The Four Pillars, also known as BaZi, are the cornerstone of all popular Chinese astrological work. Without a thorough understanding of this system, any further work with Chinese astrology is much more difficult, if not impossible. The Four Pillars demarcate the relationships between the Five Elements and the Twelve Phases (Branches) that were in effect at the hour, day, month and year of a person’s birth. They are analogous to the ascendant, Sun’s degree, zodiacal sign and aspects, respectively, in the Western system, although they are not identical to them. The Pillars are based on a hexagesimal cycle (cycle of 60) of the combinations of Yin and Yang, the Five Elements and the Twelve Phases (Branches). The Pillars define the basic qualities of a person and their immediate environment for the person’s life, based upon the combination of Stem and Branch for any given pillar. Every Pillar is divided into two main sections – a Stem, denoting one of the Five Elements and its polarity and, a Branch – more commonly known as the “Animal Sign”, denoting the phase through which the Stem operates in that pillar and its relative strength. There is also a third section, not commonly used, that is a Resultant/Combined/Harmonizing Element derived from the preceding two. So, we have the following construct, from top to bottom of the Pillar:

  • STEM – Polarity/Element
  • BRANCH – Phase (Animal sign)

It is common in the English nomenclature of the Pillars to denote the Stem by an Arabic numeral or capital ‘H’ and the Branch by a Roman numeral or capital ‘E’ for ease of distinction. In the case of using ‘E’, the Arabic numeral is used. The ‘H’ stands for ‘Heavenly Stem’ and the ‘E’ stands for ‘Earthly Branch’. The Combined Element is based upon the pairing of the Stem and Branch combination and its order within the hexagesimal cycle. Thus, we have a possibility of ten Stem variants (the two polarities of Yin and Yang for each of the Five Elements) and Twelve Branches.

sexagesimal – Deaf in Japan The cycle of ten for the Stems starts with Yang Wood, which is numbered as 1, or H1. This is followed by Yin Wood at number 2, or H2. The elements in order are: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. Thus, Yang Stems are always denoted by odd numbers, with Yin Stems denoted by even numbers. The Stems rotate endlessly in order through their cycle of ten, while the Branches rotate endlessly in order through their cycle of twelve.

The Branches begin with Branch I, or E1, denoted by the Rat. It should be noted that these Roman numerals have no numerical significance. They are simply used as identifiers in the Chinese system. The animal cycle for the Branches is as follows: Rat (I), Ox (II), Tiger (III), Rabbit (IV), Dragon (V), Snake (VI), Horse (VII), Sheep (VIII), Monkey (IX), Rooster (X), Dog (XI), and Pig (XII).

These cycles of ten and twelve are independent of each other. They both start at 1,I; 2,II; 3,III, etc., until they have combined sixty times, after which the entire greater cycle starts over again. Hence, there are sixty possible combinations of Stems and Branches, which is easily seen from the table in Stem/Branch Equivalents. Unstated in the Stem/Branch relations, though, is that each of the Branches will receive each of the Elements at some in the greater cycle of 60. Thus, each Element will undergo a phase of greater or lesser energy as it is paired with a Branch.

Jin Ping Mei - 2 Vol. - "Il romanzo proibito" dei Classici cinesi - Luni Editrice Each of the Combined Elements takes its name from a particular pairing of Stem/Branch combinations, so there are 30 variants of Combined Elements. These are sometimes called “Harmonious Elements”, and a few are expounded in Chapter 46 of the book Jin Ping Mei, written ca. 1590, although they were certainly known before that. The book was banned for centuries in China because of its explicit sexual content, having been deemed pornographic.

It should be noted, too, that there is no polarity (Yin or Yang) associated with the Harmonious Elements. They were added to give the general fortunes of the Pillar with which they are associated, and they are not meant to be descriptive of character.

For any particular date and time it is possible to construct four Pillars based on the Chinese solar calendar (for the year) of that instant. However, the Month Branch runs from new moon to new moon.

The Four Pillars are:

  • The Year Pillar – based on the current Chinese year number (optionally this may be either the lunar year or the solar year). The Four Pillars are based on the Chinese solar calendar. This Pillar describes the first quarter of one’s life, generally up to adulthood.
  • The Month Pillar – based on the current month number (optionally this may be either the lunar month or the solar month) This pillar describes the 2nd quarter of one’s life, generally through the years when one raises a family.
  • The Day Pillar – based on the current day number, on a repeating cycle of sixty days. This Pillar describes the self and describes the 3rd quarter of one’s life, when one reaches full self-expression.
  • The Hour Pillar – based on the current Chinese double-hour number. This Pillar describes the final years of one’s life, a period of reflection, awards and preparation.

