Chinese Power Animals by Pamela Leigh Powers

Chinese Power Animals: Archetypes of Transformation
Pamela Leigh Powers
Weiser, 2000
322 pages

Some things just don’t translate well across cultures–or, at least, the execution could be better. This is one of those things. This book is one of a number out there on Chinese astrology–you know, Year of the Fire Horse, Year of the Metal Dragon, etc.–that tries to make the system available to Westerners. The author takes elements of this system, and then adds them into a rather awkward synthesis along with Western astrology and New Age-flavored animal totemism.

Don’t get me wrong–I like new and interesting ideas. The problem is that the context of Chinese astrology, and various Chinese and other Asian healing systems, isn’t nearly as solid in this book as it needs to be to help people understand the why of the material. We’re left instead with an incomplete and sometimes confusing collection of quick-fix correspondences, and not enough answers.

For example, in talking about different relationships, the author says things like “The Horse has a Cat for a father”, regardless of the actual birth year or personality of the Horse person’s father himself. This makes no sense. And in fact, the whole system falls prey to the common pitfall associated with trying to make Chinese astrology “work” in the U.S.–it becomes a “You’re a [insert animal here], so therefore that means you are [insert stereotyped traits here]”. Because we don’t have the cultural contextual background to really get where these concepts came from, they end up oversimplified.

This could have been a much better book, but it feels slapped together out of convenience and connections between concepts that may or may not actually be relevant to each other. I was unimpressed.

One pawprint out of five.

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Chinese Power Animal Stamps – Wu Xing

Chinese Power Animal Stamps
Wu Xing
Red Wheel/Weiser, 2002
48 pages, 12 stamps, stamp holder, ink pad

Okay, now this is a kit I can get into!

This is a perfect example of why less is more. In the last kit I reviewed, my biggest complaint was that the overall quality was bad because there was just too much “stuff” in there. This kit, on the other hand, solves the problem by offering fewer “extras”, but making them a much better quality.

The kit includes a 48 page booklet and supplies for creating and using stamps of the twelve animals of the Chinese Zodiac. I’ll start with the stamps themselves, since they were my favorite part. When you open the box, you’ll find a sheet with all twelve rubber stamps on it. Each one has a sticky backing to it so you can mount it on a small rectangle of faux-wood resin. One you’ve done that you can slide the entire thing into a stamp holder/handle shaped like the Emperor in the story of the twelve animals, sitting on a pedestal. This is also made of a nice quality resin, about the best you can do with mass marketing.

I tried out one of the stamps; the design came up really nicely, especially with the red ink pad that was included. And the nice thing is since the stamps can be easily taken out of the holder, and because they’re backed on resin instead of wood, they’re incredibly easy to clean. So the stamps get five pawprints.

The booklet, on the other hand, left plenty to be desired. It’s very, very basic information on the Chinese Zodiac; relatively accurate, at least as it pertains to my Horse and my husband’s Dragon years of birth, but it’s still pretty shallow. I think they could have made a longer, more in-depth book to go along with this and still been able to sell it.

I also think using the term “Power Animal” is a misleading marketing ploy. Your power animal is not your zodiac sign in any astrological system. It is an individual animal spirit and/or aspect of a totem animal that is very personal and isn’t limited to twelve animals. I docked this a few points because of the title.

But I absolutely love the stamps, and the great thing about this is that it makes an awesome gift for just about anyone–artists, scrapbookers, children (over the ages of 3–you don’t want them swallowing the stamps or eating the ink pad), pagans, etc. It’s a bit pricier than most kits, but it’s well worth it. And because the author didn’t try to add in all sorts of little extras, most of the initial cost was put towards nice stamps and a book that, although short, is printed on nice paper.

So I’m going to give it a 3 3/4 pawprints out of five.

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