The Year of the Rooster – Wake Up!
A rooster crows only when it sees the light. Put him in the dark and he’ll never crow. I have seen the light and I’m crowing. – Muhammad Ali
The Year of the Rooster is almost upon us, or the Fire Bird in the Tibetan tradition. Within Chinese astrology, the Year of the Rooster begins January 28th, while this year the Tibetan New Year (Losar) begins February 27th. Not all astrologers in either tradition use the Rooster as this year’s symbolic animal – several look to other birds, including mythical ones such as the Chinese Feng Huang, the Tibetan and Indian Garuda, or the western Phoenix. I’ve drawn upon all of these symbols within my annual intuitive riff on this year’s energies. I hope you find it enjoyable and helpful.
Right now, somewhere on earth a rooster is crowing, announcing first light. Chickens are found on every continent but Antarctica, and all over the world roosters are best known as heralds of the dawn. Through that they have come to symbolize the new day, transition, announcements, and messages. It’s not hard to see this energy at work as I post this two days after the U.S. inauguration, one day after massive Women’s marches around the world, and as Brexit and other major world shifts hang pending in the background. We are in a time of great change, and long established structures are crumbling. For many of us this feels scary and dark. For some it feels hopeful and triumphant.
Whether you are feeling fear, anger, or hope, one thing is pretty certain – you are paying attention. Paying attention and very likely voicing your opinion. Rooster energy is wake-up energy; wake-up-and-crow energy. Have you tapped into this yet? Are you clear on what you stand for, what you value, and what you will do to support those values? Whether you do this in response to social movements, within your own personal life, or on the inner planes of energy and spirit, clarity and expressions of strength are what is supported in the Year of the Rooster.
Of course as we have seen all too clearly in the past year, in so many different ways, shows of strength can easily bring out the dark side of Rooster energy…
A lot of this year (and much of the internet) has felt like a cockfight. The phrase ‘pecking order’ comes from observing chicken flock social structures – there is strict hierarchy, and chickens (both male and female) will peck any member who oversteps their position. Chickens will gang up on a new rooster to show him his place, and a higher place in the flock is only won through fighting, bringing another chicken down a notch. The top spot goes to the dominant rooster – frequently the most vicious. However, the dominant rooster is also highly valuable to a flock, as he is vigilant on their behalf, warning of any pending danger, and going to any lengths to protect them.
We see all of these traits reflected in the traditional Chinese astrological readings of Rooster individuals. An individual born in the year of the Rooster is said to have the capacity for great courage, confidence, resourcefulness, and discipline. On the other hand, potential weaknesses are vanity, greed, selfishness, and negativity. Whether you were born in the Year of the Rooster or not, these are energies at play this year.
What will this year bring out in you? It’s a choice, and not always an obvious one.
What I mean by that is that in this age of instant news – or fake news – and constant influx of information through our various devices and social media sites, it’s not always so easy to think for ourselves and know what we believe. We can easily be caught up in momentum, or emotional triggers, or a desire to be part of a certain ‘tribe’. Social research shows that more and more we are segregated according to the media we consume, with most of us turning only to sources that reinforce views we already hold. We don’t willingly seek out viewpoints that challenge our own, or approach information with a sense of openness and discovery. Our desire to find our tribe, and feel right and affirmed by it, keeps us hankering for the satisfaction of confirmation.
It brings to mind the classic tale of Chicken Little, who mistakes an acorn falling on his head for the sky falling. As he runs about warning others, animal after animal believes his cry, never bothering to look up at the sky for themselves. Soon everyone is in a panic. We all need to heed the lessons of Chicken Little in the Year of Rooster. Do you think for yourself? Can you challenge yourself to seek viewpoints different from your own, and really communicate with people who hold those views? What is at stake is the concept of truth itself.
The Rooster is linked very strongly to the triumph of light over darkness, truth over falsehood, and good over evil in the Japanese folklore of the Shinto sun goddess Amaterasu. She retreats to a cave and refuses to emerge after a battle with her brother-god results in the death of her friend. During her long self-exile, the world outside her cave flounders in darkness, while inside she contemplates her own role in events. Other gods and goddesses come together to plot how to draw Amaterasu out of her cave, including bringing a white rooster to crow at the entrance. The commotion eventually draws Amaterasu back out, returning her light to the world. She vows to conduct herself differently, and reaches out to make peace to her brother-god.
Amaterasu’s story is one of many feminine ‘descent’ stories found in various cultures, in which the heroine retreats from the world (sometimes by choice and sometimes not) and enters into deep contemplation, emerging back into the light after she has found herself, and her truth, on a deeper level. Is this what you need right now? Do you need some time to retreat and go deeper into yourself, apart from the clamor of your life? There are many forms of descent/retreat, from taking time each day to meditate to formal spiritual retreat. Descent is not only about gaining clarity, but about refueling, accumulating the personal power necessary to act effectively when the time is right. Although it’s a year for change and action, choose your moment wisely, and take the time you need beforehand to prepare.
