Humans have always been attracted to the sounds of musical notes on the wind. There is evidence of wind chimes going back to prehistory. As far as the history of wind chimes goes, written documents date back to China relating to wind chimes from 5000 years ago. The wind chime is considered to be one of the first musical instruments, a combination of percussion and whistle elements that originally consisted of strung bone, wood, stone, shells, and hollow bamboo. There’s good reason to believe that for as long as humans have been able to string things together the wind chime has been a part of our universal culture. The reasons for creating a wind chime surely varied by culture, from warding off evil spirits or attracting good ones to scaring off birds and animals from cultivated crops. The wind chime can be both soothing and function as an alarm, depending on the materials used and wind speed.
Because of the simple nature of wind chimes, their roots trace back in history like a tree, there seems to be no single point or culture that does not have a history of wind chimes connected to it. While digs in Eastern Asia have turned up the oldest identifiable wind chime (dated to about 3000 BC), there is ample evidence of them existing in non-related cultures for nearly as long. 4000 years ago ancient Egyptians were casting wind chimes in bronze, for example. Surely this culture knew about wind chimes long before they began metal working. About this time cultures in India also developed them in a more preserved form. All three cultures surely had even more ancient versions to copy. To the north, various tribes of Celts were using simple wind chime designs to mark their grounds and foster a sense of which places were sacred or haunted to them. Across Bali and other places in Asia farmers were using these simpler designs in their fields. The reason for having wind chimes are as varied as the chimes themselves, ranging from spiritual to practical use, serving as warnings, alarms, and music.
Wind chimes continued to be a vital element of mystical means across the Mediterranean. Evidence of this comes from ancient Rome where bronze chimes called tintinnabulum were often placed in gardens and porticoes so that the bells would protect those spaces. These chimes were often cast with additional good luck symbols like phallus, lion feet, and similar. This was mimicked half the globe away in China where, by 1100BC, bell style chimes were being added to eaves of pagodas, shrines, temples, and even inside caves for the exact same reason. Chimes in China were called yong-zhong and feng-ling depending on the shape of the bell. Not only were these great for keeping evil spirits at bay, but they tended to keep birds off the site also, thereby keeping the religious buildings cleaner than they might otherwise have been. These wind bells quickly became popular home adornments with people adopting them to ward off evil and attract good, as a predecessor to modern feng-shui.
In the Edo period of Japan glass became a popular element to use. These delicate wind bells are called Fūrin (風鈴) and are a popular item even now. They function as a bringer of good luck, and enable the flow of good chi. As in with those chimes used in China, Japanese Fūrin are often seen at places of high religious importance and function as an important historical cultural element. We also can trace the history of wind chimes to Tibet where such instruments have formed a long history of religious sounds that are unique to the culture of this mountainous region.
In more modern times, wind chimes continue to be a global affair. In the 1800′s many elements from the Far East, India, China, and Japan, in particular, found their ways into Victorian homes. Not only did Asian art, design, and philosophy make a mark in the West, but adaption of the wind chime for use in the home as part of feng-shui in the creation of a more balanced energy flow became very popular. This mimicked existing use for these chimes in both China and Japan. It is a trend from the history of wind chimes that continues to this day. Next time you consider that brightly colored summer chime for sale, remember the long existing historical basis for the beauty of music on the wind. Its a connection to all the things that make humanity universal.