Stems and Branches (part 2 of 4)
Practical Applications of the GanZhi
The GanZhi system is not only used to designate specific years, but also applies to cycles of sixty months, days, and double-hours. To name a particular time, therefore, requires a total of four stem-branch combinations or eight characters (bazi 八字). The eight characters of a person’s birth, then, form the foundation of traditional astrology, setting up the basic astrological chart that defines the overall destiny patterns or tendencies of the river of time in the individual’s life.
A high-level Chinese astrology master can read the good and bad fortune anyone is likely to encounter simply based on these eight characters. In other words, they carry the information of the person’s entire life—health, wealth, romantic relationships, challenges, lucky periods, ancestral support (or lack thereof), and more. The Yijing divination system, moreover, makes use of the same system to discover the answer to a particular question posed by the seeker. On a much greater scale, the expert is able to read the time river of the universe, the configuration of human history, and the patterns of climate and political change.
In the Fengshui tradition, a cycle of sixty years is called a unit (yuan 元) or major course (dayun 大運). One unit divides evenly into three lesser courses (xiaoyun 小運) of twenty years each, which are used to decipher the general influence on archetypal patterns that cosmological qi has on each increment. During Fengshui consultation, the master applies his intimate knowledge of the stems and branches to determine detailed energetic patterns for each year, month, day, and hour as well as to identify the key features of a given geographical setting when determining a building site, burial place, or for any other localized purpose.
Ancient in origins, the practice is still very much alive today. For example, most recently my family decided to follow Fengshui advice to choose the exact moment to seal my father’s tomb so that most auspicious energy would arrive at his funeral celebration. Another example appears in my newsletter from August 6, 2020:
We will most likely experience a very unusual heat wave in the late autumn season. In general, the late autumn is of course cooler as we head towards winter. This off-season excess-fire may be difficult for anyone who has weak lung-qi.
Unfortunately, I can easily imagine that if there is a second wave with large numbers of people suffering from Covid-19, it will occur during this irregular late autumn time (22 September to 22 November, 2020).
As I conclude my work on this paper (in October of 2020), indeed many countries are reporting record rises in Covid-19 cases, and many also indicate record highs in temperature. For example,
- 13 August 2020, The Weather Channel, Fall Temperature Forecast: Warmer Than Average Conditions to Dominate Most of the U.S.
- 6 October 2020, The Guardian, Coronavirus: Europe struggles to contain surge of cases.
- 7 October 2020, The Guardian, September breaks global and European records for hottest ever.
- 14 October 2020, Reuters Agency, WHO fears spike in deaths after global COVID-19 surge.
Using the stems and branches in consultation or for predictions, as applied in astrology, Fengshui, Yijing divination, and eight-character fortune-telling, allows people gain insights into a wide variety of subjects, objects, and events. If we look into the time river of the universe, any object or event is like a drop of water in the flowing cosmos. Traditionally, we believe that the universe is the creator of all things and events, and that the knowledge of the universe is the source of all of prediction systems.
Two Cases from Late 2020
In October 2020, I made several specific forecasts beside this weather and health prediction. The first concerned the 2020 U.S. presidential election. I received the same question about who would win the election from many friends around the world.
In the Daoist tradition, the basic rule of prediction is, “The secrets of the universe must not be leaked” (tianji buke xie 天機不可洩),” which holds true especially regarding a major event. In other words, when making an important prediction, we must only offer hints and hidden messages instead of directly handing the secrets of the universe out to the world. As such, on election day (November 3, 2020), I posted a prediction for the outcome (on WeChat) in Daoist style, showing a photo of a blossoming four-leaf clover I had taken recently along with a classical Chinese poem that reflected the message I was intending with the photo.
秋冬之交 一花放驕 四葉幸草 明珠光兆
The shifting moment between fall and winter
One flower is blossoming elegantly
A four-leaf clover indicates good luck
The omen of the Pearl is going to shine
This combination, a picture and a poem predication, emulates the format of the famous Chinese prophecy book Tuibei tu 推背圖 (Charts of Pulling from the Back). Ascribed to the famous predictors and astronomers Li Chunfeng 李淳風 and Yuan Tiangang 袁天罡 of the 7th century, it predicted the future of China over the following two thousand years.
This poem is not supposed to make a great deal of sense, and none of my Chinese friends indicated that they understood the cryptic message it contained. I kept the “heavenly secret” to myself until the election results became clear.
Here is what the verses mean. In the first line, “The shifting moment between fall and winter,” I refer to is the two-week period known as “Beginning of Winter liidong 立冬), one of the twenty-four divisions or “nodes” (ershisi jie 二十四節) that divide the Chinese solar year and agricultural cycle. According to the traditional Chinese calendar, the first date of this period fell on November 7, 2020. In the second verse, “one flower” is a metaphor for woman in classical Chinese and verse indicates that a dignified woman would be elected. In fact, Kamala Harris is now recognized as the first female vice president elect of the United States.
In the third line, “four-leaf clover” points to a time frame—in this case, four days after the election (that is, November 7); and in the last line, the Chinese for “bright pearl,” mingzhu, sounds similar to minzhu 民主, the word for “democracy,” indicating in this case not just that the Democratic Party would be the victor, but that democracy itself will prevail.
All the different aspects of this prediction, moreover, were predicated on extensive and complicated calculations based on the stems and branches, allowing insights into the cosmic unfolding and thereby opening visions of developments in human society.
Another prediction concerns the overarching trends in 2021, the year designated by the stem and branch combination xinchou 辛丑. The next Chinese lunar new year falls on February 12, 2021, but the cosmological influence of the xinchou combination will start as early as January 20, even though the year does not officially begin until February 3—the day when the Chinese astrological animal sign Ox replaces the current Rat.
According to the transformation principles of the cosmological alchemy as calculated through the stems and branches, the combination of xin, which is a heavenly stem characterized by yin and the phase metal, and chou, an earthly branch marked by yin and the phase earth, signifies massive turbulence for the world. Its main climate pattern is damp and cold, leading to the prediction that there will be more storms of wind, rain, and snow than usual.
The prevalent damp and cold, moreover, also cause serious health problems in many people. I expect that there will be a severe flu season in the spring of 2021, which means that the global pandemic of Covid-19 could become worse again. This time period will be especially difficult for people with digestive weakness, skin problems, joint pains, weak kidney-qi, and/or lower back pain. As always, in my next seasonal newsletter, I will offer advice on specific daily cultivation exercises that help balance the coming energy when the time arrives.
In part 3 of this article, I will share more information about the GanZhi celestial connection – stay tuned!