Four Spiritual Animals According to Chinese Beliefs
Chinese religion is something completely different from, for example, Greek or Roman one. China, besides having the biggest population of all countries, is like world within a world. It has completely different view of medicine, food, energy flowing – yin and yang, house decorating – feng shui, and mythical creatures, from all the Western world. Though every animal in Chinese symbolism has a meaning, the major ones are Turtle, White tiger (or a Lion), Phoenix and Dragon. Each animal has its side of the world (each of these animals was believed to guard part of the Heaven), part of the sky, week in a month (they have lunar calendar, so month has 28 days i.e. 4 weeks), color, season, element…
1. Turtle or Tortoise
It is also known as a Black/Dark Warrior – so it’s obvious that Turtle’s color is black, and it looks like chimera with snake’s head and tail and turtle’s body. Its side of the world is north and winter is its season. Its element is water because it’s believed that it lives in the ocean. It is called warrior because its shell reminds of an armor. Black Warrior represents wisdom, happiness and long life because of a belief that when turtle reaches a thousand years it can speak human languages and give lots of wise advices as well as to tell the future. The turtle also has its seven constellations, called Northern Palace. This animal is also believed to have one eye in the middle of its armor and it comes out from the water every thousand years to see the Sun and the world, according to some, this can represent immutability. In Taoism, its armor or shell, represents Earth and sky, and has many legends related to it.
2. White Tiger – Kirin (in Japan)
Second spiritual animal in Chinese religion represents courage, dignity, yin energy, but also the Buddha’s and human kind’s guardian. Its color is white, as itself, the season it is related to is fall and the element is metal. nowadays, it can be found in front of the house entrance as safe keeper. White tiger is also connected to burial ceremony, as Donald Mackenzie said: “The White Tiger of the West, for instance, is associated with metal. When, therefore, metal is placed in a grave, a ceremonial connection with the tiger god is effected. According to the Chinese Annals of Wu and Yueh, three days after the burial of the king, the essence of the element metal assumed the shape of a white tiger and crouched down on the top of the grave. Here the tiger is a protector – a preserver. To the Chinese the tiger was the king of all animals and lord of the mountains, and the tiger-jade ornament was specially reserved for commanders of armies. The male tiger was, among other things, the god of war, and in this capacity it not only assisted the armies of the emperors, but fought the demons that threatened the dead in their graves.” The origin of the ‘God of War’ story is because the swords and weapons were made of metal and the tiger represents metal. There is also a belief that this Tiger is related to God of Wealth, who was riding him, so it may be the symbol of wealth too.
Another sacred animal in China, it’s opposite of White tiger, because the Phoenix is a king of flying/sky animals. The legend related to Phoenix almost everyone knows is that rises up from its own ashes and lives again, which represents resurrection and strength. This bird is also called Red or Big bird. Its side of the world (or better say sky, because they’re all Heaven guardians) is south. The element is, of course, fire and the season is summer. According to Chinese legend this bird that lives in the sky rarely comes to Earth, only to do something important and good, or to mark the beginning of the new era. Depending on the interpretations, Phoenix symbolizes lots of things – luck, wish fulfillment, rebirth, immortality, life after death, virtues… It represents the Yang energy. It is believed that only one Phoenix can live at the time, and it lives for about a thousand years. There may be a slight difference between Chinese and for example Indian or Greek Phoenix. The Chinese one is believed to have a long bill, snake’s neck and fish’s tail. It is also frequently presented with Dragon. The Phoenix is ment to awake (and keep awaken) the five basic human characteristics – loyalty, compassion, virtue, alignment and duty.
Dragon is definitely something special in Chinese religion (as it is in other religions too), because beside its religious symbolism it was a mark of Chinese Emperor who was assigned to the Son of Heaven (and the Empress was a Phoenix). Well, the exact origin of Chinese dragon is still unknown, but some jade figurines are found that date back from 4000 B.C. Some people think that old fossils – dinosaur’s bones, are dragon bones, in reality. Anyway, its side of the world is East, the season – spring, colors are green and blue and the element is wood. They represent the Yang energy. Dragons’ duties are winds and rain, it is said that when dragon turns 2000 years it grows a horn and then it can control the weather more efficiently. There are even some myths that say that Dragons are able to give the ability of controlling natural forces to humans. According to Chinese book of mythology, there are five types of Dragons – “1) the celestial dragons who guard the abodes of the gods; 2) dragon spirits, who rule over wind and rain but can also cause flooding; 3) earth dragons, who cleanse the rivers and deepen the oceans; 4) treasure-guarding dragons; and 5) imperial dragons”. They mostly symbolize good luck and fortune, but the good will and strength as well.
So, this is basically it about the four spiritual animals of Chinese religion. In case you didn’t know, not just these animals have a symbolic value in China, but almost every animal. Since all of these animals have their own constellation, it means they all have equivalent zodiac sign whose attributes may be connected to some of this beliefs. Read for yourself, if interested, and tell us what you think!