Ben Wright’s colorful cover illustration for the August/September, 2009 issue of The Mountain Astrologer recently caught my eye again.
I noticed the ancient Chinese Yin-Yang symbol in the middle first. Around this symbol I saw a circle consisting of the eight ancient Chinese trigrams. What were these things doing on a magazine devoted to astrology? Then I spotted an outer circle showing attributes of the 12 houses of the Zodiac. Aha!
These disparate images on Wright’s cover all lie within an ancient Chinese eight-sided figure called a bagua. The bagua, sometimes transliterated as “pakua”, is an octagonal tool that’s used for feng shui. Feng shui is the ancient Chinese “art of placement” of buildings and of objects within those buildings. Feng shui is intended to protect and facilitate the flow of energy that affects the people who dwell or work inside buildings or homes.
In her introduction for Simone Butler’s article in the August-Sept 2009 issue of The Mountain Astrologer editor Nan Geary wrote: “This article is presented in the spirit of exploring the combination of feng shui with Western astrology.” Two other articles in the issue also explore the links between the assortment of images found on Ben Wright’s fanciful cover. Today I want to delve deeper into the connections suggested by the cover and these three articles in that issue of The Mountain Astrologer.
A common ancestor for ancient knowledge systems?
In 2008, I wrote a three-part series for Daykeeper Journal that looked at possible links among the I Ching, tarot, and astrology. As a librarian I view ancient systems like these three as compact, portable ways to store and share information among peoples who might be non-literate. These ancient “knowledge” systems are also structural precursors of the two main ways of that libraries in the United States, and elsewhere in the world, use to organize books.
I’ve long wondered if perhaps these ancient wisdom systems had a common ancestor, a pre-literate system that reflected archetypal kinds of symbolic information found in the human mind itself. I suspect there could have been a prehistoric time, a pre-Tower-of Babel era, when peoples all over the earth had a grand unified theory of everything that was expressed using a common symbolic language.
I decided it was time to go back and look again for links between the eight I Ching trigrams, feng shui, and astrology brought together in the autumn 2009 issue of The Mountain Astrologer. When I did, I found a missing link between the I Ching, lunar astrology, and feng shui. And I was inspired by Simone Butler’s article to come up with a different kind of connection between feng shui and Western astrology.
The eight Chinese trigrams
A trigram is a geometric symbol that stands for basic forces one can observe in nature. Each trigram symbol is made up of a unique arrangement of three lines. The two types of lines used in a trigram are either a “yang” line, i.e., an unbroken line, or a “yin line” i.e., a line broken in the middle. There are eight possible unique combinations of these two types of lines when put into groups of three.
The eight trigrams are unique because they are read starting with the bottom line and moving upwards. Changing the order of the lines in a trigram changes its meaning.
Here, from Diane Stein’s book about the I Ching (1) are Chinese transliterations of the names for the eight trigrams followed by names of the natural phenomena they symbolize.
In the above list of trigrams, Stein links the first four trigrams with the “Four Classical Elements” of early Western philosophy, i.e., air, earth, water, and fire, and hence, the four suits that correspond to those elements in the minor arcana cards of a tarot deck. However, Stein’s correspondences between the trigrams and the four suits of the tarot are not valid ones to draw.
Early Chinese philosophers used The Five Elements (Wu Xing). Interactions among these five elements played a prominent role in shaping the Chinese art of feng shui. These five elements are not the same as Western notion of the four classical elements. Nor are they synonymous with any of the eight “energies” symbolized by the trigrams. To ancient Chinese the first four trigrams in Stein’s list represented more specific types of “energies,” than Western philosophers attached to their four elements.
The “discovery” of markings on the backs of turtles in China from which the trigrams were derived is attributed to a legendary pre-historic personage called Fu Hsi, also transliterated as “Fu Xi” (2). Later on, two very different arrangements of these eight trigrams were used, one for creation of the art of feng shui, and the other for the construction of the I Ching, a ancient Chinese guide to leadership for times of war and peace.
