Of Gentleness and Strength – Welcome to the Year of the Sheep
Welcome to the Year of the Sheep! Or Goat! Or both! Depending on whom you ask. February 4th, 2015 is the first day of the Year of the Sheep/Goat in both the Chinese and Tibetan calendars – specifically the Year of the Female (or Yin) Wood Sheep/Goat. Although Chinese New Year’s Day and Losar (Tibetan New Year) will not be celebrated until the new moon on February 19th, the 4th is the start of this lunar cycle, and so really the first day of the related energy shift in both astrological systems.
Over the last few years, exploring the energy and meaning of the lunar New Year shift through astrology, imagery, and mythology has become one of my favorite posts to research and write. But I have to admit, despite having been born in a year of the sheep/goat myself (or maybe because of this), I initially found this year’s symbol a lot less inspiring than that of the dragon, snake, or horse of years past. I did come around on that, but it is definitely not a straightforward year to intuit. My biggest takeaway is that it’s a year of layers, nuance, and even paradox. Feeling for what lies beneath the obvious – and comfortable – is essential to personal growth this year, individually and collectively.
First the top layer – sheep and goats are considered one sign in Chinese astrology, and overall they represent a tranquil, kind, and easygoing energy. Who doesn’t need more of that? There is great potential for harmony and peacemaking this year, on all fronts. So as this shift comes to fruition in the coming weeks, it’s a great time to contemplate, what is discordant in my life right now? Where should I actively seek harmony? Where might compromises be made, or mending occur?
However, when we think about goats, and particularly rams, we begin to discern the nuance of this energy. Rams are generally peaceful, but they do not like to be moved. They can be imperious, stubborn, and even dangerous when they feel threatened or pushed. So that is what to look out for this year, in yourself and others. Are you digging in your heels just for the sake of it? Contracting because you feel threatened or out of your comfort zone? Or are you triggering this within others by pushing them too fast or too hard? Harmony will only come about this year when you, and all parties, feel safe, secure, and acknowledged. Sheep and goats are herd animals, and their safety depends upon feeling part of the herd. When pushed to the fringes, they are vulnerable, and therefore unpredictable.
The herd nature of sheep offers another clue to the energy of this year, and an important similarity to last year’s energy, the Year of the Horse. Both sheep and horses are earthy, grounded, herd animals, and just as last year, practical, grounded, and collective action are therefore critical to success. Dreaming is fine, but considered action – especially with worthy partners – is what will yield results. This year is also the last in a 3-year fire cycle within Chinese astrology (there are layers of elemental energies each year), which basically means it is a time to complete what you’ve begun in the last 2 years, at least on some level. Or if you’ve been delaying, this year is a time to initiate a project while you still have some fiery energy to kick things off. Of course, the primary energy of this year is Wood – it’s the year of the Female Wood Sheep/Goat, but more about that later.
I think it is also pertinent to note that historians believe sheep and goats are the most universal domestic animal, historically and culturally. Perhaps no other animal has been (and still is in many places) so critical to human survival. Sheep and goats were/are crucial sources of meat, milk, and wool just about everywhere, and the sheer number of sheep and goat breeds that have evolved over the centuries in the world’s varying climates is truly amazing (do some research – I dare you!) Sheep years reflect these themes, and the issues we face in our lives this year, and those humans face collectively, will likely be ones of sustainability and adaptability. We can draw upon the durability and sustenance of sheep energy to meet these challenges and manifest abundance – or not, and pay the price.
But back to the nicer aspects of this year’s energy. It’s a yin, or female, year and this combined with the sheep’s peaceful nature represents gentleness and kindness, particularly in the form of small daily acts. Contemplate how you may extend this kindness daily to both yourself and others. What nurturing moments might you add to your daily routine? What subtle kindnesses might you show others? When we build these moments and kindnesses into our daily life, our attention shifts, aligning with the subtler, quieter layers of this year’s power.
