Beware of snakes

One of Taiwan’s top astrologers holds out little hope for good fortune in the Year of the Snake; but with a little bit of planning, the worst can be avoided

By Ian Bartholomew  /  Staff Reporter

Sun, Feb 10, 2013 - Page 12

As the world turns, the Year of the Dragon will, as of today, become the Year of the Snake. The snake is not a particularly endearing animal, and although some might emphasize its intelligence, grace and beauty, others might just as easily feel it is slithery, devious and venomous. For those who take their astrology seriously, these qualities, both good and bad, have nothing to do with what the New Year holds in store for us.

“In fortunetelling, calling it the Year of the Snake is just a convenient shorthand to refer to the year kuisi (癸巳), as determined using the heavenly stems and earthly branches (天干地支). The readings for individuals or nations have nothing to do with the nature of the zodiac animal. Some people might extrapolate from the character of the snake in making a reading, noting perhaps that a snake is cold blooded, that it progresses in curves, that it remains still and attacks suddenly. But this connection to the nature of the animal has nothing to do with proper astrology,” said Wisdom Tsai (蔡上機), one of the country’s best known astrologers.

For many years Tsai has published a New Year reading for the fate of Taiwan, and he explained to the Taipei Times how he came to his conclusions and why they matter.

Of astrology and astronomy

Tsai said that Chinese astrology, just like Western astrology, was based on a close observation of the stars. Although the language used is different, and might sound like a lot of mumbo-jumbo to the uninitiated, the astrologer refers to the same stars, and charts their movement, in the same way as an astronomer. The point of departure for Tsai is the belief that the heavenly bodies exert an influence through their energy fields on everything that takes place on earth. The combination of energy created by a specific configuration at the time of birth of a person or nation establishes certain characteristics, which is referred to as “fate” (命).

For Tsai, the Republic of China was born in 1911 at the time the first shot of the Xinhai Revolution (辛亥革命) was fired.

“The birth of the Republic of China at this time is exactly the same as a child being brought forth from its mother’s womb,” Tsai said. “The astrological configuration at this time established the fate of this country. Taiwan has the fate of a wanderer, and indeed, this is reflected in the many changes that the nation has experience,” he added.

Year by year, Tsai also makes readings to ascertain, given the nation’s fate, what kind of fortune (運) it can expect.

Conflict, uncertainty for 2013

Things do not look good for Taiwan, according to Tsai, in this upcoming Year of the Snake. He expects financial markets to remain unstable and the political establishment to rest on its laurels, ignoring the plight of the common people. He anticipates conflict within the government preventing the implementation of good policy, and expects GDP to stagnate or even fall as the vitality of the nation fails to revive.

Tsai, who is also noted for readings related to specific industries, particularly real estate and investment, sees 2013 as a year full of uncertainty, when many ventures are likely to fail.

Amid all this heralding of bad fortune, Tsai sees a ray of light. “China will bring money into Taiwan. It is likely that the government will loosen the constraints on Chinese investment to help cover its own financial shortcomings. This money will be like a shot of Viagra to the financial system … This will be a short term remedy, and for its long term results we will have to wait and see.”

Tweak your luck

Fate, however, is not written in stone. Individuals can tweak their fate and turn disadvantage into benefit. But for this they need an understanding of what fate holds, and have the wisdom to respond to it in the right way.

“This is what astrology is about. It can be summed up as ‘attracting good fortune and avoiding bad fortune (取吉避兇),” Tsai said. “There is room to change your fate. Some people will have their fortune read but they will do nothing to change themselves.”

Unfortunately for Taiwan, at least in Tsai’s interpretation, the government on the whole pays little regard to the hints and suggestions that astrological readings might provide and therefore is unlikely to do anything that will improve the nation’s dismal outlook.

“Most of our leaders are more inclined to believe in themselves than in astrology, so most are complacent about Taiwan’s current situation,” Tsai said.

Professionals and charlatans

Much necessarily depends on the skill of the astrologer in first making a correct reading, providing the correct interpretation and then figuring out a remedy.

“Astrology is like any other profession,” Tsai said. “There are all sorts of people practicing astrology — from skilled professionals with deep understanding of the field, to charlatans who know nothing. Just like there are skilled doctors, average doctors, and even incompetent doctors. Good astrologers can achieve a high level of skill through study, but at the very top are those with a gift for this art that allows them to achieve a deeper understanding of the information provided by a reading of the stars.”

Tsai, who became a professional astrologer at 16, published his first treatise on astrology at 18, and is one of the first astrologers from Taiwan to break into the China market, has convinced many of his unique talent.

Red improves fate

So what does Tsai say we can do about the rather dismal fate that seems to await us in the Year of the Snake? His advice, especially in the area of financial management and investment, is to incorporate fire (represented by the color red), into our lives. He notes that people should look at red objects, eat red foods (such as red beans, red dates, strawberries and wolfberries), or fiery food such as garlic, peppers and chili. Listening to music with a fiery temperament is also helpful (time to dig out those old AC/DC albums) and using essential oils from astringent plants such as ginger, rosemary and lemongrass. These things will help redress the balance, putting some vitality and good fortune into a year that holds out few promises.

Whatever your fate and whatever your fortune, Taipei Times wishes all its readers a prosperous Year of the Snake.