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Chinese astrology episode 3

Generally speaking, the names of the Chinese asterisms are quite different from those of the 88 Western constellations. For example, the Ursa major carriage is called “The Seven Stars of the Great Spoon” (běidǒu qīxīng), in reference to Beidou, the traditional spoon-shaped Taoist divination compass (běidǒu, “North Spoon”). Orion’s Scoop is known as shēn, one meaning of which is “three”; Orion thus represents the three gods of Fortune, happiness, and longevity.

The northernmost district, whose totem animal, a fantastic turtle whose shell evokes armor, is called Xuanwu, “black warrior” (xúanwǔ), is particularly important. It contains in the dǒu house the chariot of the Big Dipper (dǒu of the north) and the asterism nándǒu (dǒu of the south) in Sagittarius that govern births and deaths. Under the name Zhenwudadi, Xuanwu is also a god, spirit of the northern sky and Water in Taoist belief.

Around the north celestial pole, the Chinese distinguished three starry zones, each of which seemed to be surrounded by an enclosure, hence the name “three enclosures”.

The “imperial enclosure” or “upper enclosure” is located around α Ursae Minoris, once considered fixed, the axis of the sky. It was believed that the stars and stellar gods it housed governed the destinies of the emperor and his family. The “upper palace enclosure” , or “middle enclosure” around Leo, Virgo and Cassiopeia, governed the ministers and officials of the palace. The “enclosure of the celestial market” or “lower enclosure” around Ophiuchus, the eagle and Hercules represented the local administration. The stars and asterisms of these enclosures bore names related to their symbolism, such as official or noble titles.

The stars in the sky are not only the basis of astrological readings, but also the subject of many tales. For example, the summer triangle is a trio consisting of the herdsman, a young peasant (Alpha Aquilae/Altair), the weaver, a fairy (Alpha Lyrae/Vega) and the fairy Taibai (Alpha Cygni/Deneb). The cowherd and the weaver, spouses separated by celestial decree, stand each on one side of the silver river (the Milky Way). Every year, on the seventh day of the seventh month in the Chinese calendar, the day of the Qi Qiao Jie festival, the birds form a bridge across the Milky Way. The cowherd crosses it with their two sons (the two stars on either side of Altair) for an annual meeting with their fairy mother. The fairy Taibai chaperones the two lovers.

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