There are plenty of variations of feng shui, but they essentially fall into three camps.
- The Form School, which originated in southern China, is based on the environment and proper placement in relation to topography and water formations. Sometimes referred to as "classic feng shui" because it is the oldest, the Form School is founded upon the ancient need to find a safe place to live. In hilly southern China, the sloping landscape was used to the dwelling's advantage. The hills acted as a natural wind block, and the fresh water flowing down the hill was essential to existence. Followers often use metaphors like dragons and tigers, a carryover from ancient practices.
- Northern China's Compass School is based on orientation -- using a magnetic compass and the relation of the Earth to seasons, stars and planets. This was mostly for practical reasons: The terrain in northern China is flatter than in the south, so it calls for a different guiding principle. The Compass School is often considered the most difficult to understand because it relies so heavily on the feng shui compass, Chinese astrology and mathematics.
- Professor Thomas Lin Yun founded the Black Hat sect of feng shui in the 1980s, which is considered the easiest for novices to follow. It relies mostly on intuition, and the only commonly used feng shui tool is the road map, or bagua. Some feng shui masters and scholars don't even acknowledge Black Hat because it relies on the placement of objects. Since placing things in a room is much easier to understand than interpreting compass readings and working with the environment, it appeals to Westerners looking to "feng shui up" their house or office.
The schools do have three main things in common, though -- we'll learn about them next.