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What is the special compass used in classical feng shui and what are some of the things it can tell us about our environment?

The Luo Pan or Chinese feng shui compass has a very long history.

The first mention of a South Pointing Compass in Chinese legend goes way back to the time of the fabled Yellow Emperor (Huang Di 2,600 BCE), when it is said he was caught in heavy fog summoned up against him in swampy ground by his mortal enemies. A beneficent deity coming to his rescue presented him with a ‘magical’ solution with which he in turn was able to reel about and in spite of the confusion of the mists, defeat this mortal foe.

Chinese Luo Pan

The magic provided him with was said to have been the south pointing compass chariot. This was a very imaginative device that had a needle atop, which no matter which way the contraption moved, always pointed south. (This was achieved by an ingenious mechanism of cogs connected to the wheels of the chariot and always kept the needle pointing south.)

Chariot Compass

However, the Chariot Compass was mechanized and not a magnetic compass.

Historically the first known magnetic compasses were small flat boards on which a magnetized lodestone shaped in the form of a spoon acted as the pointer. These were in use by the time of the Warring States period -– circa 500 -225 BCE.

Later developments saw needles suspended in water until finally the dry needle versions we know and use today were developed.

It was the Italians who then began to put compasses to use as navigational tools in shipping in the West.

Prototype boards were combination astronomical and divinatory tools; marking the four seasonal points of the year: Equinoxes and Solstices, 28 lunar phases for the agrarian calendar as well as four cardinal and four sub cardinal directions.

Later the 10 Heavenly Stems and 12 Earthly Branches were added and aligned with a now refined 24 calendar sector. These latter are known collectively as the twenty four mountains which score directional aspects, thus joining observation of time and space in one instrument.