I did find one story in which the rooster is linked to the night rather than the break of day. In this Native American tale, a self-important rooster is so greedy for attention that he prances around a fire at a gathering trying to impress the other attendees, eventually getting too close and catching his tail feathers on fire. He flies up into the sky attempting to put them out, and eventually flies so high he ends up in space. Comets shooting across the night sky are our glimpses of this rooster trying in vain to put this fire out.
In this story we see some of the dark side of rooster energy – self-importance, arrogance, and a need for attention. It’s sometimes difficult to see when this is functioning within ourselves. Humans are social creatures, and we naturally seek out others’ attention and approval. There is nothing wrong with this if we are solid in ourselves, but when we lose touch with our inner compass, it can really lead us astray. Self-knowledge and self-honesty are essential to bringing out the higher qualities of rooster year energy. Be on the lookout for when your decisions or actions are based solely on seeking approval from others, rather than on what you need or want yourself.
In Roman mythology the rooster is linked to Mercury, god of commerce, communication, speech and messages of all types, including messages from the Underworld. This link may go as far back as the Babylonions, who saw a rooster in the constellation for Orion, messenger to the gods. I sense this link to messages is very important this year. In the outer world, certainly, it’s a year for sending strong messages about what you believe, and we’ve already seen that in action. But it’s also a year for seeking messages from the spiritual and inner planes. I’ve already mentioned descent and retreat, and certainly inner messages can come to us through that, but they can also come anytime, in the middle of our busy lives, if our connection to spirit is strong. Turning inward continually to strengthen this connection is vital amidst the noise of rooster energies. Listen for the ‘still small voice’ within.
In my search for chicken and rooster stories and images, I came across this lovely Klimt painting, Garden Path with Chickens. Both the painting and the story of it captured my attention and felt very apropos for this year. The painting was moved to Austria for safekeeping during WWII, only to be lost in a fire set by retreating SS troops at the end of the war. Images were recovered through the Lost Art program of the Clark Museum. Lost Art brings to mind for me Lost Wisdom and Lost Knowledge. What can we learn from looking to the past?
In our future-minded, technology-focused culture, looking back is often not valued. Yes we have retro fashion trends, and sometimes a rosy nostalgia for past phases of history that ignores the shadow side of those times, but I’m not talking about that. I mean real connection with wisdom traditions, with lineages in which this wisdom is passed down from generation to generation. Wisdom forces within these are trying to speak to us right now about the future of humanity and our planet. There is a lot at stake, we can sense that, but we aren’t the first. In the inward-facing part of your journey this year, seek out lost wisdom from the past. You may find resources and knowledge that surprise you.
As I mentioned, in the Tibetan and some other astrological traditions, the symbol of this year is not necessarily the rooster but simply the Fire Bird. As a ballet fan, I could not help but think of the ballet of the same name, and the Slavic myth that inspired it. A Fire Bird in Slavic folklore is a magical, luminous, elusive bird, and a sighting or found feather from her often inspires an epic quest in search of her. If she is captured she sometimes brings doom and sometimes magic into the life of her captor, but whichever it is, it is always life-transforming. In this tale we see the traditional, male hero-quester archetype, a contrast to the feminine descent myth. The hero must go out into the world to find his fate, enduring many hardships and trials.
As contrasting representations for the spiritual journey, the yin/feminine descent and yang/masculine questing archetypes are not about gender (although they do say something about how men and women tend to seek.) We all go through both phases at various times in our lives. Specific to the Fire Bird myth, one lesson shines clearly through – attempts to control the Fire Bird always lead to trouble. Her magic will not function properly when forced, and the results of it are often dire. The Fire Bird must be treated with respect and allowed her freedom. Beyond the obvious socio-political interpretation of this message, I think it has meaning on the personal plane too. You can’t force personal or life transformation simply through sheer will or control. Attempts to do so often lead to results you didn’t foresee and don’t want. You need to sense flow, let go, and open your mind and heart to possibilities you hadn’t previously considered. In relaxing, inner magic is often found, and it is more powerful than force.
In Tibetan symbology birds make an appearance in several different forms. One is in the center of the Wheel of Life, where a bird (sometimes depicted as a rooster, but usually not) represents one of the three poisons – desire. It’s not desire itself that is a problem, it’s our fixation on the idea that getting what we desire is the only path to happiness. When trapped by this fixation we are stuck in a cycle we can never escape. Either we get what we desire and experience temporary happiness before we set our sights on fulfilling our next desire, or we don’t get what we want and are unhappy.
