CHAPTER TWO: The Astrological Sign of the Monkey
Though banished to a barbarous land, mine is a joyful life
At night I lay me down to sleep at the top of a high tower
Heng Mountain by Han Yu
In Chinese astrology the sign of the Monkey represents, above all, cheerful freedom and lack of responsibility, as in the poem above. This can turn to mischief and fecklessness, but more often shows itself as inventiveness, ingenuity, playfulness, sociability and high spirits. Given the enormous store set on duty in Chinese society since ancient times, the Monkey in the zodiac acts as a reminder that duty alone is not enough to create a balanced world.
The Monkey is also the nearest animal to humans among the signs and so stands there as our representative in the animal kingdom. As we saw in the last chapter, the tales of Monkey’s adventures are as popular in China as those of Sinbad the Sailor elsewhere in the world, so the sign of the Monkey carries enormous weight in the Chinese zodiac.
Legend tells us that the twelve creatures were chosen by either God (the Jade Emperor) or the Buddha, depending on who is telling the tale. He declared a race and named the months after the animals as they arrived. Rat came first by cunningly riding on Ox’s back and jumping off at the last moment to scamper across the winning line. The Monkey, despite all the distractions along the way, came in just after the Goat and ahead of the Rooster, who was most annoyed at being beaten by such a flighty animal. That is often the Monkey’s role in life – showing others that there is often an easier and more fun way of going about things.
GENERAL CHARACTER TRAITS OF THE MONKEY
Don’t teach monkeys to climb trees
Shih King (Book of Songs)
What follows is an outline of the Monkey personality in Chinese astrological terms, but you must remember that unless your year, month and hour signs all happen to be the Monkey, you cannot expect to match the profile very closely. Most people by birth are a mixture of often conflicting signs, and how they manage the interaction is what establishes their individuality. This is just the template or archetype of the Monkey.
The Monkey in China is associated, as we said, with inventiveness, ingenuity, playfulness, adaptability and high spirits. This is not a sign like the Ox that thrives on duty and perseverance to the end. The wise Monkey will avoid taking on more commitments than he or she can handle to avoid letting others down. The Monkey’s talent is to inspire, motivate and entertain. Being quick-witted and flexible means that Monkeys can shine in almost any profession, particularly those requiring communication with others, as long as they have a team around them ready to tie up all the loose ends of projects. Leonardo da Vinci is one of the most famous Westerners born under the sign of the Monkey and is a perfect illustration of its impatient curiosity raised to the level of genius.
Monkeys are usually good at languages and love the novelties of travel and meeting new people, so they often make good politicians, envoys and sales representatives. Some of the best hucksters and snake-oil salesmen are also Monkeys so one should always beware of being taken in by the charm alone, but Monkey tastes and skills are perfectly suited to a life in the performing arts where creating illusions is a virtue.
Monkeys are full of self-confidence and are rarely crushed for long by criticism or failure. This can be very annoying for others but is also what enables them not to be ground down by the trials of life. It works both ways. Similarly, Monkeys can often be insensitive through being so caught up in their own schemes and fortunes, but this does also make them endless founts of inspiration and fresh enthusiasms. Friends and family just have to learn to be tolerant when their Monkey gets too carried away with a new venture.
‘Don’t teach monkeys to climb trees’ is an old Chinese saying, meaning that there’s no need to teach people things they can naturally do anyway. With monkeys that is climbing trees and making mischief. In astrological terms the warning is that people strongly under the influence of the Monkey need to learn when their natural inclinations are not helpful – when a practical joke is not going to cheer someone else up, for example. Or when a friend is more in need of a good listener than entertainment. However, Monkeys’ general warmth and good nature usually makes it easy to forgive their occasional tactlessness.
Monkeys are optimists driven by curiosity, which makes them great problem-solvers. They cannot bear to let a problem go without getting to the bottom of it. Competitiveness is another characteristic, though the person the Monkey is usually most competing against is him or her-self. Combined with natural intelligence and versatility, these qualities usually ensure success in the Monkey’s chosen field. Although impatient of details, Monkeys tend to be quite good at handling money overall and their occasional wild gambles are more often successful than not.