Additionally, this system may be extended to include other Pillars, outlined below.

The Path to Good Fortune The Meng by Lily Chung (1997, First Edition) Feng Shui | eBay In addition to the animal name for the Branch, each Branch is also given its own Element or set of Elements, which is subsidiary to the Stem element in the Pillar, as well as a descriptive phrase. They are not found in classical Chinese Astrology texts. These extra descriptors for the Branches are derived from their place in the hexagesimal cycle. These extra elements are sometimes called the ‘Human Elements’. For more info on the Human Elements, see Lilly Chung’s The Path to Good Fortune)

There are sixty variants of the descriptors for the animals. These are derived from the combination of the associated element and the animal (5 sets of 12) within the Branch. The animal names of these Branches are most commonly known through their widespread use in popular Chinese astrology, which refers to the animal of the Year Pillar’s Branch for someone’s year of birth, as mentioned previously, or just to a year in general (for example, the Chinese New Year of 2004 is a year of the Monkey).

The meanings of the Four Pillars can be broadly defined as follows:

  • Year – Society as a whole (one’s birth and early childhood environment), extended family, the largest group which one is examining, the outer planetary influences, generational influences, ancestors, the past-life influences to some extent (especially when considered with the Conception Pillar. See below for the latter).
  • Month – The immediate family, governments, leaders, those people who immediately shape one’s fate, body type, hereditary patterns, visible planets, lunar cycles, the immediate past
  • Day – The Self, the individual, the solar degree, the overall challenges represented by one’s life, the present qualities being built in, the present.
  • Hour – Friends and offspring, supporting influences and things/qualities that one produces, possibilities, personal motivations, the immediate future, the beginnings of one’s legacy, people we immediately influence, investments that generate income. Creative output.

And, if one uses them, there are additional pillars as follows:

  • Minute – Grandchildren, friends of friends (distant contacts of benefit), children’s friends, one’s legacy, and people we influence from a distance, the higher possibilities of one’s life. The Life after retirement and long-term investments. Retirement income. The method for computing the Minute Pillar is up for debate, though, with no clear consensus on how to compute it.

In one system it is said to be calculated on the basis of breaking the Chinese double-hour into 45 minute segments. Another method uses 10-minute segments of the double hour, the first ten minutes being the Rat Minute and so on, and using the Stem for the Hour Pillar on all the Minute Pillars. We used still a different method in The Imperial Astrologer software using the actual double-minute, going through the entire 60 Stem-Branch combinations in one hour. See the ‘Note’ at the end of this page regarding The Imperial.

Yet another system uses 6-minute intervals of a standard hour (60 minutes), divides them into 10 sections, progressing through the Stems and Branches in 6-minute intervals. The caveat is that midnight and noon are always Horse hours, no matter what day is entered. There is an online calculator to perform that calculation.

There are also four extra Pillars sometimes used in consults, depending upon the astrologer, as follows:

  • Conception Pillar – One’s state of being prior to birth. The pure state of being, unadulterated by environment. It is sometimes used in an effort to gauge one’s spiritual inclinations or evn past lives, though the latter usage is doubtful. On the whole, the Conception Pillar would represent a sort of spiritual potential, to be thereafter affected by one’s environment and experience through the standard Four Pillars and the Luck Pillars.

The Conception Pillar is read in relation to the Year Pillar, the latter representing one’s birth environment. As a point of interest, the old system of BaZi used the Year Pillar to indicate the self, which is a throw-back to an old era, where people generally did not live very long and the circumstances of one’s birth pretty well dictated the course of a person’s life. Serfdom comes to mind, as well as social caste. These days, the Day Pillar indicates the self, where we have more freedoms, live much longer and can choose the path of our destiny, more or less.

  • Conception Aura – Whereas the Conception Pillar represents innate aspects of a person, the Conception Aura Pillar represent acquired aspects. This Pillar is considered to be of secondary importance.
  • The Life Pillar – This is said to indicate one’s career path and is generally read on its own, outside the other Four Pillars. It is calculated in two stages: firstly from the Month and Hour Branches, and then from the resultant and the Year Stem.
  • The Body Pillar – This represents a person’s wealth, their ability to generate income and sustenance. It is calculated in the same manner as the Life Pillar.

Note: For people who want a calculator that will give these four extra Pillars, one can download a free version from Gmulis. It is safe. I have used it. The old Imperial Astrologer software (another story for a future post) I had done with Esoteric Technologies some years back does not do these calculations. It is also no longer for sale, but the tutorial is still available online. The methods for doing these extra Pillars are handled in a separate post here if you want to do them by hand, along with interpretations.

2014 in L'Alpe di Siusi, fresh from the US and Australia.

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