Chinese Zodiac Story - Sheep

The Holy Sheep Stealing the Seeds of Five Grains for Human

In the Chinese folklore, the sheep was a character as great as Prometheus in Greek myths: Prometheus was punished for stealing fire for mankind while the sheep died for stealing the seeds of five grains for human.

In prehistoric times, there was no grain in the mortal world and the human beings lived on vegetables and wild grass, thus sallow and emaciated due to the severe malnutrition.

In an autumn, a Holy Sheep came from the Heavenly Palace to the mortal world, and it found that the human beings were weak. It asked about the reason and learned that the human beings never grew grain and they even didn't know what the grain was. The Holy Sheep was benevolent and it promptly told the human that it would take some seeds for them next time. Originally, only the royal land of the Heavenly Palace had nutritious grains but the stingy Jade Emperor was unwilling to share the delicious food with human beings. After the sheep came back to the Heavenly Palace, it sneaked into the royal land, picked up the grains and hid in its mouth when the guardian god was sleeping in the middle of the night. Later, it came to the mortal world secretly before the daybreak. The human beings were curious when they heard that the sheep stole the grain seeds for them. The Holy Sheep gave the seeds to humans and told them the planting methods before it went back to the Heavenly Palace quietly.

The human beings sowed the seeds and the crops grew out in the year. At the time of harvest, they found the ear was like the sheep head and sheep tail; the harvested grains were appetizing and sweet while the linen clothes were light and warm. After harvesting in autumn and storing in winter, the human beings held a grand memorial ceremony to return thanks to the Holy Sheep. Even today, this kind of ancestor-worshipping celebration is still held in some rural areas.

The grand ceremony shocked the Jade Emperor who thought of the grains in the mortal world. After investigation, he found that the Holy Sheep stole the seeds for the human and he was very angry, so he commanded to slaughter the sheep in the mortal world and ordered the human beings to eat the mutton.

In the next year, a strange thing happened: the grass grew out in the place where the sheep was slaughtered, later the lamb. From now on, the sheep carried on the family line in the human world, lived on the grass and devoted their meat and milk to human beings selflessly. Out of gratitude, the human beings would hold a memorial ceremony for sheep in every twelfth month of the lunar year.

When the Jade Emperor was to select the twelve zodiac animals, the sheep was recommended by human beings. Although the Jade Emperor still held the grudge against the sheep stealing the seeds, he could not disobey the public's opinion and had to agree with them.

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