Chinese Four Pillar Analysis Part V–Understanding the Hour Pillar

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[Update: 2/21/2016]–The Five Rats Chasing Table is an alternate method of calculating the hour stem of the beginning Rat hour of any day–it only seems to apply to the beginning of the Rat Hour. In other words, what you get is a different stem for the beginning of the Rat hour of the closing day prior to midnight. This is a different system than the vast majority of the books that I own have presented. I recently located this within Joey Yap’s Chinese 10,000 year pocket calendar. Apparently, this is the same system that he uses in his software. What is interesting is that this is the first time that I have ever seen this in writing as no other books mention it or reference it, including Yap’s software or any other Four Pillars author. This method is not an option in the Imperial Astrologer.

The hour pillar is a relatively maligned aspect of the four pillars system as a whole–the reality is that it’s miscalculation is a common feature, unfortunately due to more than a few factors, in many Chinese four pillars books, software, websites, etc. In fact, there seems to be two different systems of calculating the hour stem even though I have never once seen this written anywhere as all of the hour pillar calculation methods are identical across the several books that I own on the subject (the discrepancies are in the various software and online calculation options). As an example, a very nice Chinese/English version of a 10,000 year calendar that I own is consistent with the interpretation of the calculation of the hour stem across several other references, including one professional software option (I was incorrect here as I missed Yap’s Five Rats Chasing Table as mentioned above! I only recently came into possession of the book, though. See above paragraph in italics). However, when running more than a few charts online and on a few mobile apps, the discrepancies are there and obvious when comparing with a known good hand calculated hour pillar result. These good results are based on recalculating the charts produced in Jerry King’s and Lily Chung’s authoritative works on the four pillars.


As a rule, the calculation of the hour pillar is basically a straightforward process–find the correct two hour window of the time of birth in question (animal or branch of the hour pillar) and draw a straight line across a table corresponding to the the stem of the day pillar (day master) to find the stem of the hour pillar. My recommendation is to find a Chinese Four Pillars title by either Jerry King or Lily Chung and follow their method by hand (as noted above), referencing your calculations with those examples in their books. Once you are confident that you have fully understood the process, then you can move on with confidence from there. The Imperial Astrologer is good/accurate software as well. As a comparison, calculate your chart with a few other online resources or apps and see the difference for yourself. Typically, the hour stem is calculated incorrectly as the next element in the 5 element process. If your correct hand calculated hour stem is yang earth then many of these options mentioned above will show yang metal. For a correct yang wood hour stem you will have a computer generated yang fire. The gender of the element is the same and you might get the right hour animal/branch when calculating based on Standard Time, however in many cases I recommend against this. I’ll explain below.

Perhaps the biggest single problem with the calculation of the hour pillar is the fact that not even one single reference–in all of the years that I have been doing this–attempts to inform the reader to adjust for Daylight Savings time (DST)! That’s a full one hour off in accuracy for at least half of the year in several areas throughout the world and especially in the U.S. Following along this line of thought leads us to examine Standard Time. Chances are that if you are reading this, then you live in a state or country that keeps at least a Standard Time set to a major time zone. If you were born relatively far away from the center of the zone east or west, then we’re looking at a greater and greater chance of inaccuracy. If you know for a fact that you were born exactly during the middle of any given double hour and are near the center of the time zone at birth, then and only then are you OK to assume that you’ve got the correct animal/branch for the time in question.

The above is kind of an extreme example but perhaps one will understand later why this is true. When you live in a time zone, then everyone everywhere within that zone is operating under the same time, regardless of where the Sun is in relation to the Earth. This is a fairly large area to consider. The farther west you are from the center of the zone, the more daylight that you have during your day because you’re earlier in time than everyone else in the zone. In fact in this case you’re nearly one hour ahead than everyone at the far east in the same zone…let’s move on.

The issue with Standard Time leads us to the next consideration/problem, though, but I feel that it is just as important. And that is the concept of using Local Apparent Time, True Local Time or Sundial Time for the calculation of the double hour/animal/branch instead of Standard Time. We should attempt to find the Sundial Time of birth which will be derived and based on accurate birth certificate data, written memory or perhaps even a rectified birth time. As an aside, Local Mean Time/Mean Solar Time  is closer in accuracy to sundial time than standard time, but it is not as exact because LMT does not take into account the differences in the lengths of the days throughout the year. The Solar Mean day can be off by as much as 16 to 33 minutes throughout the year. However, if I had to choose between Standard Time and LMT/Mean Solar Time for chart calculation purposes, then I would choose LMT. Let me explain.

Standard Time, Daylight Savings Time, War Time, Local Mean Time (LMT) a.k.a. Mean Solar Time–all of these are an invention of man. In fact, this is true of all time measurements. Mother nature, nature, the cosmos, the natural world–all of these are cyclical in nature. Understanding “time” within the context of natural cycles is always a better idea. Prior to the implementation of Standard Time worldwide, countries, cities and states operated on their own unique time based wholly or in part on the natural cycle of the day, which is a function of the Earth turning on its axis. When it was noon LMT in the center of town in these localized areas, prior to the implementation of Standard Time and using mechanical gear driven clocks, the Sun was at or near the Midheaven/MC–it’s highest point south along its path, a.k.a. the ecliptic. With a Sundial the natural time correspondence and accuracy is always there as long as you have light from the Sun. But more importantly, and it bears repeating, the Sun is at its highest point south along the ecliptic at noon and exactly halfway around the other side of the earth at midnight. Clocks were often adjusted frequently throughout the year to keep up with the correction to high noon with the Sun utilizing a sundial.

