The Basics of Various Feng Shui Schools

living room with blue and gray tones and a plant

Element5 Digital / Unsplash

If you have ever tried to apply feng shui your home by searching online or reading some books, chances are you got really confused. This book says one thing, that web page says another. And many times they might even conflict. But, there’s a good reason! There are dozens of schools of feng shui. Each approach can vary a little or a lot, depending on the school and/or practitioner. 

Feng shui principles were originally developed in ancient China, when humans lived in harmony with the cycles of nature. As a formal practice, feng shui was created to help people determine the most advantageous placement for where to live, for cultivating agriculture, and where to bury ancestors.

There’s a saying that “every ten years, feng shui takes a turn”. So, over time many different schools of feng shui developed. I liken it to chocolate chip cookie recipes. There are definitely commonalities in the recipes, and they all need certain ingredients, but each recipe may be slightly different based on the culture, history, geography, and other circumstances. Therefore, we have various schools whose viewpoints developed based on what was useful and available to them. 

Regardless of which feng shui school(s) you choose to study, the intention is to connect you to your spaces so you can create the life that you want to lead.

In general, most feng shui schools use these shared principles: 

  • Qi, life force energy
  • The bagua, the feng shui energy map (however, placement varies)
  • Five element theory of earth, metal, water, wood and fire
  • Yin and yang
  • Lo Shu magic square

Below is an overview of the best known schools of feng shui:

  • Form Schools Feng Shui
  • Compass Schools of Feng Shui
  • Black Sect (BTB) Feng Shui
  • Other Modern Schools of Feng Shui

Form Schools of Feng Shui

The Form schools are typically included in the “Classical” or traditional category. The form school is probably the oldest and original school of feng shui. It looks to the topographical forms of the land such as the shapes of the mountains, valleys, and bodies of water for the optimal flow of qi. 

The Form schools focus less on the compass direction, but rather the land and water forms. An example is the easy “armchair” placement, also known as the four celestial animals. The land creates a safe “armchair” shape with the black tortoise (a high back), green dragon (left armrest), white tiger (right armrest) and red phoenix (low in front). In cities, we can translate this into the modern topography of buildings and streets. Many of the other schools of feng shui include the principles of the Form school in their practice. 

The four celestial animals in Feng Shui

The Spruce / Alison Czinkota

Compass Schools of Feng Shui

Another school that’s within the “Classical” or traditional category are the Compass schools. Compass practitioners use the Lo Pan, which is a complex and layered compass with many concentric rings of knowledge and information. The magnetic directions and time guide the practice of Compass school. For instance the orientation of the bagua is determined using the compass and correspond to the actual magnetic directions.

close up of a luo pan feng shui compass
tjasam / Getty Images 

Compass practitioners also integrate your birth information to determine your best directions for your bed, bedroom, work, front door and so on. There are many schools that integrate the Compass concepts, such as Flying Star. 

Black Sect (BTB) Feng Shui

This school of feng shui is commonly called “BTB Feng Shui”, which stands for Black Tantric Sect Buddhism. It’s a modern school of feng shui with influences from Form and Compass, however the direction of the bagua is based on the flow of qi rather than the compass directions.  

BTB practitioners include spiritual, self-cultivation and meditation practices as part of their methods. The BTB school has an emphasis on intangible adjustments and the power of intention in conjunction with physical placements. Their principles have been influenced by Buddhism, Taoism and Bon (the indigineous religion of Tibet)

Close-up shot of Statue of Maitreya Buddha at Thiksey Monastery, Ladakh, India
Pachanatt Ounpitipong / Getty Images 

Many western schools of feng shui are often based on the BTB approach.

Other Modern Schools of Feng Shui

There are many other modern schools of feng shui, each with their own unique approach. Some examples include: Pyramid school, Interior Alignment, and Intuitive Feng Shui.