It’s a sight familiar to the shoppers who throng the island’s many malls in the lead-up to the Lunar New Year – a cluster of brightly-coloured boards dotted around the atrium, inscribed with predictions pertaining to the 12 zodiac animals in the year ahead.
For instance, according to the installations at Suntec City, Paya Lebar Quarter, Vivocity and more, people born in the Year of the Ox will face challenges over the coming months, seeing as the arrival of your Ben Ming Nian or zodiac year always symbolises conflict with Tai Sui, aka the Grand Duke of Jupiter, aka the god of the year. Those born in the Year of the Snake or Rooster, on the other hand, look set to enjoy smooth sailing in 2021.
But have you ever wondered how feng shui masters and other soothsayers make these predictions? There are plenty of people out there who consider fortune-telling akin to superstitious mumbo jumbo, but much of the divinatory arts – or at least, so it seems in Asia – is actually rooted in the fields of science and mathematics. Read on for a (very) brief guide to the terms you’d want to know.
Disclaimer: TheHomeGround Asia recognises the complexity of the practice of divination, and this article is in no way exhaustive, nor does it pretend to be.
Five Arts of Chinese Metaphysics
Also known as Wu Shu, the study of Chinese Metaphysics comprises five key disciplines: Mountain (Shan), Medicine (Yi), Divination (Pu), Destiny (Ming) and Physiognomy (Xiang), the latter three of which encompass different styles of vaticination.
Relying heavily on numerical analysis and complex calculations, the art of Divination employs techniques such as Da Liu Ren, a form of calendrical astrology dating back to the Warring States period in China, wherein the sexagenary cycle of an event is determined through the relationships of the five elements and yin-yang between and among the Three Transmissions, Four Classes, Twelve Generals, and Heaven and Earth Plates on a cosmic board.
The Yi Jing (or Book of Changes in English) is also widely utilised in Divination. A classic text that is used in cleromancy, the Yi Jing contains 64 symbolic hexagrams that, if understood and interpreted correctly, are believed to provide guidance in decision-making. Besides Da Liu Ren and Yi Jing, the methods of Qi Men Dun Jia and Tai Yi Shen Shu also play a significant role in Divination.
Destiny Analysis involves two main systems of astrological forecasting The first is Ba Zi, also known as the Four Pillars of Destiny, where your fate can be discerned by the sexagenary cycle characters that are assigned to the “pillars” of your birth year, month, day and hour. The second is Zi Wei Dou Shu, in which a chart of the constellations and your natal data is used to map out your life path in the 12 areas of self, siblings, spouse, children, wealth, health, travel, friends, career, assets, karma and parents.
This branch of Chinese Metaphysics can be described as the study of forms and appearances, and includes face reading, palmistry, name reading and feng shui.
We’d hazard a guess that you’ve heard of feng shui before, but do you really know what it means?
An ancient art and science developed thousands of years ago, feng shui stems from the Taoist belief in Qi, the universal energy that permeates everything in and around us. By balancing the energy of the five elements (water, wood, fire, earth and metal) through the arrangement of spaces and objects, the Taoists believed that could you could harness the forces of nature to promote prosperity, vitality and harmony.
Originally developed as a means of selecting and orientating burial sites, this concept has since been applied to everything from architecture to landscape ecology to jewellery design, although in actuality feng shui goes far beyond just that.
Classical feng shui is divided into two principle ideologies, San He (Three Harmony) and San Yuan (Three Cycles), under which exist several sub-systems. San He focuses primarily on the environment, whether natural or man-made, and how its features and structures shape Qi, and in turn, the lives of those in the vicinity.
San Yuan, meanwhile, deals with the aspect of time and how it affects your Qi, derived through a numerical model of the Bagua (the energy map used in conjunction with the Luo Pan compass in the practice of feng shui). The San Yuan school posits that Qi is dynamic but cyclical – that is, in a constant state of flux, but marked by recognisable patterns within that flux. San Yuan is used in predictive feng shui, in which master practitioners are able to foretell the outcome of events, even lives, through mathematical formulae.
Translated literally as the “know everything book”, the Tong Sing is a lunar cycle-based almanac that predicts the relative success or failure of certain activities on any given day, from getting married to inking a deal to going for surgery, so you can be sure your planned endeavour will take place at an appropriate and auspicious time. Such guidelines are gleaned from the varying combinations of the 10 Heavenly Stems (the five elements in their yin and yang states) and the 12 Earthly Branches (the dozen zodiac animals) expressed in a 60-year cycle. The Tong Sing is also used by feng shui practitioners and destiny diviners to complement other predictive methods.
And there you have it folks! Your CliffsNotes guide to the tradition of divination in Chinese culture, just in time for the Lunar New Year.