Lunar New Year 2020: Metal Rat

On January 25, 2020 we honored the Lunar New Year and the incoming symbol of the Metal Rat! The symbol of the Rat will be with us until the next Lunar New Year celebrated in February 2021. In this article I will outline the symbols surrounding 2020, their meaning and give you themes and tips to consider while working with the energy of the Metal Rat.

Chinese Zodiac and the Cycle of Qi

The Chinese zodiac consists of 12 animal symbols, one of which is dedicated to each year. Additionally, there is an annual assignment of one of the five elements (Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, Water). These two components make a grand celestial cycle of 60 years with unique animal and phase assignments annually. In other words, in 12 years we will see another year of the Rat, but we will not observe another Metal Rat year until 2080! 

As you can see, the cosmology and numerology behind these animal symbols is complex. These cycles are not arbitrary. They inform us of the natural cycles found in nature and therefore, within our bodies.

It is no coincidence that there are also12 primary organ networks in the human body, which are further manifestation of the symbols represented as animals in the Chinese zodiac. For example, that which associates with the Rat is the Gallbladder organ network. Furthermore, these symbols play out in 12 temporal time segments of the day, lasting 2 hours each, and the 12 months of the year. The Rat corresponds with the hours from 11pm-1am and the time of year surrounding the winter solstice.

Rat Symbolism

The Rat can be thought of as a pest in the West, but the traditional symbolism of the Rat is one of resourcefulness, with the ability to survive through harsh conditions, with very little resources. Living deep within the earth, often out of sight, the Rat has a great will to do whatever it must to get what it needs. This leads to the instinctual decisions that are made in order to survive in extreme conditions.

As mentioned, the Rat symbolizes the darkest time in nature. External activity is to a minimum, all the while a specific pivotal energy plays out beneath the ground insuring the arrival to the dawn and to springtime well rested and energized. At the darkest hour the momentum found in nature must revert completely. What once was moving inward, downward and contracting must make a 180 degree turn and begin to expand and move outward, rising again. To slow this momentum and change its direction entirely takes a great deal of power and control. 

As mentioned earlier, the symbol of the Rat corresponds to the Gallbladder organ network. What this means is that the gesture of reverting energy at the darkest time in nature belongs to the Gallbladder organ network. Many ask me, “What if I don’t have a gallbladder?” Even if you had your physical gallbladder removed the gesture of the Gallbladder organ network still exists in your physiology. That is the difference between the gallbladder (little “g”) and what I refer to as the Gallbladder organ network (capital “G”). 

The Gallbladder is in charge of our physical instincts and initiative energy as it relates to motivation and drive. The choices that we make with our bodies are the function of the Gallbladder (as opposed to intellectualized decisions made with the mind). This includes the evolutionary instinct to survive winter and the long, dark night. Just as the Rat can survive harsh conditions, we too are able to conjure the will to survive extremes. For instance, Gallbladder energy is active while in combat. It is a driving force that reacts quickly and clearly in order to survive. If we are well trained and well grounded we act from protective instincts, instead of panic, which leads to our best chances of survival.

This gesture is spontaneous in nature, and it is very powerful. It is a time where energy PIVOTS, turning from dark to light, from Yin to Yang. It represents the spark in the dark, the burst of energy needed to change the course of Qi.

Metal Symbolism

The five elements are Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, Water. They are more accurately interpreted as phases of energy, since they each create and destroy one another…but that is a topic for another day. This year is a year of Metal which means we may see dominant the themes this phase of energy carries with it. Metal is sharp with certainty, clarity and clear boundary. It is the element associated with grief and letting go of things that are dead, dying or no longer serve. Metal also symbolizes value, such as precious metals and currency. 

What to Expect from the Metal Rat in 2020

In 2020 we are asked to utilize this powerful transitional energy in a good way. Based on the information found within these symbols, I offer some themes to work with this year of the Metal Rat:

This year is a time to be resourceful with what you have, appreciating its value. Similarly, it is a good time to reflect upon personal values. The Metal Rat can help to bring clarity and reverence. What is the most important? What is worth fighting for? What new values are being illuminated?

The Metal Rat is a sign of good fortune and new beginnings and is supportive for initiating plans, goals or courses of action that have gone dormant. This year acts as a motivating, initiative spark of clarity that can help get things going. This can also be helpful when starting fresh in any arena of life. Though more tangible results may not be immediately seen until the coming years, efforts initiated now have strong potential to amplify. 

The Metal Rat provides discernment bringing clarity and certainty to unresolved issues.

This year is a good opportunity to reflect over unresolved grievances. The Metal Rat is supportive of processing past wounds and heavy emotions, so that one can move forward unburdened.

This could be a good year to lean into practices that sharpen physical instincts, such as martial arts, team sports, dance, plyometrics, hunting or target practice. Honing instincts through disciplined action, over and over, builds muscle memory. This gives a solid physical foundation, which is anchoring and helps to prevent panic and anxiety.

Lastly, this is a year to remember our great inner strength and our ability to shine a light in dark times, to remember that we are reborn each day and each year at the winter solstice. Happy New Year!


Cosmology and Symbolism in Chinese Medicine course material developed and taught by Heiner Fruehauf at the National University of Natural Medicine in Portland, OR and around the world.

Kyle Rhodes practices at Thompson Family Acupuncture Clinic in Walla Walla, WA. Kyle is fascinated with the healing power of nature and how it functions in the body. Through East Asian medicine modalities, she brings to light the inner healing power each person holds. Healing is a journey and she is here to support you along the way!

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