… the inhabitants of Neolithic and Shang China consistently ordered themselves according to some kind of cosmo-religious grid. —David Keightley The Ancestral Landscape (2000:81, 82)
|New Age Feng Shui||Traditional Feng Shui|
|New Age Feng Shui has a very short history and spotty evidence.The Nine Basic Cures of Faux Feng Shui were invented by Lin Yun.||Traditional Feng Shui has a very long history with extraordinary evidence.Feng Shui began as astronomy manifested in the landscape and used alignments for more than 2,000 years before the five phases (elements)— Earth, Metal, Water, Wood, Fire — were developed.The diagrams of Preheaven (Hetu) and Postheaven (Luoshu) predate Chinese written documents on the subject. Early oracle bone characters related to yin and yang and to precursors of the five phases (wuxing) can be linked to early astronomical and geographical information.In turn, this information links to later written documents regarding the practice of Xuan Kong (one of the many “schools” or techniques of Feng Shui).
With Preheaven and Postheaven sequences and mathematics, the five phases form part of the theoretical basis of Xuan Kong.
|What They Claim||Reality Check: Mirrors and Crystals|
|Bright or Light-Refracting Objects Light is considered an important asset, symbolic of the sun, and an energy disseminator. In BTB theory, light-refracting objects — mirrors, crystal balls, lights — cure a host of Feng Shui woes, create the illusion of light, and reflect intruders back onto themselves with threatening energy. Thought to increase business profits. Sources of positive power and “energy.”||Mirrors were originally part of Chinese science and evolved into elements of Chinese folklore.Ancient Chinese knew that light travels in a straight line and conducted considerable numbers of experiments using concave and convex mirrors. Their efforts were part of a compilation of work on optics which determined the truth about real and inverted images, focal points and centers of curvatures as well as refraction.
Westerners not seeing clearly
Euclid was the only Western contemporary of these Chinese studies (his Optics was written c. 300 BCE), but his ideas about light and optics were completely wrong. Yet the wrong information was used by Western civilization until someone stumbled upon the correct information in the work of a medieval Arab scientist who was repeating ancient Chinese experiments!
In the Huainanzi (c. 120 BCE) mirrors are considered at length, particularly the yang “burning-mirror” and the yin fangju that was used to collect nighttime dew via condensation:
Huainanzi also describes the mountain-mirrors (shanzi jing) of the late Warring States—Early Han era, which depict on a round (round=heaven) mirror a central square (square=earth). In the center of the mirror is a bump where a silken rope attaches (how the mirror is picked up, but it also represents Dao, or here).
Outside this symbol is a larger square indicated by four figures—the character for mountain, shan (a well-known character for Feng Shui practitioners), looking like its written in italics — which represents the mountains at the edges of the earth. On some mountain-mirrors the outer square depicting the edges of the earth (the celestial equator projected into space) is set at 90 degrees to the smaller square, which is meant to portray the known world.
A mirror was generally divided into eight or twelve segments like the celestial circle. If divided into twelve segments it was for celestial/calendrical measurements. If divided into eight segments it depicted the cardinal and intercardinal directions.
The bronze Tang Dynasty mirror in the collection of the American Museum of Natural History contains the astronomical and geographic data mentioned above plus the bagua, Five Elements, and concentric circles denoting the cosmological order.
Chinese mirrors resemble the ancient bi atop a square liubo board (or even a cong) and echo the markings of the shi (one precursor of Feng Shui compasses). There must have been a lot of speculation about the use of mirrors among the uneducated; consider the old belief that mirrors capture your soul.
Perhaps that is why, during the Zhou era, many people thought that mirrors were magical devices. Mirrors gained popularity as magico-religious versions of the universe in miniature, a way of calling upon the heavenly powers to bless the mirrors owner. An old legend says Huangdi, the Yellow Emperor, kept the people in the mirror from conquering Earth by casting a spell.
According to the story the spell may have been a good one, but it was not meant to last forever. As the magic weakens the Mirror People begin to stir. At first the differences between their world and ours won’t be discernible. But eventually the changes will be profound and the Mirror People will attack again.
We have to conclude that ignorance of Chinese discoveries in optics, and ignorance of Chinese culture and folklore would account for ideas like using a mirror to create profit or scare bad people away.
