Feng Shui Canards – by Stephen Skinner
…the 64 hexagrams of the I Ching have been an essential part of feng shui for thousands of years?
…that feng shui dates back 6000 years?
…that the first lo p’an (luo pan) started as a magnetic spoon spinning on a square plate?
…that you can do real feng shui without a lo p’an (or at least an accurate compass)?
…that Flying Star feng shui is totally unconnected and incompatible with Eight Mansion feng shui?
Well, if you did think any of the above was true, you would be wrong. Let me tell you why.
The I Ching was discovered or invented more than 3000 years ago. But it was not (until relatively recently) the basis of any rings on the lo p’an or any feng shui method or system. Obviously the principles of yin and yang, and their combination into 8 trigrams is the basic building block of all Chinese cosmology, used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, Karate, climatology and navigation. As such the trigrams marked out the 8 basic Cardinal and inter-cardinal directions, and were found on the inner ring of early lo p’ans, but the 64 hexagrams were nowhere to be seen. Before the lo p’an came the divination plate called the Shih dating from 165 BC, but it only used the corner 4 trigrams to markout NW, SW, NE and SE, purely as directional indicators.
The earliest feng shui formulas were San He formulas which relied on the 10 Celestial Stems and the 12 Earthly Branches, and combinations of these two sets. By combining these two categories (like with like) we get the 60 chia-tzu, not the 64 hexagrams. These constituents are also used for the 60 Earth-Penetrating Dragons, the 72 Mountain-Piercing Dragons, and finally the 120 Golden Divisions. All of these are absolutely essential parts of feng shui practice. They (plus the use of the other outer rings) will be taught at my upcoming workshop on The Secrets of the Outer Rings of the lo p’an in Melbourne on the 21st and 22nd of May this year.
This arrangement lasted for a long time until shortly before 1823, when someone with a penchant for completeness matched just 60 of the hexagrams with the 60 chia-tzu in various ways. These 60 were called the Root hexagrams. What happened to the 4 ‘missing’ hexagrams…they were used to mark out the 4 cardinal points, which thus had two hexagrams attributed to each of them.
Although Sao Yung (1011-1077) is usually credited with being the theoretical father of San Yuan feng shui, it was not until 1827 that anyone attempted to make a lo p’an ring containing all 64 hexagrams. And so was born the San Yuan school of feng shui. So really, compared to the 2219 year history of feng shui, the San Yuan method is a very recent innovation.
How can I say exactly 2219 years? Because 206 BC is the earliest mention of the techniques of feng shui. Even that date is simply the earliest date of the Han dynasty, the dynasty in which feng shui like techniques were first mentioned. Why do I say ‘feng shui like?’ Because then they were not called feng shui, but were called ti li. These skills were not actually referred to as ‘feng shui’ until Kuo P’u (Guo Po) who first used the term around 300 AD. Of course ‘feng’ and ‘shui’ were used before this to mean wind and water, but never in their combined sense. So in a sense ‘feng shui’ is only about 1710 years old. So much for all those popular books who claim a 6000 year history for feng shui.
One of the other reasons for that regularly repeated bogus claim is the much quoted finding of a grave with a tiger and dragon design on either side. But again, these images are a common property of Chinese culture, just like the use of peaches to represent the female sex-organs, or of a gourd to represent medicine, and do not indicate the use of feng shui. The dragon and tiger were simply part of the vocabulary of Chinese culture.
Speaking of the Shih board, this was used from before 165 BC until at least 600 AD, primarily by the Imperial staff for divination. Research into it has spawned a few more misrepresentations, of which the most common is the little bronze model of a spoon swiveling on a square plate, which is sold to the tourists by many museums throughout China, and which I expect at least a few readers will have a copy.
In truth the square base of the ancient Shih had a round flat rotating plate on which it could be adjusted for various times and astronomical configurations. But at no time was the precise Shih saddled with a magnetic spoon.
The error comes from an academic paper written by Wang Chen-To, and copied (with some reservations) by Joseph Needham in his monumental Science & Civilisation in China. The problem is that Wang Chen-To found a broken spoon some distance away from a Shih in the same archaeological dig, and being sure that there must have been a moving indicator on the square base plate (as he should have been) jumped to the conclusion that it was the spoon. Unfortunately neither that particular spoon, or any other spoon found in any archaeological digs was magnetic. Further more, no soup spoon (for that is what it was) was ever made of a substance that could be magnetised. To bolster his fading conclusion, Wang Chen-To even had special titanium spoons made, magnetised and highly polished, but not one of them would spin and line up with the Earth’s gravitational field. The ancient Chinese had much more sophisticated needle suspension methods, and used these to later manufacture accurate lo p’ans.
However the Chinese tourist industry, never one to miss a trick, figured that if Joseph Needham had written about it, so it must be, and proceeded to manufacture hundreds, if not thousands of replicas of Wang Chen-To’s design. The model base Shih plate is however fairly accurate, so if you have one of these, just throw away the soup spoon.
Of course you must use a lo p’an for feng shui (or at the very least an accurate Western compass which has a rectangular base). As most readers will be aware, there exists still in the US the very prevalent Black Hat Sect school of thought which says you don’t need a lo p’an or compass to do feng shui. Let me assure you that direction, as measured magnetically, is one of the essential ingredients of feng shui. And of course you all know that North isn’t always the direction of the front door! The so-called Black Hat Sect was a case of “throwing out the baby with the bathwater” when it removed the compass from feng shui in an effort to make teaching of it in the US much easier. As we all know, feng shui, or indeed any complex scientific practice was never meant to be that easy.
Finally, although Flying Star feng shui appears to be totally separate from Eight Mansion feng shui, they are both in fact part of the whole of feng shui. Just to give one point of connection, for example, when in Eight Mansion feng shui you calculate the so-called ‘kua number’ for a guy, to determine someone’s best locations, the number that you calculate is in fact the Annual Flying Star for the year of his birth. The apparent differences between these simply arise because of the ways feng shui has been taught as a series of isolated formulas rather than one unified subject.
Oh, by the way, a canard is an unfounded belief, but in the original French it meant a ‘duck.’ At this point I may need to duck, to avoid the sundry missiles of all those folk who have held the above cherished beliefs dear ever since books on feng shui began to appear in English. However if you would like to learn more about Feng Shui and The Secrets of the Outer Rings of the lo p’an then please join me in Melbourne on the 21st & 22nd of May for my two day intensive workshop. After a very long break I have finally decided to teach again and I look forward to seeing you there.
In addition I will also be presenting the keynote address on The Unity of Feng Shui Methods (8 Mansions, Flying Star & Water Formula) at the IFSA – Australia Chapter Feng Shui Convention in Melbourne on the 19th & 20th May; so if you are also interested in attending this event then Early Bird tickets are now available via the online shop at www.intfsa.org.au.
Date: Monday 21st & Tuesday 22nd May
Time: 10.00 am to 5.00 pm
Venue: Kilbride Centre
Cost: $888 (includes morning tea & afternoon tea for both days)
Payment: Via direct bank transfer to the IFSA – Australia Chapter (details available upon request)
If you have any further questions regarding the Stephen Skinner Post Convention Workshop or you wish to reserve your place then please contact us at:
Email: [email protected]
Phone: (61) 3 9016 9198