Y is for yin and yang

I don’t remember when I first heard of yin and yang, but I can imagine what it was like. I’m guessing that it was presented as a Chinese concept of dualism—maybe a fancy word like dualism wouldn’t have been used, but the thought would have been there. I’m sure that early on, I’d have read something about how the two dots of opposite color in each teardrop-half show that yin and yang are interrelated, and I know I would have been impressed by that, since all the opposites I knew about were more along the lines of oil and water or fire and water: if they didn’t cancel each other out entirely, they had nothing to do with each other, and there was certainly none of this squiggly, boundary-threatening interrelating going on. (Let’s not even get into the idea that maybe those two halves are complementary rather than opposites—way too complicated!)

Yin-yang symbol.
You were expecting a different graphic for this topic?

I probably first started “using” yin and yang after I read Astrology for Yourself by Douglas Bloch and Demetra George. Like most books for beginning astrology students, Astrology for Yourself explains basic astrological concepts like signs, planets, and houses. But unlike most of the beginner books I’d read, the authors used yin and yang to describe the sign polarities rather than the traditional terms feminine and masculine. It was the right idea at the right time for me. I knew what astrologers meant by feminine and masculine, but they were such loaded terms that I was uncomfortable using them. Writers could explain all they wanted to that they didn’t mean female and male, but the words are just too similar in English for me to not make the connection. Sometimes I came across writers who used the terms negative and positive. But again, even though I knew they meant that in the sense of electricity rather than value judgments, the “wrong” meaning was just too ingrained to overlook. Yin and yang had the advantage that I knew no other meaning for them except that of complementary interrelated opposites. It helped me see the yin signs as the same as the yang ones in a certain sense, not as some vaguely defective variant of them. Yin made it more likely that I would think of these signs as having receptive qualities or being inwardly-oriented, rather than tying them to femininity. Yang gave me an idea of outgoing, conscious, and individual that had nothing to do with masculinity per se.

I’m sure I don’t have a full understanding of yin and yang. I’m no expert on Daoism, and what I’ve always gotten is a Western interpretation of a Chinese concept, subject to translation errors, cultural crossed wires, and historical misinterpretations. My understanding is that the original meanings of yin and yang have to do with the shaded and sunny sides of a hill, so there’s been plenty of change even to reach the basic definitions that are common today. But however imperfectly I’ve grasped this concept, I appreciate that it’s given me alternatives to the dualities and opposites I was raised with, and enriched my astrology, divination, spirituality, and philosophy.

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