The interaction between animals and elements
Tibetan zodiac

Italian version

The interplay between the five elements and the twelve animals led to a 60-year cycle called Metren (sMe-‘phreng). In Byung rTsis astrology, it is referred to as Logan 60, where each animal occurs five times, associated each time with a different element. The 60-year cycle traditionally begins with the Rat-Wood combination and ends with Boar-Water; the element is repeated twice (therefore, the second year of the cycle will be Ox-Wood) because it is considered in its masculine and feminine aspect. Odd-numbered animals are considered masculine; even-numbered animals are considered feminine. The elements follow each other according to the relation with the Mother (Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, Water).

Table 1 in the appendix associates the animal-element combination with two 60-year cycles (1924-1983 and 1984-2043). We use it to determine the combination of the year of birth, the current year, or a future year. The bold numbers under the years represent the mewa (sme-ba) of the current year; we can interpret mewa (lit. birthmark or mole) as the manifestation made possible by secondary causes. Mewas, nine in number, combined with the twelve animals and the five elements, form a 180-year cycle called Mekor (sme-‘khor). To get back to the same starting combination (Rat-Wood with mewa 1), it takes three cycles of 60 years; currently (2022), we are in the first 60-year cycle of a new Mekor (1984-2163). Mekor is used to chronologically date historical periods starting from the beginning of the first cycle, which coincides with the birth of Shenrab Miwoche (gShen rab mi bo che), the precursor of the Bon tradition in Tibet.

Alternative methods

In the absence of the table, it is still possible to find  one’s own Tibetan birth year with the usual left-hand method by proceeding as follows:

  1. Add one year to your age (e.g., 18 years = 19th birth year).
  2. Look for the animal-element combination for the current year in Table 1 (for 2022, it is Tiger-Water).
  3. Associate the current year’s animal with the appropriate finger (in our example, the Tiger is on the first fold of the index finger from the bottom).
  4. Consider as many cycles as are included in the person’s age, according to the sequence 1-13-25-37-49 etc. We do this to avoid counting the years one by one. Only one complete cycle is included in our example.
  5. Considering this, on the first phalanx of the index finger, let’s say, “The mother of Water is Metal 13” (we associate the elements to the animals according to their production order).
  6. Count backwards (anticlockwise) by moving by two positions (base of the middle finger) and gradually on the other ones, always two by two, saying: “The mother of Metal is Earth 14 15, the mother of Earth is Fire 16 17, the mother of Fire is Wood 18 19. We count twice because each element in the 60-year cycle repeats itself twice.
  7. Associate the appropriate animal with the found element to the phalanx (Monkey-Wood, corresponding to the year 2004 of the western calendar).

To find a future date, proceed the same way but count clockwise.

The following tables identify the relationship between the gender (male or female) of the year of birth and the kinship established with the element of a given year; from the degree of kinship, it is then easy to trace the element.

Male signs Female signs
Rat Tiger Dragon Horse Monkey Dog Ox Hare Snake Sheep Bird Boar
Male year  
Year Element
1 and 10 Same
2 and 3 Mother
4 and 5 Enemy
6 and 7 Friend
8 and 9 Son
Female year  
Year Element
1 and 2 Same
3 and 4 Mother
5 and 6 Enemy
7 and 8 Friend
9 and 10 Son

Figure 1 depicts another method for calculating the elements of the years starting from a given year:

Figure 1 – Calculation of the elements

The graph is numbered up to 10 because, as mentioned, the five elements are in their double male and female aspect. Referring to the previous example (Monkey-Wood individual, Western year of birth 2004) and wanting to check the element of the year of birth and that of the 18th birthday, proceed as follows:

  1. Always add one year to your age (e.g., 18 years = 19th year of birth).
  2. Establish the gender of the year of birth by referring to table 1 (the year Monkey is Male).
  3. In correspondence with the number 9 (the number of years of birth excluding tens) and the vertex of the star marked by the letter M (Male), we find that the element of the year of birth is the son of the element of the year considered (given that the year of birth is Wood, Wood is the son of Water). Since the cycle repeats itself every ten years, it is unneeded to consider the tens in the calculation.