You’re probably wondering right now, “What does this have to do with Chinese astrology and how the Chinese kept time?” The answer is almost everything: When the Sun is exactly at the MC (Medium Coeli) we have high noon wherever you are in the world. This exactly corresponds to halfway through the Chinese double hour of the Horse, sundial time, with the Horse hour starting at 11am and ending at 1pm, no matter what time of year or what location on you are calculating from. From there we can make a similar observation with the Rat, with the middle of the Rat hour at the IC (Immum Coeli)–12 hours earlier or later or 6 six double hours earlier or later (The IC is the known as the “bottom” of the western horoscopic chart). For the Chinese, this is when the day begins, exactly midnight, which is interesting because this is the system that the world eventually adopted. Many societies calculated their day starting from noon LMT as little as 100 years ago, still others at sunrise or at sunset. And yet all of these have astrological significance as the light of day descends to it’s lowest point, rises to it’s first appearance, rises to it’s highest and then setting at it’s last appearance in an ever repeating natural daily cycle.

We know that the ancient Chinese used water clocks and sundials to keep track of time. And the concept of a time zone did exist for the ancient Chinese, however this was based closely, if not exactly, on the astronomical reality of the daily cycle. The double hour gives us the idea that the beginning of something precedes the height of it’s relevance and when something is at its height then it is at the beginning of its end. The height of the Rat hour is the ending of one day and the beginning of the next–at the height of the hour of the Horse the day is more than halfway over. There is a symbolic, natural poetry with the continuous animal double hours rotating throughout the cycle of the day. When the Sun is at or near noon, it is fully “south” and the Horse is flanked by the Snake and the Sheep giving us a directional Fire combination. The hottest part of the day gives us a parallel relationship to the south direction, summer, fire and heat. Summer time occurs during the months of the Snake, Horse and Goat. With the exact opposite symbolism, at midnight, we have the Pig, Rat and Ox hours. The Sun is hidden, cold and toward the North–the element of Water.

What can we do when calculating the correct time so that we can find the right hour animal/branch for any chart in question? First, account for Daylight Savings Time, meaning that you will have to subtract one hour from the DST time of birth (ex: if you were born at 9:30pm DST then your Standard Time of birth is 8:30pm). Next we should convert this time to Sundial Time or Local Apparent Time (they are the same), which takes into account the difference between mean solar time and true solar time/sundial time and longitude of birth, using the equation of time. (The software will take you straight from ST or DST to sundial time or TLT). Following this, we need to know that we are using the correct method of finding the right element of the hour stem element as mentioned earlier. I recommend calculating the hour stem by hand with the tables provided in Chung and King’s books. Next, we should compare this to any software that we might be using. If you can find a consistent pattern with the errors as mentioned earlier, then you could theoretically make a mental adjustment when running a chart in a pinch. It’s always better if it’s right in the software, though. Aside from finding the correct Sundial time it takes about a minute to get a rough calculation of a four pillars chart and a few more to calculate the luck cycle. At this time I recommend the Imperial Astrologer, which will correctly calculate the four pillars chart and save you some time in the process.

An alternative way to find sundial time is to find the day number of the year of birth and the longitude of the place of birth expressed in degrees. Plug this info into the Power of the Sun local to solar time converter and it will yield the correct Solar Time (Sundial Time). From there you will know what animal hour you have in sundial time. I have double checked this method against Imperial Astrologer and the answers are within a minute of accuracy. Follow the instructions carefully in the solar time converter using negative values where and when applicable. And yes, you will have to adjust for DST first! Longitude is expressed as decimals only instead of decimal degrees. Example: use -79.4 instead of W 79 deg 24.5 minutes. Compare this to what animal hour you would have if using standard time.

Next, I’ll briefly discuss the meaning of the hour pillar. I have written about this in other articles but in a nutshell, the hour pillar is the least influential pillar to the self element or daymaster, as you can provide an accurate reading with just the day, month and year. To be specific the hour animal/branch ranks as the next to last influential to the self with the hour stem element as the last. At the same time, the hour pillar could provide important key elements that round out and/or make a chart move from one category to the next, strong to weak, weak to strong, strong to dominant, weak to feeble, etc. Symbolically, the hour pillar represents life from the ages 45 to 60 and in another way it represents children with the house method of analysis as described in Chinese Four Pillar Analysis Part II–the hour stem representing sons and younger brothers and with the animal/branch representing daughters and younger sisters. According to King, the use of houses seems to be a controversial topic in the four pillars community. I would say to use them with caution, especially in any client work. As a note, the houses in Western astrology have similar controversies with the various methods, meanings, etc. It seems as though some things never change even when talking two completely different astrological systems…

I sincerely hope that this information is useful to you in your four pillars studies, as the time issue had to be addressed sooner or later and if at the very least with regard to adjusting for DST. For those who wish to express the idea that the philosophical basis of using standard time is superior to that of sundial time, then I would say that there has been a failure on part of the reader to understand the history of how time was calculated when the Chinese double hour system was originally used (or any ancient natural time based system for that matter), the nature of time itself and the inherent inaccuracy of time zones in general as representing the natural cycles of life on earth. Standard time was meant keep business going, mainly in the transportation arena and primarily with synchronizing train schedules and the avoiding of accidents involving trains.

A few recommendations before I forget:

  • Ensure that you account for Daylight Savings Time
  • Find the True Local Time (sundial time) for the standard time and location in question and use that time in the software that doesn’t account for it as most do not
  • AND…Know what Hour Stem table you are using if born in the Rat Hour as various authors of books and software will give you different results

Lastly, the four pillars and the animal double hours predate any concept of a worldwide standard time zone system. The Chinese double hours represent a clear path to a division of the day by twelve, similar in scope to the normal 12 western signs. To understand this will put you ahead of the rest when contemplating the beauty and symmetry of the Chinese Four Pillars system. I welcome any questions, comments, criticisms, etc. that you may have. Thank you for reading and Many Blessings–Thaddeus