A disturbing thought
In the practice of Feng Shui, some practitioners consider mirrors as perpetual disturbances, in the words of Master Lam Kam Chuen, and constantly at work. They are responsible for disrupting sleep patterns and creating emotional disturbances.
A long-term study of a Swedish mental hospital, found in E.O. Wilsons Biophilia Hypothesis showed that mirrors were the first objects attacked by the mentally agitated and unstable; no one attacked pictures of natural settings.
Competent Feng Shui practitioners remove mirrors from bedrooms and entrances and advise clients to confine them to bathrooms and the insides of closets.
Faux feng shui applies crystals to manipulate so-called “energy” in a building. As Barbara Walker says in her wonderful book on crystals, proponents of crystal energies
No Chinese connection
Crystals and feng shui have a very short and peculiar association. There are no Chinese treatises on precious stones before the third century CE, although scientific works show interest in crystalline forms of certain materials.(Needham 2:321)
Three books written in the 1980s by Katrina Raphaell started the crystal fad. She based many of her ideas on absurd notions concocted by Victorian occultists regarding the mythological land of Atlantis, and on odd ideas fabricated from a poor understanding of a lot of things.
People who believe crystals are some form of power source are usually confused about the technology around them, and they are too lazy to acquire an education that would increase their understanding. Increased knowledge would also interfere with this very lucrative scam.
Not a new product
Crystals are common objects in our everyday lives — as the faces on LCD (liquid crystal display) watches, computer screens, TVs, toys, and calculators; as timing mechanisms in clocks (quartz crystal movement); as electrical parts in loudspeakers, microphones, radios, computers and telephones.
If small crystals could affect so-called “energy” in our homes, product manufacturers would have already capitalized on these properties.
Piezoelectricity is a fairly old science based on the knowledge that crystals only vibrate and generate voltage when pressure or an electrical charge is applied to them. In the case of LCDs, liquid crystals are sandwiched between transparent electrodes that change the crystals from clear to dark, from transparent to opaque depending on the amount of electricity pumped through them.
Hanging a crystal or a mirrored ball somewhere in your house is not going to change “energy” flow, no matter what the Feng Shui books say.
Crystals and stones do not create energy fields! On Earth, the minerals that give off energy are radioactive.
Crystals are inert substances. They work in primitive radio receivers, but operate only within low megahertz range (in the bandwidth of ship radios and police scanners).
A crystal transmitter can disrupt low-band transmissions of anything within its range, but like a crystal receiver it wont have any other effect on a house. Mirrored balls offer wonderful nostalgic effects for disco revival parties, but no other measurable environmental enhancements should be expected from them.
Traditional Feng Shui doesn’t use crystals as a cure-all for alleged “energy problems.” Because they use compasses, traditional practitioners generally understand the electromagnetic properties of certain kinds of rock. The application of rocks in Feng Shui is measured in pounds and kilos, not ounces: a mass of rock quartz weighing 350 pounds and installed in the yard is much more likely to have an effect on a 2,000-square-foot house than a four-ounce crystal hanging in the hall.
|What They Claim||Reality Check|
|Faux Feng Shui Cure 2:
Bells and wind chimes dispense malignant energies and summon positive ones. They also act as alarms. William Spear, in Feng Shui Made Easy, claims that wind chimes used inside a house moderate or change the flow of qi and mark a spot where different energies converge.
Traditional Feng Shui uses sound very sparingly.
In some cultures, bells are thought to drive away evil beings like dwarves. In China and other cultures, people ring bells and make noises at death to frighten away evil spirits. During the Middle Ages, Scottish clergy believed that they could remove the devil from their churches by ringing bells. Ringing bells thwarted demons trying to abduct St. Anthony. In Punchinello, Toby the dog wears a frill with bells to frighten the devil away from his master.
The Chinese word for bell (zhung) is a homonym of the word meaning to pass a test, and images of bells in ancient texts are often a punning reference to bureaucratic promotion. Chinese bells were not assumed to be able to summon anything, but some of them were known to fly like Catholic church bells imbued with the power of flight on Good Friday.