It is important to note that the 3-line pattern of each trigram is unique. It is the placement of the trigrams in relation to each other that causes their meanings to change within the I Ching. As we’ll soon see, the order of the trigrams that is used for feng shui is what makes the purpose and meaning of feng shui quite different from that of the I Ching, a “book of changes” constructed with a completely different order of the eight trigrams. The order of trigrams on a bagua also changes the purpose for which that bagua is used.
A Chinese bagua (or pakua)
A “bagua” (also transliterated as “pakua”) is an eight-sided figure or object. When used for feng shui, a bagwa can be simply an eight-sided mirror. Other bagwa are more ornate and often include the eight trigrams.
It is understood by feng shui practitioners that each of the eight sides of an octagonal mirror represents a particular trigram. Each trigram expresses a unique type of energy symbolized by natural phenomena, such as a mountain, a fire, a cloud, or a lake.
Here are the main things to know about the Chinese bagua. The bagua was an intellectual tool used for calculating and constructing all kinds of things by ancient Chinese. AND there was more than one type of bagua. There are at least two different kinds of bagua that have their origins in ancient Chinese history.
You can distinguish which of the two kinds of bagua you are seeing by noting the order of the trigrams around its eight sides. In other words, the art of feng shui placement applies to arrangements of the eight trigrams on a bagua as well as to any other object found in places where humans dwell.
The Fu Hsi bagua (the Earlier Heaven order of trigrams)
The oldest extant bagua was created by the legendary figure, Fu Hsi around 5000 BC. This bagua is called “The Earlier Heaven” bagwa or “Before the World Sequence”.
This is the bagua later used around the beginning of the second millennium BC by King Wen to create the I Ching, a book of 64 hexagrams (i.e., 6-line figures composed of two trigrams, one on top of the other) that illustrate various facets of life in human society.
You can recognize Fu Hsi’s bagua by the image of a trigram representing the heavens (Chi’en, with three yang lines) at its top and the trigram for the earth (Kun, with three yin lines) at its bottom.
Fu Hsi’s trigrams are arranged by180-degree order of opposition to each other. Find one trigram and draw a line across the octagon to it’s opposite image. You’ll see that these two images will be the inverse of each other. Fu Hsi’s arrangement of the eight trigrams is one that emphasizes conflict and adversarial relationships among the eight essential energies.
Here is the order of the trigram-pairs that lie in 180-degree opposition to each other on the Fu Hsi bagua:
heaven – earth
thunder – wind
water – fire
mountain – lake
Table 1 – Earlier Heaven order of trigram pairs.
You will find this same order of the trigrams in the I Ching: heaven; thunder; water; mountain – earth; wind; fire; and lake. These eight images are listed along the top and left sides of a table found in the front or back of nearly any book about the I Ching. You can see an example of this table online at the end of Wikipedia’s article about the I Ching.
In this Wikipedia article, the table of trigrams is labeled “Hexagram lookup table”. Readers of I Ching commentaries use this 8 x 8 matrix of trigrams to identify the number (from 1 to 64) that indicates the relative location of a particular hexagram within the I Ching.
The Wen bagua (the Later Heaven order of trigrams)
Around 1100 BC Duke (or King) Wen created a very different order for the trigrams for his own bagua than the arrangement Fu Hsi devised back around 5000 BC. Wen’s bagua is called the “Later Heaven” arrangement of the trigrams. It is also referred to as “the World of Phenomena or Senses”.
Unlike the Fu Hsi bagua, the Wen bagua features a cyclic pattern of trigrams that evolves in a clockwise circle. The later heaven order is a flowing, rather than conflicting, order of the eight trigrams.
You can recognize Wen’s arrangement by the image of the trigram for fire (Li) at its top and the trigram for water (Kan) at its bottom. Here is Wen’s bagua:
It’s interesting that King Wen, the alleged author of the I Ching, used Fu Hsi’s bagua to construct the I Ching or “book of changes” rather than Wen’s own, somewhat different, bagua.
