Feng Shui Follies


It seems like, a few years ago, Feng Shui was all the rage among New Age practitioners and people wanting to make a quick buck. If you rearranged your furniture properly, it would result in good fortune, or something like that.

It was supposedly based on the way in which objects and rooms are oriented in relation to the cardinal directions, which in turn represented various life aspirations.

You might remember Penn and Teller’s Bullshit! episode where a camera caught a so-called Feng Shui expert saying, “Still looks like shit” after charging a crapload of money for rearranging things. It was never something that held any particular interest for me, and I get the impression that Western society has moved on to new ways of making money from gullible people by loosely interpreting Asian traditions. When I found out that Geomancers in the Final Fantasy series were called “Feng Shui Knights” in Japanese, however, I thought it might be worth a look at the origins of the practice.

“Feng Shui” literally means “wind water” in Mandarin Chinese, and is basically a way of building and living in harmony with the environment. It was thought to have been practiced as early as 4000 BC. Both the directions in which buildings faced (tombs probably being the earliest structures to be oriented in specific directions) and when they were built were vital parts of architecture, as they were necessary to distribute the life force properly. The principle of magnetism also became a significant part of the mix. An instrument called the luopan, which points to the South Magnetic Pole, is used to determine directions.

It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense when seen in the light of modern science, but it seems fairly harmless and might well have worked to a certain extent on a psychosomatic level. I see so many people railing about cultural appropriation these days, and to me simplifying and repackaging an aspect of Asian philosophy and spiritualism to sell to rubes who don’t want to research it is a much bigger deal than a white chick wearing a kimono for a photoshoot. I feel kind of the same way about yoga, especially since I learned in college that bodily exercise is only one of several different yogas. It’s part of achieving enlightenment in Hinduism, while here it’s aerobics with a mat. I guess I kind of feel that, if you’re going to feign an interest in these spiritual practices, you should at least know their original context. Also keep in mind that just because something has been around for 6000 years doesn’t necessarily mean it works.

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3 Responses to Feng Shui Follies

  1. Paul Dana says:

    Hello, Nathan! I tell you, there are times when your skepticism sounds like an echo out of my own head. Speaking of skeptics, I have a movie recommendation for you. It’s a documentary called An Honest Liar, about a TV magician who was famous in the 60s and 70s, the Amazing Randy. He had a passionate dislike for spiritualist charlatans and sometimes went after them in spectacular fashion. He was also a fun, engaging, and unique person in his own right. You might get a kick out of him.

    • Nathan says:

      Yeah, I think I’ve heard of him before. Is he the one who offered reward money to anyone who could demonstrate genuine supernatural powers? I’ll have to see if I can find the documentary.

      • Paul says:

        The documentary didn’t mention anything about offering money. What Amazing did do was to expose the tricks behind apparent supernatural powers (including a hugely popular faith healer) and also the ways in which people collude in their own deception (including the US Government).

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