Sacred Pattern from the Lo River: The First Magic Square

The first recognized magic square in history traces back thousands of years ago to a story found within the ancient Chinese manuscript called the Yih King or Book of Changes.  The fascinating tale relates how rising from the overflowing River Lo, a turtle appeared with a mysterious pattern etched upon its shell.  Described as a series of dots, the design on the tortoise presented the people, who were endangered from the flooding waters, the correct amount of sacrifice to offer the angry god; thereby appeasing the god and allowing the gushing river to recede.

Named after the river in which it surfaced, and for the word scroll (shu), the Lo Shu magic square is recognized as one of the most sacred designs of China. The dots, corresponding to numbers, reveal the basic, and yet all powerful, 3×3 magical grid.  Magic squares are numerical squares where every row, column, and diagonal equals the same sum.  Called the magic constant, it was this sum which the people in the above story used to soothe the river god.  The 3×3 magic square continues to hold great wisdom and is shown as follows:




The arrangement is believed to represent the harmony and balance of the universe.  As can be seen by even and odd numbers being equally distributed (with 5 always central in all permutations), the magic square displays unity.  Like Yin and Yang (primal energies of Chinese philosophy), they demonstrate opposite forces uniting to create a balanced whole.

The Lo Shu magic square is believed to have inspired the creation of the eight basic trigrams by Emperor Fu Xi of China.  Trigrams are sets of three solid or broken lines together.  Solid lines signify Yang, while broken lines signify Yin.  Further developing into 64 hexagrams by the combining of two trigrams, the trigrams form the basis for I Ching divination.

Since Yin and Yang are thought to always seek balance, insight is gained by interpreting the forces needed to achieve harmony at any given time.  For example, if in observing the hexagrams Yang is determined strong, Yin must be in the future.  And vice versa. Even though the flow is constantly changing, balance is continuously striving to be attained.

Wisdom from the square has been realized by many cultures.  Although the first 3×3 magic square is assigned to the Lo Shu, this magical filled numerical table has been recognized in other areas as well.  It seems India, Egypt, and other nearby countries, all around the same time, were also intrigued by such array of numbers.  In each place the square was held in high esteem.  Today, the magic square has spread around the world and is appreciated and studied.  The square, like thousands of years ago, gives rise to an awareness for the individual need to maintain balance within.



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1 Response

  1. January 3, 2014

    […] magic squares is traced back thousands of years.  One of the first designs realized is called the Lo Shu magic square.  As the legend goes, rising from the Yellow River in China, was a turtle noticed to have an […]

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