FENG SHUI FOR BEGINNERS

Richard Craze

Headway, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1994.


What's in a name? Devotees of "nominative determinism" (a popular theme in New Scientist's Feedback column) will be pleased by this author, as will those who like to think that "everything happens for a reason", who may find quite a few, if they read this expensive little book carefully.

Granted that this is only a beginner's guide, we shouldn't perhaps expect too much from it in the way of doctrinal detail, but even at the level it is written, one or two puzzles arise. The main issue is what to make of ch'i, the so-called life force whose cultivation is the purpose of feng shui.

Before all that, let's see Craze getting off to a flying start with the yin and yang of the brain:

"It is interesting that more and more research is being done in the West into the two brain halves: left brain controls the right side and would seem also to govern the more intuitive, artistic side of our nature and is known as the female brain, while the right brain controls the left side and governs our more mathematical thought processes, and is known as the male brain. Western science is just discovering this; it seems the Chinese knew it 5000 years ago." (p.11)

It is interesting, indeed. It is not very interesting to see yet again the left/right brain cliche trotted out, but it is interesting that Craze has got his brain the wrong way round, perhaps because of his feng shui obsession with mirrors! It is, of course, the left hemisphere which is credited with language and computational processing, whereas the right side handles spatial cognition, and may be where intuitive thought is based. What the right side really does is apparently not yet well established: Michael Corballis in "Are We In Our Right Minds?" (Mind Myths, p.26) says that "research has shown nothing in the right hemisphere comparable to the remarkable dominance of the left hemisphere for speech". More about this will be written on a separate page of this site.

Whichever hemisphere is favoured, much head-scratching will be the sound-track for Craze's account of ch'i.

"Ch'i is the invisible force that animates everything, the life force... When we die the living ch'i leaves our bodies." (p.17)

A few pages later, he writes about "missing or dead ch'i" and "bad ch'i" (p.21). How can the life force be bad? Why doesn't living ch'i just die when we do, and become dead ch'i?

When ch'i really gets moving, things get more perplexing:

"Wherever ch'i needs to be stimulated or deflected use a moving object... [which] should use the natural power of the wind if possible..." (p.21)

Nowhere in the book does he say that ch'i can be shoved about by the wind, yet it can be deflected by objects which are themselves buffeted by wind. But the mystery deepens, as ch'i can apparently be made to move too fast by garden paths, and corridors are even more worrisome:

"The Chinese use flutes, swords, scrolls, bamboo tubes and fans to break up ch'i when it moves heavily or sluggishly, especially along beams and down long corridors. (p.23)

"Long corridors can funnel ch'i too quickly. Remedy: break them up by hanging something across them: banners, wind chimes, etc." (p.66)

It seems that ch'i doesn't know whether it's coming or going:

"What sort of front door have you got? Is it in proportion or too large, allowing too much ch'i to escape?... What direction does it face? What sort of ch'i is it letting in?" (p.55)

If doors seem tricky, consider the windows. West-facing windows may let in sha ch'i, which is disruptive or even dangerous and destructive. If you must open the window now and again, hang up some glass balls to break up the sha. This shows what kind of a ferocious adversary we're dealing with. And yet,

"The Chinese traditionally used to black out any west-facing windows." (p.51)

There is also a narrow-minded mention of sash windows:

"Windows with sashes that slide up and down are not particularly helpful as they can never be opened entirely. Unless you change them (and if you live in a Georgian house that may not be feasible) you need to encourage the ch'i to enter and leave smoothly; open the top half and place plant arrangements in the bottom half." (p.70)

It doesn't occur to him that windows might have different sizes: even half an old sash window may be bigger than a modern hinged window. But before you start vandalising your own house (Georgian or not), consider the opinion of an architect, Michael Brawne:

"There is no doubt that for many climates the sash window is an eminently sensible way of providing an opening; it allows highly controlled ventilation at top and bottom even when it is raining, it is constructionally simple because it has a balanced vertical sliding action which does not put any large and eccentric stresses on the frame, it is reasonably easy to clean on both sides, it does not protrude beyond the face of the building, nor does it interfere with curtains or blinds on the inside of the room." (From Idea to Building, p.74)

The contrast between Brawne's intelligence and Craze's crassness is all too clear.

But even blacking-out the windows may be hopeless, if we read between these lines:

"If you live in a terrace then the ch'i coming from your neighbours is important." (p.51)

So it comes through the walls? And what if our neighbours live in tower blocks?

"Their towering presence can overpower our ch'i." (p.49)

This sounds bad; what can we possibly do?

"Concave and convex mirrors can turn their image upside down, which will negate the effect of their powerful ch'i. Similarly the reflection from a bowl of water will have the effect of flattening their image."

So that's alright, then, except that Craze thinks that concave and convex mirrors reflect in the same way. Let him enlighten himself with a spoon.

Apart from dithering about whether to enter or leave the house, ch'i leads us a merry dance on the stairs:

"Staircases allow the ch'i to flow up to the upper floors but also down from them... Spiral staircases are a problem... as they are so nice and curvy that the ch'i disappears too quickly down them." (p.64)

Ch'i is such a conundrum, but, based on this statement -

"The Chinese believe that a toilet with its seat-lid left up will allow ch'i to vanish down the waste pipe. Keep the lid down." (p.64) -

we can conjecture a hypothesis: ch'i may be fickle, but it loves a good sewer.



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PSYCHOLOGY OF BELIEF AND SUPERSTITION



Paul Taylor 2001