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Year of the Metal Rat – Face Your Shadows and Prosper

January 14, 2020

Note: The Chakra Empowerment for Women web seminar begins 1/14, it’s not too late to sign up (you can do the first – and all – classes by recording if you are reading this after the 14th.)

The lunar new year is almost upon us! And with that comes my annual ‘for fun’ intuitive and visual riff on the symbology of the astrological cycle we are entering. There are differences this year on when the lunar new year is observed based on variations in calculations – Chinese New Year is celebrated with this month’s new moon January 25th, while Tibetan New Year (Losar) corresponds to next month’s new moon February 24th (most years the two correspond but this year they do not.) So you can think of this time as an extended New Year period, and build momentum for new beginnings throughout the next six weeks.

In both traditions we are entering the Year of the Metal Rat, which for many of us in the West is not very inspiring or poetic – not like say, the Year of the Water Dragon or even the Wood Horse. I admit when I first heard this, my own mind conjured something along the lines of:

Robot Sewer Rat, Alexandre Corcoy

However, I realized this is very much based on my own biases about rats, as well as Western biases. The rat symbolizes many good things within the Chinese zodiac, and ditto for metal, which I tend to associate with hardness and rigidity. But letting go of biases is part of the spiritual aspect of the year-turning process. Cultures that observe the lunar new year usually prepare for it with a ritual house cleaning, and a house cleaning is the perfect metaphor for how to best work with new year energies: Turn and face all those dust bunnies and hidden (or unconscious) items that usually go unseen under your beds, closets, or corners and clear them out.

I just attended a Chod retreat – Chod is the Tibetan practice that Feeding Your Demons (which I have mentioned many times here before) is based upon – and the idea of a house as metaphor for our own psyches came up several times during our retreat. Chod is very much about facing that which scares us, including (or most especially) within – the dark corners of our own home – in order to meet these usually unseen parts of ourselves with compassion. While this can seem terrifying, in the long run it takes less energy to face and heal/transform these ‘shadows’ than to continue fighting them or hiding them away. As I explored the symbology of the rat, I feel this is the overall theme  – how do we turn to face that which we have not wanted to see – the parts of ourselves, our culture, and our world, that we would prefer to push away, hide, or ignore? How do we instead look at these things straight on and meet them with an openness that allows for understanding and change?

Symbolically, what better animal to represent this, especially within a house metaphor, than a rat? Hiding unseen in walls, attics, and basements, we usually hear them, sometimes discover their scat or remnants, but rarely see them – or want to. We expend alot of energy trying to get rid of them. What if instead we opened up the walls and said hello? Found out if there was a way to live together?

A little crazy sounding I know. And this approach has probably not warmed you to the Year of the Rat yet. You may still be feeling a bit like this:

Couldn’t resist this one!

Cats actually have their own side story in the Chinese zodiac that tells us quite a bit about how the rat is seen in Chinese culture. Cats famously do not have a year in their honor, and a fable called The Great Race explains why. Although there are multiple versions of this story, the general gist is that when forming the zodiac the Jade Emperor called all the animals together and told them he would conduct a race across the river, and the order they each arrived would determine who got a year in their honor, and in what order. Neither the rat or cat could swim, so they both decided to hitch a ride on the back of the ox. However, just as they were approaching the far shore where the Emperor awaited, the rat pushed the cat off into the water. The rat then jumped off onto the land in front of the ox and arrived to the Emperor first, becoming the first sign of the zodiac! The cat took so long struggling to shore that he arrived after the twelfth animal and did not get a year. He has never quite recovered.

Ox carrying the rat during The Great Race (after pushing the cat off!)
Picture Credit to D.h.Isaism

The Year of the Rat then is not only the start of a new lunar year but also the start of a new 12 year cycle, so it has double the new-start energy. This story tells us a lot about rat energy too – it is smart, strategic, ambitious, adaptive, and stealth. This is a year where these traits are rewarded, and so plans of action developed from these qualities are what will get you ahead. Of course this story also highlights one potential pitfall of the rat – were his actions in this story unethical or just good strategy? That is a matter of debate, and although rat energy is not necessarily associated with a lack of ethics or character, traits like integrity and loyalty are not usually its’ strong suit. So that is something to watch for in yourself and your actions as you work towards achieving your goals – are your actions in line with your core values and ethics?

Daikoku, Japanese god of wealth with his rat

The rat is also associated with wealth in many cultures, including Japan, where Daikoku the god of wealth (and other things) has a rat familiar. This is because rats flourish where food is abundant, and historically the stronger the harvest, the larger the rat population. So rat years in general are considered years of potential abundance, good economies, and strong harvests. Of course the question is, good for who? For the rat population to grow in accordance with the harvest means they have to be allowed their share, rather than being killed off or starved. That was part of the natural order of things at the time this link was made. Is there a lesson in there for all of us? For you? Think about what you consume and what you share – is it fair? There are a lot of lessons about resources associated with stories about rats and harvests. How can you apply this to an assessment of your own life?

Pied Piper of Hamelin leading the rats out of the village

The most famous fable from Europe regarding rats is probably the Pied Piper – and it is not a pleasant one. Like many German morality tales it offers its lesson through a pretty morbid tale. The town of Hamelin was overrun with rats – most likely due to a good harvest! – and the mayor hired the Pied Piper to take care of the problem. He did his part, playing his flute to lure the rats out of the village, and depending on the version of the story you read, he either resettled them elsewhere OR led them to a river where they all drowned. In any case, when he returned to the village the greedy mayor refused to pay him. In revenge the Pied Piper led most of the children out of the village and they were never seen again. Not a pretty story! Some have surmised that this is actually a tale of children dying from the plague carried by the rats, as rats most certainly were linked to the plague throughout Europe. In any case, the morality tale may still have something to tell us about the Year of the Rat – it is a call to honor your obligations, or else. Don’t let the demon of greed overtake you.

