Signs of Trouble

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 2003. All rights reserved.

Our goldfish died, both of them in less than a week. That's an ominous sign.

Goldfish, you see, are a symbol of prosperity and good fortune. According to feng shui, the ancient Chinese art of channeling energy, a pond or bowl with goldfish swimming in it will help attract luck and success. A goldfish bowl near the entrance to a home invites happiness to enter; an aquarium near the cash register of a business brings wealth in the door.

When the fish turn belly up on the surface, that's not so good. We'll be getting Prozac offers in the mail now and that knock at the door won't be Ed McMahon. Our bank account and the Dow Jones average are bound to continue their downward spiral.

Chinese cherry blossom Feng shui (pronounced “fung shway”) seems akin to wishing wells and four-leaf clovers, but it is more like inspired home decorating; i.e., Martha Stewart on a mission. The idea is to arrange your home or office in ways that will release a form of power called qi (pronounced “chee”), which brings peace, harmony and balance to people and their surroundings.

Qi likes to move around freely, sort of like a young Labrador after a bath, so you want to arrange the furniture in ways that will encourage a free range of movement and keep things from getting broken.

A qi trapped between a pile of dirty laundry and a gun cabinet is a pending disaster. A cluttered hallway or a disorganized bookcase is a quick trip to calamity.

There are long lists of feng shui guidelines for the household, like placing your bed facing the door so that you can see who is entering and arranging the kitchen so that the cook has plenty of room to work. Avoid sitting with your back to a door or window and keep any reminders of work out of the bedroom.

Intruder paranoia must have been common when feng shui was developed, as many of its rules involve keeping an eye out for trouble. Even the cook is advised to place a mirror tilted above the stove so that he can observe anyone coming through the kitchen entrance. 

There are books full of feng shui advice for the garden as well. The ancient Chinese believed that ghosts could only travel in straight lines, like rooks on a chess board, and so they avoided building walkways that led directly to the home and their bridges often zig-zagged across streams rather than going straight across.

A kidney shaped pool will bring good fortune to a household if the fold of the shape is toward the house, like an embrace. "Pools of this sort become a veritable magnet for money. Pools that face away from the house do the opposite," says Richard Webster in "Feng Shui in the Garden." (Llewellyn Publications, 1999)

Colorful fish, goldfish especially, will improve the household's fortunes too... if they don't croak.

Some feng shui practitioners maintain that dead goldfish indicate that some harmful energy was attempting to enter the household. Like canaries in mine shafts, dying goldfish are a warning: "Get out of the stock market, now!"

While it's true that some places naturally "feel better" than others and that certain households seem to emit a positive atmosphere while others are absolutely negative, it seems far-fetched to ascribe these feelings to invisible forces and subatomic energies. Still, we rushed out and replaced the goldfish. 

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