Traditional Chinese astronomy divides the ecliptic sky into four equal parts, with a different mythological creature in charge of each part. Collectively, these celestials are called the Four Sacred Animals, Four Celestial Animals, or simply the Four Symbols (四象; Si Xiàng, literally “four images”).
There are a total of 28 mansions, 7 in each of these divisions. These 28 mansions serve a purpose comparable to that of the constellations of the western zodiac, although they are subject to the lunar cycle rather than the solar one. The ancient Chinese used the 28 Mansions (also known as 28 constellations) system to track the passage of time and identify seasonal changes.
Because of this, the Four Sacred Animals each stand for one of the four seasons.
Spring: Azure Dragon of the East
Summer: Vermilion Bird (Phoenix) of South
Autumn: White Tiger of the West
Winter: Black Tortoise of the North
The Four Celestials’ History
So many old books and papers talk about the Four Sacred Celestials, which shows that these Four Symbols are a big part of Chinese culture and Feng Shui. One of the most famous pictures of the Four Sacred Beasts is in the Shan Hai Jing (山经), which dates back to the 4th century BC and is a collection of mythical geography. The Four Sacred Beasts are one of the main subjects of this book.
But more recent finds have shown how these four things were shown in a neolithic tomb in Puyang, Henan, called Xishuipo (西水坡). This tomb is thought to be as old as 5,300 BC. The Azure Dragon and White Tiger are shown in Xishuipo, which was found in 1987. The directions they represent are also shown.
The Vermillion Bird, Black Tortoise (Dark Warrior), Azure Dragon, and White Tiger are heraldric creatures on war banners mentioned in the Chinese classic Book of Rites; they were the names of asterisms linked with the four cardinal directions: South, North, East, and West, respectively.
The colors associated with the four celestials correspond to the colors of soil in China’s corresponding areas: the bluish-grey water-logged soils of the east, the reddish iron-rich soils of the south, the whitish saline soils of the western deserts, the black organic-rich soils of the north, and the yellow soils of the central loess plateau.
The Azure Dragon
The Azure Dragon (青龍; Qīnglóng) watches over the east and is often shown as a sign of safety. In Feng Shui, it is thought that the Azure Dragon is a powerful beast that can get rid of evil and bad spirits.
In the Chinese idea of the five elements, the Azure dragon stands for wood and spring. It’s interesting to note that most of the other Chinese dragons are linked to water, but the Azure Dragon is different because it’s linked to wood.
The Vermilion Bird is often paired with the Dragon, and the two of them together represent both conflict and unity. They are the yin and the yang, the emperor and the empress, the yin and the yang, the emperor and the empress.
The dragon is a symbol of yang energy and the color green or blue. This is why it is often shown with blue water or clouds around it.
The Azure Dragon was in charge of the seven mansions in the east. These mansions were called the Horn, Neck, Root, Room, Heart, Tail, and Winnowing Basket. It is thought that when these seven mansions are put together, they look like dragons.
People think that the Azure Dragon is the most noble of all animals and that it is the ruler of the Four Sacred Celestials or Four Symbols. Unlike dragons in the West, Chinese dragons, like the Azure Dragon, are thought to be good and fair, to protect people, and to bring them luck.
The Vermilion Bird
The Vermilion Bird (朱雀: zhūquè) rules in the south direction. In old Chinese astronomy, the Vermilion Bird or Red Bird represented the planet Mars along with the seven southern mansions, which, when put together, looked like the wings of a bird.
People think that it has the head of a chicken, the neck of a snake, the chin of a swallow, the tail of a fish, and feathers of five different colors. It is also known as the Zhuiniao.
Obviously, the Vermilion Bird also stands for fire, and it is often shown as a pheasant covered in flames.
It’s important to know that the Vermilion Bird is not the Chinese Phoenix or Fenghuang. Instead, the Vermilion Bird is thought to be the leader of all birds and is often used as a sign for the Chinese empress.
The Vermilion Bird stands for summer, and it is also a sign of wealth and good luck. Well, Ghosts, Willow, Star, Extended Net, Wings, and Chariot are the seven mansions.
