Mary Jo tells me I have Uranus in my chart, thus making me the wench who wants to try everything at least once. I assume that’s the reason I’m the wench who doesn’t just write historical fiction but dabbles also in contemporary and paranormal and anything else that catches my fancy. Which means my research wanders far and wide and not always down historical pathways.
But sometimes my contemporary research takes a turn to the past, as with my current idea—I can’t even call it a work in progress at this point since I’m still in research mode. And what I’m researching is feng shui, the ancient Chinese—not art or science but a school of belief—that employs methods of living auspiciously with the earth’s energies. That’s a pretty modern concept for several thousand years BC!
Today, we think of feng shui as a method of decorating to promote “good vibrations,” but the practice is ancient and much more far-reaching. By 888 AD, there were written texts and exams from the court of Emperor Hi Tsang laying out a complex method of capturing the vital energy, or chi, of an architectural site and channeling it through design and landscape to promote health, power, and whatever good fortune was required of the building. Considering most of Europe didn’t know the meaning of sewers at the time, architecture to promote health was a pretty woo-woo concept.
The fundamental elements of feng shui come from many sources—astrology, astronomy, religion, superstition, architecture, primitive environmental science, as well as cultural and social issues, among other things. The basic principle is to place and situate a building so it is in harmony with its surroundings (shades of Frank Lloyd Wright!), and to create a structure that balances the yin and yang of chi energy. The simplest description is to envision a house in which water flows in the front door and gently floods the entire house with positive energy. If you have a back door that is completely open to the front door, then the water will flow in one and out the other without embracing the house. (My house was built counter to every feng shui principle I know and I feel it. Have you ever hated a house you lived in? Bad chi energy might be why. Or the fact that the windows are in all the wrong places, the landscaping is an eyesore, and the garage is wonky, if you want to be scientific about it.)
Feng shui was first introduced to the United States during the gold rush in California when the Chinese workers brought their beliefs with them. Of course, back then, Americans ignored the principles, but today, feng shui is seen as part of the teachings of Confucius, part Taoism and I-ching, and very Californian New Age woo-woo as well as a respected principle of interior design. Laying out furniture for energy flow also improves the flow of the household, giving an open, more inviting feel instead of the claustrophobic conditions of many of our boxy rooms.
Without going into the “why” and "how" of feng shui decorating (a fun site for tips: http://www.fengshuitips.co.uk/home.htm) , some of the minor suggestions are not to leave shoes around the front door. The feng shui reason is that the chi energy will carry the smell and sickness through the house. The practical logic is that visitors can trip over them and sue you, and they’re ugly and offensive to look at. Feng shui says no TV in the bedroom. So does Psychology Today. Feng shui doesn’t allow children to sleep on the floor because they need chi energy to flow around them. I’m thinking kids sleeping on the floor are going to get into a lot more trouble crawling around picking up bugs and toys than kids safely tucked beneath covers. And I really love the warning against mirrors in the bedroom—who wants to look at themselves when they first get up? That would be enough to ruin my energy for the day.
Anyone else fascinated with the “whys” behind the woo-woo sciences? Have you ever applied feng shui to your house? I swear, my husband got a great new job after we re-arranged the “Career” section of our last house! Oh, and a fun book to introduce you to feng shui is Move Your Stuff, Change Your Life by Karen Rauch Carter, just in case you’d like to grasp fundamentals from a modern point of view. And there I go again, straying away from history.