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The Who, What & Where of the 5 Elements!

The 5 Elements are a notion used extensively in Feng Shui, Chinese Astrology (Bazi) Chinese Medicine and in every aspect of the traditional Chinese philosophy. This article aims to cover the different aspects of the 5 Elements including the shapes, colours, cycles, season and compass placement. I hope you will enjoy this definitive guide to the 5 Elements in Feng Shui!

Of most importance is to remember is that these are not really Elements as such: they are rather a state of the Qi. A bit like water can be ice, steam or a fluid. It is still water right? Simply different states of the same thing. 

Qi can take the form of Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. These are called Elements in analogy with the system of the 4 Elements (air, fire, water, earth, expression of the ether) and also because they have an affinity with the physical elements associated with them. For example, the phase of Wood can be strengthened by some real wood and green colour, but it encompasses much more than just physical wood. 

Time to explore those 5 Elements or phases in more detail!

Wood

The Wood Element is the one representing new life emerging: it is linked to the idea of growth and expansion, as well as with the quality of imagination and a lot of artistic activities (writing, drawing, designing for example). As it represents a youthful Qi and beginnings, it is logical to see it at the inception of the Elements cycle here. Its dynamics is to be expanding. The Wood attributes are:

  • Growing, expanding, beginning
  • New life, young Qi
  • It has an association with movement as well, as the wind is seen as related to the Wood Qi.
  • The colours of the Wood are green and beige
  • The shape is the rectangle, either horizontal or vertical
  • The associated planet is Jupiter
  • Wood occupies the East & Southeast directions
  • It is associated with the Spring season

Fire

The Element of Fire is by nature very versatile, hot and fast. Its dynamic is to go upward, to rise above. It is the hottest of the 5 Elements and also the one with less density. It is therefore not surprising to see this Element associated with the spiritual realm for example and the idea of channeling. The different attributes of Fire are:

  • Goes upward, hot and fast, explosive and volatile
  • Fire colours are, red, pink, orange, maroon, purple, aubergine and the electric of Fire blue (think of the colour of the flame on a gas stove)
  • The shapes are triangles, stars, spikes, angular and irregular shapes that are pointy rather 
  • The planet associated is Mars
  • The Fire is associated with the summer season
  • Fire belongs to the South direction 

This explains the different placements of directions on a Chinese compass. As Chinese see the Fire rising and its association to the South. The South is naturally placed on top of the compass (or Luo Pan) rather than at the bottom like in western compass.

Earth

The Earth Element is dense and one of the most physical. It is by nature heavy and has a special place in the 5 Elements cycle. Its natural dynamic is to be compiling: think of the different layers that constitute the soil for example… The Earth attributes are:

  • Dense, solid, physical, accumulating
  • The colours associated are yellow and brown (not beige, brown!)
  • The associated planet is Saturn
  • Earth shape is the square
  • Earth is associated with the center as well as with the Northeast & Southwest directions

There is no real Earth season; rather the Earth appears during the inter-seasons that last for 18 days (4 of them so 72 days altogether) This is the transition between Summer and Autumn for example. This indicates the special status of the Earth Element that is more a binding Element. 

Metal

The Metal is flexible, ductile, and a real chameleon. It can either be used to cut and be offensive, or as a glamour factor to enhance the appearance. The Metal is the Element that directly refers to human activity, as without human intervention a nugget of mined metal cannot become a tool to cut the Wood or a piece of jewelry. While the Metal phase is as legitimate as the others in the cycle of Elements, it needs human intervention to unlock its potential. That explains why the Metal Qi relates to a lot of human system and activities too (government, banking, law enforcement, police and military etc.)

The dynamic of Metal is to be contracting, in opposition with the expanding energy of the Wood. The Metal attributes are:

  • Contracting, flexible, adaptive, attractive
  • Associated colours are grey, silver, white and all the metallic tones
  • The associated planet is Venus
  • The shapes are circular, round, spheres and cylinders
  • Metal is associated with the West & Northwest directions
  • It represents the Autumn season

Water

The Water Element is often restless, like the Fire. It is the second Element most associated with the idea of fast movement. It brings life but it can also be an unstoppable force of nature. The Water Element is closely associated with emotions and the subconscious mind.

The dynamic of the Water Element is to always go to the lowest point, downward, in opposition with the movement of the Fire that is ascending. The Water attributes are therefore:

  • Going down, cold, fluid, ever-changing, dormant
  • Associated colours are black and the darker shades of blue (outside of the Fire blue)
  • The associated planet is Mercury
  • The shapes are all the irregular but curvy shapes, akin to waves
  • Water Element is associated with the North direction
  • Water represents the Winter season

It can be seen as the end of a cycle before a transition (through Earth) and a new cycle beginning with the Wood in the East.


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