What’s Your Sign? The Importance of Astrology in Vietnamese Culture

By: Tran Thi Minh Hieu

As you visit famous pagodas in Vietnam, or simply walk down the streets of Hanoi and Saigon, you probably wonder why people are lighting incense and burning bundles of ghost money, or why they have a small altar filled with fruits in the corner or a store. The answer is: Vietnamese people are superstitious.

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Many of us worship our ancestors, as we believe the spirits of the dead can affect the living. We believe the first day and the fifteenth day in a lunar month are moments when incense should be burnt and food should be offered to appease the spirits and gods.

Some go to great lengths to make sure the universe is in agreement with and even lends support to our actions, and to minimise any possible negative consequences. That is why astrology and fortune telling play such indispensable parts in Vietnamese culture, even today.

Vietnamese Zodiac

Similar to the Chinese zodiac, there are 12 animals representing the years, months and dates on our lunar calendar. In Vietnam, the 12 zodiac signs are: Rat, Buffalo, Tiger, Cat (instead of the Rabbit in the Chinese zodiac), Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig.

Interestingly, zodiac signs also represent the 24 hours in a day. The hours from 23:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. are called the hours of the Rat, for example, and from 1:00 a.m. to 3:00 a.m. are the hours of the Buffalo, and so on.

The zodiac signs are related to a person’s personality, interpersonal relationships and future. For example, there are complicated beliefs, like if a person was born in the year of the Monkey they will generally face hardships in life, but if they were born in the hours of the Tiger, they will be spared the worst and enjoy an easy life.

Each zodiac sign is associated with the characteristics of the animal itself, as well as a natural element among the Five Elements: Water (Rat and Pig), Wood (Tiger and Cat), Fire (Snake and Horse), Earth (Buffalo, Dragon, Goat and Dog) and Metal (Monkey and Rooster).

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Because the five elements interact with each other in either constructive or destructive ways, it is believed that people born in certain years are compatible, while people born in other years are likely to have conflicts if they work or live together.

There are also many other factors to consider in forecasting people’s destiny and compatibility, and fortune tellers have to study the principles of Tử Vi, or Purple Star Astrology, based on the ancient Chinese Book of Changes.

Traditions in a Modern Society

It should be noted that not all Vietnamese actually believe in such things, but astrological fortunes have become part of the cultural traditions to be followed.

When a child is born, his or her horoscope will be prepared based on the date and hour of birth on the lunar calendar. Parents will use this as reassurance, to prepare themselves and their child for what the future holds. In the past, children were even named after the zodiac sign of the year in which they were born.

When a couple is about to get married, they have to check their zodiac compatibility. If their zodiac signs are conflicting, they have to do certain rituals before the wedding to get rid of bad influences. Sometimes people even check their compatibility before getting into a relationship, especially in the case of matchmaking.

People also use astrology to determine the date and hour for any important life events, particularly weddings, funerals, construction commencement and new store openings. It is believed that the harmony of heaven and earth during these events will bring good luck and ensure success for the new journey.

And don’t be surprised if any of your Vietnamese friends ever ask you to visit their home early in the first morning of Lunar New Year. It means that your zodiac sign makes you suitable to be the first visitor of the house that year, and you will bring good luck for their family the whole year round!

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