Ganesh riding his rat, or bandicoot

Speaking of demons, in Hindu mythology rats are often associated with the darkest of demons. However, Ganesh, the much-beloved elephant-headed god associated with beginnings and called upon to clear obstacles, actually rides a rat. This came about when Ganesh used his magical noose in a battle with a rat-demon to transform him into a loyal servant and partner. In some stories this rat later helps him by chewing through obstacles he cannot himself remove with his trunk. What a wonderful symbol for transforming our shadows into strengths, our obstacles into aids, our fears into lessons! So now, go for it: What have you not been facing? What has been holding you back? Particularly think in terms of obstacles – what is blocking you? Can you look at it? Seek to understand it? Learn from and utilize it for your growth and success?

Rats drinking offerings at the Karni Mata Temple in Rajasthan

There is actually a rat temple in Rajasthan, India, where thousands of rats are given offerings every day. The origin story of this temple dates from the 1400s, when it is said that Karni Mata, a widely revered female mystic considered an incarnation of the goddess Durga, asked Yama, the god of death, to reincarnate her stepson who had drowned in a tragic accident. Yama initially refused, but at Karni Mata’s continued insistence relented to a compromise: Her stepson and all future male descendants would be reborn as rats, and after dying as a rat come back as a man. Today the rats of this temple are revered as descendants within her lineage.

I have to admit, I cringed when initially seeing this photo and others of the rats at this temple. But gazing them actually became a powerful practice in non-reactivity. Eventually I could release my feeling of revulsion and simply feel the essence of these rats enjoying their offering. This is the first step in facing anything we have not been willing to see – identifying and gently releasing the resistance. Then we can see with fresh eyes.

Rats themselves are also linked in some stories to a special kind of sight, and indeed in the Chinese zodiac they are known for being good observers and judges of character. In the west it is said that sailors believed rats knew if a ship was doomed to sink before it sailed, so a ship without rats was a bad sign. Rats in fact do have phenomenal sensors for weather changes and natural disasters and shifts in their behavior were used in many cultures as a predictor of earthquakes, storms and droughts. What new seeing abilities can you develop this year? Or what insights have you been ignoring that you should now heed?

This temple picture also reminded me of the social aspect of rats – they are communal animals. There are serious cultural shadows to be faced too this year, and rats are quite powerful when grouped together. Contemplate how this might be used for good. Rats too are associated with fertility – a female rat can birth up to 5000 a babies a year! What might you propagate this year?

Remy, the rat who wants to be a chef, Ratatouille movie

As for the ‘metal’ aspect of this Rat year, as you might expect metal is associated with persistence, strength, and determination in its positive expression, and rigidity and stubbornness in its negative. Rats themselves are associated with these same traits, as rats are nothing if not persistent. So how can this be turned to good? I think  Remy from Ratatouille, the wanna-be chef rat, is a great example of rat energy turned to good. Remy’s dream is not a conventional or easy one, but his determination, persistence and positive nature gets him through. Don’t give up this year! You (we) may be tested, but persistence can win out.

So there you have it: The Year of the Metal Rat signifies the potential for abundance and luck, with a call to face that which we haven’t wanted to see and act on it with intelligence, adaptability and foresight. Avoid greed, act with integrity, and consider the communal impact of your actions. Transform obstacles to wisdom and persistence and determination will be rewarded. Happy Year of the Metal Rat!

Feel free to share your intentions or wishes for this year in the comments…

 

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Pam permalink
    January 14, 2020 4:11 am

    Always love your take Lisa and your presentation. I hope we can face the challenges of this year’s election as well as climate change this year. I think both fit well with your theme of facing what we don’t want and acting on them. That’s what I want this year more than anything personal.

  2. January 14, 2020 7:17 pm

    Great post, Lisa. It certainly makes me think more deeply about what this year could mean on the micro and macro levels. BTW, nearly finished your book, so I should have the review up within the next week. 🙂

  3. January 15, 2020 12:10 am

    Glad you liked the post Alethea, and thank you so much for reviewing the book! Honesty appreciated OF COURSE – as a fellow writer I value true feedback:-)

  4. January 15, 2020 12:13 am

    Thanks Pam, and yes these issues were much on my mind too as I explored this.

  5. Anonymous permalink
    January 17, 2020 6:42 am

    I always love these posts!

  6. January 29, 2020 1:37 pm

    What a great post. As a person born in the year of the Rat, I appreciate your willingness to take a thoughtful look at Rat and explore the very common and natural (at least in the West) revulsion most of us have toward rats. Love the idea of rat being an invitation to do shadow work and as a fan of Lama Tsultrim Allione’s book Feeding Your Demons I’m excited to encounter someone who’s actually studied with her. I look forward to exploring your blog and learning more about your experiences. Also, I read your book Chakra Empowerment for Women and wow. What an enriching read.

  7. February 10, 2020 3:10 am

    Thank you Lelia, I just saw this comment. Thank you so much, and also for the review:-) I’m glad the book, and the post, resonated.XO Lisa

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  1. Yr of the Steel Rat – Face Your Shadows and Prosper - KRIPTIQ

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