The five elements (fire, earth, metal, water, wood) are the building blocks of the universe as a result of interactions between yin and yang. These elements, from the Chinese perspective, were active processes at work on the Material constituents of the universe, whereas the ancient Greek concepts of the four elements (fire, air, earth, water) were thought to be the actual constituents of the universe. According to James Legge in the book "The Great Plan," the descriptions of the five elements were as follows:
"Of the five elements, the first named water; the second, fire; the third wood; the fourth, metal; and the fifth, earth. The nature of water is to soak and descend; of fire to blaze and ascend; of wood, to be crooked and to be straight; of metal, to obey and to change; while the virtue of earth is seen in seed-sowing and ingathering. That which soaks and descends becomes salt; that which blazes and ascends becomes bitter; that which is crooked and straight becomes sour; that which obeys and changes becomes arid; and from seed-sowing and ingathering comes sweetness."
Each of these five elements was grouped with physical phenomena that influenced and created the five different sets of forces or powers. These forces followed the change of all things in the universe with a more sophisticated version of the yin and yang model of waxing and waning. The five elements represented stages or transformations within the yin and yang cycle whereby each element is said to flourish during its yang phase and decline in its yin phase. Therefore, the rising energy (yang) was given the wood chi representing the morning, spring season, and east direction. The peak and rising point of yang energy depicted the fire chi representing the summer season, noon, and south direction. As the energy slows down there is a building of the yin quality, the consolidation and pulling inward represented the metal chi, the autumn season, late afternoon, and west direction. The yin energy meets its peak and full contraction dissolves representing the water chi, midnight, winter season, and the north direction. The process begins again where the yang energy begins to resurge and the rebirth of spring and morning takes place.
The fifth element of earth was seen to be central to the other four elemental powers. It was originally seen as representing the ending of each season and the beginning of the next. Hence, early fall may so warm we refer to it as an "Indian Summer" and so forth. Eventually this elemental energy took its place between the fire chi and metal chi representing late summer/early autumn, early afternoon, and the center or ground point. The earth element was also considered to be the controller of the five elemental powers representing the soil chi energy and therefore the core basis from all things being accomplished. It was also seen as a pivotal point where the seasons were to revolve around.
The five elements were arranged in a systematic position that has the capacity to create or destroy on another giving rise to a new element. The first order is labeled as birthing whereby the wood dynamically gives rise and fuels fire chi. Hence, wood feeds fire source. Fire enhances the earth energy by reaching its peak and dies leaving ash behind which becomes earth. The earth enhances the metal energy with its constant movement and contraction assisting in the formation of metal or ore. Hence, all ores originate from the earth. Metal enhances the water chi energy through contraction and the intense heat beneath the earth. This combination creates a liquid to flow like water. Water enhances or expands the wood chi, as it nourishes and refreshes all plants, trees, a wood source.
These five elements move through several cycles and align to the human body/organ systems, foods, and design choices. Understanding the five elements is a basis for harmony, enhanced health and balanced living. What to learn more about DIY healthy and balanced living strategies? Click here for my book: The Feel - Good Home Feng Shui and Taoism for Healthy Living