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11th July 2010


True North and Magnetic North

Which is the Correct North?


There are discussions in the Chinese Metaphysics community recently on the topic on True North versus Magnetic North. The controversy is whether which “north” is the correct one to use for fengshui applications. Liu Fa system for example uses True North while other systems use compass north.

I hope to resolve this controversy by presenting my own view on this subject through this article.

Before we start, let us synchronise the terminology used in this article. True North here refers to the direction pointed by the Northern Star or Pole Star (Polaris A) in the constellation Ursa Minor. The North Pole of Earth is also known as Map Grid North. Take note that the North Pole is not a fixed static direction. Due to precession of the equinoxes, axis of rotation of Earth (map grid north) traces out a small circle over a period of 25,800 years. Magnetic North is quite straight forward to define. It is the North direction pointed to in a magnetic compass and it can change gradually over time.

To summarise, the terms are:

1. True North is also known as the direction of Northern Star, Pole Star, Polaris, Astronomical North and Celestial North.

2. Map Grid North is also known as the direction of the imaginary North Pole and the Axis of Earth rotation. It is also the north direction shown on maps.

3. Magnetic North or Compass North is the direction of magnetic compass north pole which can vary from places to places.

The difference between True North and North Pole is only a small 0.7 degree and is usually considered as the same direction as True North.

For fengshui application, which North should we use?

Based on a standard San He luopan there are 3 rings of 24 mountains, known as Tian Pan 天盤縫針 (Heaven Plate Seam Needle), Di Pan 地盤正針 (Earth Plate Correct Needle) and Ren Pan 人盤中針 (Man Plate Centre Needle). Based on standard San He teaching, the Tian Pan is typically used for water placement 納水, the Ren Pan is used for locating prominent "objects" such as hills or mountains 消砂 and the Di Pan is used for grave or house orientation 立向.

Why is there a differentiation on these 2 rings of 24 mountains for Tian Pan and Di Pan? It was written that Yang Yun Song 楊筠松 (834 - 900) designed both the Tian Pan and Di Pan and the difference is 7.5 degrees. This can be explained by the following. As we know, the Earth's Magnetic North Pole is not static and it moves constantly. Below is a diagram showing the shifting of Earth's Magnectic North Pole from Year 200 plus to Year 2000.

Yang Yun Song 楊筠松 designed the Di Pan 24 mountains to point to Magnetic North (MN) Pole and the Tian Pan to point to True North (TN). The Magnetic North Pole is West of the North Pole by approximately 7.5 degree around Year 880. This is the reason the offset between Di Pan and Tian Pan is 7.5 degrees. See the diagram of the globe below for the location of Magnetic North Pole during Yang Yun Song's time. The reason Tian Pan points to True North is because Yang Yun Song believed the Qi given out by water were affected by the Heavenly Qi 天氣 (Pole Star in the sky) and therefore the Tian Pan is used to "measure" water. Di Pan points to Magnetic North and is associated with Earthly Qi 地氣 and therefore was used for orientating graves and houses which "sit" on Earth.

Back to the question again. For fengshui application, which North should we use? To answer this question, we have to apply some logical thinking here. What Yang Yun Song taught us is logical as far as San He fengshui sysem is concern. Di Pan is based on Magnetic North because Qi from the ground are affected by geomagnetism - therefore house or grave orientation direction should be based on Magnetci North for measurement. Qi given out by water into the atmosphere is affected by energy from "above ground", that is, cosmic forces from heaven and the stars - therefore it should be based on True or Astronomical North. So for San He system, both Di Pan and Tian Pan or rather both Magnetic and True North are used together for measuring different things. What about other system such as XKDG, XKFX or XKLF? What are they measuring? By applying the same logic about Heavenly and Earthly Qi and the fundamental concepts taught by these fengshui systems, you should be able to figure out it by yourself which "north" is the correct north to use. Happy measuring...

By Cyril Quah

"The Feng Shui Connoisseur"

July 11, 2010

Copyright 2006 Feng Shui Connoisseur. All rights reserved.