The Five Celestial Animals of Feng Shui by Mireille Blacke
According to Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, when the legendary martial artist was still a child in Hong Kong, his father placed three bagua mirrors nearby to keep him safe from harm. Octagonal bagua mirrors are used in feng shui (Chinese geomancy) to protect and repel negativity. Years later, Lee placed three baguas near his newborn son, Brandon, for the same reason. As Dragon unfolds, we watch as male generations of the Lee family are terrorized by an armored samurai in dream sequences. During a massive rainstorm, Lee is ultimately victorious as he kills this relentless foe to defend young Brandon. Shortly after, in July of 1973, Bruce Lee dies at the age of thirty-two while filming Game of Death. Viewers learn that a typhoon dislodged a protective bagua from its long-term location at Lee’s ancestral home.
In 1993, two months before Dragon’s release and twenty years after Bruce Lee’s death, the life of twenty-eight-year-old Brandon Lee ended due to the negligent handling of a squib-loaded prop gun while filming The Crow, a gothic thriller set in perpetual rain. It was difficult to bury this fact while watching prescient dream sequences of the elder Lee desperately trying to protect his only son from a seemingly unstoppable killing force in Dragon. Could a misplaced mirror really contribute to the demise of a family’s legacy? Despite attributing these deaths to logical explanations, bad luck, or simple human error, the memory of those eight-sided mirrors never left me, and my interest in feng shui was born.
As the years passed, I found some overlap in my own practice of Wicca and the principles of feng shui. As feng shui is the Chinese practice of living in harmony with one’s environment, it is practical and useful in creating a peaceful setting for meditation, ritual work, and spiritual growth, regardless of your belief system. One method to do this involves the five Celestial Animals of feng shui.
Celestial Animal Basics
In Chinese geomancy, the shape and contours of the landscape are analyzed. Practitioners of the Form school of feng shui observed that certain natural locations were more lush and preferred by animals to build homes or nests. In these areas, practitioners felt a harmony of energy (chi), and attributed this to balanced and appropriate amounts of sun and shade, warmth and cold, wind and water, yin and yang. Characteristics of these areas included typically a higher hill and a glade with two lower sides, fronted by an opening through which a distant view was visible. The shape of the landscape resembled certain animals, in physical form as well as function. From this observation, the theory of five Celestial Animals was created.
When creating sacred space, avoid negative chi by implementing feng shui remedies to block or redirect it. “Poison arrows” of negative chi include sharp or jutting edges of the furniture or room. Common remedies include mirrors, aquariums, fountains, plants, wind chimes, crystals, and statues.1 When creating sacred or ritual space within the home, such remedies can transform negative or blocked chi to foster a peaceful spiritual retreat.
Associated Direction: North
Meaning: Stability, security
In terms of the Celestial Animal hierarchy, the Black Turtle holds the greatest influence and is considered the most important. The turtle represents protection, security, and stability, and it brings a solid foundation to the home environment. Turtles are long-lived animals, and their armor seems indestructible. When a turtle retracts into its shell, it is calm, safe, and protected. Consider the turtle’s outer shell to be a shield that “has your back,” in a sense. Appropriately, the turtle corresponds to the back of or area behind the home and is aligned with the color black and the direction of north. If your natural landscape is missing Black Turtle energies behind your home, incorporate tall trees, arbor vitae, or fencing as substitutions.
Consider the Black Turtle first when using feng shui to create sacred space in the home, to fortify its protection and security. To avoid the turmoil which may result from unknown, uncontrolled situations existing “behind our backs,” implement turtle-like protection by making your back less vulnerable. Choose a seat with your back to a wall. Within the desired room, enhance the Black Turtle’s important protective position by using a wall, shelf, plant holder, or chairs with high backs. A fountain, certain flowers (lavender, daffodil, tulip, iris), artwork, figurines, or even an aquarium with live turtles near the wall opposite the room’s main entrance are recommended.
Associated Direction: East
Meaning: Wisdom, strength, spirituality
The dragon is common in Chinese art and celebratory customs. In the context of the five Celestial Animals, it symbolizes the flow of chi and protection on the east side. From the perspective of inside the home, with the Black Turtle behind us (to the north), the Dragon will reside to the left side of the turtle. The adjective “green” links the Dragon to aspects of the direction of east—strength, wisdom, and growth.
