Posted by Imperial Harvest on 20 October 2023
Estimated Reading Time: 5 mins
Throughout Chinese history, the 12 Earthly Branches, also known as “地支” (di zhi), have been established as a foundational framework for timekeeping, astrology, divination, and numerous other fields of study.
In this article, we will explore the significance of the 12 Earthly Branches, as well as their Hidden Heavenly Stems to gain greater insight into their roles concerning human nature and the natural world.
The conceptual origins of the 12 Earthly Branches can be traced back to the Shang dynasty (c. 1600 to 1046 BCE), where its foundational theories were based on observations of the planet Jupiter’s orbit around the sun. The 12 Earthly Branches derived their name from the duration Jupiter takes to orbit the Sun — 12 years.
Over the centuries, this system of measurement evolved and became more complex, intertwining with various aspects of Chinese metaphysics.
Besides representing the 12 months in a calendar year, the 12 Earthly Branches also symbolised 12 double-hour segments called Shi Chen (時辰) — which accumulated to 24 hours. In addition, each Earthly Branch aligns with a particular season and is symbolised by a specific zodiac animal.
This article delves into the 12 Earthly Branches, delving into the meaning and rationale behind the hidden Heavenly Stems within each.
The three Earthly Branches associated with Spring are Yin (寅), Mao (卯) and Chen (辰), which align with Tiger, Rabbit and Dragon respectively. As Spring represents the Wood element, these three Earthly Branches are referred to as the Three Seasonal Combination (三会) of Wood.
In Bazi, when an individual’s Bazi chart includes the combination of these Earthly Branches, it indicates a strong presence of Wood elemental energy.
Yin represents the Tiger — the first zodiac animal of the Spring season, a Wood elemental season. It aligns with the Yang polarity, represents February in the Gregorian calendar and the time from 3 a.m. to 4.59 a.m.
In the Earthly Branch Yin (寅), three hidden Heavenly Stems contribute varying degrees of energy:
Representing the Rabbit, Mao aligns with the peak of the Spring season. It is of Yin polarity, representing March in the Gregorian calendar and the time from 5 a.m. to 6.59 a.m.
The Earthly Branch Mao (卯) contains a singular Hidden Stem, Yi Wood (乙), to signify its Principal Qi, as the peak of the Spring additionally marks the pinnacle of its elemental energy.
Representing the Dragon, the last zodiac animal of the Spring and therefore signifies the end of the season. It is of the Yang polarity, aligning with April in the Gregorian calendar and the time from 7 a.m. to 8.59 a.m.
The three Hidden Heavenly Stems of Chen contribute to varying degrees of energy, and are as follows:
Representing the Summer season are the Si (巳), Wu (午) and Wei (未) Earthly Branches, referring to the Snake, Horse and Goat zodiac signs respectively. The Summer season aligns with the Fire element, with the trio of Earthly Branches referred to as the Three Seasonal Combination of Fire.
In Bazi, the presence of this combination of Earthly Branches indicates a strong Fire elemental energy in an individual’s Bazi chart.
Si represents the Snake, the first zodiac animal of the Summer. Aligning with the Yin polarity, Si also encompasses May in the Gregorian calendar and the time from 9 a.m. to 10.59 a.m.
In the Si Earthly Branch, three hidden Heavenly Stems provide varying degrees of energy, categorised by their significance:
Wu represents the Horse — the second animal of the Summer season. Encompassing the peak of Summer, Wu is of the Yang polarity, representing the month of June and the period from 11 a.m. to 12.59 p.m.
Within the Wu Earthly Branch, two Hidden heavenly Stems contribute to its energy:
Wei aligns with the Goat, the last animal of the Summer. Hence, it also signifies the end of the season and aligns with the Yin polarity. It represents the month of July and the time from 1 pm to 2.59 pm.
Within the Wei Earthly Branch, three Hidden Heavenly Stems contribute to its energy, and are listed as follows:
Autumn is represented by the Earthly Branches, Shen (申), You (酉) and Xu (戌) — aligning with the Monkey, Rooster and Dog zodiac signs respectively. Autumn is associated with the element of Metal, therefore this combination of Earthly Branches is termed the Three Seasonal Combination of Metal.
A collective presence of this trio of Earthly Branches in an individual’s Bazi chart is indicative of a strong metal elemental energy.
Shen corresponds to the Monkey, the initial zodiac sign of Autumn, representing the Metal element. With a Yang polarity, Shen aligns with August in the Gregorian calendar and spans from 3 p.m. to 4:59 p.m.
The three Hidden Heavenly Stems within the Shen Earthly Branch are as follows:
Representing the Rooster, You is the second zodiac animal of the Autumn season, signifying the Autumn’s peak. It aligns with the Yin polarity, marking September in the Gregorian calendar and the time from 5 p.m. to 6.59 p.m.
Within the You Earthly Branch, the singular Hidden Stem is Yin Metal (辛), which signifies its Principal Qi. Signifying the peak of the Autumn season, Yin Metal marks the pinnacle of its elemental energy.
Xu represents the Dog — signifying the last zodiac animal of Autumn and the end of the season. Xu is of Yang polarity, representing October in the Gregorian calendar and the time from 7 p.m. to 8.59 p.m.
The three Hidden Heavenly Stems of the Xu Earthly Branch are categorised by their significance as follows:
Winter is characterised by the Earthly Branches, Hai (亥), Zi (子) and Chou (丑) — corresponding respectively with the Pig, Rat and Ox zodiac signs. As Winter aligns with the Water element, the confluence of Hai, Zi and Chou is known as the Three Seasonal Combination of Water.
In Bazi, the presence of these Earthly Branches in an individual’s chart indicates a dominant Water elemental energy.
The Hai Earthly Branch represents the Pig, the first zodiac animal of the water-dominated Winter season. Aligning with the Yin polarity, Hai represents November and the time from 9 p.m. to 10.59 p.m.
Within the Hai Earthly Branch, two Hidden Heavenly Stems contribute to its energy:
Zi represents the Rat – the second zodiac animal of the Winter season. It signifies the zenith of Winter. It is of Yang polarity. From a time perspective, it represents December in the Gregorian calendar and the time from 11 p.m. to 00.59 a.m.
The Zi Earthly Branch contains one Hidden Heavenly Stem, Gui Water. Its position as the peak of Winter establishes Gui Water as the Principal Qi.
Lastly, Chou represents the Ox, the last zodiac animal of the Winter season, signifying the end of the season. It aligns with the Yin polarity, representing the month of January and the time from 1 a.m. to 01.59 a.m.
Within the earthly branch of Chou (丑), three hidden heavenly stems contribute to its energy profile, distinguished by their hierarchical prominence:
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