Monkeys tend to be great flirts, which can be totally harmless but they do have promiscuous tendencies that partners need to watch out for. For this reason Monkeys are advised not to rush into marriage (and others are advised not to rush into marriage with them!) because otherwise it may take two or three attempts to get it right. Best to play the field first until the urge to settle for one partner comes naturally. Monkeys often underestimate how much simpler relationships become with honesty, tending instead to build complicated and unnecessary schemes that always fall apart in the end.
The negative aspects of the Monkey’s character – unruliness, vanity, unreliability, mischievousness – only come to the fore in Monkeys gone bad. For others the turbulence of youth gradually calms with age into the particular wisdom that comes with having tried everything that life has had to offer.
Although the signs recur every twelve years, they are influenced each time by a different one of the five elements – Metal, Water, Wood, Fire and Earth. These give the sign a slightly different character each time so it is in fact sixty years before any one returns in exactly the same form. This sixty-year span is known as the Great Cycle or Tai Sui and is the basis of all Chinese chronology. See the year chart in the Introduction for the element affecting your birth sign.
In addition to this cyclic element every sign has a fixed element as shown in the chart below. The Boar, Rat and Ox are associated with the element Water and the North. The Tiger, Hare and Dragon are associated with Wood and the East. The Snake, Horse and Goat have Fire and the South; while the Monkey, Rooster and Dog have Metal and the West. The element Earth in this context is not usually linked directly with any of the signs because it represents the centre. Years when the sign’s natural element coincides with the rotating one of the Great Cycle are considered especially fortunate because all the sign’s natural tendencies will be reinforced.
Next we will look at the ways in which each element affects the fundamental character of the Monkey.
THE ELEMENT METAL
Effect on the Monkey: Metal, being this sign’s natural element, has the effect of increasing the Monkey’s determination, perseverance and ability to see things through to the end. A very happy combination, though it does also increase the Monkey’s impatience with rules and authority. When taken with a new idea this Monkey is best left alone to get on with it, and will usually reward such forbearance with some marvellous new idea or invention. In negative mode the Metal Monkey can be cold and selfish.
THE ELEMENT WATER
Effect on the Monkey: The Water Monkey is sociable, witty and a great motivator of other people, even if it means bending the truth to do so. Versatile even by Monkey standards, Water Monkeys are usually successful in whatever they do, but have to guard against a weakness for plots, schemes and secrets that can lead to mistrust. Besides this, Water Monkeys have a good understanding of what makes people tick and thrive in business. In negative mode the Water Monkey can be dishonest, sly and over-sensitive, but this is rare.
THE ELEMENT WOOD
Effect on the Monkey: Wood, like Metal, has the effect of steadying the Monkey temperament a bit, and making it more sensitive to other people’s feelings and needs. Wood also enhances the imagination, ambition and courage of the Monkey, which can lead to risk-taking, but in dangerous times this sign comes into its own, taking the lead just when others are beginning to lose nerve. The Wood Monkey is intuitive and drawn to spiritual and occult studies.
THE ELEMENT FIRE
Effect on the Monkey: Fire stimulates all the Monkey’s more volatile instincts so Fire Monkeys tend to be larger than life characters who can be quite exhausting company, but very entertaining. Very competitive by nature, the Fire Monkey makes a bad enemy or rival and will risk everything to come out on top. Don’t try calling his or her bluff because the chances are that they’re not bluffing at all. In negative mode this can become sheer recklessness but Fire Monkeys are usually blessed with more than their fair share of luck and often get away with it.
THE ELEMENT EARTH
Effect on the Monkey: Earth acts as a calming influence on the Monkey sign, harnessing its energy and imagination to practical ends. This is the most gentle, considerate and studious of Monkeys, preferring to show off through work rather than under the spotlight on centre stage. Generous by nature, Earth Monkeys tend to be popular in a quiet way and are seen as reliable and honest.