In The View Over Atlantis John Michell claimed that, without techniques used by traditional feng shui practitioners, humans can’t locate auspicious sites even if they spend their entire lives trying. We simply cannot find any kind of geomagnetic field using our instincts or intuition — our limited senses force us to use a geomagnetic sensing device such as a Luopan.
Carl Jung acknowledged our species’ shortcomings when he wrote
Man, as we realize if we reflect for a moment, never perceives anything fully or comprehends anything completely. He can see, hear, touch, and taste; but how far he sees, how well he hears, what his touch tells him, and what he tastes depend on the number and quality of his senses. These limit his perception of the world around him. By using scientific instruments he can partly compensate for the deficiencies of his senses.
John Michell argued in The View Over Atlantis that Chinese long-mei (dragon lines) and British leys are virtually the same because Chinese believe that long-mei can be found all over the world. In the 1920s when Alfred Watkins first published his concept of leys (The Old Straight Track), he envisioned them as dead-straight lines running through and emphasized by megalithic sites and prehistoric earthworks, bodies of water and other landmarks of the British skyline.
However, Watkins and later ley-hunters can’t tell the difference between prehistoric changes to the landscape and the straight lines and monocentric symmetry that formed the basis of Europe’s premodern landscaping style. John Edwin Wood of the Royal Archeological Institute joked that careless siting rules for leys make it possible to find them anywhere using only a big map and a long ruler.
If you believe in leys, consider the story of the railway line built by Europeans in 1876 between Wusong and Shanghai. The straight rail lines, roads, and telegraph lines cut across Chinese graves, violated natural features, and otherwise dominated the landscape much like a ley. This upset locals, who believed that sha travels in straight lines (which is why torturous roads, winding paths, walls, and sharp corners were built everywhere to confound it). The sha produced by the railway portended great natural disasters and ominously assisted the Europeans. This railway and its bad feng shui proved so unpopular that the Chinese government bought the railway, tore the line up, and dumped everything into the ocean.
Die, dragon, die!
More cultural misunderstanding exists on the subject of dragons. Eurowest cultures stress a theme of dragon-killing — epic battles such as the one between Marduk and Tiamat, St. Michael’s hilltop triumph, or the many escapades of the knights of the Round Table.
Buried deep in the Eurowest psyche is the belief that dragons are the embodiment of evil and their deaths are warranted. Modern books and movies — from reissues of Beowulf to Alien — tell a story that was new 6,000 years ago.
For many the Eurowest dragon symbolizes chthonic life force and the ancient wisdom-serpent of the religion of the Goddess. Serpents and dragons combine the generative and destructive powers of earth, fire, and animal-kind (whether the animal nature of humans or other species). Dragon slaying is often equated with half-remembered psychological or military campaigns to stamp out native Neolithic cultures and earlier religions, just as the slaying of the old Spartan snake-king became a moral tale of the passage from the old Earth cult to the worship of humanized deities.
The implication in the new story is that whatever is out of conscious control constitutes what is feminine — a negative reflection on the old religious beliefs. Sometimes people still refer to an assertive woman as a dragon lady, which can be traced from Tannit or Tannittu (literally, the One of the Serpent, Lady of the Serpent) — a Canaanite term for a great goddess of the sea and waters. Anything feminine or animal became chaotic, destructive, demonic, and to be feared and mastered — thus the need to conquer particular sites for the new faith.
In Eurowest myths the natives’ local and clan deities fought the invaders with megaliths and uprooted trees, but were eventually banished to their earthworks (where they jealously guard their treasures and vex humans to this day). Earlier rituals were replaced by stories of battles lost to a manly dragon-killer.
Like Cecrops, Nu Gua, and Fuxi, the losers were portrayed as giants and as humans with the bodies of snakes and fish. The conquerors also altered the cycle of religious celebrations. The original fertility cycle lasted nine years; the new religion demanded more frequent ceremonies.
According to British folklore, every May Eve a horrible scream rendered everything barren. The scream erupted during subterranean battle at the center of the island between the native dragon and a foreign intruder.
