Guest blog by Uma Campbell
Any tradition that is older than written records, and is still being practiced, has a complicated history. Feng shui is no exception. Feng Shui is a Chinese art of situating buildings in their most optimal position based on astronomy and life forces that goes as far back as 4000 BC, late Neolithic period. While the goal of Chinese medicine is to balance yin and yang in the body, the goal of feng shui has been described as aligning a city, site, building, or object with yin-yang force fields.
To give context to how far back that is, the European structures Carnac Standing Stones and the stone circles Brodgar and Stenness and cairn Maes Howe (Orkney Islands, Scotland) were in use around that time. It is widely believed that these ancient sites were also in use for reasons of astronomical significance.
To find the first use of feng shui (which means “wind, water”), it can be traced back only through records of building projects, so exact dates of first use are approximate and marked by the Dynasty that was in place at the time. Initially, placements of tombs, shrines and important buildings would be specifically oriented to angle “auspiciously” to a cosmic event, like a winter solstice or rising and setting sun. Based in cosmology, the principles were formed to capture good life energy or qi (pronounced “chi” in English) for a purpose, a different one for a civic building than a temple, for example.
Throughout the long history of this practice, feng shui evolved with differing branches of methods. These are referred to as “schools”, each focusing its practices on a different set of calculations or elements.
We may say the Han Dynasty shows the first organized use of feng shui (206 BCE-220 CE), referred to as the Form School. The “form” in Form School refers to the shape of the environment, such as mountains, rivers, plateaus, buildings, and general surroundings. It considers the five celestial animals (phoenix, green dragon, white tiger, black turtle, and the yellow snake), the yin-yang concept and the traditional five elements (Wu Xing: wood, fire, earth, metal, and water).
One of the famous feng shui names recorded in the history of feng shui is Master Yang Yun Sang, who left a legacy of many classical feng shui texts and is considered the founder of the landscape school of feng shui. With the Landscape school, the Tang Dynasty (618-906 CE) used the lay of the landscape (rivers, mountainsides, soil, etc) as important ways to sculpt the energy effects desired. Each of these schools had their own evolutions as well.
Utilized through Song Dynasty (960-1279), new techniques included a form of compass reading to orient to the 8 cardinal directions North South East West and points between), at roughly the same time as the magnetic compass as we know it was used for navigation. In the late 1800s, the Landscape School and Compass Schools merged, and utilize combinations of the tools each introduced. [Han, Tang, Song, Qin (Ch’ing), Republic]
Today, feng shui is practiced as either by an expert in the stricter science and geometry of the ancient techniques, or by “softer” methods involving a bit less math, a bit more instinct and flexibility. The eight cardinal compass points, landscape features and cosmic forces for house placement is possible, plus the bagua, or map, of directions and elements for interior space.
Feng shui is not easy to explain, but easier to achieve with the right advice and a little study. Ultimately, you can choose how in-depth or lightly you want to apply these principles to your spaces. If the effect of lighter, easier flow of energy is achieved, good living can ensue.
Uma Campbell is a freelance writer from Southern California. She loves writing about meditation and alternative medicine. To read more of her writing, you can visit the Soothing Walls blog. When she’s not writing, she loves to practice yoga.