Gan – Heavenly Stem and Zhi – Earthly Branch

Also related to the 28 lunar houses are the ten Heavenly Stems, which reflect the energy of Heaven (Table 1) and the twelve Earthly Branches, which represent the energy of Earth (Table 2).

Nobody knows who invented the Heavenly Stems and Earthly Branches. It is said that they existed even before the invention of the Chinese characters. Today, the symbols for the Stems and Branches are seen in the unearthed ancient Chinese oracle bones from the Shang Dynasty (1766 to 1111 BCE).

As noted in the tables below, a given Stem or Branch also contains the energy of one of the Five Elements. As a brief example, the first Heavenly Stem, Jia, contains the energy of Yang Wood. The first Earthly Branch, Zi, contains the energy of Yang Water.

Traditional Chinese astrology names each year according to its Heavenly Stem and Earthly Branch. For instance, this year (2006) is called Bing Xu. Bing is the Heavenly Stem and it means Yang Fire. Xu is the Earthly Branch and it means Yang Earth. The astrological animal associated with Xu is the dog. This is the origin of those astrological animals on restaurant menus – they are a part of the Earthly Branch energy.

Naming years in this fashion functions not only to keep track of the year but also to characterize the energy of that time period. The energies of each month, date, or even time of day (in two-hour increments) are also reflected by a Heavenly Stem and Earthly Branch.

Table 1.  The Heavenly Stems 

Direction & Spiritual Animal

East
Blue-Green Dragon

South
Red Bird

Center
Yellow Phoenix

West
White Tiger

North
Turtle/ Snake

Heavenly
Stem


Jia


Yi


Bing


Ding


Wu


Ji


Geng


Xin


Ren


Gui

Brief Meaning

Initiating
Pushing
Surging
A sprout breaking through the earth.

Flexibility with strength. Early growth with bendable branches.
Moving
around
barriers.

Expanding life force.
All things are clear and obvious.

New life fully grown.  Everything is at its strongest.

Blooming, flourishing. Luxuriant growth. 

Distinguish-able features develop.
Things start to become hidden inside.

Fullness, ripeness. Beginning of reversal.

Withdrawal Harvest.

Yang energy begins again inside/under water/ earth.

Re-gathering the life force. Everything
can be estimated.

Number

First

Second

Third

Fourth

Fifth

Sixth

Seventh

Eighth

Ninth

Tenth

Element

Yang
Wood

Yin
Wood

Yang
Fire

Yin
Fire

Yang
Earth

Yin
Earth

Yang Metal

Yin
Metal

Yang
Water

Yin
Water

Season

Spring

Summer

Four seasons (harmonizing)

Autumn

Winter

Organ

Liver

Heart

Spleen

Lungs

Kidneys

Color

Green

Red

Yellow

White (Golden)

Black

Flavor

Sour

Bitter

Sweet

Spicy

Salty

Fruit

Plum

Apricot

Date

Peach

Chestnut

System

Nervous System

Circulatory System

Digestive System

Respiratory

Excretory

Body Layer

Nerves

Blood

Muscles

Skin

Bones


Table 2.  The Earthly Branches


Direction

North

East

South

West

North

Earthly Branch


Zi


Chou


Yin


Mao


Chen


Si


Wu


Wei


Shen


You


Xu


Hai

Hidden Stems

己, 辛, 癸

甲, 戊, 丙

戊, 癸

丙,戊, 庚

乙, 丁, 己

戊,庚, 壬

丁,戊, 辛

甲, 壬

Brief Meaning

Yang hidden in Yin.
A seed about to grow.

Intertwining energy. Underground growth.

Advancing, moving forward.
A sprout stretching out of the earth.

Flourish Surge

The time of full awakening

Preparing for full ripeness

Against or reverse. Growth at its peak

Fully ripe. Uncertain,
not yet decided.

Stretch Expand Extend

Recollecting after a rich yield.
Fermentation

Retreat from the visible.

A seed awaiting the next growth cycle.

Number

1st

2nd

3rd

4th

5th

6th

7th

8th

9th

10th

11th

12th

Animal

Rat

Ox

Tiger

Rabbit

Dragon

Snake

Horse

Ram

Monkey

Rooster

Dog

Boar