Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Animal Instinct

By Dr. Who

Over the rugged mountains of Northern America, an eagle flies high as many miles away, a child closes his eyes and reads the signs of the land in his vision quest…

John Lennon, born in the Year of the Dragon, rocks the world…

A white swan flies to Leda and seduces her with the pretense of seeking protection and thus Helen is born, for it is Zeus who hides in the guise of the swan…

In the cold Transylvanian moonlight, Count Dracula leaps from the window of his dread castle, taking the air as a bat…

“As the werewolf reared, snapping its long jaws, Sirius disappeared from Harry's side. He had transformed. The enormous bear-like dog bounded forwards…”

Under the clouded skies of Forks, Washington, Quileute late teens burst into furiour balls of fur and fangs as they shapeshift into wolves…

From East to West, from pop culture to classic literature, from religion to witchcraft to describing classmates, the reference to the animal side of man is rampant. Heck, it's even in the definition of man in every textbook: “Man is a social animal”. So despite considering ourselves a cut above the rest of the animal kingdom, us being vain and all, human minds have probed into the characteristics of the animals and how sometimes our characters match. While today we do that through national geographic, previously it was shamanism and, in the case of the Chinese, the zodiac.

The guys you can't really curse at
Suppose you call someone a swine and s/he interprets that as a compliment, meaning strong, fearless and powerful? What if you called someone a bat and they thought themselves a visionary? Can you imagine that vulture of a teacher being perceptive, patient and clean? Well, to be fair, those kind of teachers are perceptive.

The Native Americans were always a nutty bunch [for those who can do word-connections really fast, squirrels are planners and gatherers] ever since the Mayan days when they cut out people's hearts to burn at the altars. Then the Spanish came along and while Cortes and Pizarro annihilated the Mayans and the Incas to the south, the Brits and the French went North into what is today the United States. The fierce, mustang-riding people [the horse, not the car, you auto-junkies] have had their buttocks handed to them for the past few centuries and yet have retained some their rituals and legends regarding animal spirits and spirit guides, which are slowly becoming popular again. Don't believe us? Can you honestly put your hand on your heart and swear by all that is holy that you haven't taken one of those Facebook quizzes titled “what kind of animal are you?”? Thought not.

So how does this whole animal totem thing work? It is believed that every child has an animal assigned to them at birth. Just before puberty, the child goes on a vision quest, i.e. a journey in the wild often with a fast in tow, and has dreams or actual experiences involving their animal guide. Apparently, the animal directs by means of symbolism, which road the child should take in life. So if you wanted to be unemployed and living off your parents for the rest of your life, you could just say you saw an anteater sucking on an anthill, just chilling his trunk off, when you might have seen something like a coyote or a fox. Life could've been so much easier…

What lies under the apparent atheist Communism
24 chronicled dynasties stretching back 2070 BC, that's what, not counting one mythical dynasty and one republic that got trampled over by the People's Liberation Army. The Chinese have always been different, stretching from their language to their scripts to their surprising ability to spawn Hollywood superstars that speak much better when they are silent. And they speak mainly with their foot jammed up somewhere near your uvula so that you are just as silent as them, give or take a muffled groan or two. With a population of the fifth of the world, the Chinese identity is so overpowering, it took Japan two atom bombs, Tom Cruise dressed up as a Samurai and some very, very weird cartoons involving women and octopuses to establish their identity.

What's really interesting though, is their idea of the zodiac. The Western zodiac, and practically all the zodiac of the world, stems from Babylonian astrology. The Greeks compiled and solidified the theories and spread them far and wide with the help of a young conqueror by the name Alexander the Great. This was your basic Western astrology and horoscope that you today read about in the paper and annoyingly update on Facebook. It's based on constellations and the path of the Sun through the sky as the year passes. The path is divided into 12 parts and hence there are 12 zodiac signs that we are all familiar with.

The Chinese, being meticulous, didn't bother with all that airy fairy starry stuff...much. Instead, they put their heads together with the Babylonians when they traded back in the day, came up with the basic 12-part idea and proceeded to apply the cycle to years, months, days and even, to hours. And what's more, they assigned the parts to certain animals and their characteristics. The story behind the order of the animals is pretty good too. Apparently, there was a race to see which animals would make the list. Guess who won? The Rat! Of course, it took a ride on the Ox, who came second, but that's one feather in the hat for Jerry's clan. All the animals are actual animals except for the Dragon, and he was included because he helped people along the way like a model citizen. Talk about the orient and their Hagrid-like affinity towards creatures that could terrify the T-Rex into a blubbering Jurassic pansy. We urge you to take a moment and remember Godzilla.

So how do they calculate the whole astrological fortune thingummy? Well, they use a whole lot of complicated and tedious calculations [if it helps to understand the mathematics, imagine computers 2000 years old], which takes into account a lot of things, such as yin and yang and the five elements.

Here's the deal. Your birth year indicates your ancestors, your birth month indicates your parents, your birthday indicates you and your birth hour indicates your kids. Yes, even your kids' futures can be determined from your birthday. Scary world, ain't it? Anyway, let's just give a simple [?] example. Suppose, you are a born in the year of the Earth Dragon, in the month of Wood Ox, in the day of the Metal Rabbit [fancy that!], in the hour of the Earth Dog, that'd mean your ancestors
were noble, proud and fairly stable; your parents are patient, hard-working, sometimes narrow-minded and socially conscious; you are a rigid, determined, tender [that can't be right…], compassionate, artistic person; and your kids [Ye Gods!] will be open-minded, fair, honest, intelligent and practical. Whew! That took a lot of wiki-ing!

Anyway, the Chinese New Year is coming up soon. It is on [Surprise! Surprise!] the 14th of February. A Valentine's Day with fireworks and dragon dances. Should be fun. Of course, we have parades with giant tiger masks and chicks in sarees on our Noboborsho in April. People [and we're looking meaningfully at the dudes in the house as we say this], we'll let you decide the winner. By the way, just a tiny little footnote: in the list of Indian dynasties, this writer stopped counting after 50. Bangladesh boasts 17. In your face, China!



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