The Compass


different styles of Lo-Pan

Lo-Pan, The Chinese Compass:

The Lo Pan (luó pán, 罗盘), or Chinese compass, was invented by the Yellow Emperor around 2700 BCE. Old legends tell us that the Yellow River area, where Chinese civilisation originated, was ruled by a great warrior king, known as the Yellow Emperor. During a war against one of the neighbouring states, he was challenged by the rival king’s magical powers. The magician king cast a spell and manifested dense fog to trap the Yellow Emperor’s army. Seeing that his army was about to be defeated, the Yellow Emperor prayed and sought the guidence of his spritual mentor, The Goddess of the ninth Heaven. The Goddess appeared to the Yellow Emperor and taught him how to construct a magnetic compass, to find his way out of the fog. With the help of the compass, the emperor defeated the army of the magician king.Although there seem to exist schools of Feng Shui in the West that do not use a compass at all, the Lo-pan is an indespensable tool for the practice of Classical Feng Shui. For example, it would be impossible to apply the Flying Stars system without a compass.

Physically speaking the Lo-pan is made of a wooden square plate with several metal discs set around a magnetic needle in the middle. This innermost dial that houses the needle is called “Heaven’s Pool”. The total number of discs found on a Lo-pan varies considerably. Historicaly speaking each feng shui school had their own style of compass. Two of the more influential schools in China, the Three Harmony (San Ke) and Three Period (San Yuen), each created their own compasses with the more detailed dials reflecting a different emphasis in each tradition. For example, the Three Harmony School puts a lot of weight on the harmony of Man, Heaven and Earth. Therefore there are three rings of the 24 Mountains each with a different function whereas The Three Period School contains only one ring for the 24 Mountains.Generally, the great masters of Feng Shui added these discs one by one as a result of their years of practice and research. The master would then pass it over to the student who would carry on in a similar way. In this way the significance of the Lo-pan can be understood due to the years of hard work and experience that are passed to us in this beautiful instrument.

The most important plate for the practice of the Flying Stars is the 24 Mountains. The 24 Mountains consist of the 12 Earthly Branches, often erroneously known as the 12 animal signs of the Chinese zodiac; plus 8 of the 10 Heavenly Stems. The 10 represent the 5 elements, each in Yin and Yang form. In the 12 Earthly Branches, 8 of the branches are associated with four of the elements, two each with Fire, Metal, Water and Wood. However, four branches, Ox, Dragon, Goat and Dog, are associated with the element of Earth. This preponderance of Earth is offset by excluding the two Stems associated with the Earth element. The Branches and Stems make a total of 20; in addition to these the 24 Mountains include the four trigrams of Heaven, Earth, Wind and Mountain. These 24 Mountains are represented on the compass as 15° segments of the circle.

Compass and The Samurai’s Sword:

My Feng Shui master GM. Raymond Lo says: compass is like the samurai’s sword, the longer you use it the better it gets!