The ideal Green Dragon site will be slightly lower than the plateau of the turtle’s hill in a natural landscape. The Green Dragon is generally situated on the left of the house in the form of a rolling hill, porch, green tree, or any structure that wraps or curls. Substitute for the Dragon with objects at least as tall as the house (tall, green trees, an adjacent building, a high fence).
When creating sacred space, Green Dragon energy protects the left side of the room (as a long wall, curved closet, tall plant, or shelf) and promotes wisdom and personal growth. Artwork or figurines depicting dragons may also help invoke its energy, as would an arrangement of marigold, hyacinth, or wolfsbane. A decorative wine bottle holder in the form of a dragon works for me.
Associated Direction: West
Meaning: Natural strength, force
Tigers are powerful, majestic, alert, and ready to quickly respond. In feng shui, the tiger represents force and daring. This Celestial Animal appears opposite the Green Dragon and is associated with the color white.
The White Tiger resides in the west, which is often associated with intuition, diplomacy, and feminine wisdom; the west is linked with the use of magic versus the rationality or logic from the east. From the vantage point of the home, with the Black Turtle behind us, the White Tiger paces to our right.
The White Tiger partners with the Green Dragon, on the right and left sides respectively, in a balanced relationship between emotion and logic. Thoughtful, controlled reflection (associated with the Green Dragon) often dominates instinctive, visceral decisions based on force and impulse, which are the domain of the White Tiger. Therefore, the White Tiger’s protective stance (and yin properties related to energies involving the dead) is linked to hills or substituted slopes that are lower than the Green Dragon’s territory (yang energies involving the homes of the living). The hill of the White Tiger may be substituted by trees, a shed (lower in height than the house), a white stone façade, or a see-through fence.
In the setting of sacred space, the White Tiger balances impulses with natural strength and allows connection with our departed ancestors. Symbolize the White Tiger with a piece of furniture shorter in height than that of the Green Dragon. Substitute peonies, asters, wisteria, wind chimes, bronze statues (reflecting the metal element), or small and long but flat objects (e.g., white stones) to enhance the area of the White Tiger.
Associated Direction: South
Meaning: Vision, introspection
The Phoenix is a mythological bird associated with resurrection and rebirth, corresponding to the view from the front of the house and the direction of south. As such, a symbol of this Celestial Animal should be placed on the opposite side of the Black Turtle: at the front door, front part of the house, or doorway of a room. The Phoenix embodies the color red, a revitalizing color of good fortune, happiness, and prosperity.1 In contrast to the immobility and protection characteristic of the Black Turtle, the Red Phoenix needs an open space to receive energy. A home or building with its front entrance facing a brick wall, mountain, or similar structure blocks Phoenix energy and interferes with the full reception of chi. Trees should ideally not block your front entrance and a desk should not face a wall.
After the Black Turtle, the placement of the Red Phoenix is the most important for the home’s harmony. The bird soars high, allowing us to see far and wide. A clear view in front of us is desired, without obstructions. If your view is obstructed (e.g., facing a wall), improvise with a panoramic picture of a sunrise or a mirror, which reflects the space. Neutralize negative chi in a room by adding sunflowers, tiger lilies, lamps, or wind chimes, symbolizing the Red Phoenix. An entirely open front entrance is not advised, as the Red Phoenix must attract the flow of chi from the sun, roads, or water sources in a controllable way.
Within the setting of sacred space, a sense of protection and peace of mind prompts greater clarity to make informed decisions. The Form school of feng shui links the Red Phoenix with predicting the future; a greater understanding of our options from an open vantage point may help us access “veiled information” needed to reach our goals.
Associated Direction: Center, oneself
Meaning: Knowledge, stability, calm
The snake corresponds to the center space, surrounded and protected by the four other Celestial Animals but also in control of them. The snake is associated with the color yellow and the element of earth to ground the central position. The Yellow Snake is extremely receptive and sensible, remaining alert and perceptive in its surroundings. Its location in space depicts the point where all energies meet and a view from which the space is best seen. The position of the Yellow Snake reflects us: it is our own vantage point.