Harmonies constituted a mathematical science in ancient China and the scale was derived by means of mathematical ratios. See the sixth chapter of Lushi chunqiu, and Huainanzi 3:22a:2 and 3:22b:11. Weights and measures were derived from numbers associated with the musical tones.
As stated by Guo Yu, rulers regulated the tuning of bells to ensure the security of the state. The preservation of peace and the integrity of the state corresponded with the concept of standardized measurements. Without consistent measurements there would be widespread corruption, leading to social unrest and civil war.
In Manchu tradition the shamans and shamankas wore percussion bells suspended from their waists while performing clan ancestral worship at the Qing imperial court (1644-1911) or while worshiping nature spirits. In earlier dynasties, because of its strongly yin connotations, a musical wind chime made of black stones was played in the appropriate room of the Mingtang during winter.
Consider the over-reliance on wind chimes in faux Feng Shui
|What They Claim||Reality Check|
|Faux Feng Shui Cure 3:
Real or artificial plants, aquariums, fishbowlsPlants symbolize life and growth and conduct energies around a room. Thought to lure customers into stores.
Fishbowls and aquariums are considered microcosms of the earths ocean, and are considered most effective when artificial aerators are installed in them. Fish absorb accidents and bad luck, and must be replaced when they die.
Water symbolizes money. Interestingly, modern Feng Shui classifies water fountains as moving objects, though they artificially aerate the water and can contain fish.
Authentic Feng Shui reveals a great deal of American urban folklore in this cure.
Here is a cure that consists of modern commercial products siphoned from traditional Western folklore, marketed and sold back to Westerners as ancient Asian wisdom.
How can plants “symbolize” life and growth when they are alive and do grow? It is as if someone said, That symbol symbolizes a symbol, and expected you to accept that circular logic just because they said it.
In Five Element Theory the plant kingdom is represented by the Wood Phase or Element, which symbolizes expanding energy (and isn’t necessarily represented by a plant in real Feng Shui).
Isnt it interesting that a remedy titled living objects includes human-made objects like artificial plants! These would not have been available before the use of plastics and other artificial materials used to construct them. Plastics were not in widespread use before World War II.
What about silk plants? Although silk is ancient — Julius Caesar caused a stir by appearing in public in a silk garment — it was not widely available to even the richest people in Europe until the fall of Constantinople (1453) because Byzantium controlled the market.
Silk also had limited employment in China, where sumptuary laws prevailed.
But this is still bad feng shui
Stephen Kellert, a professor at the Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, looked at a great deal of research before concluding that
That is the scientific way of saying it stunts your thinking and intelligence to surround yourself with artificial versions of animals and plants.
Theres no solid evidence to indicate that plants can woo customers into stores except in the case of nurseries or floral shops, but plants do have an important feature that most of us can recall learning in grade-school science: they absorb air pollutants through their leaves and roots and convert them into breathable air.
EarthSave mentions a two-year NASA study that concluded some plants can remove up to 87% of toxic indoor air within 24 hours.
Depending on the plant species, one plant can clean every 100 square feet of space. Between 15 and 20 golden Pothos and spider plants can refresh the air in an 1800-square-foot home.
This should have been what the cranks meant by the idea of conducting energy around a room.
Water and Fish
Water has an ambivalent image for the Chinese, as it does for other humans. Kan, the image of water, is Abysmal, Destructive, according to the Yijing. Dui, Joyous, is metal (like the image of the glint of sun on a body of fresh water). Dui also suggests capital punishment, for the Metal Element served as a sort of shorthand for the Ministry of Justice in premodern China — just as Kan suggested the Ministry of Works.
Daoist beliefs in the sanctity of life prompted one Chinese emperor to abolish capital punishment and institute humane treatment for animals — yet here Feng Shui considers fish to be scapegoats for humans!
In Chinese folklore fish symbolized happiness, serenity, wealth and abundance. It was also believed that fish, like rats, could change into birds at certain seasons and that their brains shrank with phases of the moon.
The combination of water and fish was an old Chinese metaphor for sexual pleasure. (Faithful as a fish is an old expression.) A pair of fish were often presented as a betrothal gift to the fiancees family.
|What They Claim||Reality Check|
|Faux Feng Shui Cure 4
Moving Objects(water fountains, mobiles, windmills)
Thought to stimulate energy indoors. Water fountains and geysers are considered energizing and money-producing, are used by businesses to stimulate profits.
|There is no historical precedent in traditional Feng Shui for a moving objects remedy. Each object could be made of a different substance and therefore not have a consistent numerical value in the formulas, which would lead to arbitrary results.
