Feng Shui: blocking negative energies, zombies, annoying neighbors, and illegal search and seizure from your home since 4000 BC. It’s really not surprising it has lasted this long.

The ancient art of Feng Shui is actually a terrifically complex system of geomancy, or earth divination, used to create harmonious relationships between humans and their surroundings. Or, if you’re a New Age sort of weirdo in the modern West, it’s a great way to do interior decorating!

Let’s set aside the obvious scientific questions of whether or not Feng Shui has any legitimate effect on anything for a moment.

Feng Shui has been seen as a mystical system with a great deal of potential for people outside its original sphere of influence, but like many of the other philosophies brought to the west during the New Age movement of the latter half of the 20th century, it has been significantly watered down and almost universally misunderstood. It hasn’t exactly been difficult for charlatans and swindlers to pick up on just how much people are willing to spend on this sort of thing and rake in the cash without any formal training at all. The problem is that many people here in the west simply don’t understand just how complicated the concepts behind Feng Shui are.

It all starts with Qi (pronounced “chee” in English). You’ve probably heard of it at some point, but it’s hard to know exactly what it means if you didn’t grow up with the concept. Qi is the life energy and the life force of all living things and is also seen as a kind of energy flow within the universe and the earth itself. Qi moves within and without the body. Translated literally, it means “breath” and there is a heavy focus on movement in understanding how qi works. Feng Shui utilizes this understanding of qi, of the ebb and flow of life energy, to choose “proper” locations and orientations for man made structures so as to keep them in balance with their surroundings and bring wealth and happiness to their inhabitants.

Feng shui, historically speaking, has been widely used throughout China for thousands of years to orient buildings in spiritually auspicious places. Spiritually significant structures (tombs, temples, and even homes) were given special consideration within this system. Using knowledge of astronomy, the local landscape, and often with the aid of a Luopan (a rather complex sort of magnetic compass designed specifically with feng shui in mind) it is thought that the practitioner can discover not only the proper geographical location for a building, but also the correct location in time for it to be built. There are various methods for achieving this and different schools of thought on just how such locations and times are to be calculated, that I am not really qualified to relate here. The whole thing is really that intricate.

The art of Feng Shui can be difficult to understand for the western mind. It is inextricably bound up with both the alchemical and magical philosophy behind Taoism and the very ordered thinking of Confucianism, both of which have been enormously influential on China for over two thousand years. By understanding that philosophies such as these are significant pieces of cultural heritage we can see the cause and effect behind the shaping of entire nations, and that is pretty cool if you ask me.