The dragon, the tiger and the phoenix
The most common perception of feng shui among Europeans is that it is nothing more than the Chinese art of space arrangement. This is true, but behind the method lies the entire Chinese philosophy and world view, the harmonisation of the opposing forces of yin and yang and the knowledge of the eight Chinese trigrams.
The dragon, the tiger and the phoenix
Ancient Knowledge in a Modern World

The dragon, the tiger and the phoenix

Photo: iStock
Orsolya Péntek 21/06/2023 07:55

The most common perception of feng shui among Europeans is that it is nothing more than the Chinese art of space arrangement. This is true, but behind the method lies the entire Chinese philosophy and world view, the harmonisation of the opposing forces of yin and yang and the knowledge of the eight Chinese trigrams.

According to Chinese mythology, feng shui, which literally means "wind" and "water" in English, is derived from a turtle that carried the description of the world on its shell. Not only did the system of symbols found on the shell become the basis of spatial arrangement and I Ching, Chinese "book of divination", but it also told of the continuous shaping of the world by opposing forces.

According to the Chinese – which is of course a somewhat broad concept, let's say rather according to the Chinese philosophy of existence, which is also influenced by Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism – the world was originally inhabited by a kind of primordial force, the dragon's celestial breath, which is referred to as chi, life energy, and the term may also be familiar to European readers in this form.

Holding the chi

Chi works in all beings, bringing harmony, peace and happiness; it is an active energy that can also become stronger and weaker depending on where it passes through.

This is where the feng shui method comes in: when designing spaces, care must be taken to ensure that the vital energy is not dispersed or trapped, as in the case of arrow-straight paths or valleys.

Where the chi is weakened, feng shui practitioners say that there appears the sha chi, the harmful energy associated with the image of stagnant water, heavy soil, cold. While according to feng shui, wavy lines usually direct and hold the chi in spaces, sharp corners or, as mentioned above, straight paths, for example, strengthen the sha chi, writes Mária Horváth in her book.

According to the notion of feng shui, chi must be kept around houses and buildings.  Therefore, the ideal house is built in a place where the building is "protected" by the dragon and the tiger, with the turtle behind the house and the phoenix in front of it; the animals, of course, do not guard the dwellings as such – or indeed any space arranged according to feng shui – but as symbols of various forces. 

Photo: iStock

Animals and planets

The dragon has already been mentioned, but not what else it represents in addition to the source of life-giving breath. In China, it is associated with the East, sunrise, spring, fertility and azure, among other things.

The dragon is believed to spend the winter underground, appearing every year on the second day of the second lunar month, bringing with it the spring rains and floods. In the illustrations, it is often shown with a burning pearl. If it has five claws, it is the symbol of the emperor, if four, the symbol of the princes.

The dragon, which is the source of chi, also represents the yang side of the famous yin-yang symbol, i.e. male energy. Opposite it is the yin phoenix, the animal of the south, associated with the colour red, fire and female energies – it is no coincidence that it has become the symbol of the empress.

While yang corresponds to the sunny side of the mountains and saturates the universe with downward-flowing celestial energy and warmth, yin is responsible for the dark, soft and earthy energies, giving upward-flowing power and is associated with the shadowy side of the mountains.

The yin and the yang were once in a karmic egg, but their energies were in conflict, so the egg shell cracked. This is perhaps the best-known Taoist Chinese symbol today: a black and a white interlocking circular slice, visibly rotating, with their edges running into each other, each half bearing a piece of the other in the middle: the black half of the space has a white dot in the middle and the white half has a black one; there is hardly a more perfect symbol of the harmony and opposition of opposing world-creating forces.

As mentioned, the dragon represents the East, the phoenix the South.

Opposite the dragon is the other animal involved in the flow of chi, the white tiger, which corresponds to the western side of the mountains, with the metal element associated with it. The north side is embodied by the turtle mentioned above, associated with water, winter and cold, and the plain.

The elements

In the Chinese art of spatial arrangement, all five elements are represented in some form: wood, fire, earth as the centre, metal and water. (It should be noted here that, unlike other elemental sciences, the Chinese do not consider air to be one of the elements.) These elements are in constant interaction with each other, for example, water feeds the trees, while the wood feeds the fire, the ashes of the fire feed the earth and so on.

Each element is assigned its planet, shape and material on an analogy basis. To give you an example: while fire is associated with Mars as in other cultures, metal is associated with Venus.

Chinese divination symbols are also used in feng shui: these are the trigrams made up of three horizontal lines, continuous or broken in the middle. The unbroken lines represent the yang energy, the broken lines represent the yin force. The eight possible variations (trigrams, or kua in Chinese)

in feng shui surround an eight-sided "map" that can be superimposed on virtually any space in the imagination. It should be noted here that the 64 divination signs generated by the trigrams give rise to the I Ching, the Chinese “book of divination" mentioned above.

If you lay the map surrounded by the eight basic signs on the space you want to furnish, or on the floor plan of any home, office or building, you can mark anywhere on the eight-sided diagram marked by the trigrams on the corresponding side, the areas of fame (south), and then, clockwise from there, marriage, children, patrons and travel, career (north), self-education, family and wealth. (The Chinese maps were not oriented north, but south.)

While real feng shui experts often make complicated calculations – the two main schools are the space-form and the compass school, the latter using the lo-pan compass, which is made up of concentric circles – it is generally true that if you're struggling with challenges in any area of life, it's good to look at the right corner of your home to see if there is a spatial arrangement cause for stuck energies...

The author is fine artist and writer
The Tao

The best-known of the philosophical systems associated with China is the Tao, which is attributed to Laozi, who lived in 500 BC. He was a librarian, but after his enlightenment he set off for the West on the back of a water buffalo. He was persuaded to write down his teachings by one of the pass guards, Yinxi. This became the Tao Te Ching (The Book of the Way and of Virtue), the best-known Hungarian paraphrase of which is attributed to Sándor Weöres.

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