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TUTORIALS

The Five Elements

Tuesday, March 18, 2003
By: Joey Yap

The Five Element theory is the backbone of all Chinese Metaphysical studies. It is believed that all matters as well as the sentient beings in our universe are composed by a blend of the Five Elements. This does not mean however, that the Five Elements are physical. To believe that they are strictly physical is a common fallacy, and a serious one at that. It is crucial that you bear this in mind.

Five Elements are but a type of Qi. What is qi? Qi is often regarded as the ‘life-force energy’, and is the product of the interaction between the two fundamental universal forces: Yin and Yang. The interaction between the Yin and the Yang creates five phases of Qi, each phase the product of different proportions of Yin, and of Yang. These five phases of transformational energy, is known as the Five Elements.

The types of qi are named according to their attributes.

Element Properties Shapes Colors
Earth Attractive
Dense
Stable
Cubic shapes Flat
and broad shapes
Brown
Beige
Yellow
Metal Sharp
Pointing
Piercing
Spherical,
rounded
White
Gold
Silver
Water Runs downhill
Free/unbound
Wavy
Indefinite
Black
Dark
blue
Wood Grows outwards
Enduring
Tall & rectangular Green
Fire Spreads in every direction
Radiates
Hot
Triangular
Pointed, sharp
Red
Orange
Purple
Pink

These elements can also be represented by physical rudiments or objects:

Earth Mountain, rocks, bricks, stones
Wood Plants, trees, flower, grass, bamboo
Metal Sword, axe, jewellery, gold, iron, silver
Fire Fire, candles, red lamps, lightning, electricity
Water Ponds, swimming pools, fountains, lakes, seas, aquariums

These Elements share three types of relationships known as ‘Cycles’, through which an element can affect another element. Depending on the cycle, these elements Produce (grow), Control (counter) or Weaken one another.

The first is the Productive Cycle

  Water produces Wood
Wood produces Fire
Fire produces Earth
Earth produces Metal
Metal produces Water

This cycle is rather straight forward. Water provides nourishment for trees (Wood), which is then used as fuel for Fire, resulting in ashes (Earth). Earth is mined for minerals, or Metal, which when melted, runs like Water. This is known as the productive cycle, where the elements produce one another.

The key point to remember for the productive cycle is that an element strengthens and grows the element it produces.

The second is the Controlling Cycle

Fire controls Metal
Metal controls Wood
Wood controls Earth
Earth controls Water
Water controls Fire

In this cycle, the elements keep each other under control. For example, Fire melts Metal. An axe (Metal) cuts into Wood. The roots of a tree grip tightly onto Earth (Wood control Earth). Earth forms a barrier to control Water – just like a dam holds back the massive amounts of water. Water extinguishes Fire.

In the controlling cycle, an element is countered or subjugated by its controlling element.

The third is the Weakening Cycle

Water weakens Metal
Metal weakens Earth
Earth weakens Fire
Fire weakens Wood
Wood weakens Water

This is the reverse process of the Production Cycle we’ve discussed earlier. For example, we said that Water produces Wood (as in water is used to nourish plants). Conversely, we can say that Wood weakens Water. – because Wood, absorbs Water. This is called the Weakening Cycle.

We say Metal is weakened by Water. Visualize it this way, Water contributes to the oxidation (rusting) of steel (Metal). Metal weakens Earth - the results of ore (Metal) mining weakens Earth. Fire is weakened by Earth. Why? Earth cannot burn, and limits the spread of Fire. Wood is used to make fire. Fire in turn, completely consumes Wood so Fire weakens Wood.

In the weakening cycle, an element is weakened by the energy of the element it produces. This is applied in Feng Shui: it has been discovered that certain Sha-Qi (Killing or Negative energies) is of the Earth Element, and is ‘cured’ by employing the use of Metal objects. This is because Metal ‘weakens’ the Earth.

It must be pointed out that if you plan to cure the effects of any element, do your best to avoid using the Controlling Cycle. Controlling the effects of a certain element with an opposing element is often unpredictable, and could easily cause complications later. In Feng Shui we seek the way of ‘harmony’, going with the flow, and not against.

Instead, use the weakening cycle. It is the preferred way to lessen the negative effects of any element. You can think of the weakening cycle as a safety valve.

Memorizing the 5 elements and the three cycles is a must, if you plan to use Feng Shui even on the smallest scale. It is quite simple to memorize. To help you on your way here are some simple metaphors.

Productive Cycle
        Water waters plant, producing Wood
        Wood makes kindling, producing Fire
        Fire makes ashes, producing Earth
        Earth is mined, producing Metal
        Metal is melted, producing Water

Countering Cycle
        Water extinguishes Fire
        Fire melts Metal
        Metal cuts Wood
        Wood roots tightly grip Earth
        Earth contains Water

Weakening Cycle
        Water can be partly absorbed by Wood
        Wood can be partly burnt by Fire
        Fire can be diminished with Earth
        Earth is weakened by mining for Metal
        Metal is weakened by Water

Again, do take note that the Five Elements refer to a TYPE of Qi and not necessarily the physical element itself. For example, Water Element is often represented by real water, pond, swimming pool or lakes. However, this may not be exhaustive. You will learn in future studies that Water Element can also represent a person’s wisdom and intelligence and in health matters, Water represents the kidneys. Water Element, of the Five Element, can represent a myriad of attributes. Depending on the circumstances different attributes are selected for a Feng Shui analysis or cure.

This is only a very basic tutorial on the Five Elements. It is a good idea to familiarize yourself with the elements if you decide to study Chinese Feng Shui or Astrology later on.

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