Today’s post will cover some of what I’ve learned about the Pericardium organ system from studying the symbolic information available through the Chinese organ clock and etymological investigation of characters associated with Pericardium. What you will find below is just a fraction of the information that I learned about the Pericardium under the masterful tutelage of Heiner Fruehauf.
Please reference the basic organ clock picture below for orientation purposes. If you are new to the organ clock concept, please see my introductory post on the subject, “Chinese medical symbolism: The organ clock.” The Pericardium is on the right, near the bottom – labelled PC. This particular drawing references the five element correspondences as they fit on the 12 piece organ clock as well as the zodiac animal and the constellations related to each organ network. I will not be covering all of those pieces of information here. Because Pericardium is related to the 9th month, I’ll list 9 categories of information! Fun!
Pericardium – 月亶中 – Dan Zhong
1. Month on the Chinese Calendar
9th month – 月九 – Jiu3 Yue4 (numbers directly after pinyin translation of syllables indicates the toneof the syllable)
The 9th month is when we see Autumnal colors, they are both beautiful and represent the energy of death so prevalent in this time of the year. This association with beauty is an integral feature of PC. Because we all must die and all things of this world must eventually depart, we can observe them as beautiful – the healthy PC allows us to do this. The unhealthy PC either makes us incapable of this or creates an obsession with it.
It is in the 9th month (which roughly corresponds to Mid October – Mid November) that the Day of the Dead, Halloween and various other similar holidays are celebrated. Perhaps during this time of death energy and descending into the quiet of winter we are best able to contact the energy of those who have departed.
Everything is being “stripped naked” during this time – you can see the mountains for the first time because the trees have lost their leaves.
2. Agricultural Nodes associated with this time: Agricultural nodes (also called Solar terms) were used in ancient times to help farmers stick with the seasonal variation of the sun while working with the general lunar calendar the rest of the people used. The terms were named after what was occurring in nature at the time and represents a very interesting category of symbolic information.
寒露 – Han2 Lu4 – “Cold Dew”
Alternative translation: Out in the Open (as this is where you get cold dew – in open fields and such places)
This dew can refer to the lubricating “dew” of sexual secretions, or in general, hormonal secretions. The Pericardium is certainly related to these. So good functioning of these substances is one physiological aspect of this symbol. Another physiology we can take here is the kind of “openness” that comes from an open heart (but also knowing when one should restrain one’s openness). Pathologically, this openness is frozen/cold and/or exposed.
霜降 – Shuang1 Jiang4 – “Hoar Frost Descends”
This refers to the frost that makes everything fall – pure autumnal metal killing energy.
This energy reminds me of a poem I have read many times on the bus, as part of the Poetry in Motion campaign.
The Mummies (excerpt)
Two nights running I was out there
in orange moonlight with old bedsheets
and a stack of summered-over Sunday papers
tucking up the tomatoes while the peppers
whimpered and went under and the radishes
dug in with their dewclaws and all over
the field the goldenrod blackened
and fell down like Napoleon’s army
– written by Maxine Kumin
3. Chinese constellations: Constellations used by the ancient Chinese to group the stars.
Some meanings of the character: house, room, bosom, bedchamber
Wood energy, sometimes associated with the “head” of the dragon: This is interesting since everything we have discussed so far involves metal energy, not wood energy. But symbolically, we can see the association with the energy of house, home and sexual activity.
Some meanings of the character: heart, mind/feeling, center
Wood energy, sometimes associated with the “chest” of the dragon – clear PC association (Dan Zhong means Chest Center)
4. Country related to constellation: We learned that each constellation has a country energetically associated with it. This symbolic information, when researched, can help us to know more about the related organ system.
The character is a picture of wood kept under a roof – more associations with house, home and protection.
I did some historical research on this ancient country, though I’m not one-hundred percent positive that the Song I researched is the correct one! This is one of many troubles waiting for students who work with this information. The guidance of a master teacher is definitely necessary, and even then doesn’t ensure quick success.
- The rulers of Song often acted to protect nearby neighbors that were weaker than they. These two facts seem to reveal some pathological and physiological elements of the PC. First, on the physiological side, the PC is an organ of protection – especially of that which needs protection the most. It is a tender hearted organ network. On the pathological side, that it is prone to invasion by those more powerful and warlike. This is why we need a Liver and Gall Bladder, to catapult ourselves into action when our tender parts are threatened.
5. Earthly Branch symbolism: a way that Chinese keep time based on the cycles of the planet Jupiter. You can read more about Earthly branches here.
Translations: Destroy, To slash with an axe
It is the eleventh Earthly Branch
Anciently, this pictogram displayed a ceremonial axe typically made from jade.
