As a practicing Western Taoist, I am ashamed to admit that I still practice certain elements and schools, or styles, of Feng Shui.
Why?Perhaps it has something to do with my introspective nature, but I suspect that it is influenced much more by the advertisements for Feng Shui “cures” that can be found on the Net these days. Granted, one of the greatest achievements of the Net is the “equalization” of businesses, allowing small Mom-and-Pop operations to compete with corporate behemoths – at least, in theory. But the recent flood over the past few years of these outright charlatans is just too much to take laying down.
Mirrors and Crystals and Flutes, Oh My!
As with so many things in life, having knowledge is a powerful tool. It allows you to divine the truth, or at least the most probable truth, from among a plethora of confusing choices. If I knew nothing about Feng Shui and sat down at my computer one evening to become acquainted with the principles, I’d be hard-pressed to come to a consensus of opinion. For many Feng Shui websites on the Net, there is usually a “Master-in-Residence” who willingly dispenses pre-measured doses of advice and “cures” to their eager visitors, usually accompanied by an offer of a “consultation” at a sale price. Run, I repeat, run when you encounter these folks.
Usually, these “Masters” offer trite “cures” for everything from fixing a bad marriage to resurrecting your dearly departed pooch. All it takes, as one site promised, is a $460.40 (I’m serious) “Average House Feng Shui Starter Kit” that consists of:
A bunch of little “crystal balls”
A dozen or so little self-adhesive mirror tiles
A few stakes (I guess they’ve had vampire issues in the past)
A “preprogrammed ba gua mirror”
A pair of bamboo flutes
A “protection tool” (Smith and Wesson?)
And a gaggle of red envelopes, Chinese coins, and strange artwork items.
Leave it to the “Master” to see to it that their client has everything they need for a more fulfilling life, eh?
Actually, when I sat down and looked over these offerings in detail I was amazed, not to mention slightly embarrassed. Here I was, barely limping by financially on my Feng Shui work, and the answer to all my fame and fortune needs was staring me in the face. So I took copious notes…
Crystal Orbs of Delight
OK, let’s start with the “crystal balls”. Ranging in size from 20mm to 50mm (roughly 1″ to 2″, according to my top-of-the-head calculations) and priced from $5.95 to $44.95, these “crystals” are touted as barring the Sha, or “hard energy” from your home or office and allowing only the Chi or “soft energy” to pass through and bring you abundance, happiness, and that tall, dark stranger you’ve been daydreaming about. Riiiight…
Now, nowhere does it say what these “crystals balls” are made of – whether they are indeed crystal (perhaps Mikasa?), or merely clear plastic. But they DO offer a detailed explanation of how it all works:
“…When “Sha” or hard energy enters the ball, the facets deflect the energy breaking it up and turning it into “Chi” or soft energy. Crystal Balls are typically used in windows to transmute the “Sha” entering your home from the street. They can also be used in an entryway or long hallway to slow down the energy. The size of the crystal ball you choose is dependent on the size of the ailment and the amount of energy you are trying to transmute”…
Now, I may be just a dumb Taoist-in-training, but I always thought that crystals merely refracted light, breaking it into prismatic rainbows that are pretty to look at. I never heard about their power of transmuting energy. Why didn’t Einstein know this? He must have been napping…
OK, fact time. “Sha” in Chinese usually means “bad”, and Chi (at least in the sense of energy) means…um…energy. So, the Master is comparing apples with oranges or, in this case, “bad” with “energy”. Granted, there IS something known as “sha qi”, meaning bad energy, but to explain it the way they did is ludicrous and shows an ignorance of general Feng Shui terminology. Of course, that doesn’t matter to the good-energy-starved patrons of their fine virtual establishment.
Magic Mirror, On The Wall
Moving on…mirrors. Now, I KNOW I’m a great-looking guy, and I don’t need to have too many mirrors sitting around the house to verify that fact, so I never had a chance to use one of those mirrors to “reflect and attract energy, and bring things together”. Wow – if I had only known!
OK, it’s Mr. Wizard time again…yes, light is a form of energy, so a mirror can reflect that energy. So far, so good. Of course, if you ask a physicist they’ll tell you that the mirror actually absorbs a little of the light in the form of heat, say on a hot summer day. So the total energy reflectance is somewhat diminished. Still – I can live with that. “Attract” the light? How? Does light run around in its little light-footed way, bringing sunshine to everyone, emitting it’s happy little photons, when suddenly it sees a mirror, stops dead in its tracks, and says “WHOA! A MIRROR! I am SOOO attracted to that thing! I GOTTA’ go there!!!”?
I think not. And as for “bringing things together” – the only thing a mirror has brought together for me in nearly fifty years has been my gaze and the big zit on my nose when I was 14.
I didn’t find any explanations for the stakes, so I’m sticking with my vampire theory. No, actually, they might be used for…uh…umm…well, if you’re doing your Feng Shui gig outdoors, maybe you can drive the stakes into the ground, attach strings to them, and chart out your basic directions and areas with them. For indoor use, I’m not so sure. Maybe help your houseplants grow up nice and straight? All I’m sure of is at $1 each I want to know what they do before I reach for the Visa card.
