Asia

Burmese Astrology - Crazy Eights and an Undiscovered Planet

In Burma, the country also known as Myanmar, astrology is big business. People seek advice about everything from whom to marry to when to get a haircut. Astrologers are everywhere. They operate from their homes, in beauty parlors, restaurants and shops. Dozens of them lounge in lawn chairs, sit at rickety card tables and squat on the walkways leading to Buddhist temples. The magical formulas the astrologers rely on may be thousands of years old, but the advice they dispense helps  their customers navigate the complexities of life in the 21st century. Street corner animal shrine in Burmas

Burmese astrology is different from the systems that developed in other parts of the world. The Burmese version is based on the number eight. There are eight astrological signs, eight cardinal directions and eight sacred animals. In addition to the seven celestial bodies recognized by other ancient cultures - the Sun, the Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn - the Burmese include an eighth, a secret planet named Rahu. It is the subtle and mysterious influence of Rahu that causes eclipses.

What's Your Sign?

In western astrology your birth date determines your sign.That information is irrelevant in Burma. The day of the week on which you made your first appearance is all that matters. If you don't know what day of the week you were born, enter your birthday here.

The Burmese divide Wednesday into morning and afternoon, which changes the seven day week into a form that accommodates the magical number eight. So if you were born on Wednesday, check your birth certificate to find out whether you arrived before or after noon.

Sunday belongs to Garuda, the mythical king of the birds. If you are Sunday-born, northeast is your lucky direction and the Sun is your ruling planet. The more difficult a task or subject, the more it interests you. You are energetic, focused, and very stubborn. You are also too generous and have a tendency to allow others to take advantage of you.

The tiger is a Burmese astrological symbol

Monday is the day of the tiger. If you are Monday-born, east is your lucky direction and the Moon is your ruling planet. You are patient, steady and reliable. Your ability to persevere against great odds is your finest trait. You are ambitious and like to succeed at everything you attempt.

Tuesday is the day of the lion. If you are Tuesday-born, southeast is your lucky direction and Mars is your ruling planet. You are opinionated, idealistic and you love a good challenge. People are attracted to your strong and honorable character. You respect dignity and prestige in others and are drawn to great causes.

The elephant rules Wednesday morning. If you are Wednesday morning-born, south is your lucky direction and Mercury is your ruling planet. You are impulsive and quick-tempered. You are independent and like to be in charge, but you also frequently take on more than you can handle.

The elephant is an astrological symbol in Burma.

If you are born on Wednesday afternoon, you are called Rahu-born because the secret planet rules your sign. Your animal is the tusk-less elephant and northwest is your lucky direction. You have a wide circle of acquaintances but few close friends. You are a tireless self-promoter driven by the desire for success, though you will go to great lengths to protect your privacy.

Thursday is the day of the rat. If you are Thursday-born, west is your lucky direction and Jupiter is your ruling planet. You are serious, intelligent and quiet. Even those closest to you would be surprised to learn how ambitious you are and how highly you value professional success. In business, your single-mindedness can lead to great things. It can also deteriorate into ruthless, destructive behavior.

Guinea pigs are astrological symbols in Burma.

Friday is the day of the guinea pig. If you are Friday-born, north is your lucky direction and Venus is your ruling planet. You are sensitive and emotional and you empathize with others. You are also restless and quickly tire of jobs, people and places. You have a strong artistic streak, but tend to be a dabbler. If you can stick with art or music long enough to develop your talents, you are capable of creating great beauty.

Saturday is the day of the dragon. If you are Saturday-born, southwest is your lucky direction and Saturn is your ruling planet. You are intelligent, witty and industrious. You like working alone and controlling your own destiny. You find it tedious to be part of a group or team. However, if you can overcome your reluctance to delegate and can improve your interpersonal skills, you can become an outstanding leader.

The dragon is an astrological symbol in Burma,l

Fruit, Flowers and Incense

A typical session with a Burmese astrologer lasts several hours and can be quite expensive. When the astrologer is sure he or she understands the customer's dilemma, out come charts, formulas and tables of magical symbols. Through a series of complex calculations, the astrologer designs a ritual for the person and determines the day and time the ritual must be performed. The details and particulars of rituals vary. Much depends on the nature and severity of the problem or question. However, all rituals include a visit to one or more of the planetary posts located on the outdoor platforms surrounding Burmese Buddhist temples.

A planetary post is a type of shrine. Posts are situated at points aligned with the eight cardinal directions. Each post represents a particular day of the week and its corresponding astrological sign. The shrine includes a table for offerings and a brightly colored statue of that day's sacred animal. Large bowls of clear water and lacquered cups sit in front of the statue.

