Yasmeen Khan introduces one of the most ancient Chinese cycles of characters which have been used from time immemorial to measure the years and the days the 10 Heavenly Stems
The cycle of 10 Heavenly Stems co-exists in Chinese thought with the 12 Earthly Branches. We will be examining the Branches in greater detail in the next issue. Matching these two cycles together gives us the cycle of 60 which is used to measure both years and days.
The characters for the Heavenly Stems are very ancient, and it is said that they may refer to an early 10 day week. There is no proof for this, and it is unlikely, since the Chinese calendar was geared to the 29.5 day cycle of the phases of the moon.
With the development of astronomy people began to use the 10 Heavenly Stems to record time, so for example the 1st May 1998 would be the day of chia (Stem 1), month of wu (Stem 5) and year of wu yin (Stem 5 combined with Branch 3).
Each Stem corresponds to one of the Five Elements and also to the 12 ‘zodiacal’ animals.
|The Five Elements||Fortunate Stems||Unlucky Stems||Zodiacal Animal|
|Earth||5||6||Ox, Dragon, Goat, Dog|
On the feng shui compass the Stems belong to the ‘Heaven plate’ and are more associated with the cosmic processes than with the 12 Earthly Branches. In Form School feng shui the Stems serve as markers for the confluences and directions of water courses. Stems are representative of water.
The 10 Heavenly Stems
|1||chia||67.5 – 82.5||Yang||bad||Wood|
|2||i||97.5 – 112.5||Yin||bad|
|3||ping||157.5 – 172.5||Yang||good|
|4||ring||187.5 – 202.5||Yin||good|
|7||keng||247.5 – 262.5||Yang||good||Metal|
|8||hsin||277.5 – 292.5||Yin||good|
|9||jen||337.5 – 352.5||Yang||bad||Water|
|10||kuei||7.5 – 22.5||Yang||bad|
Chinese traditional sciences combined the Stems with the theory of ch’i, each Stem representing a type or state of ch’i. It also linked ch’i and time together, and used the Heavenly Stems to represent the state of the universe.
The stages of life development, and different forms of ch’i are also represented by the
10 Heavenly Stems which chart life from birth to death.
|chia ch’i||Birth||chi ch’i||Middle Age|
|ping ch’i||Suckling Toddler||hsin ch’i||Twilight Years|
|ting ch’i||Youth||jen ch’i||Death|
|wu ch’i||Prime Years||kuei ch’i||Decay|
|The Stems also chart the seasons and the directions.|
|The story of the Heavenly Stems goes back to ancient times. Between 1562 and 1066 BC the Heavenly Stems were considered with such reverence that Chinese emperors took their names from them, a tradition that continued for 33 generations until the rule of the notorious King Zhou. With the passage of time, the knowledge of agriculture and astronomy grew and the Heavenly Stems developed into one of the most ancient methods of calculating time.||Stem||Season||Direction|
|5, 6||Late Summer||Centre|