Perhaps, when applying the energies of the trigrams to the actions of human beings in society, Wen felt that the expression of conflict in Fu Hsi’s arrangement of trigrams lent itself more closely to the kind of coded system of hexagrams that he needed to create for the I Ching. But why does Wen’s I Ching contain secret keys to the meanings of the 64 hexagrams?
Legend says that Wen passed this system on to his son in order to help his son defeat the ruler who had cruelly imprisoned Wen. In return for his father’s aid in overthrowing the tyrant and founding the Zhou Dynasty in China (1100 BC to 200 BC), his son, the duke of Zhou (also transliterated as Chou), is said to have given his father the honorary title of “King” Wen.
On the other hand, perhaps King Wen created his own bagua well after he used Fu Hsi’s order of the trigrams to construct the I Ching. We may never know.
How to “read” the eight trigrams on a bagua
A trigram (as well as an I Ching hexagram) is read Chinese-style, starting at the bottom and moving upwards. On a bagua this means that you read each trigram by starting from the center of the bagua; and moving outwards toward the edge of the bagua. (You may need to rotate the image of a bagua in order to read some of its trigrams.)
Remember, each trigram contains a unique order of lines. When you change any line or lines in a trigram the new image takes on a different meaning.
On the Fu Hsi bagua, pairs of opposite trigrams are read beginning with the bottom and top center pair—heaven and earth. Then, moving clockwise from earth there is the trigram, thunder, and its opposite, wind. From wind you move clockwise to the pair water and fire. Finally, moving clockwise from fire, the last two trigrams are lake and mountain. (Note: if you use the I Ching, the latter pair of trigrams were placed in reverse order, i.e., mountain and then lake) on the table of trigrams.)
On Wen’s bagua, on the other hand, the trigrams are read in a clockwise order starting at the bottom center of the bagua with water (Kan) and ending with heaven (Chi’en), the trigram immediately to the right of the trigram for water (Kan), the starting point.
What the order of trigrams on a Wen bagua means
As we’ll see in the next section, Wen’s order of trigrams on his bagua is interpreted as a description of the eight seasons as they change into each other during a solar year. As a result, the Wen bagua can be connected with the eight lunar cycles of the moon during a solar year.
Although Fu Hsi’s version of the bagua is still used in modern commentaries about the I Ching, King Wen’s bagua has largely replaced Fu Hsi’s version over the millennia. Wen’s bagua is a reminder of cyclic changes that recur through time.
Wen’s bagua is often portrayed in illustrations to books by Chinese-medicine practitioners, such as Mantak Chia.The Wen bagua is also referenced by most modern popular books about feng shui practice.
The existence of two different orders of trigrams on a Chinese bagua is why it is vital to distinguish which bagua is being used in order to claim that there is a link between the eight ancient trigrams and modern Western astrology. Fu Hsi’s order of trigrams is a very different arrangement from Wen’s order. Fu Hsi’s arrangement of trigrams does not express the seasons of the year.
Thus, it isn’t the I Ching itself that feng shui and astrology may be connected to, but rather the particular bagua that was designed by King Wen, the creator of the I Ching.
Now lets turn to the three articles from the autumn issue of The Mountain Astrologer and look for connections among astrology and feng shui.
The Wen bagua and ancient astrology
The thesis of Julie Loar’s article “The Phases of the Moon: Does the Ever-Changing Face of the Moon Have Any Astrological Significance?” perfectly parallels King Wen’s bagua.
In her article Loar uses the phases of the moon during its 28-day cycle around the earth to describe the same eight seasons that King Wen’s order of the eight trigrams describes for the solar year. The Wen bagua and the phases of the moon are both linked to eight seasons and their eight ancient holidays that we in the West celebrate during a solar year on earth. Here is a table of correspondences between these eight lunar phases and eight trigrams symbolizing the solar year:
|Trigram||Moon Phase||Season||Celebratory Day|
c. February 2
|Thunder/Chen||First Quarter||Spring||Spring Equinox
c. March 20
|Fire/Li||Full Summer||Summer Solstice||Summer Solstice
|Lake/Tui||Last Quarter||Autumn||Fall Equinox
Table 2 – Links between the Wen bagua and the moon’s phases
Sources: R.L. Wing’s I Ching Workbook and Julie Loar’s article in Mountain Astrologer
This connection with lunar astrology may be an expected one. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I have the impression that Chinese astrology is lunar-based. And, of course, people everywhere on earth in ancient times could observe the moon and the different seasons during the solar year.
