The ancient philosophers also believed that the interaction between Yin and Yang produced Chi, which was represented in five separate and distinct basic forces or elements, namely - water, wood, fire, earth and metal.
The belief of the ancient metaphysicists was that everything in the universe was composed of and subject to these five basic forces which are symbolised by five elements commonly found on earth and that everything, whether human, animal, vegetable, mineral or abstract, including man and his destiny, could be a combinaton of the five types of elements.
Everything that has ever happened or will happen to us is subject to the influence of these elements. And, as with everything else in the universe, the elements, though seemingly chaotic and independent are connected and related to each other through two basic laws, expressed in the form of two cycles - the cycle of birth and the cycle of destruction. [Figures 1 & 2 The cycle of birth and the cycle of destruction]
The cycle of birth shows the elements in harmonious relationship; the cycle of destruction shows them in hostility.
It is easy to understand the relationships within the cycle of birth. Ashes and carbon particulates from fire nourish the earth. The earth in turn creates minerals and metals. Metals, when hot need water to cool and also wherever there is metal, water is nearby. Water feeds the trees to make them grow and develop wood. Finally, wood burns to nourish the fire.
Naturally, the cycle of destruction is not in the same sequence. As this is not a benevolent generative cycle like the cycle of birth, each of the elements threatens the next in turn. Fire, if it is too strong, will turn metal into liquid, rendering it useless. Metal has the capacity to chop and destroy wood. If the wood of the trees is too strong and virile, it will pull all the nourishment out of the earth. Too much earth will absorb and dry out the water. Water puts out fire.
However this cycle need not necessarily be entirely negative. Perhaps it would be more accurate to describe it as an antagonistic cycle for although fire may melt metal, the right amount of fire may forge the metal into useful tools; metal applied to wood may carve beautiful artefacts’ the wood roots of trees may hold the earth in place, preventing it being washed away or blowing off in dust storms; earth, when applied to water may create conditions for growing and water, combined with fire, creates steam, which is useful for various applications. So, although the elements in this cycle may be destructive, in the appropriate quantities they may be more stimulating and beneficially abrasive.
Each of the elements has a predominant nature associated with it and the elements are not only related to colour and direction but also to seasons, to body organs (both yin and yang), to the planets even emotions and numbers.
The way of the Tao is to recognise that change is inevitable and to seek harmony on the natural pathways to change, maintaining balance as the Chi or life force energy brings about whatever changes are necessary.
As the five elements are constantly moving, either giving birth or destroying each other, they represent great change, not only in us but also in our environment. By recognising the elements and their changing relationships, it is possible for us to achieve greater balance both in our environment and in ourselves. Balance in our environment is the essential nature of Feng Shui.
The Place of the 5 Elements in Our Environment.
Wood, represented by the colour green, signifies life, growth, health and vitality. Other colours that can also signify wood are cool blues, aqua’s, teal and dark brown. The shape of wood is rectangular and tall and the material that signifies it is (naturally) wood, along with cardboard, paper and composite wood products.
Household items that represent wood are often made from it – bookcases, cabinets and hallstands are all typical.
East, the direction of wood is the direction of new beginnings and the promise of growth. It signifies the life force energy ascending at the beginning of the day or in the spring, which, in the Chinese calendar, is the beginning of the year. This is a Yang time, when the Chi is rising, the day is beginning or spring has arrived.
The colour of fire is red. In fact all the reds, from pink through to deep magenta and burgundy are the colours of fire. The direction of fire is south, where it symbolises noon and the height of the day, summer and the fullness of the year… life at its most yang.
Objects in the home, which represent fire, apart of course from fire itself in the shape of a roaring stove or lit candles, are anything in fire colours – red rugs, pictures, red painted walls. Triangular shapes – the shape of flames - are the shapes of fire.
The earth element represents the gentle transition between the seasons – between the changing parts of the day.
As wood and fire represent rising and full yang and metal and water declining and complete yin so, in the middle, there is earth and earth is unchanging. Earth has no season.
The location of earth is in the centre; its colours yellow, mustard, orange, ochre, beige, caramel, light brown or terracotta. Curiously, the shape of earth is not round but square. It is the universe that is represented by the circle; the earth is represented by the square - the container of life.
The materials evinced by earth are clay, brick, ceramic, mud and cement. The objects that signify earth are. Items such as teracotta objects, pottery, porcelain, crystals, rocks, stones, sculpture, all signify earth.
Metal represents the transformation of the chi from fullness towards decline. This is the afternoon of the day, the autumn of the year when natural chi begins slowly to diminish. It is the cooling off period; the time of declining Yin. Metal is the process of gathering in, a dense inward moving energy, which can feel oppressive if it is not in harmony with its surroundings.
The direction of metal is west where the sun sets and the shapes for metal are round or arched. When metal is heated to a high degree it bobbles into round beads – so any shape with well-rounded curvatures signifies metal.
Metal’s colours are white or gold, silver, bronze, copper, platinum – any metallic colour. The objects that signify it are anything metallic or that has metal - particularly an object of a round shape and that is crafted from some form of metal.
Water represents the winter months, a time of hibernation at the end of the year and is represented by the north. Water is complete Yin.
The colours of water are black, grey, charcoal, and, as water flows and meanders, so therefore its shape is wavy. Undulating lines represent water. In the kitchen, refrigerators, sinks even toilets and tubs represent water.
The materials for water are fountains and fish tanks, ponds and swimming pools. To evoke water in a room, any of these features can be used.
Water is often used to promote prosperity, consequently once the most useful auspicious energy is located a water feature is used to stimulate it.
The five elements of Chi are a fundamental part of Feng Shui and understanding them and their relationship to each other is vitally important. The permutations of the elements in their cycles of birth and destruction are endless; sometimes they work to cancel one another out - sometimes they enhance one another. When combined in different amounts they can cause either good or back luck.