Many Westerners who have never been outside a modern, materialistic environment find Taoism of the popular paperback book variety to be appealing. They perceive Taoism as allowing for freedom from form and ritual, release from rule and restriction, and development of the self to its fullest potential. … Taoists in China … often do not eat meat, are celibate, and follow strict ascetic practices. Taoists believe in spirits, perform rituals, heal the sick, practice martial arts to expel evil, and bury the dead. … Taoism in China is an oral (singing and dancing) and not a written tradition … there is no Taoist who is not firstly a devout believer in the spirits, the ancestors, and the annual cycle of feasts and customs.  —Michael R. Saso: Taoism and the Rite of Cosmic Renewal

Seann Xenja (the former Thomas Howse) and Susan Levitt created an unintentional laugh-riot with their book Taoist Feng Shui. It includes copious mentions of Lin Yun (here styled as Rinpoche).

Of course they have a website. Let the deconstruction begin!

John Lagerwey says, “To the Buddhists, Daoism was a carbon copy of Buddhism.” Levitt acknowledges her information for this book comes from Lin Yun, here an expert on Daoism (no doubt by virtue of Lagerwey’s insight).

The problems in the chapter on the compass (Chapter 9) show that Levitt lacks a good education in real feng shui. She asserts on page 118 that “south is always at the top of the Chinese compass.” Actually the magnetic needle is decorated to indicate south, not north, but south is not always at the top — the very idea defies physics! It’s painfully obvious Levitt has never had her hands on a Luopan, and she doesn’t have a good understanding of geomagnetism.

What They Say Reality Check
Everywhere on our planet — from the pyramids in Egypt, to the monoliths of Stonehenge in England Dictionaries show monolithmeans an obelisk or a column formed of a single block of stone used in architecture or sculpture.For example, the Washington Monument is a monolith. Frank Lloyd Wright built a monolith at the entrance to Taliesin West.The word the authors really needed to describe two phases of Stonehenge was megaliths (large stones used to build monuments and other structures).
Mountains, rivers, hills, and groves, or places where natural phenomenon occurred, indicated a sacred place. “Natural phenomenon” is another editorial gaffé that should have been caught by the publisher. What they really wanted to say was phenomena, meaning more than one.The choice of words is interesting, because natural phenomena consist of weather, earthquakes, range fires, floods, hurricanes, drought and the like.

According to their logic, the path of devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina is a sacred place.

Julian Jaynes said the ancients determined a sacred place for an oracle by what he called a “specific awesomeness”:

natural formations of mountain or gorge, of hallucinogenic wind or waves, of symbolic gleamings and vistas …

These were, he said, suggestive to right hemisphere activity. Consider Delphi, Ptoa, Branchidae, Patara, Claros, Acacesium, Ephesus, Dodona, Lebadea, and what made them famous. In the case of the Oracle at Delphi, the temple was built over a fissure in a rock that leaked natural gas.

David Lewis-Williams and David Pearce convincingly argue that the striate cortex sets the criteria. Brain function has determined why most humans worldwide embrace a three-tiered cosmology.

For Palaeolithic people the sacred space was the cave (entoptic experience formulated by neurology).

In the Neolithic (when feng shui was apparently developed), the caves were moved above the ground. People built temples, and the temples replicated some of the features of caves that the human brain required for ecstatic experiences.

Religious buildings today still display the features that our brain identifies as “sacred.”

Feng Shui is an ancient Chinese art and science of locating a sacred place on earth. This is not the definition used in any Chinese text. This is not the function and purpose of feng shui as currently practiced in Asia.
This is the opinion of the authors.According to archaeology the first use of feng shui was for dwellings. Unless the authors can prove that every house at Banpo was some kind of a sacred space, this is an opinion.
They understood the harmony of life by observing nature and being expert intuitives.

What on Earth is an “expert intuitive” besides junk English invented by the authors?

There are no facts to support this opinion.

Huainanzi, the definitive early Daoist text, says nothing about “intuitives,” expert or otherwise. It is a book about science and philosophy written in the early Han for the education of rulers.
The information on feng shui basics is found in the chapter on astronomy. This makes sense, because as archaeology shows Feng Shui began as astronomy manifested in the landscape.