What might be more difficult to show than this lunar-based astrology connection to the order of trigrams on the Wen bagua is the relation between the Wen bagua used for feng shui and solar-based astrology. Let’s give these relationships a look.
The Wen bagua and feng shui
This is where Kathy Rose’s article, “Feng Shui and Astrology: Living by Energetic Design” in the autumn issue of the 2009 Mountain Astrologer comes in. Here, Rose draws a personal analogy involving the feng shui bagua and astrology.
Rose offers the reader a Bagua Map, a large square encompassing nine identical smaller squares. This Bagua Map is a replica of a perfectly-symmetric building containing nine symmetric square rooms inside. Each of the nine squares within the building is labeled with a word or phrase indicating its particular sphere of energetic influence.
Here are Rose’s descriptors of the areas governed by each of the eight squares that lies along the outside of her Bagua Map, beginning with the bottom center square and moving clockwise: Career; Knowledge & Self-Cultivation; Health and Family, Wealth and Prosperity; Fame and Reputation: Love & Relationships: Creativity and Children: and Helpful People.
In the center square, the 9th room of Rose’s Bagua Map is the area of the Self.
As mentioned previously, an eight-sided mirror is used for feng shui placement of objects within a building. A commonly-used bagua for use in the art of feng shui will show the eight trigrams along the outside of the bagua while placing a round mirror in the center.
This mirror reflects the fact that the self is at the center of the action. The center of a feng shui bagua also reflects the unknowable and infinite space that stretches beyond the the self and the bagua. That is why the center of a feng shui bagua sometimes contains a Yin-Yang symbol rather than a mirror.
Rose’s Map is like the bagua map found in many books on feng shui. For example, here is an image from William Spear’s classic book about feng shui. Note the four corners of its square bagua are trimmed off, the outer squares within it are images of the eight trigrams, and the yin-yang symbol occupies the center square:
As Kathy Rose mentions in her Mountain Astrology article discussed above, the art of feng shui is based on the bagua. But which bagua?
Here is an example of the confusion that surrounds discussions about the bagua in the practice of feng shui. In accordance with Fu Hsi’s Early Heaven arrangement of the eight trigrams [See Figure 3 above], William Spear begins his discussion of the bagua in Feng Shui Made Easy by listing the trigrams in opposition to each other (4). But on the very next page the bagua Spear tells us to use for feng shui is not the Fu Hsi bagua—it is King Wen’s bagua! [See Figure 4 above.]
Take a close look at the descriptive phrases Spear uses in his bagua map (See Figure 5) to describe each area within a building and the associated trigram.
This is where you will begin to see some possible links between the Wen bagua as used for feng shui, and modern Western astrology. Now let’s turn to the particular article in the autumn issue of the 2009 Mountain Astrologer that editor Nan Geary hoped would make a direct connection between feng shui and astrology.
King Wen’s bagua and Western astrology
In “Astro Feng Shui: Making Magic in Your Home” (TMA Autumn 2009), Simone Butler links Western astrology with King Wen’s bagua through an examination of the 12 houses of the Zodiac.
Using the eight-sided outline of a bagua and brief descriptions of the meanings of each trigram on a feng shui bagua (i.e., Wen’s Later Heaven order), Butler labels the eight sides of her bagua with the names of the 12 houses as well. This is where it gets a bit dicey. Twelve doesn’t exactly fit neatly into eight.
