The following description is a brief explanation and is not an in depth analysis of the spirituality or science of Chinese cosmology. This is only an introduction to the philosophy of the celestial guardians. The descriptions of these symbols should be read with an understanding that the "Western" way of viewing our relationship with nature is one of many philosophies worldwide.
According to ancient Chinese cosmology (dated from around 6,000 BC), the universe was divided into four quadrants marking the beginning and end of the winter and summer solstices and the fall and spring equinoxes (see Yin Yang). Each quadrant was visible in its entirety only in the season with which it is associated. These heavenly quadrants were called the Four Celestial Palaces, and each "palace" was represented by a guardian animal, the Dragon - Spring, Phoenix - Summer, Tiger - Fall and Turtle - Winter.
Also known as the “Azure Dragon” this dragon is the highest spiritual power, the divine power of change and transformation, the rhythms of nature, supernatural wisdom and strength. It is often portrayed carrying the “pearl of wisdom, enlightenment and spiritual essence of the universe”. The Azure Dragon represents Spring and the direction East. The dragon and the phoenix are the most powerful of the four celestial guardians.
Chinese mythology also tells the story of the "Dragon Gate of Heaven" at the top of the falls of the Yellow River. Koi were the only fish that were able to swim this river upstream and leap up the falls to enter the Dragon Gate of Heaven. Once they entered the gate, they became dragons.
It’s various elements represent the cosmos: The head of a cock is the sun, the back of a swallow is the moon, it’s wings are the wind, it’s tail are the trees and flowers and it’s feet are the earth. The phoenix is a universal symbol of resurrection and immortality, of death and rebirth by fire. The phoenix represents Summer and the direction South.
The white tiger represents authority, courage, prowess and fierceness needed for protection. It also represents Autumn and the direction West. When the celestial tiger (white) is paired with the celestial dragon (green) it provides supreme protection and good fortune.
This turtle (synonomous wth tortoise) is also referred to as the “Black Warrior” because of it’s strength, endurance and longevity. It represents Winter and the direction North. The turtle is ascribed to have the provided the first mathematical formula for cosmic energy (see I Ching) inscribed on the back of it's shell, discovered by the legendary cultural hero Fu Xi. Chinese literature dating from as early as 2800 BC tells the legend of Lo Shu or "scroll of the river Lo". In ancient China, there was a huge flood. The people tried to offer some sacrifice to the river god of one of the flooding rivers, the Lo River, to calm his anger. Then, there emerged from the water a turtle with a curious figure/pattern on its shell; there were circular dots of numbers that were arranged in a three by three nine-grid pattern such that the sum of the numbers in each row, column and diagonal was the same: 15. This number is also equal to the 15 days in each of the 24 cycles of the Chinese solar year. These grids are also known as Magic Squares.
Magic Squares have fascinated humanity throughout the ages, and have been around for over 4,000 years. They were frequently found in a number of cultures, including Egypt and India, engraved on stone or metal and worn as talismans, the belief being that magic squares had astrological and divinatory qualities, their usage ensuring longevity and prevention of diseases.
The Kubera-Kolam is a floor painting used in India that is in the form of a magic square of order three. It is essentially the same as the Lo Shu Square, but with 19 added to each number, giving a magic constant of 72.