The role of both real and mythological animals is referred to frequently in feng shui theory and folklore. In many books, there is a description of an ideal house, which has a turtle behind it, a phoenix bird in front of it, and a dragon and tiger on either side. These four animals are symbolic of land and building formations. For example, to have a turtle behind the house for support or protection is a metaphor for a larger structure or a literal mountain. To have a bird in the front is symbolic for a much smaller land formation.
There is a concept that “chi” (air currents) move around a property and the higher land form in back (the turtle) protects the house, while a smaller land form in front (bird) helps the house receive the proper amount of chi. Like the edge of a bowl, the phoenix in front helps shore up or contain energy near the entrance of the house.
Then, the tiger and dragon on each side of the house represent neighboring houses, buildings, or real hills. These forms act as a way of protecting the house. In a general sense, a house that is not surrounded by other structures or land formations is a bit vulnerable and overly exposed to the elements. Some people take these references to the animals literally and they will place figurines of these creatures around their home for good luck and protection. At least one feng shui master I have studied with has alluded to the possibility that these animals also represent the shapes of certain important constellations.
Another popular feng shui creature is the fish. Fish symbolize long life in Chinese culture, so paintings and sculptures of them are seen as lucky. In the actual application of feng shui, fish in tanks and ponds are just an excuse to help circulate water. It is the water, which is the real remedy. But because feng shui comes from a very superstitious culture, the number of fish and the color of the fish in the aquarium have taken on exaggerated significance. As well, different types of birds are supposed to be omens for the occupants if the bird is seen flying by or creating a nest on the roof.
The image of a horse can’t help but to symbolize travel and movement. One folk remedy is to place a Horse figurine facing the door for occupants who want to sell their home.
Lions and tigers are considered powerful, ferocious animals. Representations of them in pictures or sculptures should be done with caution, according to people who adhere to these animal cures. You may have seen stone lions flanking the entrance or stairs of a large building, but they would be considered inappropriate for a residence.
One of the Zodiac signs in Chinese astrology is a Tiger. Women who are the sign of the Tiger are considered fiercely independent and have a more difficult time settling down with a man. February is the month of the Tiger and according to auto insurance statistics, more car accidents occur in the month of February. This would be consistent with the Chinese interpretation that the fast-moving Tiger is also accident-prone.
It is interesting to note some of the cultural differences in how we relate to animals. For instance, in Chinese astrology a person born in the Year of the Rat can be a very intelligent person and a Snake person can easily be interested in metaphysics and spirituality. In the West, we think of the rat and snake as being sneaky and conniving. In some religions there is a belief that all human beings have lived at least one incarnation as every type of animal, and therefore we have an unconscious understanding of what these animals are capable of in their personalities and strengths.
Some birds are more monogamous than people, so there is a notion that putting up pictures of lovebirds in the bedroom will attract true love. These kinds of things can work as placebos, but are not considered the most sophisticated feng shui remedies.
Elephants have a reputation in both Chinese and Indian culture for attracting wealth. Images of trunk-up elephants often adorn the homes of people hoping the elephant will be a lucky image for them.
There are many more animals that have meaning in Chinese culture and/or specific to feng shui. Supposedly, a metal Rooster placed in the proper location can stop someone from committing an adulterous affair. Taken out of context, these animal symbols can seem strange, but they are really not much stranger than the meanings we attach to some inanimate objects in the Western world. Be it a country’s flag, a car hood ornament, a designer label, or a religious sign, we place importance on many symbols that go unnoticed or unrecognized by other cultures.
Many people are surprised to find out that I do not prescribe any of these animal symbols as feng shui remedies. While I understand the psychological relief that they may provide, I do not feel that these symbols can change the energetic composition of a room. And with symbols ultimately being very personal, (like our dreams), I don’t see how they would work for everyone in the same manner.
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