An Instinct for Harmony: Geomancy in Human Culture

by Manu Butterworth

Geomancy is an ancient and contemporary practice that asserts that prosperity, vitality and happiness flow from harmonizing yourself and your environment with the cosmic order. In the West, Chinese feng shui has taken the lead as the most commonly applied form of geomancy in architecture and interior design. However, geomancy is a broadly human instinct, with many world cultures practicing it in some form for centuries.

There is the Hindu Vastuvidya which, like feng shui, uses directionality and element theory. Placement is done according to the divinity and planet that rules each corner of the home, as well as according to the room's function. For example, according to Vastu the bathroom is ruled by the moon and is a place of cleansing and rejuvenation; light colors and reflective surfaces reminiscent of the moon and water enhance this room's energy.

In Madagascar, the concept of Vintana is very important, both in building and in life decisions. Vintana is a form of astrology and means "destiny," as ordained by the position of the sun, moon, and stars. The system assigns forces and qualities to times and to the different directions. North dominates south, and east dominates west, so northeast is the most favorable direction for building. Inside homes, altars may be found in the northeast corner, and honored guests are seated at the north sides of tables.

Native American traditions have methods of "clearing" sick buildings, or inauspicious atmospheres, using drums, rattles, feathers, water, smoke and protective totems. European geomantic traditions include alchemy, dowsing, and building along "ley lines," or ancient paths of power. In medieval Europe a semi-religious official was responsible for locating new cities on auspicious sites. Those principles of orientation are still applied today to the construction of religious buildings in the West.

The English word "geomancy" rings of magic to most listeners, probably due to its strong association with the medieval alchemists, who quested to turn lead into gold and unlock the key to immortality. In fact, geomancy is not magic. Geomantic traditions combine mathematics, geometry, geology, meteorology, and astronomy with local philosophies or spiritual beliefs to create an art/science of harmonious design and beneficial living.

Frequently we look around our planet and see waste, carelessness, and a lack of harmony with nature. We see the dominance of technology. We see individuals, corporations, and nations reaping destruction. But the prevalence of geomancy in world cultures, and the new rise of feng shui in the West, tells us something else about humans and how we wish to inhabit our world.

Geomancy represents our instinct for harmony. We long to understand the forces at work on the earth and in the heavens, and to find our place between them. We want to carve out living and working spaces that use resources well, that enhance our health and prosperity, and that give us a place in the world. Consciously or not, we desire spaces that represent who we are and our role in the workings of the cosmos.

Geomantic practices help us create this. They tell us where and how to build in order to blend effectively with the natural environment. They analyze the energy flowing through our homes, and help us to place objects, furnishings, even people, to take best advantage of that flow. They tell us what elemental materials to build with or keep near us, to keep us grounded, connected, and to enhance our strengths. This is what the modern geomancer (or as we treat it here, feng shui consultant) offers -- a current approach that meets our world's ancient desire for harmony.

From a contemporary perspective, feng shui is the most obvious choice for today's students of geomancy. Feng shui is always culturally relevant. Its principle-based approach translates and is transposable into any environment, anywhere, at any time. A feng shui consultant can assess any type of space, as well as its inhabitants, and then apply the principles to best support those unique individuals, just where they are. Whether in Asia, Africa, the United States, or even Antarctica, feng shui principles work, and are best suited to address the needs of our global community, in home or work environments. Feng shui is simply the most effective form of geomancy for our times.

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