The ancient ones recognized chi in a landscape to . . . align harmoniously with the geomagnetism of the earth. Qi was recognized long before geomagnetism or it would not have been mentioned in Chinese documents that predate the earliest magnetic compasses.”Geomagnetism of the earth” = earth-magnetism of the earth. (“Geo” is Latin for earth.) This is yet another editorial gaffé that should have been caught by the publisher.
Through observation of natural forces, the Chinese invented the magnetic compass. “Natural forces” is a synonym for “natural phenomena” (earthquakes, weather, floods, etc.). It is highly unlikely that floods, volcanic fallout, or a week of unusual weather provided the inspiration for the magnetic compass.Feng shui began as astronomy in the landscape. Markings on early magnetic compasses match the markings on liuren astrolabes. The magnetic compass for feng shui developed from feng shui devices for astronomy.
Feng Shui is also based on compass directions and astronomical patterns. The authors can’t tell you the history of feng shui because they don’t know. They did not bother to look it up. They wrote this vague text to cover their ignorance.If they knew the history of feng shui, there would be more than one sentence in the book. They would not use the odd phrase “astronomical patterns,” which implies the software used for deep-space identification of stars, not the astronomy at the heart of feng shui.
Priests of Daoism . . . developed feng shui geomancy There weren’t any Daoists at Banpo at 4000 BCE. Laozi was born in the sixth century BCE. The oldest versions of the Daodejing (Laozi)date to the Warring States period (fifth century BCE to 221 BCE).

The feng shui used at Banpo is at least 2,000 years earlier than the life of Laozi, the originator of Daoism.

There’s no such thing as “feng shui geomancy” except in the minds of the authors. Geomancy in Asia involves female trance mediums. Young boys interpret the trances for querents.

Certain land formations were named after animals, such as azure dragon, white tiger, red phoenix, and black tortoise. These vivid animal metaphors describe different types of chi. The Four Celestial Animals were first used as constellations. That is how feng shui worked at Banpo. That is how Yao explained the four animals in Yaodian — as marker-stars for the seasons. That is how the concept of seasonal qi was developed.
…”Later Heaven Sequence” as designed by the Chinese scholar and royal King Wen. Almost 100 years before Wen Wang (the legendary King Wen of the Zhou, who began his reign around 1099 BCE), the Later Heaven Sequence was being used at the court of King Wuding of the Shang(d. 1189 BCE) at Anyang.Along with being the oldest-known copy of the Yijing, the version on silk from Mawangdui is very different from the version supposedly authored by King Wen.
a “pre-Shang dynasty culture” at “An-yang in northern China.” (Page 9) A deliberately vague statement. At Anyang you will find the remains of Yinxu, the last capital of the Shang (Yin), which consists of Xiaotun (the administrative and residential part of the city) and Xibeigang (the tombs, which are fairly well aligned to the north of their time period).
a discussion of the agrarian calendar of quarter days involves Old Irish referents, not Chinese, incorrect dates, and “eight solar cycles” (page 119)
Lunar phases marked on the Luoshu, including “disseminating” and balsamic” (page 120) These are western occult terms, not Chinese and not feng shui. What are they doing in a book that is supposed to be about Chinese lore?
Li is full moon, Kan is dark moon (page 120) Li is the sun and Kan is the moon.
Kun is the dark moon.
Qian is the full moon.
Reference: Cheng Jian Jun
Levitt’s version of the Nine Stars (page 121):