In a room designated for ritual work or sacred space, keep the center as clear as possible. To symbolize the Yellow Snake, place a meditation figure (e.g., Kwan Yin), a crystal, a globe, sage, geranium, lilac, or flowerpots of clay or ceramic as a centralized point of focus.
The Animals at Work
Ideally, creating sacred or ritual space in the home should involve all five Celestial Animals. In the Celestial Animal hierarchy, the Black Turtle is most important, followed by the Red Phoenix. If you adapt your home or room in just these two areas, great improvement to the flow of chi may be expected.
The Black Turtle energy is maintained with high headrests and armrests of chairs and high headboards of beds. Avoid situations where your back points to a doorway, hallway, or window, as this is not the ideal pathway for the flow of chi. The Red Phoenix should remain in front of the Yellow Snake, similar to a coffee table or red footstool in front of a couch. Artwork of an open air scene near your front door can enhance the energy of the Red Phoenix (though pink flamingoes on the front lawn may be pushing it). When seated at a table or in general, it is preferable to see the home’s front door or the main entrance to each room, where those entering the room are most visible.
Encourage the protection of Dragon and Tiger on each side of the Yellow Snake with a solid sofa or a comfortable armchair. Arrange the Celestial Animals in a horseshoe-shaped configuration to enhance the flow of chi in a particular room. When you are seated, protect your right side to shoulder height, to increase feelings of control in most situations.
Incorporate elegant depictions of the White Tiger with artwork or suitable feline figurines according to your belief system (e.g., the Egyptian goddess Bastet). Maintain the alert and grounding properties of the Yellow Snake in the center of a room, with a corresponding figurine, a framed image, or perhaps a yellow-based centerpiece with similar features (coils, twists, braiding, etc.).
Balance between the five Celestial Animals is critical. When the energy of one Animal is lacking or excessive, it can negatively impact the energy of the others. As so aptly depicted in Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, Turtle’s excessive watery influence crippled the mighty martial artist known as Dragon.
Feng Shui Remedies in Sacred Space
According to feng shui, the bagua mirror is commonly used to create harmony and good fortune, and also to reflect or transform negative chi when establishing ritual or sacred space. An eight-sided bagua mirror reveals a central point surrounded by eight trigrams, each corresponding to a different life area. Hang a bagua mirror on the wall of a home or room above furniture or a doorway to enhance a particular life area or to harmonize a room. Place its mirrored side facing the negative source to reflect or transform negative chi (“poison arrows”). Ideal placement is near the room’s center, but a side wall will also work. To purify and energize an object, place it on top of a flat bagua.
When creating ritual or sacred space, the room’s center (domain of the Yellow Snake) should be free from clutter to permit optimal flow of chi.2 Clean and dust the area weekly, discard dead or wilted flowers (stagnant chi), and replace blown lightbulbs quickly. This will benefit guests or visitors, including discarnate or spirit energies you intend to welcome into your ritual space.
A bagua mirror, chime, or crystal may be placed in any sector when necessary, along with symbols of the Celestial Animals. If forced to sit with your back to the room’s entrance, place a bagua mirror on the wall facing you so that the energy of others entering is “caught” by the mirror. Add a representation of the Black Turtle if a piece of furniture lacks adequate back support for those who sit there, and symbolically add protection for the right and left sides (e.g., chair arms). When creating sacred or ritual space in a bedroom, move each bed’s headboard against a wall, but not in front of a window or doorway. If possible, raise the sides of each bed to enhance the Dragon and Tiger energies.
In creating sacred space or simply a peaceful environment, the Celestial Animals of feng shui promote balance, increase harmony, and reduce chaos. Choose animal representations that resonate with you. Adding a few bagua mirrors or other feng shui remedies probably wouldn’t hurt either, depending on the forecast. After all, variable weather patterns reflect the chaos, challenges, and changes of life.
Just remember: it can’t rain all the time.
1. Richard Webster, Feng Shui for Beginners: Successful Living by Design,(St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 1997).
2. Karen Rauch Carter, Move Your Stuff: Change Your Life. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000).