Inevitably, cyclical renewal was characterized as a final battle between dark and light, with the old ways portrayed as ways of darkness. The medieval Dragon of the Apocalypse is sometimes accompanied by a rider identified as the Whore of Babylon. Water sprite Melusine is often depicted as a dragon-fish-woman.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail poked fun at “watery tarts” inhabiting lakes and rivers and possessing the power to make kings, but raised a good point: the ladies are remnants of the old religions. Most were portrayed as half-human, their animal halves composed of creatures once sacred to the earlier deities.
Sometimes the waters of the underworld (usually presented as a dragon) were held down by a huge stone dropped by the conquering hero. This symbolism extended to the New World, for the Nahuatl word Deguatlashupee that Spanish ears heard as De Guadalupe means something like trampled stone serpent.
But not in China
Contrast the European killing spree with an eastern dragon, which is a force of right and good — and documented as such for better than 7,000 years.
Daoist dragons symbolize the search for wisdom, happiness, and immortality. The only evil dragons in Asian lore were added later by Buddhists, who were reflecting monks’ run-ins with fierce mountain tribes.
On rare occasions when a Chinese dragon was “killed,” a stupa or tower was built on the spot as a commemoration. These Chinese ko, all Buddhist interventions, were once believed to harbor evil spirits chained in their basements or fixed under their foundations. When excavated, quite a few ko were found to conceal sacred Buddhist texts and opals (Buddha’s tears) in their foundations.
Chinese dragons also hibernate! This refers to their particular constellation, which is not visible in the winter sky. Dragons do not reappear until the second month (our February) to herald the spring. Long (dragon) in astronomical context means “rising of the moon.”
So that’s what they meant
At one time Huo the Fire Star (our Antares), the central star of the Dragon constellation (Canglong), reached its zenith at dusk on the summer solstice. (The written character for the constellation combines radicals for moon and dragon.) During the Han, the moon rose between the horns of the Dragon constellation just as a pearl (the moon) often accompanies dragons in Chinese art.
Long also relates to Yellow River sturgeons, which by tradition swim upstream on the third moon of the year and transform into dragons while Canglong is visible in the sky.
A difference in values
In one sense John Michell is correct: east and west both associate dragons with mountains — but there the similarities end. By tradition, Chinese are hostile to the idea of a mountain as a site of human triumph and possession because mountains manifest the cosmic spirit. Small rocks in Daoist gardens echo sacred mountains like Kunlun, but in a compressed form.
The Han conceived a passion for world-mountain incense burners, and additionally compressed the mountain to serve as the foundation stone in a building. All these symbols enact the primordial creation and serve as anchors to the center of the world.
Here we go again
Western feng shui practitioners try to convince people that a dragon-shaped mountain forms a basic theory of feng shui, but can’t explain why Buddha is often shown riding a dragon — the same Buddha who forbade his disciples to use Vaastu Shastra and feng shui!
Buddha rides a dragon because hills and mountains are only interpreted as dragons. Mountains are interpreted as dragons because they serve an important function in the process of condensation and precipitation (a form of qi) — and dragons are water-loving creatures. Noted skeptic Wang Chong covered this in one of his discourses in the first century CE.
Mountain ranges also contain magnetic fields, so kanyu shia (feng shui adepts) “chase the dragon” by walking them and using a Luopan. That’s how the Hong Kong dragon lines were transferred onto GIS overlays.
Sorry, only a little right
Overall, John Michell is somewhat right. We truly can’t use our intuition to find auspicious sites. Chinese do believe that long-mei (as geomagnetic and astronomical features) exist elsewhere in the world. However, Michell’s other ideas aren’t supported by any reasonable evidence.
Interesting similarities can be found between European megaliths and Yin houses (burial sites) studied by E.J. Eitel, but the particulars haven’t been studied. There’s no proof that Europeans had access to feng shui before its introduction by Jesuits in the late seventeenth century.