Moving water (or anything else, for that matter) can have productive capabilities or a destructive effect on peoples lives. Everything depends on the situation.Windmills have a lot to do with aesthetics but arent typically related to Feng Shui. (The amazing sculptures of Kiyoyuki Kikutake may be the only exception to this rule.)
|What They Claim||Reality Check|
|Faux Feng Shui Cure 5:
(stones or statues)
Considered a stabilizing influence in unstable situations.
|Heavy objects is a nod to authentic Feng Shuis regard for mountains or other substantive objects and how they are used in siting and calculations. However, theres more to this cure than is suggested by the term, whose use is generally haphazard at best and reflects an unfamiliarity with authentic Feng Shui.Ancient Daoists used rocks in their gardens to symbolize the physical world and the human skeletal structure. In authentic Feng Shui, boulders and rock gardens are used to denote a buffer or neutral state between other elements or activities, and as an aid to structures determined to have been sited incorrectly. They adjust the microclimate, which is one scientific way to explain the purpose of authentic Feng Shui.This acknowledgment of earth activity can be seen in the archeological remains of the most ancient human campsites in Africa. Richard Leakey and his associates note that protective natural features such as mountains or rock outcroppings were located as a buffer between hominid encampments and the savannah, and offered protection from animal and human predators. A practical safety measure may have evolved into the concept of boulder as earth buffer.Master Lam Kam Chuen believes rocks are a metal element (numerical value 6 or 7), extremely powerful, disruptive and completely undependable — but other schools interpret rocks as Earth Element (numerical value 2, 5, or 8).
|What They Claim||Reality Check|
|Faux Feng Shui Cure 6
(air conditioners, stereos, TVs, computers)
New Age practitioners of Feng Shui believe that electric-powered machines stimulate their surroundings and that computers, considered enlivening and stimulating, uplift wisdom and knowledge.
What bovine excrementalizing.
Authentic Feng Shui does not recognize electronic or electric devices as a remedy. There are serious environmental issues raised by this cure.
Despite the marketing that Feng Shui is some kind of Asian environmental cure-all, the fake variety caters to American consumer obsessions and encourages their environmental excesses.
After all, Americans own the most electric and electronic devices on the planet, while more than two billion people in the rest of the world still do not have access to electricity. Electrical consumption for someone in Africa is the equivalent of one light bulb burning just a few hours a day.
Look at the research conducted by the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition: the result of all those computers and devices that this cure promotes.
Consider the number of cellphones tossed into landfills, just like old computer equipment. Barely 10 percent of computer equipment and cellphones are recycled. Think about how many more electric and electronic gadgets you own. Are you part of the problem or part of the solution?
California is one of the few states addressing the urgent issue of eWaste. The Electronic Waste Recycling Act of 2003 makes it a felony, with potential fines of up to $25,000 per incident, to dispose of consumer or office electronic devices in undesignated areas, such as landfills.
But that just pushes the damage out of your sight, and in this case out of sight should not be out of your mind. Consider this report on Guiyu in Guangdong Province, China, just northeast of Hong Kong:
You can download the report here.
This cure is New Age greenwash
It conveniently sidesteps the fact of global warming and the sober pronouncements of the Kyoto conference (December 1997). It dismisses all responsible environmental policies. It aids and abets our environmental wastefulness and irresponsibility. The fact that it also disagrees with traditional Feng Shui barely registers next to its overall environmental insanity.
A study published by the Sierra Club in 1996 says that a personal computer that is on but ignored for three hours a day (left on, we assume, for those enlivening and stimulating wisdom benefits only an unattended computer can give) is responsible for some 200 pounds of CO2 pollution each year. Thats about 2 percent of the annual CO2 emitted by a car thats actually doing something!
Air conditioners, which consume more energy than any other household appliance, are responsible for 2 or more pounds of CO2 pumped into the atmosphere every operating hour. They also have a litany of health-related complaints associated with them. A dirty filtration system in an air conditioning unit harbors biological agents that can cause anything from allergic reactions, asthma, and flu to deaths from Legionnaires Disease.
