The Earth Spirit
Its Ways, Shrines and Mysteries
by John Michel
The ancient, once universal geomantic science of landscape (feng-shui) can exist only in association with the traditional style of philosophy, according to which the earth is a living entity animated by spirit. This spirit is the natural environment of the spirits of the dead, and it is also related to the spiritual nature of men. Like the energies of the human body, the spirit of the earth flows through the surface in channels of veins, and between the two energy currents of man and earth there exists a natural affinity that enables men to divine the presence and local character of the earth spirit, to intuit how best to bring human ways into harmony with it, and even, by the exercise of will and imagination, to influence its flow.
Another condition that must obtain wherever geomancy is practised is that the prevailing cosmological idea express the concept of an organic, 'steady state' universe, that has been considered orthodox throughout far the greater part of history, rather than the modern evolutionary 'expanding universe' theory. The first of these two contrasting world views, the traditional one, emphasizes the permanent aspects of human life on earth, the fact that men are always subject to the same laws of the universe and of their own nature. Under these conditions the purpose of science is to benefit the life of the people as it is, and as it essentially always must be so long as the sources of life on earth remain the same. The modern and opposite tendency is to value artificial above natural sources of wealth, to respect innovations as tokens of human inventiveness, to identify commercial interests with the interests of the people as a whole, and to blame the latter for any resistance to the social change promoted by the former.
Joseph Needham in Science and Civilization in China wrote, 'Every place had its special topographical features which modified the local influence (hsing shih) of the various ch'i of Nature. The forms of hills and the directions of watercourses, being the outcome of the moulding influences of winds and waters, were the most important, but, in addition, the heights and forms of buildings, and the directions of roads and bridges, were potent factors. The force and nature of the invisible currents would be from hour to hour modified by the positions of the heavenly bodies, so that their aspects as seen from the locality in question had to be considered. While the choosing of sites was of prime importance, bad siting was not irremediable, as ditches and tunnels could be dug, or other measures taken to alter the feng-shui situation...
'Certain summits of the neighbouring mountains, often the main summit, are crowned with pagodas, small temples or pavilions to harmonize the magic forces of heaven and earth. This thought is akin to our conception of the outflow of magnetic force from a pointed conductor. And the Chinese geomancer also regards the forms of nature as a magnetic field.'
The field of terrestrial magnetism, like the energy field of a plant or animal, exists only by association with a living body; and as traditional Chinese medicine by acupuncture treats the human body by regulating the currents of vital energy that flow through the skin, so the geomancer treats the body of the earth. Textbooks of feng-shui describe the nature of the telluric current, give examples of the energy patterns it forms in relation to different kinds of landscape and landscape features, and show ways of adapting its natural flow to human convenience. In some districts, particularly in wild, steep, rocky parts, the ways of the earth spirit are rapid and violent, and if the country is to be made habitable its energy must be tamed and directed into more evenly flowing channels. Where, as in flat, featureless country, it moves too sluggishly, with a tendency to stagnate, it can be stimulated by making lengths of straight avenues and water-courses and adding vertical features to the landscape. In feng-shui the laws of dynamics and aesthetics are united by the one canon that serves both, resulting in a landscape delightful to the eye of poet and philosopher and best disposed to fulfill the practical requirements of the people.
An important factor in manipulating the earth's subtle energies is the influence of the heavenly bodies, particularly the sun and moon, which set up tides and currents within the terrestrial magnetic field. So the patterns on earth follow the patterns in the heavens, and the geomancer's task in shaping the landscape is to emphasize this correspondence. His professional qualifications combine a knowledge of the traditional sciences, astronomy, astrology, geometry, number and proportion and land surveying, with the diviner's direct sensitivity to the flow of telluric energies. His instrument is the magnetic compass. The geomancer's compass is set in the middle of a circular wooden board inscribed with a number of concentric circles, each ring divided into segments marked with letters and symbols, from which the geomancer can read off the properties of any piece of ground and the influences it is subject to, thereby discovering whether or not it is an auspicious site for the purpose he has in mind.
Spirits are invoked in temples, each one of which is unique because it is designed to attract a particular god or aspect of a god and must therefore feature his peculiar local attributes. Archaeologists have to some extent succeeded in reconstructing the physical life-style of the people who covered great areas of northern Europe with their monumental apparatus of stone circles, pillars and dolmens some four or five thousand years ago, but for the monuments themselves they have no explanation, apart from vague suggestions of a ritual purpose in connection with a cult of the dead. This is indeed so, but astronomers now recognize that all these great stones, from the vast, extensive alignments of Carnac and the sun-moon temple of Stonehenge to remote sites in the northern isles of Scotland, were precisely located in relation to the heavenly bodies and the natural features of the landscape. From all that has recently been discovered about the scientific knowledge and methods of the megalith builders, it appears that their system was in the synthetic magical tradition of Egypt, Babylon and the ancient East; and it was certainly in close accordance with the principles of feng-shui, for the same astronomical and geological factors that the Chinese geomancers considered in locating the sites of temples and tombs are also apparent as having determined the sites of the corresponding monuments in Europe. Experienced dowsers, including Merle and Diot in France and Guy Underwood, Reginald Smith and many others in Britain, have observed that every megalithic site is over a centre or channel of the terrestrial current whose emanations are detected by the dowser's rod. All ancient tombs and stones were placed so as to coincide with and accumulate the flow of the earth's vital energy, its 'spirit'.