A “pre-programmed Ba Gua mirror”…what, it has a floppy disk drive on it? A memory chip on the flip side? They claim it’s the only mirror on the market capable of changing that naughty “Sha” into the white-hatted “chi” when it rushes in your front door. Oh, didn’t you know? Yep – every time you open that front door all that nasty Sha lurking outside comes pouring in, filling your house with negative energy and pain and leaving potato chip crumbs all over the Persian rug after it watches your “A-Team Mega-Collection Part 1” DVD. What a mess! Good thing the mirror has ancient Tibetan symbols on it – magic is the only thing that can help you now!
And of course, none of this theory applies if your name is Joan because of course everyone knows that Joannie loves Sha Qi.
Flutes of Fancy
“A pair of bamboo flutes”, the site continues, are important because…
… ”The flute is the creator. The flute emits sound that goes on for infinity. This sound carries the energy field for your desires. Bamboo flutes can be used to add the qualities of strength, endurance and power to one of your life stations. They can be used to create an energy field of your desires or they can be used to cure structural ailments …”
All righty, then. So, that crumbling damp basement wall I have can be fixed by hanging a piece of dead plant stalk over it? Oh, sorry, silly me – I have to use the ritual that’s included with the pair of flutes ($27.50, including the red cords and tassels), otherwise, it won’t work. Darn, I KNEW there’d be a catch!
The Protection Tool
Now, the REALLY intriguing item – the “protection tool”. What could it be? I had visions of some esoteric ancient Chinese kung-fu weapon, or perhaps something a Klingon would carry into battle with them – you know, all sharp edges and nasty-looking…
Boy, was I disappointed. For some reason, when I browsed this particular Feng Shui site my browser wouldn’t let me see any pictures, just text. But the text description of this dreaded, powerful “protection tool” gave away the dark secret that I had been lusting for – it was three flutes tied together in a triangle.
Allow me to quote once again…
… The Feng Shui Protection tool will create and(sic) energy for your home or office that protects you from negative “Sha” energy. It will create an energy field around your space of protection. With this tool those who intend harm will pass you by. The Feng Shui Protection Tool is constructed of three flutes with red cording and tassels and comes with an ancient ritual for protection of your home and office. The three flutes represent the trinity universe. The two angular flutes radiate peace and protection up to the universe. The horizontal flute is the guardian of your desires.
…and all this time I’ve been using a Glock on those midnight street-strolls …
As for the rest of the “cure” package – the red envelopes, coins, etc. – those are all pretty much standard fare for Western-flavored Feng Shui, and caused no great enlightenment in yours truly.
But Does It Work???
Now, having a nodding acquaintance with the practice of Feng Shui I can pretty much assure you that this stuff WILL work, if you BELIEVE it will. Therein lies the rub. What you’re getting for your money in most of these cases is a few trinkets that get you thinking about your life, and in that thinking lies the root of the cure.
It’s called “manifesting your intent” and is standard practice not only in Taoist circles but in many personal development courses as well. It’s a well-known series of techniques that emphasizes focus, planning, visualization, mindful application of spirit and a shoring-up of your belief in yourself and your universe. It works. I know it does. I’ve done it. So have many of my students. But the same thing could be accomplished sans all the mumbo-jumbo and magical appliances.
Real Feng Shui
…is practiced by REAL Masters and practitioners, and heeds back to established principles of alignment, architecture, astronomy, meteorology and agronomy. Originally, Feng Shui was used for placing grave sites and farms in auspicious locations and alignments. With the passage of the centuries and the general movement of the population from rural to urban areas, people attempted to transfer the workings of Feng Shui into their new environment with varying degrees of success. But you can be SURE that the ancient Chinese never thought for a moment that hanging a flute over their door would keep out all the bad energy. I’m sorry, but it just does NOT work that way.
Nor can real Feng Shui be applied by amateurs. I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but selling generic “cures” to a basically uninformed public while giving cursory instructions in an overly-generalized manner just does NOT produce spectacular results. What it DOES do is play upon the law of averages – in this case, you’ll have one of two possible outcomes to your problems after utilizing the “cures” – the problems will disappear of their own volition (or by your own activity in engaging them), in which case the Master can take credit for yet another magical “save”; or, your problems multiply and become worse, in which case the Master suddenly sees the need for more advanced Feng Shui work – you’d better reserve a consultation right away so the Master can get cracking and defeat that nasty ol’ Sha Qi.
In summation: yes, there ARE real Feng Shui Masters out there. NO, they are not easy to find here in the US; NO, they are not cheap; NO, they will not sell you flutes and mirrors; YES, what they do will be effective about 90-95% of the time. Better to spend your time and efforts locating one of these Masters rather than donating your life savings to a modern-day Sha-rlatan.