Twelve Earthly Branches

The universe is comprised of the five elements: wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. On earth, the principle of five elements functions as six energies (육기 六氣). Each of the six energies has yin and yang aspects. These six energies and their two yin-yang aspects produce the Twelve Earthly Branches—ja, chuk, in, myo, jin, sa, o, mi, sin, yu, sul, and hae—which represent the cycle of energy on earth. (Each element of the cycle is depicted by an animal: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig.)

Moreover, the Twelve Earthly Branches were traditionally used in the Far East as a reference for time (i.e., a daily cycle of twelve hours, as opposed to the twenty-four-hour daily cycle observed by the West). In addition, each of the Twelve Earthly Branches paired with each of the Ten Heavenly Stems form the sixty pairs of the sexagenary cycle, which traditionally has been used to denote years, months, and days. See also “Ten Heavenly Stems” “sexagenary cycle.”