Air conditioners also account for one-sixth of the insatiable American appetite for electricity. Yet by simply following the principles of traditional Feng Shui (which echo sound environmental policy), planting more trees, and using lighter colors for roofs and pavement, cities would suffer less air pollution and would be cooler than the surrounding countryside. Americans could reduce the need for air conditioning and create less energy brownouts.
By following traditional Feng Shui we could effectively reduce our pollution problems, our energy consumption, and drastically cut global warming.
|What They Claim||Reality Check|
|Faux Feng Shui Cure 7
In BTB theology, bamboo flutes have been provided a fake history as reporters of peace and good news. Today the flutes are believed to introduce peace, stability and safety to an indoor environment. They are believed to increase a structures energy room by room, and to symbolize swords in the protective sense of driving away evil.
|Bamboo constitutes one of the eight traditional musical instruments and is not a Feng Shui remedy.Chinese bone flutes from 9,000 years ago were played on ceremonial occasions, according to archaeologists. There is no evidence in all of Chinese history that flutes were used as messenger devices. They were used that way in premodern Africa.Joscelyn Godwin in Harmonies of Heaven and Earth (1995: 9) reminds us of the sacred history of musical instruments like the bone flutes:
Bamboo instruments were traditionally invented by Nu Gua (of the Wind clan) and correspond to the eastern compass point and the season of spring. They form one of the legendary eight types of musical instruments invented during the Mesolithic and Neolithic in ancient China.
The original written radical for flute portrayed panpipes, just as pai xiao represents panpipes. Panpipes are regularly depicted in ancient Chinese sculpture and painting.
Hollow tubes, branches, and bones share a long history as shamanic devices used (it is hoped) to alter natural processes via sympathetic magic using the shaman or shamankas own qi.
This technique forms a connection with early Chinese acoustic theories, which is why the celebrated Zou Yan (ca. 400 BCE) played his pitchpipes to his crops. Because the Chinese thought of qi this way, they made every effort to turn qi-funneling into a refined science. Military diviners employed pai xiao and humming tubes to gather intelligence about enemy morale.
Ancient Chinese scientists saw a clear relationship between notes, winds, and compass points. Around 1100 CE they invented a bizarre idea called The Blowing of the Ashes. It will seem eerily familiar to proponents of New Age Feng Shui.
Eight pitchpipes (each attuned to a compass designation) were stuck into the ground at a 45-degree angle and stuffed with ashes. They were sealed in a room against any possible drafts. As the qi of the month appropriate to each pitch/ compass point/ resonance arrived, supposedly the qi would blow out the ash.
Of course this wasnt exactly helpful in determining pitch, but it did lead to the concept of the hermetically sealed laboratory.
The fact remains that theres little logic in having a musical instrument symbolize a weapon. This is not the sort of sophistry a traditional culture would expect people to endure. But if that’s your whim, why not hang up a bagpipe instead?
|What They Claim||Reality Check|
|Faux Feng Shui Cure 8
View the color correlations available on the Color Comparisons page. There are apparent correlations with the traditional colors (and aspects) of each house in Western astrology as well as Western color traditions.
|Authentic Feng Shui employs the ancient color system found in the Huainanzi and other texts.
Each of the Five Elements has colors that are traditionally associated with it but also correlate with modern color theory.View the color correlations available on the Color Comparisons page.
|What They Claim||Reality Check|
|Faux Feng Shui Cure 9
This generic cure is where practitioners are their most creative. Lin Yun says these are the most mystical of his cures — perhaps in the sense of it being a mystery why people would believe any of their ideas will work!
Aaga Stanley Bartlett strings teddy bears from exposed ceiling beams to cure sha. Tony Cuneo sticks red Avery Label dots everywhere to defy the laws of physics and common sense in his attempt hold energy in place or attract it. William Spear uses wind chimes inside a house to mark demarcation points between two types of energy (another classic piece of western folklore that denies physics and Chinese science). And the list of oddities never ends.
|Authentic Feng Shui does not have a miscellaneous category for its remedies.Authentic Feng Shui remedies fall within the scope of (most anciently) precise orientations and (more recently) five phases or elements.|