Origin of Twelve Animal Signs
This legend narrates the origins of sibiji, or the twelve animal signs of the traditional zodiac.rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig.and how they were selected and arranged.
A long, long time ago, the king of the heavens wished to designate official positions to animals.
After considering the selection criteria, he announced that positions would be given to animals arriving first at the celestial gate on the first day of the first lunar month. Upon hearing the news, each animal began training for speed. The ox worked the hardest, and the rat, deciding that, being the smallest and the weakest among the animals, it would be impossible for him to arrive early, attached his body to the ox’s.
When the day arrived, the animals raced to the gate, and the ox, thanks to his diligence, was in first place, but the rat jumped off the ox’s body and passed through the gate first. The ox was angry, but it had no choice but to take second place.
In addition to this legend, there are many other narratives related to the zodiac animals, including those about their anatomy or the different traits they possess.
There are many other tales as well that explain the order of the zodiac animals, that it was based on the number of their toes, or their most active time of the day.for instance, the hour of the rat, which falls between 11 pm and 1 am, is when rats are most active, and the hour of the ox, between 1 and 3 am, is when oxen regurgitate in preparation of the morning’s plowing.
The traditional Asian zodiac was at first based on constellations, to record the patterns of natural circulation, including constellatory movement and change of seasons. In mid-Han dynasty in China, the system came to be associated with the concepts of time and direction. The association with animals first appeared in Lunheng (Discussion and Examination), written by Wangchong of Later Han: “寅 is of the element wood and of the animal tiger; 戌 is of earth and of dog; 丑 and 未 are also of earth, the former the ox and the latter goat, which means dog, ox and goat submit to the tiger; 亥 is of water and is the pig; 巳 is of fire and snake; 子 is also of water and is the rat; 午 is also of fire and is the horse; water triumphs over fire, so the pig eats the snake, and water harms fire, so if the horse eats rat dung, it will suffer from abdominal swelling.” Thus the twelve zodiac animals came to be organized conceptually, with a Chinese character and animal designated to each sign.
All Koreans possess an animal sign, which is believed to determine one’s fate, personality and talent, and the legend of the signs’ origins provides an insight into this culture.