How to break this cycle? We don’t necessarily have to deny ourselves the pleasures of life, but may need to change our relationship to them, admitting our fixations and taking steps to loosen the hold they have over us. In its more dangerous form these fixations can become true addictions, but often they take a subtler hold on us, though no less limiting. Do you have a fixation in your life that you know is not good for you? Can you see through it this year and take steps to loosen or break its’ hold on you? This is a year where the strong yang energy present, combined with the counter yin contemplation energy, can both be drawn upon to help you change your relationship to the desires you know are not serving you.
A mythical bird called a Garuda is sometimes also linked to Fire Bird years. A Garuda is a large humanoid bird found in both Hinduism and Tibetan Buddhism. In Hindu mythology, the Garuda is a divine being, and frequently Lord Vishnu rides him in his travels. In Hindu stories the Garuda is a mighty warrior, and in his traits we see parallels to both the strengths and weaknesses traditionally associated with the astrological Rooster – the Garuda can be either incredibly courageous and noble in his protection of what is right, or brash and violent when he acts impulsively.
Within Tibetan Buddhism, the Garuda has several different meanings. As in Hinduism, it is often a symbol of protection, but on a more abstract level it represents freedom from hopes and fears. Because the Garuda is said to be born fully grown, it also represents our primordial nature, the true essence of enlightenment present within us at all times, whether we live in awareness of it or not. Awakening to this primordial nature is in fact our path beyond hopes and fears, desires and aversions. Do you believe in your inherent wisdom, the awake mind and heart within yourself? Are you connecting with it and cultivating it? Again, in this interpretation of the Garuda, we find this message of moving inward – which seems to counter the traditional outward, crowing Rooster energy.
In the Chinese Feng Huang we find another mythical bird often called to mind in Rooster years – in fact it is sometimes referred to as the August Rooster in China, or as the Chinese Phoenix. The Feng Huang’s body is a composite of many birds, and each part symbolizes an aspect of the celestial world. The Feng Huang is a symbol of virtue and grace, and the five colors of its tail feathers represent Confucious’ five virtues of benevolence, honesty, knowledge, integrity, and propriety.
The Feng Huang was often used by Chinese emperors to represent the start of a new era. But it has also often been used to represent the union of yin and yang, and the balance of both strong outward, and reflective inward, movement. Within Confucious’ teachings this balance is taught to be the essence of ethical behavior. Self-cultivation of the five virtues, rather than simply adherence to rules, is emphasized as the foundation for action. What virtues do you value and are they the compass for your decisions and actions in the world? Do you work to align your thoughts, words, and deeds with your values? Personal responsibility is extremely important when working with strong Rooster energies.
Finally we come to my favorite mythical bird – the Phoenix. Through its continual cycle of burning and rebirthing from its own ashes it is perhaps the penultimate Fire Bird. A version of the Phoenix existed in Ancient Egypt in the form of Bennu, but we primarily associate it with Greek mythology. The theme of the Phoenix in all its iterations is cyclic rejuvenation, just like the rise and fall of the sun each day.
My favorite Phoenix comes from a more contemporary mythic tale – Harry Potter. Fawkes the Phoenix is Dumbledore’s companion and protector, and in many ways he lies at the center of the story, as twin feathers from his tail form the core of the wands of both the hero and villain – Harry and Voldemort. Within the Potter series, the song of a Phoenix is said to strike fear into the hearts of anyone whose intentions are evil, and provide courage to those whose intentions are good. The tears of a Phoenix can heal poisoning, as well as other illnesses and injuries inflicted by the darkest beings. The Order of the Phoenix is dedicated to defeating Voldemort.
But Dumblodore is always very clear about what must fuel the defeat of darkness in the world, the only magic strong enough to do so, and the main thing Harry and his friends have going for them – love. The Phoenix represents the continuity and power of love, kept alive despite adversity, awakening again and again within humanity. This brings us to the most essential questions in any year whatever the year’s astrology or energies – are you connected to love? Are you fueled by love? Are you aligned with love? When things seem dark or complicated, these simple questions can often cut through to help you light your way.
So there you have it – at best Rooster/Fire Bird energies are strong, courageous, ethical, and fueled by light and love. At worst they are arrogant, self-righteous, hypocritical, greedy and selfish. The journey to manifesting the former and not the latter in your own life rests on a balance between the yin descent path of contemplation and openness to inner messages, and the yang questing path of bold seeking and acting in the world. It’s a razor’s edge year, walking the fine line between the two paths, and the two expressions. Many blessings to you on your own walk.
May 2017 bring you much wisdom, love, clarity, and power.