It’s finally here: the Year of the Wood Dragon in the Chinese Zodiac (or Sheng Xiao). And I am prepared. I’m already rocking my “Mother of Dragons” sweatshirt. (Although, honestly, it should say “Mother of Dragons Masquerading as Cats.”)
Since the first time I heard the song “Puff the Magic Dragon'' as a child, I’ve been intrigued by these supernatural creatures—the juxtaposition of immense power with the possibility of tenderness. Sadly, I was not born in the Year of the Dragon. No, I am Pig. But within the Chinese astrology system, all of us can tap into the collective dragon-ness this year will bring.
Animal Origins of the Chinese Zodiac
There are many stories told to children regarding how the animals in the Sheng Xiao took their places. In one tale, the Jade Emperor invited all kinds of animals to participate in a race; the winning 12 would comprise the 12 winning places on the calendar. In another tale, animals were invited to a great feast, and the order of the 12-year calendar cycle would be determined by who showed up for nom-noms first.
Of course, no good story would have each creature arrive without some sort of obstacle or intrigue. So the journey of each animal relays their mishaps, foibles, and heroic deeds along the way.
Whether for a race or by dinner invitation, in the end, it was Rat who won first place, followed by Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig. (No, I am not sore about being last. Apparently, Pig got hungry along the way and stopped for food and a nap. Pig has awesome self-care skills.)
The Symbolism of the Dragon
Each animal’s story has had profound implications on how we view animals. It’s said that Rat only won through trickery—hence the longstanding stereotype of untrustworthy people as rats.
On the flip side, Dragon, while coming in fifth place, ended up highly admired by the Jade Emperor. “By all accounts, the dragon would have won the race, as it could fly, but it had stopped to help villagers caught in a flooding river cross safely; or it stopped to assist the rabbit in crossing the river; or it stopped to help create rain for a drought-ridden farmland, depending on the teller,” offers Lisa Chiu of China Global Television Network (CGTN) America.
As a result of this charitability, Dragon earned a reputation for wielding power responsibly in a way that assists others—not just for one’s own success.
Within the Chinese calendar cycle, Dragon represents an auspicious time—a period of determined ambitiousness. On the flip side, the confidence we may feel during this time can also make us stubborn and unwilling to admit mistakes—or power imbalances.
As this year’s Dragon-inspired influence rolls around, we’d be wise to pay attention to both the origin story of this fantastical creature and the attributes they represent—especially within ourselves.
Consider using the following reflection practice.
Sit on a chair, preferably one with no side arms.
Close your eyes gently.
Drop your hands and keep them loose at your sides.
Now, ground yourself firmly through your buttocks and core, sitting up straight, and firmly pushing down into the chair seat.
Slowly lift your arms out to your sides, as if they were large wings, until they are shoulder height.
Pause here, and exhale slowly and loudly, as if you have fire in your breath.
Lower your arms to your sides.
Repeat this up-and-down cycle two more times.
Take a few deep breaths and open your eyes.
- Finally, grab a pen and some paper and reflect on the following questions:
Where do I feel power in my life?
Is this power “right-sized”?
If not, what adjustments might I want to make this year?
Where can I use my power to help others?
More Practices for Engaging Dragon-ness in Your Life
Take a course in Chinese astrology or learn how to use the I Ching.
Pick up a Dragon Tarot deck wherever you get your card decks. Many are available that align the major and minor arcana to stages of dragon lives.
Grab your colored pencils and crack open Doodle Dragons: Adult Coloring Book from Blush Design.
Read An Instinct for Dragons from anthropologist David E. Jones for an in-depth study of the history of dragons in human cultures around the world.
If you have young children or grandchildren, share time with them exploring the beautiful picture book The Great Race: Story of the Chinese Zodiac, written by Ling Lee and Erin Lee and illustrated by Rachel Foo. Ask the kids questions about what they think about the animals’ journeys and what traits they’d like to embrace in their own lives.
Watch movies that feature dragons in a positive light, such as Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Hayao Miyazaki's animated film Spirited Away, the 1977 classic Pete’s Dragon, the heartwarming 1984 children’s film The NeverEnding Story, or Dreamworks’ popular animated film How to Train Your Dragon and its sequels.
Getting Real with Dragons
As we look at what dragons can inspire in us, we must be careful not to forget the charitableness of their story. Especially since we share the Earth with “real” dragons who are endangered. Learn more about the challenges facing the Komodo dragon, the largest lizard on the planet. No less amazing than the fantastic flying beings of our imagination, these reptiles can grow up to 10 feet long and weigh in at more than 300 pounds. Head to komododragon.org to learn more about how you can help save dragons. Yes, for real.
For more supernatural, creaturely wisdom, read “Is Godzilla Your Power Animal?”