Originating in China almost 6,000 years ago, Feng Shui, also referred to as “Geomancy”, literally means “wind” (Feng) and “water” (Shui). It is an ancient method of constructing and optimizing residences and businesses to bring about happiness, abundance and harmony. It includes architecture, urban planning, interior design, and garden design.
It is concerned with the placement of objects in relation to the flow of Qi (氣) “natural energy”. It also involves the layout, framework, materials and colors of building structures. These rules of thumb allow us to make the most ideal arrangement in any given situation.
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The History of Feng Shui
Luo Shu turtle
The Luo Shu Turtle has been said to bring eight different types of heavenly blessings, and especially “wealth luck”. When it is depicted with a baby (left), it is said to be especially powerful.
In ancient China, farms and villages were auspiciously placed within the protective folds of mountains, shielded from harmful winds and nurtured by the gentle, winding streams. The people who practiced these principles prospered in agriculture and trade and grew strong and powerful. They produced social, cultural and military leaders unlike their neighbors who were exposed to harsh winds and inhospitable terrain. The art of Feng Shui was refined over many centuries, producing an abundance of learned scholars.
Traditionally, Feng Shui was considered a highly guarded secret of the Chinese Imperial Court. All Feng Shui Masters were forbidden to release their potentially powerful knowledge to outsiders. Consequently, knowledge was handed down from father to son within family traditions. The turbulent history of China has only helped to reinforce this tendency and this secrecy often continues, even today.
So few diagrams and texts have survived from the pre-printing era in China, that it is difficult to establish the timeline and all the relationships of the elements that ultimately led to the Bagua.
From Turtles to Trigrams
Fu Xi watches the Luo Shu turtle emerge from the River Luo.
Fu Xi was the first of three noble emperors in Chinese mythology. According to tradition he ruled from 2952 to 2836 BC (116 years). Fu Xi taught many arts, such as the use of fishing nets, the breeding of silk worms, and the taming of wild animals. He also purportedly invented music, and, most importantly, the Eight Trigrams (Bagua), which is used as a template for Feng Shui.
“In the beginning there was the one.”
~ Lao Zi, the father of Taoism
Referring to the formation of the universe and the beginning of life, we can think of this “one” as being electricity in its natural form or the flow of electrons. The one is represented by a single solid line called Great Yang.
“From the one came the two.”
~ Lao Zi, the father of Taoism
According to legend, Great Yang divided and created Great Yin. Shown as two shorter yang lines, it is often wrongly referred to as a “broken” line. It shows how electrons attract other electrons, increase their mass and produce matter and magnetism. The two represents the manifest.
Fu Xi’s most original invention is the development of the 8 trigrams that order the world according to 8 principles: Sky, Earth, Thunder, Mountain, Water, Fire, Marsh and Wind. These trigrams represent an abstract vision of the world and its changes. Each trigram results from another by the change of only one line, and the knowledge of the essence of these changes enables the user to find out more about themselves and the environment.
Based on the Tai Chi symbol, trigrams are a universal symbol of natural balance and formed the foundations of Chinese philosophy, the I Ching and Feng Shui. These ancient symbols, first discovered by Fu Xi in 3300 BCE, contain great wisdom and incredibly advanced knowledge.
Individually, they teach us about important phenomena that affect life; collectively, they describe how nature works and show us how to live a naturally balanced life.
Fu Xi and The Great Yu
Scroll of the River Luo
Chinese literature dating from as early as 2800 BC tells the legend of The He Tu (Yellow River Map) (河圖) and The Luo Shu Magic Square or “Scroll of the River Luo” (simplified Chinese: 洛书; traditional Chinese: 洛書.
Legend has it that Fu Xi and/or Emperor Yu (夏禹) of the Xia Dynasty (2205-1766), received two gifts from Heaven. One was a numeric pattern with black (yin) and white (yang) dots on the back of a fantastic dragon-horse (longma 龍馬), that had purportedly stepped out of the Yellow River. Referred to as the He Tu, it represented the ideal, perfect, balanced world.
During Yu’s reign, a great flood happened in China. Purportedly, Fu Xi first observed a similar pattern on the shell of a turtle emerging from the Luo River. The Luo Shu Magic Square contained circular dots of numbers that were arranged in a three by three 9-grid pattern such that the sum of the numbers in each row, column and diagonal was the same: 15.
Fifteen was also equal to the number of days in each of the 24 cycles of the Chinese solar year. The pattern is called a “magic square”, in that each column and the two diagonals add up to the same number. The legend of the Luo Shu Turtle is told in The Book of Rites, one of the five classical texts of ancient China. Unlike the He Tu, the Luo Shu symbolizes a world in constant flux, change, and motion.
The I-Ching (or Yi-Jing) (易經)
The Book of Changes, or Yi Jing (known in the West as I Ching), is China’s oldest philosophical text. Its origins are lost in the mists of time, but scholars believe the first compilation was done early in the Zhou Dynasty (1022 BC to 256 BC). Based on a divination system using the eight trigrams (groups of solid and broken lines), permutations of 64 pairs of trigrams were worked out. Over the ages short, memorable commentaries were added.
“Lü / Treading [Conduct]
Above CH’IEN THE CREATIVE, HEAVEN
Below TUI THE JOYOUS, LAKE
Treading upon the tail of the tiger. It does not bite the man. Success.”