  1. Avaricious Wolf
  2. Military Star
  3. Wide Door or Chief Gate
  4. Left-Hand Assistant
  5. Right-Hand Assistant
  6. Official Salary or Rank Preservation
  7. Literary Star of Cultural Activities
  8. Star of Purity and Truth
  9. Breaker of Armies
The Nine Stars are based on astronomy, which was later mythologized. Since the fourth century CE, Daoists have recognized the stars of Beidou(the Dipper) as gods. They claim the constellation consists of nine stars, but only seven stars are visible to ordinary people.When the Zhou observed the heavens Beidou was much nearer the north pole, just as four thousand years ago the xiu were much nearer to the equator than they are now. Ancient astronomers could extend the handle of Beidou through the constellation of Bootes as long as it remained above the horizon. It is believed that gamma Bootes (“Far-Flight” or Zhaoyao), which was lost to visibility around 1500 BCE, was once part of Beidou. (The ninth star is still unknown.) Draw a line through the “handle” of Beidou to find Zhaoyao.In the Star Manual of Master Shi (third century BCE), Beidou was eight stars plus Fu, the operator of Kaiyang (Mizar), the sixth star of Beidou. Yuheng (Alioth) was the fifth star (the Jade Observation Tube).By the time of Hanlong jing the nine stars indicated earthly counterparts of the stars in Beidou and of mountain shapes. During the Qing dynasty, when ba zhai was a popular feng shui technique, the Nine Stars provided only names for eight auspices associated with trigrams. And that’s still true today.
References: Field, Xun and Kistemaker, Joseph Yu, Lagerwey, Kalinowski (Early China), Staal
Star Name Auspice
Tan Lang
(Dubhe; alpha Canis Minor in the Shi shi)
Celestial Jackal*
Greedy Wolf**
Life breath, great fortune***
Wu Qu
The Military Extended years, great fortune
Jue Men
Gate Guard,
Celestial Orrery
Celestial doctor, lesser fortune
Zuo (Zai) Fu
(tau Draconis)
Dragon (yang)
Left Guardian/Assistant;
Support; Prostrate Position
Legendary assistant of Shangdi. The star was thought to regulate growth in nature.
You Bi
(alpha Draconis)
Tiger (yin)
Right Guardian/Assistant
Neutral, small fortune
Lu Cun
Preserver of Rank,
the Mandarinate
Lesser misfortune, accident and injury
Wen Qu
Literary Pursuits, the Scholars Lesser Msfortune, Six Curses
Lian Zhen
Virtue, Purity and Truth Five Ghosts, great misfortune
Po Jun
Destroyer of Armies (hill formation with three rounded heads) Shortened life, great misfortune
* This was the first house of the Red Bird in prehistory, and part of the xiu Well.
** Lycian Apollo (Apollo the Wolf) is an Asian god.
*** The “seven luminaries” or Qiyao came to China in 230 CE, with the translation of the Matanga-sutra. The auspices are as follows:

Planets: lesser misfortune
Fixed stars: lesser fortune
Sun: greater fortune
Moon: greater misfortune

One ring of the compass shows branches, terms and western astrology (page 121) In Levitt’s hands, the jie qi (tropic year) is the agricultural calendar, with Daoist astrologers connecting the jie qi to the Branches and “patterns of changes in chi [sic].”The 24 jie qi (later 12 jie qi and 12 zhong qi) were both ancient folk calendars and integral parts of Chinese calendrical science. What you used depended on the reference points.If you go by the first civil month in the Xia calendar and count 15 days to a jie, then this system worked like the folk calendar of 360 days (found in Yueling texts and the Lushi chunqiu).

But if you started at one winter solstice and counted until the next winter solstice, you were using the technician’s calendar of 365.25 days (which is what kanyu shia — that is, feng shui practitioners — use).There’s no western astrology on a Luopan! Cheng Jian Jun (page 142) kindly notes that the Jupiter stations approximate western astrological houses; they aren’t equivalent.

Chinese used the orbit of Jupiter (rounded to 12 years) in feng shui, but the earliest they could have known about the western zodiac was from Arab traders in the sixth century CE.

Anyway, ancient Chinese used equatorial astronomy, not tropical astronomy like Westerners.

The correlates Levitt supplies are inaccurate.

Western Astrology
Levitt’s Correlates
Sagittarius 1st branch, 11th month
Current astronomical date: Scorpio, Ophiuchus, Sagittarius
Chinese season >>
Lesser Snow, Great Snow, Winter Solstice
Actual Chinese Correlates>> Stem Ren (yang water), Branch Zi (water)
Capricorn 2nd branch, 12th month
Current astronomical date: Sagittarius
Chinese season >> Lesser Cold
Actual Chinese Correlates>> Stem Gui (yin water), Branch Chou (earth)
Aquarius, Pisces 2nd branch, 12th month
Current astronomical date: Capricorn, Aquarius
Chinese season >> Greater Cold, Beginning of Spring, Rain
Actual Chinese Correlates>> Stem Jia (yang wood), Branch Yin (wood)
Pisces 1st month, 3rd branch
Current astronomical date: Aquarius
Chinese season >> Waking of Insects
Actual Chinese Correlates>> Stem Yi (yin wood), Branch Mao (wood)

— and so forth.