Butler explains that on two occasions she lumped together two houses under one trigram. The lumped-together houses are the 3rd and 9th house and the 2nd and 8th houses. Also, in the middle of the bagua, Butler has lumped together the 6th and 12th houses. Here is a partial replica of her “combination” bagua:
Using the Wen bagua again, we can see close correspondences between the words used to describe the trigrams on the feng shui bagua (the Wen bagua) and those used for the twelve houses of the Zodiac (5):
|Trigram||Feng Shui Keywords||Western Astrological House(s)||House Attributes|
|bagua center||Self (unity)||6th + 12th||Health|
|water (Kan)||The Journey||1st||Career/Life Path|
|mountain (Ken)||Contemplation||3rd + 9th||Knowledge/Wisdom|
|wind (Sun)||Fortunate Blessings||2nd + 8th||Prosperity/Abundance|
|heaven (Chi’en)||Helpful Friends||11th||Helpful People|
Table 3 – Attribute links between Wen bagua trigrams and Zodiac houses
Source: Spear and Butler versions of the Wen bagua – Figures 5 and 6 above
The words Butler uses to describe the attributes of the houses nicely match those properties Spear uses to describe the trigrams of the feng shui (Wen) bagua. But structurally, Butler’s match-up of the different numbers of symbols within these two systems doesn’t result in a very balanced-looking bagua.
Also, this “combination” bagua doesn’t seem to answer my question—whether ancient knowledge systems may have had a common ancestor. And Butler’s combination bagua looks “untidy” to me. The ancients were not untidy thinkers. They were incredibly well-organized—like modern-day librarians.
Plus, I have a bigger concern about Butler’s bagua. Chinese feng shui and Western astrology each emerged with inter-connected sets of symbols that represent deeper metaphorical visions of human life on earth. Butler’s table matches the order of trigrams on Wen’s bagua, but to achieve that end she had to take the houses of the Zodiac out of their traditional order for astrology. This poses a conundrum.
The traditional order of the 12 Zodiac houses is based on their association with 12 horoscope signs (i.e., constellations). For each of the 12 houses, its horoscope sign corresponds with a different range of dates within the solar year. Like Loar’s moon phases and the feng shui bagua trigrams, the 12 houses in Western astrology are arranged according to the dates where they fall during a solar calendar year.
We saw that there’s a clear connection between the eight trigrams on the feng shui bagua and the eight phases of the moon. Both represent the same eight divisions of a solar calendar year that begin with mid winter and end in early winter. But a different calendar year is signified by the 12 astrological signs and houses. The houses represent the twelve divisions of a solar calendar year that begin with spring and end in late winter.
Semantically too, the extra four houses of the Zodiac compared with the original eight trigrams could lead to considerable debate about which house or houses should go with which trigram. Nevertheless, I couldn’t quite let Simone Butler’s thesis go.
Feng shui and astrology—a common denominator
The similarities Butler notes between spheres associated with the trigrams on a feng shui bagua and those governed by houses in Western astrology are quite striking. If the end result of each of these two knowledge systems is so similar, perhaps there could have been a common ancestor from which they both descended—each in a very different way. So here’s my suggestion about how to link the houses with the Wen bagua order of trigrams.
On a circle representing a solar year, each of the trigrams and the phases of the moon occupies a 45-degree space. On the other hand, on a circle representing a solar year, each of the houses occupies a 30-degree space. This difference makes trying to correlate the order of the 12 houses of the Zodiac to match the order of the eight trigrams on a feng shui bagua quite difficult. However, it can be done. All we have to do is look at the largest common denominator for eight trigrams and 12 houses, i.e., the number four.
We achieve a more elegant, i.e., symmetrical and transparent, way to match Zodiac houses with feng shui trigrams by using the four quadrants, and four seasons, that the 12 astrological houses fall into. This results in matching three houses with two trigrams to signify the four seasons, the seasons we usually use to describe our solar calendar year.
|Winter||Kan, Ken||10, 11, 12||Fourth|
|Spring||Chen, Sun||1, 2, 3||First|
|Summer||Li, Kun||4, 5, 6||Second|
|Autumn||Tui, Chi’en||7, 8, 9||Third|
Table 4 – Wen bagua trigram and astrological house correspondences.