Turning to the symbology of sheep and lambs in other cultures, we can’t bring up lambs without considering the Bible. In case you didn’t realize it, the Bible is rife with sheep and goat references. The Old Testament references many shepherds – Abel, Abraham, Moses, Jacob and David to name a few – and one of the best known stories is that of Abraham’s sacrifice to God of a ram, sparing his son Isaac. In the New Testament, sheep, or most specifically the lamb, take on a more symbolic role – Jesus is referred to as the sacrificial lamb of God, given to atone for humanity’s sins.
The lamb of God idea is a complex one to get your head around – and not one I want to take on here – but I think there are parallels to the complexity of this year’s energy. Just as part of the sheep’s power lies in its gentleness, so it also derives power from its purity. Brute force will often not be effective against darkness and obstruction this year; hold steadfastly instead to goodness and innocence. Within yourself, when you are tempted to push, when the fighting spirit within you is triggered, stop for a moment, and check what part of yourself you are acting (or reacting) from. Is your essential goodness shining through?
This is another area where the complexity of this year’s energy is apparent, because sheep are also symbolic of passivity, timidity, and mindless obeisance to authority. One of the weaknesses of sheep energy is that it defaults to a comfort zone, and may not push for what is right or what it needs when it feels too scary or hard to do so. The key to avoiding this pitfall this year is mindfulness and self-awareness. Watch out for group conditioning, or patterns of behavior derived solely from a desire to ‘fit in.’ Check you aren’t floating along in a cloud of comfort and familiarity. Inject some risk and exploration into your life.
Although it might not seem an obvious connection, sheep/goat energy is also linked to creativity and rebirth, probably because of the fertility of sheep. Duttur and her son Dumuzi were the Sumerian goddess and god linked to fertility, and Duttur was literally depicted as an ewe, while Dumuzi was often shown feeding her flocks. This expression of creative energy is feminine, procreative, nurturing.
A yang depiction of creative energy – from perhaps around the same time but in Egypt rather than Mesopotamia – is shown in the Egyptian god Khnum, depicted with a ram’s head. Khnum was an early Egyptian god of creation, said to form the bodies of human children from clay and place them in mothers’ wombs. Sheep years are in fact considered fertile years for conception of all types, so nurture your creative juices this year.
Another ancient god worth touching upon is from the Greek pantheon, in the form of Pan, god of shepherds and flocks, and depicted with the hindquarters and horns of a goat. Here we see the creative powers linked to sheeps and goats played out in another way – through sexual prowess. Pan is infamous for his sexual exploits, and this isn’t irrelevant to this year, for the earthiness of sheep and goat energy brings with it a profound sensuality. This is a year of the body, of caring for it and pleasuring it. How can you care for your body this year? What would it enjoy and appreciate receiving? Your body is your foundation, for whatever you wish to accomplish.
Pan is often linked to Capricornus, the mythological foundation for the Western astrological sign Capricorn, depicted as a sea-goat, or half-fish, half-goat. The energy of Capricorn shares many characteristics with the element wood within the Chinese astrology system, and as this is a wood year, I think it’s relevant to look at this connection. In the ideal Capricorn expression, we find the sensuality and sexuality represented by Pan balanced by ethics, loyalty and a strong backbone – all characteristics of the Chinese element wood. Just as power this year is found by aligning with your inner goodness, so also your success depends upon following your inner ethical compass and holding to your reading of what is right and true.
And this brings me to my personal favorite sheep symbol, the ultimate ‘think different’ icon, the black sheep. The phrase ‘black sheep’ often carries a negative connotation, but it is really a testament to strength. To hold to your difference proudly, or to a contentious view when you feel it is right, is true power. There is more than one way to be a sheep. At times this year, you may need to connect to the humility and gentleness of a mother ewe or her lamb, focusing on harmony and compromise. At other times, you may be called upon to stand firmly to what you feel is right, like a ram guarding his mountain.
Knowing when to do which is the key. Wishing you luck and discernment as you do so!
May all beings know peace, kindness, insight, abundance, goodness, strength, creativity and light in this Year of the Yin Wood Sheep.
Feel free to share your own ideas or wishes for the Year of the Sheep in the comments…