This goes along with the general killing energy of this time of year, as repeated in much of the seasonal imagery for the Pericardium. Although the PC is associated with the elemental phase of fire, its Earthly Branch is associated with the elemental phase of Earth, so it must have some Earthly qualities as well. We can see those qualities manifested as a premium on relationship and nurturing.
6. Time of Day (related to the Earthly Branch of the organ clock position)
戌 corresponds to 7-9p
After sunset, things are dark. This is time for romantic dinners! This is the time when the heart is more open, things are more vulnerable and good for bonding with partners or potential partners.
If one goes to bed with the sun like they did in ancient cultures, this will also be the time when you’re getting undressed (naked like the trees and mountains) and thus might be a higher likelihood of sexual activity during this time.
7. Animal related to the Earthly Branch (Chinese zodiac sign)
狗 (Gou3) or 犬 (Quan3)
狗:This character can be broken down into two elements, dog on the left and an ancient form of hook on the right. So the Pericardium can be seen as the hook that pulls you forward on your path, or pulls you back when you’ve gone too far. Pathologically, it may relate to a tendency to get too “hooked” into things, or to frequently be held back by your circumstances.
Characteristics of Dogs that relate to physiological PC: loyal, trusting, comforting, useful for many purposes, playful (enjoying the tastes and sights of the world), “heels” to the master (Heart) when its time to stop running wild
Characteristics of Dogs that relate to pathological PC: too-trusting (naive), loyal to a fault (staying in abusive relationships), needy, unpredictable, refusing to “heel” (getting lost in pleasures of the flesh when it is time to draw inward)
8. Hexagram: For those who don’t know, the hexagrams are part of the Oracle of Change known as the YiJing. If you visit my post about 7 Habits I learned through Chinese medicine study, you can see one way that this incredible resource can be used. There are 12 “tidal” hexagrams associated with each section of the organ clock.
Hexagram 23 – 剝 – Bo1
Translation: Mountain/Bound over Earth/Field
General information and etymology of hexagram name
剝 means “to peel” or “to shell,” and anciently sometimes meant “to carve.”
On the left we have a radical, lu4 often written as 录,which now means “to record.” Anciently, it appears to have meant to carve and depicted some kind of cloth being wrung out with water departing the bottom, so some type of work done with hands that separates one thing from another. On the right we have the radical for knife. So this character all together might mean to cut in a way that “dries out a cloth” so it might be used again. This is exactly what is happening in this time of the year. The world is being separated out, cut apart, drained of its water so that it can renew itself for use in the following spring.
Information from Yijing translations
(Karcher – Total I Ching)
“When you beautify things, the obligations of the old come to an end. Strip the corpse. Accept this and use the energy of Stripping. This means someone who strips away the old.”
(Huang – Complete I Ching)
He translates Bo as “Falling Away” which also makes sense in terms of the further progression into darkness and stillness.
9. Clock pair partner: We would sometimes look at the relationships between various parts of the organ clock, one of the easiest and most fruitful relationships we analyzed was the “clock pair” which is the organ directly across the clock from the organ system one is considering. PC is paired across the clock to the Stomach (ST). The PC can “take the shift” of the ST and so shares some of its physiological and pathological components. One of the primary features of ST is its need for continual gratification. Being an Earthy organ, the ST requires Earthy substances like food, drink and visceral excitements. The PC, on the other hand, craves satisfaction on a less substantial level, that of the emotions. Physiologically, this expresses as a healthy need for emotional connection to others. Pathologically, a person can become needy and co-dependent or constantly cycle through partners and friends in a mad search for satiety.
Further, the PC is related to our ability to “taste” the finer things in life whether they are physical (fine food and drink, in partnership with ST), psycho-social (as in deep love and infatuation) and also spiritual (the ecstasy of spiritual union). However, the PC is NOT the spiritual realm! It is deeply connected to the Earth as evidenced by the Earth Earthly Branch the PC is associated with.
A partial summary of the information as presented:
- Pericardium has a strong Yin Yang component – darkness/light, openness/protection
- Pericardium is fire insofar that it relates to intimate life but earth insofar that it deals with protection and nurturance
- Pericardium is intensely LIFE affirming insofar that it relates to very alive and earthly qualities like eating, drinking, beauty and sexual activity but it is also intertwined with the energy of Fall, of cutting away and even of dying.
- In lesson form, I take from this that to have a healthy Pericardium function I must be careful to balance trust and self-protection, appreciation for life and realization of death and see that sometimes vulnerability can be a great strength.
About Eric Grey
Hi - I'm the founder of this site and the primary master of all functions here. When I'm not writing, you can find me reaching out to the Chinese Medicine community across the web and in my own backyard. I currently teach Chinese herbs at my alma mater, the National College of Natural Medicine. Additionally, I'm the founder of Watershed Wellness, a thriving local clinic in Southeast Portland in Oregon. No matter where I'm working, you'll find my focus on the Classical approach to Chinese medicine laced throughout everything I do.