Four Pillars Divination

Four Pillars Divination

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

The Four Pillars is the simplest of the Chinese systems for personal, heavenly divination. Properly speaking, the Four Pillars system is not a part of astrology, for it does not feature the positions of the planets or the stars as part of the natal chart. Neither are the pillars used to determine the boundaries or dimensions of the natal chart.

The position of only one heavenly body, the Sun, is used to figure out everything contained in a Four Pillars chart. While the popular methods for working out the pillars in China involve the lunar calendar, the tables used in those popular methods are ultimately used to convert the lunar calendar into solar positions.

A Four Pillars chart consists of eight pieces of information in two rows, one row of four stacked on top of another. The pieces in the row on top are called “Heavenly Stems.” The pieces in the row on the bottom are called “Earthly Branches.” Each of the heavenly stems is named by a yin or a yang polarity and by one of the Taoist five elements: wood, fire, earth, metal, or water. Since there are five elements and two polarities, the heavenly stems are ten in number: yang wood, yin wood, yang fire, yin fire, yang earth, yin earth, yang metal, yin metal, yang water, and yin water. The earthly branches is the proper name for the Chinese zodiac animals: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig.

In the Four Pillars chart a person gets one heavenly stem and one earthly branch for the year of his or her birth, one of each for the birth month, one of each for the birth day, and one of each for the double-hour period of birth. Each paired heavenly stem and earthly branch is referred to as a “pillar.” The four of them together give the Four Pillars divination its name.

If one starts with heavenly stem number one (yang wood) and pairs it with earthly branch number one (rat), and runs them through in order, one will get 60 possible combinations of heavenly stem and earthly branch. This is why the sixtieth birthday is so important in the East. In effect, one has lived through all possible combinations of pillars.

The Four Pillars is unique in the astrological world for dividing up the path of the ecliptic in two different ways, one way according to the annual rotation of the Sun, another according to the daily rotation. Even though the path of the Sun is divided up in two entirely different ways, the divisions are given the same names in both rotations. Within the limits of the vastly different time periods involved, the energies associated with those like-named periods are regarded as the same as well.

The earliest Chinese astrological reference to any part of the Four Pillars system is a division of the year into 24 parts. If one takes the Western tropical signs and divides them in half, the result exactly reproduces the 24 divisions of the old Chinese year. What the Taoist Chinese do with these divisions is very different from what is done in Western astrology. In the West, the year begins at the Spring equinox, also called Zero Aries. The Chinese year begins halfway between the Winter solstice and the Spring equinox, located where the Western zodiac calls 15° of Aquarius. Fifteen degrees of Aquarius is the proper derivation of the Western ritual day of Candlemass, or Groundhog Day. The Chinese regard 15° of Aquarius—roughly February 4—as the beginning of Spring, and as the beginning of the astrological Chinese year.

A chart has a pillar for the year of a person’s birth. If that person were born between 15 Aquarius 1924 and 15 Aquarius 1925, the earthly branch for that year is rat. There are five kinds of rat years: wood/rats, fire/rats, earth/rats, metal/rats, and water/rats. This refers to five different heavenly stems to go along with the rat earthly branch. Because of the order of the stems and branches, rat, tiger, dragon, horse, monkey, and dog are always associated with yang polarity heavenly stems. Ox, rabbit, snake, sheep, rooster, and pig are always associated with yin polarity heavenly stems. Between 15 Aquarius 1924 to 15 Aquarius 1925 is the yang wood/rat year. Marlon Brando, George Herbert Walker Bush, and Paul Newman were born in this period. The yang wood/rat is their year pillar.

The Chinese year is divided up very differently from the Western zodiac:

15 Aquarius to 15 Pisces is Tiger month.

15 Pisces to 15 Aries is Rabbit month.

15 Aries to 15 Taurus is Dragon month.

15 Taurus to 15 Gemini is Snake month.

15 Gemini to 15 Cancer is Horse month.

15 Cancer to 15 Leo is Sheep month.

15 Leo to 15 Virgo is Monkey month.

15 Virgo to 15 Libra is Rooster month.

15 Libra to 15 Scorpio is Dog month.

15 Scorpio to 15 Sagittarius is Pig month.

15 Sagittarius to 15 Capricorn is Rat month.

15 Capricorn to 15 Aquarius is Ox month.

Just as every 60 years covers the entire cycle of Pillars, so too, every 60 months and every 60 days cover the entire Pillars cycle as well.

The double-hours of the day are divided in a scheme that should be very familiar to students of acupuncture:

11 p.m.–1 a.m. Rat
1 a.m.–3 a.m. Ox
3 a.m.–5 a.m. Tiger
5 a.m.–7 a.m. Rabbit
7 a.m.–9 a.m. Dragon
9 a.m.–11 a.m. Snake
11 a.m.–1 p.m. Horse
1 p.m.-3 p.m. Sheep
3 p.m.-5 p.m. Monkey
5 p.m.-7 p.m. Rooster
7 p.m.-9 p.m. Dog
9 p.m.–11 p.m. Pig

With 12 double-hours during the day, the entire Pillars cycle runs for five days (60 double-hours) before returning to the beginning.

A person born on April 7, 1928, at 6:30 p.m. would have the following Four Pillars:

A person born on December 1, 1983, at 10:14 p.m. would have this chart:

In effect, the year and day pillars function like the axle of a wheel, and the month and hour pillars function like the spokes. The year/month pillars divide up the annual rotation, and the day/hour pillars divide up the daily rotation. The annual rotation is divided up differently than the daily rotation, but they can—still—both have the same sign or energy.

The Four Pillars system reached maturity during the Sung Dynasty, when the subject of the chart shifted from the earthly branch of the year to the heavenly stem of the day. Even today, if you ask the Chinese “what they are,” astrologically, they will give the animal of the year.

Each of the earthly branches/animals has one of the five elements attached to it, as well as a primary yin or tang polarity. The heavenly stems consist of one of the five elements and a yin or yang polarity. Using the five elements and the doctrine of yin/yang as a template, the Four Pillars astrologer judges the merit or misfortune of the nativity according to whether the chart assists/harms, strengthens/weakens, or balances/unbalances the heavenly stem of the day. The astrologer can also judge which periods of life will aid the subject or harm him.

These same techniques from Taoist philosophy can also determine the degree of compatibility between two prospective partners. In this way, the Four Pillars have been used to arrange marriages in the East for centuries.

—Ko Hashiguchi


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Starr, Amanda. Chinese Astrology. Hod Hasharon, Israel: Astrolog, 2002.
Twicken, David. Four Pillars and Oriental Medicine. Lincoln, NE: Writers Club, 2000.
Walters, Derek. Chinese Astrology: Interpreting the Revelations of the Celestial Messengers. Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, UK: Aquarian Press, 1987.
The Astrology Book, Second Edition © 2003 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.