If you're a Cancer, you're a water sign, and thus in touch with your emotions. If you're a Taurus, you embody the sturdiness of your ruling element, earth. In tropical, or Western, astrology, four elements (fire, earth, air, and water) are used to better understand how each sign of the Zodiac behaves.
The role that the natural elements play in Chinese astrology isn't too different. In both systems, the elements are viewed as an influential force on the signs (if you don't know your Chinese Zodiac sign, find out here). Also, as Chinese astrologer Laura Lau writes in The Handbook of Chinese Horoscopes, certain elements are associated with — or "rule" — certain signs. But that's where the similarities end. In Chinese astrology, there are actually five elements in total: wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. And they don't just interact with the signs in a vacuum — they affect the year and its corresponding Zodiac sign, too.
Today kicks off the year of the Dog — specifically the year of the Earth Dog. This is another way of saying that the energy associated with the Dog will be, in essence, put through an earth filter. Lau says that, in general the Dog is moral, loyal, and smart, but, under the influence of earth, this sign will behave more gently and less emotionally — and you can expect to see these effects in the people born this year.
No element will radically change a sign, but it will help astrologers better understand people's personalities, behavior, likes, and dislikes. Ahead, Lau gives us the lowdown on all five elements. Read on to find out which element is associated with your birth year and how that might affect you.