left biblioblography: The Dance Of The Geomance–Or, How People Are Swayed By Feng Shui

Saturday, February 05, 2011

The Dance Of The Geomance–Or, How People Are Swayed By Feng Shui

Cross posted @ the Atheist Oasis

feng_shuiAs it is now Chinese New Year, Gong She Fa Zi.

At the onset, I’m a raging sinophile. I’ve been studying Chinese martial arts for years. Been to China twice. The people are friendly, the country is lovely, but the air quality is terrible. Oh, and don’t drink the water. Seriously. They don’t drink it either. Bottled water is a huge industry over there, bet on it.

A culture that’s so old and diverse, that speaks to some folks. The air of age, and the breath of history, both pass over the spectator and a mystery is left behind, itching to be solved.

Then again, an argument from antiquity can be fallacious. And does not exempt the game played from the critical eye.

No doubt you’ve had the minor brush with this new craze, Feng Shui. New as in the sense of being marketed to the American public as some decoratorial meme, with an eye to sell some extra magic to the unwashed masses under the guise of self-improvement.

Feng Shui is defined as:

an ancient Chinese system of aesthetics believed to use the laws of both Heaven (astronomy) and Earth (geography) to help one improve life by receiving positive qi. The original designation for the discipline is Kan Yu (simplified Chinese: 堪舆; traditional Chinese: 堪輿; pinyin: kānyú; literally: Tao of heaven and earth).

The term feng shui literally translates as "wind-water" in English. This is a cultural shorthand taken from the following passage of the Zangshu (Book of Burial) by Guo Pu of the Jin Dynasty:

                Qi rides the wind and scatters, but is retained when encountering water.

Historically, feng shui was widely used to orient buildings—often spiritually significant structures such as tombs, but also dwellings and other structures—in an auspicious manner. Depending on the particular style of feng shui being used, an auspicious site could be determined by reference to local features such as bodies of water, stars, or a compass. Feng shui was suppressed in China during the cultural revolution in the 1960s, but has since seen an increase in popularity, particularly in the United States.

As I understand it, Chinese history has been fraught with all sorts of calamities and misfortunes. As to Qi, a successful argument can be made that it is what constitutes the life-force of the individual. That’s it. No flying Taoist monks need apply, no ‘distance death touch’ or any of that other flighty crap. As to positioning furniture and whatnot for a more harmonic living space, that makes a half-ass kind of sense. But omens? Augurs? Ancestral spirits? Sadly reality doesn’t allow the ‘squeeze-my-eyes-shut-and-wish-really-hard’ technique to work.

Now, prepare to have your irony meter blown. Check out  who the biggest detractors are:

Matteo Ricci (1552–1610), one of the founding fathers of Jesuit China missions, may have been the first European to write about feng shui practices. His account in De Christiana expeditione apud Sinas... tells about feng shui masters (geologi, in Latin) studying prospective construction sites or grave sites "with reference to the head and the tail and the feet of the particular dragons which are supposed to dwell beneath that spot". As a Catholic missionary, Ricci strongly criticized the "recondite science" of geomancy along with astrology as yet another superstitio absurdissima of the heathens: "What could be more absurd than their imagining that the safety of a family, honors, and their entire existence must depend upon such trifles as a door being opened from one side or another, as rain falling into a courtyard from the right or from the left, a window opened here or there, or one roof being higher than another?”

Well, in fairness, what could be more absurd than imagining that the human individual is born crippled, that some imaginary guy sacrificed himself to himself to correct a mistake he made, that somehow everybody keeps going after death, that a sea was split to allow pedestrians, that those pedestrians wandered around for forty years before completing a walk that would take 10 days in sandstorms…You get it.

This one’s even more…amusing:

It is entirely inconsistent with Christianity to believe that harmony and balance result from the manipulation and channeling of nonphysical forces or energies, or that such can be done by means of the proper placement of physical objects. Such techniques, in fact, belong to the world of sorcery.

I don’t think commentary is necessary. Res ipsa loquitor.

Back to the topic: Arranging your environment is something humans do. It happens. Mirrors make sense: we are an introversive species. Reducing sharp corners is always a plus. But we’re talking about basic interior decorating (I’m a confirmed bachelor, so don’t ask) – and apply some strategic thought to the location, shape, and function of a building also makes a bit of sense.  But curses? The Chinese equivalent of Elvis? Ancestral spirits?

Pending any real evidence – that’ll be a thumbs down. Until convinced otherwise.

Till the next post then.

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