Someone who knew another feng shui expert once asked me, “Which feng shui do you practice? The shape one or the compass one?” I was so surprised that it took me a few seconds to answer “well, both, of course!”. I was intrigued by the question, so I dug deeper and indeed, there was a time when some feng shui masters practiced either one or the other. Nowadays, good experts use both together, as they can complement each other for better efficiency. Check the Feng Shui glossary to see others schools.
The two main schools of thought in feng shui
I will only mention here the so-called traditional feng shui (and not the “new age” feng shui which was born in the 20th century).
First of all, there is the San He school, also called the Three Harmonies school: it emphasizes the harmony of Heaven, Earth and Man. This is why the compass (or Luo Pan) used has 3 rings of 24 mountains. It places particular emphasis on the harmony between the directional sectors. This school also focuses on the environment and aims to understand how nature shapes and sustains Chi (see my article on Form Feng Shui).
There is also the San Yuan school also called the Three Periods school: it is a mathematical model of Bagua used to calculate the quality of Chi over time. The compass consists of a single ring of 24 mountains. It emphasises the dynamic influence of time, with the time factor represented by numbers and trigrams. This is the school of thought that I favour in my expertise. It serves as a support for the flying star school.
Finding the front of the house
Before determining the orientation of the house, it is necessary to define where the front is and where the back (the sitting) is. This sounds so simple, yet many mistakes are made when the orientation is wrongly determined. As everything depends on this measurement (the placement of the Bagua on the plan, the numerical diagram of the flying stars…), it must be perfectly correct.
In traditional Chinese houses, this was not a problem because the front door and the windows were always drilled into the façade. Today, contemporary houses are more creative and that is why mistakes are sometimes made.
In 80% of the houses, the façade is obvious: the front door is on the front side of the house, and this front side is on the side of the most frequented street. Thus, it is easy to tell which direction the house was built. But this does not mean that the main entrance door is in all cases a reliable indication of the frontage! If the orientation is not immediately obvious, then one should instead analyse the surroundings without worrying about where the door is located. To simplify, the frontage is usually on the more yang side.
Finding the orientation of the habitat
To find the orientation of the house, flat or business for which we want to do a feng shui survey, we of course need a compass. Asian feng shui masters use a Luo Pan. It is also possible to use a classical hiking compass, the important thing is that it indicates the magnetic north.
The ideal is to take the measurement outside, far from any possible magnetic disturbance (metallic objects, watch, belt buckle, parking meter, car…). Place yourself with your back to the façade: this way you can measure the direction of the façade.
Several measurements should be taken, possibly with several compasses, in order to validate the accuracy of the reading. It is very important not to make a mistake!
You must measure to the nearest degree. Indeed, each of the 8 trigrams extends over 45° (8*45=360°) but each trigram is divided into 3 equal parts of 15°. The total number of subdivisions (3*8) is called the 24 mountains.
Drawing the habitat plan
In order to draw up a plan of the house or flat, a measurement of each room must be made. You can use an existing floor plan to facilitate the work, but always take your own measurements.
First, draw a general view of the room (you can help by looking at the ceiling), reproducing its exact shape, marking any gaps. Start with the long sides, then measure the walls one by one, turning clockwise.
The diagonals are also measured in case the walls are not straight, which happens very often. Open the doors to take through measurements which will allow you to check yourself when making the final drawing.
I recently had a case where I had the impression that nothing fitted when I was drawing up the plan on the computer. I asked the client to come back on site to check the measurements: my measurements turned out to be correct, the problem was the insulation, the thickness of which was completely different from one room to another. The walls were all white, so it didn’t occur to me at the time.
When measuring, I also take the heights of the doors, windows, ceiling, spandrels and so on. This is not useful for the 2D plan needed to position the Bagua, but it is useful later when the feng shui expertise is followed by an interior design service or the creation of 3D views.
The ideal is of course to have a laser meter in addition to a mechanical one. Yes, we are within 5cm! We will take advantage of the measurement to take the cardinal orientation in each room (this allows us to check ourselves again and again).
Dividing the plan into sectors
Here too there are two schools. One can cut the plane by placing the bagua, which allows to draw a pie shape with 8 portions. One can also cut the plan by forming a 9-square (the 8 directions + a central square): the famous lo shu square.
Personally, I draw the plan with both methods, and then, depending on the regular or irregular shape of the building, I prefer to use one or the other in my analysis. I admit that the circular representation (the pie chart) generally seems to me to be more in line with the movement of the Chi, which is not linear but cyclical.
Here, the main difficulty is to find the centre. If the house is square or rectangular, no problem: just draw the two diagonals and the centre will be at the intersection of these two lines. If the shape is clearly L-shaped, the house can be cut into 2 rectangles: draw the diagonals of each rectangle. Then connect the points of intersection with a straight line. If the two rectangle areas are equal, then the centre is in the middle of this line. If not, then the weighting is based on the area of the rectangles.
In the case of very irregular shapes, the most accurate way is to calculate the barycentre (I’ll let you brush up on your geometry lessons!).
Thus, whatever the chosen division (pakua or loshu), it allows to determine where the rooms of the house are located according to the different sectors. It is not unusual for a single room to have several sectors. In this case, it will be necessary to find associations or compromises: for that, the knowledge of the cycles of production, control and destruction of the 5 elements is essential (see my article on the wu xing).