Written by students, for students.
The official newspaper of Crescent Valley High School.
By Vincent Bottaro
Each and every night, you can look up at the sky and see a beautiful arrangement of stars bedazzling the sky (unless it’s a cloudy night, which is pretty common in Oregon). While the stories and origins of the constellations are typically described by the Greco-Roman stories, there is another culture that has their own interpretations of the cosmos. China, as well as other Asian countries, have divided the night sky into many separate counterparts.
In this system, the night sky is drawn in a circle, as seen from a compass rose. The four cardinal directions each have their own animal, element, season, and color associated with them. Each of these directions also has seven subdivisions in them, known as lunar mansions. The legends say that a great war was fought, and there were 28 great animal warriors who fell in battle. In order to be honored, the gods placed them in the cosmos. The Western names for the subdivisions are depicted in this chart below, showing the placement of the lodges.
While north is typically thought of as the most important direction in Western culture, in the east the direction east is more important. So the path starts off with the Blue Dragon of the East, who represents the spring, as well as the Emperor. The Blue Dragon is normally depicted throughout mythology as a benevolent creature, rather than the malevolent western interpretation. The Blue Dragon is associated with the element of wood, and is responsible for all living creatures. As for the subdivisions, the House of the Blue Dragon holds the Jiao (Horn), which is the animal crocodile. Also included are the houses of Kang (Neck, dragon), Di (Root, badger), Fang (Room, hare), Xin (Heart, fox), Wei (Tail, tiger), and Ji (Winnowing basket, leopard).
North is The Black Tortoise, home to the element of water. It is also known as a symbol of long life, due to the tortoise’s inherent longevity. The Black Tortoise is also shown sometimes with a snake curling around it, and these two animals working together are thought to have created the Earth as part of their Creation Mythology. The tortoise also represents winter, and the seven lunar mansions designated to this quarter of the sky can only be seen during the winter season. It contains Nan Dou (South Dipper, unicorn) , Niu (Herd Boy, buffalo/ox), Nü (Girl, bat), Xu (Emptiness, rat), Wei (Rooftop, swallow), Shi (House, pig), and Bi (Wall, porcupine).
The next quarter of the night sky is home to the White Tiger of the West, who represents the season of autumn and is related to the element of metal. They are also known as the great protector, who guards the emperor’s army as well as watches over the ghosts of the dead. The White Tiger holds the houses of Kui (Legs, wolf), Lou (Bond, dog), Wei (Stomach, pheasant), Mao (Hairy Head, rooster), Bi (Net, crow), Zui (Turtle, monkey), and Shen (Three Stars, gibbon monkey).
The last cardinal direction is home to the Red Bird of the South, which is typically shown as a phoenix or a roc. It represents the element of fire, as well as the season of summer. Invoking the Red Bird is typically thought to be good luck. The Red Bird is thought to represent the Empress as well, and so it is often seen in close relation with the Blue Dragon of the East. The Red Bird lords over the domains of Jing (Well, tapir), Gui (Ghost/Demon, goat), Liu (Willow, stag), Xing (Star, horse), Zhang (Extended Net, oxen), Yi (Wings, snake), and Zhen (Chariot, worm).
There is one final direction that hasn’t been talked about, and it is the Center, which is ruled over by the Emperor, and is home to constellations that can be seen year-round, and is supposed to be a true reflection of what life on Earth is like. This location doesn’t have lunar mansions due to the fact you can see them represented year round, but it holds constellations such as the prince, the throne, and other royal titles.
There is much more to the stories and true legends of the separation of the night sky, and I encourage you to delve deeper into this topic as I did. Each lunar lodge has specific constellations that you might be able to pick out while sitting in your own backyard. So the next time you look up at the beautiful night sky, try and think of stories from around the world.
Images source: The British Library
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