The White Tiger
People think that the White Tiger (白虎; baíhŭ) is a scary but honorable animal. It eats people, but it is also thought to protect people from evil and negative energies. In Chinese mythology, Baihu is often seen as the God of War. He is in charge of the West Sky and is a sign of power, authority, bravery, loyalty, and fairness. This is why the white tiger is often on the Chinese military flag and seal.
Back in the Han Dynasty (202 BC–220 AD), it was common practice to paint tigers on gates and doors. This is thought to keep devils and ghosts away from homes.
People believe that the white tiger is kind and stronger than the regular Chinese tiger. According to Chinese legend, a tiger’s fur only turns white when it is 500 years old. In ancient China, people thought that the White Tiger would only show up when the Chinese emperor was perfect and there was peace all over the country.
White Tiger and Azure Dragon are often shown together in Feng Shui and other arts. In ancient law cases, for instance, the Azure Dragon is often shown on the left and the White Tiger on the right.
The White Tiger also stands for the season of fall and the element of metal.
For those who are familiar with and practice Feng Shui, do not let the placement of the White Tiger and the Tiger of the Northeast in your Luopan or Chinese Zodiac confuse you. Just keep in mind that this is the White Tiger, and white also represents the element of metal.
The Black Turtle
The Black Turtle (玄武; xuánwŭ) is in charge of the north direction and stands for water and the winter season. The Black Turtle is shown as a turtle with a black back that can tell the future. People think that the Black Turtle could ask ancestors in the future questions and then bring back answers. Also, the Xuanwu is a sign of long life.
According to the famous book Journey to the West, Xuanwu was a king of the north who had two generals working for him. The Snake General and the Tortoise General ran a temple in the Wudang Mountains in Hubei Province. Because of this, Wuhan, Hubei, has a Snake Mountain and a Tortoise Mountain on different sides of a river. This is also why the Black Turtle is often shown with a snake, with the snake usually wrapped around the back of the Turtle.
Applications of Feng Shui to the Four Sacred Celestials
Azure Dragon Feng Shui Applications
Feng Shui practitioners frequently construct gardens (the wood element) on the left side of a house to acknowledge the Azure Dragon, who is believed to reside there. The green flora complements the affluent Azure Dragon’s color scheme of green and blue.
Because of its association with financial success, the left side of the house is especially crucial for families headed by men, who are also the primary breadwinners. A fence can serve as a makeshift garden if the placement of one is out of the question.
Compared to the Black Turtle, the Azure Dragon statue should be lower but higher than the White Tiger structure.
Black Turtle Feng Shui Applications
When evil energy or betrayals threaten the safety of the home, the Black Turtle stands watch at the back door as a bulwark of defense.
Traditionally, a mountain is placed behind a house to represent the presence of the Turtle. However, in contemporary homes, skyscrapers can serve the same function as mountains, or we might employ tall trees.
Backing up against a towering building is recommended since it shows that the Black Turtle is nearby.
Vermilion Bird Feng Shui Applications
The Vermilion Bird watches over the home’s front door, the point of entry for all incoming energies. The Bird acts as a shield, preventing harmful energy from entering while enabling beneficial energy to leave.
In general, the front of a house should be level and low; however, some cultures find it beneficial to build a tiny hump there to honor the Vermilion Bird.
White Tiger Feng Shui Applications
The White Tiger, representing yin energy, guards the right side of the home, while the Dragon, representing yang energy, watches over the left. If you live in a home where a woman is the head of household and the main provider of income, pay close attention to this section.
The statue of the tiger should be shown in a seated position, which conveys serenity and power. In order to avoid angering the White Tiger, please keep this area neat and tidy.
A fence can be used as a makeshift boundary if the house is missing the proper area (for instance, if you and your neighbors share a wall).
One of the simplest and quickest ways in the modern world to select a nice property for you and your family is to gain a foundational understanding of the four sacred celestials and their Feng Shui applications.
My family and friends frequently ask me this question. How can I tell from the exterior if the house is decent without first stepping inside? Or maybe before I even pull out my compass? You are now in on the secret. Keep on learning the mystical arts of Feng Shui.