pm

 

11

Dog

300°

Month 9

7pm to 9pm

 

12

hài

Pig

330°

winter

Month 10

9pm to 11pm

 

 

2-2. Basic relationship between branches

Between Heavenly Stems there exists certain relationship. So do the Earthly Branches. Such relationship together make up the basic ancient Chinese shu shu (术数) study, i.e. the knowledge to deduce the operating pattern of nature, society and human affairs based upon the Yin-Yang, the relations of five elements. The character术means measure, method while数regular pattern or principle to be observed when applying any method. The relation between Heavenly Stems and Earthly Braches plays an important role in such deduction procedure and Taoist internal alchemy also adopted lots such application in its particular system.

 

2-2-1. 十二地支六合

The six “compatible combinations” of Earthly Branches:
子 (zǐ) and 丑 (chǒu), compatible combinations.

寅 (yín) and 亥 (hài), compatible combinations.
卯 (mǎo) and 戌 (xū), compatible combinations.
辰 (chén) and 酉 (yǒu), compatible combinations.
巳 (sì) and 申 (shēn), compatible combinations.
午 (wǔ) and 未 (wèi), compatible combinations.

2-2-2. 十二地支六冲

Relation of “dash agaist each other” of the Earthly Branches:
子 (zǐ) vs 午 (wǔ)
寅 (yín) vs 申 (shēn)
卯 (mǎo) vs 酉 (yǒu)
辰 (chén) vs 戌 (xū)
巳 (sì) vs 亥 (hài)
丑 (chǒu) vs 未 (wèi)

2-2-3. 十二地支六害

Relation of “opposing harm” between Earthly Branches:
子 (zǐ) vs 未 (wèi)
丑 (chǒu) vs 午 (wǔ)
寅 (yín) vs 巳 (sì)
卯 (mǎo) vs 辰 (chén)
申 (shēn) vs 亥 (hài)
酉 (yǒu) vs 戌 (xū)

NOTES: Here “opposing harm” implies some force coming unexpected, not face-to-face.

2-2-4. 十二地支三合局

The three “compatible combinations” of the Early Branches:
申 (shēn), 子 (zǐ) and 辰 (chén), be of compatible combination, forming Water,

巳 (sì), 酉 (yǒu) and 丑 (chǒu), be of compatible combination, forming Metal,
亥 (hài), 卯 (mǎo) and 未 (wèi), be of compatible combination, forming Wood,
寅 (yín), 午 (wǔ) and 戌 (xū), be of compatible combination, forming Fire

2-2-5. 十二地支三会局

亥,子,丑 meet in north
寅,卯,辰 meet in east
巳,午,未 meet in south
申, 酉,戌 meet in west.

 

2-2-6. Relation of “punishment” between Earthly Branches
Special: 寅 (yín) → 巳 (sì), 巳 (sì) → 申 (shēn), 申 (shēn) →寅 (yín);
Ungrateful: 丑 (chǒu) → 戌 (xū), 戌 (xū) → 未 (wèi), 未 (wèi) → 丑 (chǒu);
Rudeness: 子 (zǐ) → 卯 (mǎo), 卯 (mǎo) → 子 (zǐ);
Self Punishment: 辰 (chén) vs 辰 (chén), 午 (wǔ) vs 午 (wǔ), 酉 (yǒu) vs 酉 (yǒu), 亥 (hài) vs亥 (hài).

NOTES: Here “punishment” implies active punishment inflicted.

 

2-2-7. Relation of “impediment” between Earthly Branches
子 (zǐ) vs 酉 (yǒu)
午 (wǔ) vs 卯 (mǎo)
巳 (sì) vs 申 (shēn)
寅 (yín) vs 亥 (hài)
丑 (chǒu) vs 辰 (chén)
未 (wèi) vs 戌 (xū)

NOTES: Here “impediment” implies ruthlessness, sabotage, cauterization, renunciation, loss of wealth, flaw and so forth.