The Yi Jing Wheel
The Book of Changes charts the movements and developments (hence, ‘changes’) of all the phenomena in the universe. Many regard it as a complete system of philosophy in itself. Emperors, statesmen and generals throughout Chinese history consulted it. Revered by Confucius, the Book of Changes was included in the five classic texts of Confucianism. It was one of the few books spared when Emperor Qin Shi Huang (259-210 BC) ordered the burning of previous dynasties’ works. The Illustrated Book of Changes is a venerable classic made available to modern readers in Chinese and English. The 64 hexagrams and their traditional commentaries are explained with illustrations, and the Chinese text has been written by leading calligraphers.
These five classic texts have spawned not only Feng Shui, but Tai Chi, Chi-Gong, Acupuncture, and other philosophies and sciences. The I Ching (Yi Jing) is one of the primary sources for the calculations of Feng Shui. If you look at a Chinese Luo Pan Compass, the I Ching characters appear to denote the Trigrams. The odd numbers are illustrated by white “sticks” and the even numbers by black “sticks”.
Yin and Yang
In Chinese philosophy, yin (陰 or 阴) and yang ( 陽 or 阳) are concepts used to describe how apparently opposite forces are actually complementary, interconnected, and interdependent in the natural world. Many tangible dualities (such as light and dark, high and low, hot and cold, fire and water, life and death, male and female, sun and moon, and so on) are thought of as physical manifestations of the duality of yin and yang. We must take yin and yang into account when we do Feng Shui, as there must be a natural balance of both aspects in the environment.
Yin & Yang
The Five Elements (Wu Xing)
Cycle of Elements
Cosmology is the field of study that brings together the natural sciences, particularly astronomy and physics, in a joint effort to understand the physical universe as a unified whole. In ancient China, The “Five Phases” that explain change in the cosmos are Wood (木 mù), Fire (火 huǒ), Earth (土 tǔ), Metal (金 jīn), and Water (水 shuǐ).
After it came to maturity in the second or first century BCE during the Han dynasty, the Wu Xing was employed in many fields of early Chinese thought, including seemingly disparate fields such as geomancy (Feng shui), astrology, traditional Chinese medicine, music, military strategy and martial arts.
The Chinese Compass (Luo Pan)
About 1,600 years ago, the Chinese had already determined that there were invisible forces at work beneath the earth. These were later confirmed to be magnetic forces. The Chinese believed these forces were positive (Yang) and negative (Yin). The Luo Pan (Compass) was designed to measure these forces. Luo means a net that encompasses everything and Pan means utensil or plate. This allegorically refers to the union of Heaven and Earth and the electromagnetic field that holds all matter together.
Before the Luo Pan was invented, the Sun dial was used to determine the direction of the sun and the time of the day. The North Star was used to determine the location of the North. From these, the Chinese were able to establish the four cardinal directions and the four diagonal directions (or Primary InterCardinal directions) of the Bagua.
Si Nan Luopan
The Chinese invented the compass needle in 4000 BC. It wasn’t until the Warring State period (475 –221 BC) that the compass was documented being used as a tool for measuring Feng Shui. The first compass was called the “Si Nan Luopan”, consisting of a magnetized spoon in the center of a square divination plate. During the Han Dynasty (206 BC- 220 AD), another kind of divination plate called the “Shi Pan” appeared. It had a square base plate symbolic of earth, the 地 (Di) Pan, and a round plate symbolic of heaven, the 天 (Tian) Pan. The two plates were used together to judge time and direction based on the constellation pattern in the center.
Ancient China gave the world several of the mathematical and scientific concepts we take for granted today, such as the compass. Because of variations over time in the earth’s magnetic fields, three compass systems were superimposed over each other during the span of half a millennium to establish the compass that Feng Shui practitioners use today.
During the Cultural Revolution (1966-1969), the “old ways” came under scrutiny once more. While Traditional Chinese Medicine received official sanction from the government, Feng Shui did not. It was eventually outlawed. Ironically, since many Chinese leaders owed their rise to power to Feng Shui, they purposely kept Feng Shui texts hidden from the masses. Today, what little Feng Shui survives in China is under strict control of the Communist government.
The Chinese believed that there were energy forces (Qi) in the body as well as the universe. They believed that there must be a balance between the Yin and Yang aspects of this energy in the body, for perfect health, and in the earth, for growth. Feng Shui is the art of detecting the Qi in a room, building, or site, and regulating it for results. The benefits of Feng Shui were once restricted only to the rich and powerful in China, but are now becoming widely available.
Simply put, proper Feng Shui will make you feel fabulous in your home or office.
It’s largely common sense. For example, it just feels better to have your back to a wall and see the door in your office. To have your back to the door, you tend to feel anxious that someone will sneak up on you. This makes you less productive.
This is why in a restaurant, men prefer to take the seat against the wall, looking out, with a view of the widest expanse of the room. They instinctively feel more able to protect their partners in this position. They are also safe from attack, which undoubtedly hearkens back to hunting and gathering days.
Feng Shui intuition runs very deep, and we all feel it. Knowing how to manipulate it is another matter. It is about taking care of a myriad of rules and details in your home or office, which all add up. The overall effect can be improved dramatically by using these rules to adjust your furniture, objects, colors and materials. Once you find out about the many layers of Feng Shui, and how it affects you, you will never see the world the same way again.