Compass, known as Geomancer's compass

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made in China

Postcard of Compass, known as Geomancer's compass.
© National Museums Scotland

Compass, known as Geomancer's compass

This Chinese geomancer's compass dates from the early 19th century. This complex instrument has developed over the centuries to enable the practitioner to make precise calculations in the subtle art of Feng Shui. Owing to the continuous alterations in the Earth's magnetic variation, three systems dating from the 8th, 9th and 12th centuries have become enshrined around the compass used by today's practitioners.

Made of a circular piece of wood, painted white with a white-painted protective wooden lid, the geomancer's compass is covered in a series of concentric rings of Chinese characters. This one has eight rings, which enable the practitioner to co-ordinate movements between the Earth and the heavens for auspicious moments. The lid also has Chinese characters painted on it.

In ancient China, the magnetic compass was an essential tool used in geomancy, which predated its use in navigation by centuries. Geomancers used the compass to determine the orientation of tombs, temples and secular buildings, and the alignment of city walls and streets, in order to be in harmony along lines of the magnetic field of the local landscape.

Record details

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Online ID: 000-180-001-163-C
Image Rights Holder: National Museums Scotland
Project: 0504: National Museums Scotland Part 2
Project description | View all records in project
Ref: National Museums Scotland  T.1924.288
Date: 19th century
Early 19th century
Material: Wooden case and lid
Dimensions: 3.63" D x 0.63" thick (case) / 0.75" L (needle)
What: Compass / case
Subject: 5. CARTOGRAPHY, Surveying (Departmental Classification)
9. NAVIGATION (Departmental Classification)
Where: China
Description: Chinese compass in a wooden case with a wooden lid
  • For a similar instrument, see K. Lippincott et al., The Story of Time, London, 1999, p 273, item 283 
  • For geomancy, and a description of the Chinese geomancer's compass, see Nigel Pennick, The Ancient Science of Geomancy: Man in Harmony with the Earth, London, 1979, esp. pp.110-112. 
  • Joseph Needham, Science and Civilisation in China, Cambridge 1962, Vol IV Part 1, pp.293-297. 
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