You’ll note that this table starts and ends with the seasons represented by the Wen bagua and the eight phases of the moon (i.e., mid-winter to early winter). For each pair of trigrams, this table shows the corresponding houses of the Zodiac and the quadrant those houses fall into. Thus, we begin with the fourth quadrant of the Zodiac because that is where the Wen (feng shui) bagua begins and ends.
If we begin with the Zodiac seasons, we’d start with the First quadrant (representing Aries and the spring season of the year). The Zodiac ends with the Fourth quadrant of the Zodiac (ending with Pisces in the late winter). Either way, the seasons represented by bagua trigrams and Zodiac quadrants synch up with each other and share similar meanings.
Here’s how the four adjacent trigram pairs signify four seasons:
|Winter:||Kan and Ken are water and mountain—their energies signify danger and stillness.|
|Spring:||Chen and Sun are thunder and wind—their energies signify shocking and penetrating.|
|Summer:||Li and Kun are fire and earth—their energies signify clinging and receptivity.|
|Autumn:||Tui and Chi’en are lake and the heavens—their energies signify joy and creativity.|
Here’s how the four astrological quadrants signify four seasons:
Winter: Houses 10, 11, 12 – dormancy
Spring: Houses 1, 2, 3 – germination
Summer: Houses 4, 5, 6 – maturation
Autumn: Houses 7, 8, 9 – fruition
In this manner of comparing feng shui and astrology, we can see that even as the 12 houses as well as the eight trigrams each stay in their original order, both systems reference the same seasons of the solar year as the other.
Was there a common ancestor?
The missing link between the I Ching, lunar astrology, and feng shui is the Wen bagua. The particular order of the trigrams on King Wen’s bagua synchs up with the phases of the moon during the solar year and the Wen bagua is also the bagua used for the practice of feng shui.
I used the quadrants of the Zodiac to find a link between astrology and feng shui. I couldn’t quite believe in Simone Butler’s correspondences between the trigrams and houses, but I was inspired by Simone’s article to come up with a different kind of connection between feng shui and Western astrology. That connection is the way the four quadrants of the Zodiac match up with the Wen bagua to express the cycle of the four seasons.
In astrology the quadrants are usually interpreted as stages of human development starting with birth. But we often tend to link human development and aging with the seasons of the year. So It makes sense that the Zodiac calendar year begins with spring, a time of birth and ends with late winter, a time of death.
On the other hand, the seasonal order of the trigrams on the Wen bagua starts in mid-winter rather than spring. This suggests that there is a state of existence we can’t see that precedes the beginning of the human development that we observe. It is, perhaps, the world of thought and ideas. This could explain why the Wen bagua and the lunar calendar begin, not with spring, but with the new moon and Winter solstice, the darkest night and day of the year.
This difference in starting and ending points of the four seasons in Western and Eastern systems of thought is why I’ve said that if there were a common ancestor for feng shui and astrology, these two wisdom systems appear to have developed in very different ways.
But regardless of where a calendar year begins, it seems to me that the quadrants of the Zodiac capture the nature of earthly cycles in a similar way to that of the Wen bagua and the art of feng shui. This is a start, but I would like to see many more connections between Western astrology and ancient Chinese philosophical systems of thought. I’d love to find convincing evidence that these systems all descended from a common ancestor, now hidden by the mists of time.
(1) Stein, Diane, A Woman’s I Ching (Freedom, CA: The Crossing Press, 1997) p. 22
(2) Green, Roger, The I Ching Workbook (San Diego, CA: Thunder Bay Press, 2003) p. 23
(3) Wing, R.L., The I Ching Workbook (NY: Random House – Broadway Books, 1979) p. 24
(4) Spear, William, Feng Shui Made Easy (NY: Harper-Collins, 1995) p. 55
(5) Spear book op cit. and Butler article in the autumn issue of the 2009 Mountain Astrologer.
My special thanks to editor Nan Geary, her staff and contributors to the early autumn 2009 issue of Mountain Astrologer for putting together their inspiring series of articles on this subject, to Maya del Mar for her wonderful collection of books on ancient wisdom systems, and to Susan Pomeroy for her patience in letting me work through my tangle of thoughts for this article for June’s Daykeeper Journal issue.