  • Levitt uses the first astronomical month, and calls everything “branches” when the components are ganzhi (stems and branches).
  • For Chinese, spring occurs midway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.The first of the jieqi occurs when the ecliptic longitude is 330°, which occurs at Rain (approx. February 19). Ecliptic longitude is 270° at the winter solstice and 300° at the twelfth Chinese month (Greater Cold).
  • For 2007 (which is reflected in the “actual Chinese” items), Levitt is still in the previous year. Her new year (in jieqi terms) is in the second month of the year.
  • For Chinese, a new moon occurs in conjunction with the sun (it is “black”).
  • Precession has not been taken into consideration. Western astrologers say the spring equinox is in Aries, but it is the stars of the constellation Pisces that are rising helically. Western astrology stopped following the sky around 500 BCE, and the “signs of the zodiac” no longer match the constellations — they match the seasons.
Another band combines each one of the … branches with one of the five elements, which creates a 60-character cycle. This cycle designates successive days and years … (page 123) By “60-character cycle” Levitt probably means ganzhi(stems and branches).24 jieqi categorized by elements is on the Luopan. On a San He, the “three harmonies” uses five elements — with three seasons. No, she doesn’t seem to be talking about that.The 24 mountain ring uses five elements. The “universal five elements” uses 365.25 du and tracks the xiu — no, she’s not referring to that, either.Does she mean wuxing in ganzhi for neiyin calculations?
Or is this just a really bad explanation of wuxing?
Song innovations, Levitt claims, included adding “ruling planets of the five elements in three of their cycles to the compass” (page 123) Yet planets have been associated with days, cardinal directions, and wuxingsince the fourth century BCE, according to scholars. And it is hard to know what she means by “five elements in three of their cycles” unless this is a vague explanation of wuxing, the Controlling Cycle, etc.Joseph Needham said these were added to the compass during the Song:

  • Human plate with 20 characters and 4 gua as azimuthal direction signs arranged in middle needle positions (7.5° west of north) to reconcile with declination as of the twelfth century
  • Equatorial extensions of the xiu according to the Kaixi reign period (1206 CE)

Cheng Jian Jun says these are Song additions:

  • 24 heaven star ring (on a San Yuan compass)
  • Universal Five Elements (uses 365.25 du and tracks the xiu — but xiu are lunar markers). This may be what Levitt was trying to explain.
  • 28 xiu Limit Ring
Many bands of the large … compass deal specifically with burial protocol (page 124) Whichlarge compass (you get three choices)? And how “large” are we talking about?”Many” is overstated. Cheng Jian Jun says there are two specifically Yin House rings:

  • Earth Plate Correct Needle through 60 Dragon
  • Sitting Dragon Evil Spirit
The compass ring depicting the “twelve palaces” … also play [sic] a significant part in astrology and in burial protocol. These “palaces” are similar to the “houses” of a Western horoscope.
(Page 124)
For Levitt these are
Ming palace
Brothers and sisters
Man and woman
Fortune and virtue
These are the twelve palaces of Ziwei Dou Shu, which is astrology not feng shui!Levitt is lost. We’ve already discussed the bit about the purported link with Western astrology. We’ve also discussed the rings that are used only for Yin House calculations.The “twelve palaces” might be the Jupiter stations (suixing jinian), which indicate the sidereal rotation of Jupiter. Jupiter takes approximately 12 years to finish an orbit. Each palace can also indicate, approximately, a year.This is the “twelve palaces” and Dayin according to the Huainanzi.

Position of Dayin
Heliacal rising of Jupiter at dawn in xiu Shi
Sidereal position
Yin Shetige Dou
Mao Ming’e Nu
Chen Zhixu Shi
Si Dahuangluo Kui
Wu Dunzang Wei
Wei Xiexia Zi
Shen Tuntan Jing
You Zuo’e Liu
Xu Yanmao Yi
Hai Dayuanxian Jiao
Zi Kundun Di
Chou Chifenruo Wei

These are for Yang houses and astronomical events and cycles. The “dividing provinces” (12 Branch Division) are twelve parts of the ecliptic.

Cheng says they have “no real practical use” except for “cultural reasons.” Perhaps that comforts people like Levitt, who cannot think of 12 divisions as anything but the invention of white folks.