USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘feng shui’
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Fire and water must never meet

A feng shui master once told my informant that when fire and water meet within a household, conflict would arise. By fire, he refers to stoves, fireplaces, and other sources of heat, while by water he refers to faucets and pot spouts.

A few years ago, my informant lived in a house with poorly laid out kitchen, as the sink and kitchen counter each faced the stove and fireplace. Since she had a rotating faucet, the master warned her to never directly face fire and water toward each other, because it would lead to conflict. My informant really took this to heart, but her husband always dismissed her insistence on doing things exactly the way she was told to. One of the worst fights that they had had actually sparked from my informant noticing that the faucet was pointed toward the stove, which she took it as proof that her husband didn’t care if there was conflict in the family, while her husband, who prided himself on being logical, resented how she wanted him to subscribe to superstitious rituals and actively rebelled against her wishes.

This is a self-fulfilling prophecy, but it only reaffirmed my informant’s belief in feng shui.

 

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Feng Shui

Informant Background: The informant was born in Los Angeles. His family is originally from Taiwan. He grew up with his parents and grandparents who still speak Chinese, he does too. Many of his relatives are in Los Angeles so they all still practice a lot of Taiwanese/Chinese traditions and celebrate all the Chinese holiday such as: Chinese New Year, Ancestry day, Chinese Ghost day, etc. He said his family still hold many Chinese folk-beliefs and superstitions. He also travels back once in a while to visit his other relatives who are still back in Taiwan.

 

Do not live at the end of a street because all the bad energy of that street will gather at your house and never leave. It is also ideal if you can live with the mountains behind your house, and a steam in front. The mountain represents your family wealth. The stream represents the flow of energy renewing and also cash flows into your house.

The informant said this is a rule many Taiwanese people follow as a rule of thumb when they move into a new house or looking for a temporary place to live. Feng-shui is a tradition in Chinese culture that deals with the flow of natural and spiritual energy in spaces. The end of the street not only collect all the energy and not leave, it also is perceive as a “dead-end” where there is no other direction to go. These natural and man-made representations mostly have to do with wealth, which then leads to the well-being of the family.

 

I observed from my own traveling experience that this belief of Feng-Shui is widely spread and practiced in many countries. Throughout the years I observed that many who originated from China is aware of the concept of Feng-Shui. It is often practice at an older generation. The younger generations then seek advice on the subject matter from the older generation, using it as a rule of thumb before moving to a new place of residence. It also has influences in large developments where the developer will orient his project according to the belief thinking that his project will succeed.

This shows the importance of belief regardless of the truth and practicality in the folk-belief. Believing that wealth will come to your household will create an evidently better outlook in life than believing that your house collects all the bad energy of your street. Similar to how some people “knock-on-wood” because it makes them feel better, living in a proper Feng-Shui oriented house give the household a positive feel that at least their place of living is “correct.”

There have been many books in different languages about principle of Feng Shui. Some written by Chinese Feng Shui Masters, some are translations from collection of principles learned from the masters themselves. There are books written by non-Chinese about the subject matter. An example of that would be Feng Shui Your Life by Jayme Barrett and Jonn Coolidge where they illustrate how the practice of Feng Shui through design can better a home in term of spirits and energies. The author explore similar rules as the informant of the folklore stated above and also some in details to even where in the room to place a plant or to put a coffee table.

Feng-Shui is a belief that affects different scale of things. As mentioned by the informant it can effect a family’s well being through placement and orientation of the house. From the book mentioned above, Feng Shui can have an effect to an individual through placement of small objects within the room. It also reflects how folklore is tangled with everyday life.

Having these rules published challenges the notion of folklore vs. authored literature, even though it is clearly stated in the book that the authors do not claim these rules and theirs. It also challenges the idea of originality and authenticity since these authors are not from China but have studied under Chinese Feng Shui Master.

Annotation:

Barrett, Jayme, and Jonn Coolidge. Feng Shui Your Life. New York: Sterling Pub., 2003. Print

Folk Beliefs
Protection

Keeping Ghosts out of Houses

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“So when I was younger, my mom told me stories about why Chinese people decorate their houses in a certain way. Chinese people believe in ghosts, so some people will put mirrors above the doorway of their house because the mirror will reflect ghosts from coming in. Also, they would have a step in front of the doorway because ghosts walk in a very flat-footed manner, so it would prevent them from stepping into the house. The last thing was that some houses were built with two walls that were not perfectly parallel with the front door because that would mean that the ghost would have to walk and then turn and then walk into the doorway, so I guess the ghosts were confused and couldn’t get in that way.”