An astrologer may send a person to the planetary post associated with his or her birthday or may recommend visits to several planetary posts. For example, a Thursday-born could be sent to the shrines for Sunday and Monday.

The ritual begins when the person places yadaya - offerings of fruit, flowers, incense and small paper umbrellas - at the appropriate shrine. The person then pours cups of water over the sacred animal statue. Water is cool and pouring it helps restore balance to the universe. Calculating the number of cups that must be poured is part of the astrologer's service.

Even during the torrential monsoon rains, the temple platforms are crowded with people pouring water on the statues. As they pour, they whisper their hopes and dreams. Modern Burmese know, just as their ancestors did thousands of years ago, that when the rituals are performed in the correct way at the right time, a good outcome is sure to follow.

Basket of oranges

 

 

Celebrating the Seasons Japanese Style

The tradition of observing the changing pattern of the year is deeply rooted in Japanese culture. All aspects of the landscape are honored, but over the centuries certain plants and natural phenomena have gained special significance. Snow on Plum Blossoms

Parting the Seasons

Moments that seem to capture the transition from one season to another, such as spring snow falling on plum blossoms, are especially revered. These transitional moments, called "partings of the seasons," inspire artists, poets, factory workers and students to pause and reflect on nature's eternal rhythms.

Lunar Cycles

Like other Asian peoples, the ancient Japanese used the lunar calendar, which is based on the phases of the moon. However, the lunar calendar does not account for all the days in a solar year and it cannot predict the dates of solstices and equinoxes.

The lunar calendar's shortcomings caused serious difficulties for the Japanese. They were farmers and forecasting the annual cycles of rain, drought, heat and cold were critical to their survival. Astronomers solved the problem by dividing the year into 28 moon stations or sei shuku, which signaled subtle changes in the seasonal cycle, star positions, wind or weather.

The lunar calendar and moon stations were officially abandoned in the 19th century, but the habit of carefully monitoring natural changes survived. Even though the Japanese people live in one of the most technologically advanced countries on Earth, they maintain their connection with the land, sky, and agricultural traditions of their ancestors by honoring the unique beauty of each of the four seasons.

Spring

The highlight of spring is the opening of the sakura or cherry blossoms. The appearance of the blossoms is so important that TV stations chart the progress of the "Sakura Line" from the moment the first tree opens in southern Japan until the last petals fall in the northernmost islands.

People travel great distances to participate in hanami, flower viewing, and to picnic under the trees. Cherry blossom season is a time to celebrate the arrival of spring and to compose poems known as haiku. But because the delicate blossoms' flowering cycle is so short, it is also a time to contemplate life's impermanence.

After the cherry trees finish blooming, the shobu or irises open. The iris is an ancient symbol of male virtue and perfection. The long pointed leaves resemble samurai swords and the flowers' full range of hues from white to purple are considered masculine colors. Although not as important as cherry blossom viewing, many people visit parks and public gardens in late spring to admire iris displays.

Summer

Summer is the season to celebrate bamboo and rice, the most revered plants in Japan. Take or bamboo symbolizes strength through flexibility. It is honored for its versatility and many practical uses. The tender young sprouts are delicious and the mature wood is used in projects ranging from  light construction to the manufacture of chopsticks.

The powerful and complex symbolism associated with rice or ine includes nationalistic elements. Rice represents Japan's ability to feed its population, resist foreign influence and maintain its independence.

August is tsukimi or moon viewing time. In medieval Japan poets toasted the August full moon with rice wine or sake and allowed its "pure brilliance" to shine upon their faces. Even in today's crowded, light-polluted cities, people gather at dusk to relax on mats and spend the evening watching the August moon float through the warm night sky.

Autumn

The kiku or chrysanthemum is the symbol of the Imperial family and the most beloved flower of autumn. In Japan, chrysanthemums are not used as outdoor garden plants. They are grown exclusively in pots. Hundreds of exotic varieties have been developed. People appreciate the hybrid forms for the obvious patience that goes into their cultivation. Chrysanthemum shows are popular fall events.

Autumn is also mojimi or tinted leaf viewing season. Families and groups of students and workers travel to the mountains in September and October for leaf hunting excursions, to gather mushrooms known as "children of the forest," and to listen to the humming cicadas or "voices of autumn."

Winter

Winter is the time to walk through the countryside and admire the quiet beauty snow gives to rocks, frozen streams and bare trees. In the bitterly cold northern islands, huge bonfires are built from pine branches. The pine tree or matsu symbolizes long life. Burning its branches helps chase away the cold and encourage an early spring.

Just when it seems winter will never end, another parting of the seasons occurs. The ume or apricot blossoms open and the cycle continues. Soon the insects will awaken, the tiny buds on the cherry trees will begin to swell and the icy moon will be softened by the warm mists of spring.