Farewell to the wild Horse, hello gentle Sheep

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Farewell to the wild Horse, hello gentle Sheep

Here's a pop quiz to start the Year of the Sheep: What happens when you combine the Chinese characters for "sheep" and "big"?

Answer: You get a character denoting beauty. Sheep in Asian cultures suggest beauty, virtue and righteousness. Combine the character for sheep with another, the ideogram for "self," and you have a character standing for righteousness or goodness. The character for sheep is used to form ideograms with invariably good meanings, says Cheon Jin-gi at the National Folk Museum of Korea. Tellingly, the museum named its exhibition featuring the symbolism of sheep "The Guardian of Peace and Hope, Sheep." The show runs until Feb. 24.

Koreans have historically shunned the idea of having daughters born in the Year of the Horse, which precedes the Year of the Sheep. They believed that baby girls born in the Year of the Horse would take after the animal, and turn out wild and roguish. By contrast, the Year of the Sheep was the best year for a woman to bear a daughter -- if she wanted to escape the fault-finding of her mother-in-law.

The first baby to be born on the peninsula in 2003 was a girl -- though by the lunar calendar, it's still the Year of the Horse.

In traditional Korean culture, sheep are benevolent. Interpreters of dreams say that when you see a sheep in your dreams it bodes well -- a sheep can stand for a virtuous man, a religious man, a teacher, truth, or fortune. Seeing a goat being sacrificed in your dreams betokens enlightenment or accomplishment. Seeing somebody milking a sheep portends success in business. Hauling a sheep and tying it inside your house means you will meet a benevolent person or find good fortune. Eating mutton or goat means you'll devote yourself to studies. Drinking sheep's milk means you'll find your mentor.

A dream about a sheep was a particularly good omen for the founder of the Joseon Dynasty, Lee Seong-gye. When Lee was a high-ranking military officer in the declining days of the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392), he said he had a dream in which he tried to grab a sheep, but the animal's horns and tale mysteriously fell away. Lee turned to a Buddhist monk named Muhak to interpret the dream. Muhak said it meant that Lee would start his own kingdom. When the two strokes for horns and one for a tail are removed from the ideogram standing for sheep, it becomes another character meaning "king." Not long after that, Lee staged a coup and got his kingdom.

But Joseon's first king wasn't a Sheep himself -- that's not surprising when you consider that people born in the Year of the Sheep are supposed to be gentle, composed and indifferent. Lee Seong-gye was a Rabbit, born in 1335.

People born in the Year of the Sheep tend to become teachers, professors and artists. Being rather unambitious and unsociable, Sheep care little for business or politics.

Whom should the Sheep find as a partner? According to the marital compatibility readings of the zodiac, Sheep should avoid Rats. Sheep get along best with Rabbits and Pigs.

by Shin June-bong

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