The informant’s mother is Taiwanese. According to what I’ve heard from Professor Thompson and my Taiwanese parents, almost everyone in Taiwan believes in ghosts, so dealing with ghosts is very important. Knowing that the dead roam your house is eerie and uncomfortable. This discomfort apparently transcends cultures as “haunted houses” are not desirable in the United States and many other cultures.

It seems like the Taiwanese see ghosts as very similar to us. Perhaps even a little less capable than we are as ghosts are repelled by simple mirrors and misaligned walls. There is an element of trickery in these house design traditions, which illustrates the different attitude held by the Taiwanese and a lot of the western world. In lore from United States, ghosts are often tricksters, causing mischief in the houses they haunt. In contrast, it seems as though there is a role reversal with Taiwanese lore. Ghosts are easily fooled and the living are the tricksters, giving us power over the dead. Perhaps the Taiwanese that believe strongly in ghosts find comfort in the thought of being able to thwart the dead.

It seems like a core concept or an inspiration for these traditions is “feng shui”, which is practice of placing of objects to redirect chi, which many Taoist and traditional Chinese call the life-force of the universe. Feng shui for houses is very popular among Asian Americans. I’ve heard of a friend of a friend that spent a considerable sum getting his room redesigned to optimize his chances of getting into an Ivy League. I have not heard of the practice of putting a mirror above the doorway or adding a step, but I have heard of a variation of having non-parallel walls. The idea is that by skewing the walls a bit, good luck enters through the front door, but doesn’t have a direct path to leave and ends up being reflected around the household. It is more than likely that the tradition my informant told me was an oicotype of the tradition I heard about.

Folk Beliefs
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T Intersection

The informant is talking about folk beliefs she learned from her mother about houses in China:

“You shouldn’t buy a house that’s at the end of a T-street, cuz then all the bad spirits will go into your house.”

This reminds me of a similar practice I have heard of, I believe in Feng Shui.
This could also come from the fact that houses at the end of T streets are more likely to be run into by automobiles. It could also just be due to the fact that a house in this position may just be more visible.

Folk Beliefs
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Chinese Architectural Superstition

“A house that has a staircase that leads directly to the front door is a cursed house.”

 

My informant first heard about this superstition from her friend Mrs. Jin.  Mrs. Jin had been boasting about how she had been able to rent a beautiful house in Irvine for the cheap price of $1100 when it should have been $1700.  She told my informant that the owner of the house who rented it to her was a Chinese man.  He was aware of the old Chinese superstition that a house with a staircase that runs into the front door is cursed, leading to inevitable death.  Mrs. Jin and my informant laughed about that notion because they were at church function at the time, so as Christians they found the superstition preposterous.  Eerily, Mrs. Jin that same week went in for a bypass surgery that should have been simple enough, but she died from complications.  Now she is uneasy about the superstition.

Mrs. Jin’s death and her renting the “cursed” house could have been a mere coincidence.  A front door that connects directly to the staircase can cause uneasiness because good fortune can fly out the door easily, or perhaps death can easily find you since the stairs are a direct pathway to your room.  I am a Christian, so I should not pay attention to such superstitions about death, but to be on the safe side, I myself would never live in a house like that, especially after hearing about what happened to Mrs. Jin.

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Korean Directional Superstition

"North is the direction of Death"

My informant first heard this superstition from his mother when he was fourteen years old.  His father had passed away when he was thirteen, so in Korean tradition, the sons must prepare a shrine for the deceased father on the day the father died to commemorate his death.  It is a time of reflection and a time to remember the loved one who has passed away.  When he was preparing the meticulous shrine for his father with the help of his sisters and mother, his mother explained to him that the shrine must be set up towards the north side.  When he asked why, she answered that north is always the way of death.  She also added not to sleep facing the direction of north because that is like facing death.

There is some logic to people believing that north would be the direction of death.  Since it is a general belief that there is some kind of an after-life in most religions, people believe in spirits.  Usually after death, the spirits leave the heavy bodies and elevate to a higher plane.  That is why I believe people perceive north as the direction of death.

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