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Chinese concepts are about Qi, about it's change and movement. In Feng Shui we don't really deal with single "elements", much more with types of energy which interact constantly with other types of energy, as well as effecting all those around.
The principle of the 5 Elements has a history of 3000 years. Through the observation of nature and through their research, the Chinese found that everything on earth and in the universe can be assigned to one of this 5 qualities.
These 5 qualities are WATER, WOOD, FIRE, EARTH and METAL.
The chinese system of 5 Elements is reflected in Chinese medicine, in Chinese philosophy, in time calculations as in calendar cycles and horoscopes, and even in character descriptions of people.
A METAL person, for example, appears a bit dry like the fall season, when the trees slowly start to pull in their sap and prepare for winter, their body is more likely lean with a narrow face, he's supposingly a sharp thinker, a bit more controlled and maybe less enthusiastic than a WOOD person, whose quality is outgoing and expansive like fast growing plants in the spring. The metal person does not like heat. When we test a person with methods of unconscious reactivity like AK (Applied Kinesiology), they react weak on exposure to fire-objects, but strong with earth and metal energies.
There are 5 different relationships possible among these 5 elemental energies, some are of a supportive nature, some controling and some weakening to the others.
The 5 qualities and the Supportive Cycle.
The most important cycle for our daily Feng Shui work is the Supportive Cycle, where one quality supports the next in the order, as shown in the diagram.
WATER energy feeds WOOD and lets plants flourish.
WOOD burns in FIRE.
FIRE burns down to ashes, which are EARTH.
EARTH condenses into METAL.
METAL melts and then turns into a watery form, also condensates WATER.
We use these "elements", their objects, aspects, forms and colors to balance the Qi in our home, to bring in missing qualities in specific Bagua Areas or to soften excessive imbalances.
Here is another example:
"Wealth and Prosperity" in the BAGUA, the map with the eight segments, is oriented towards the SW compass direction, therefore stands for Yin-Wood energy. If we look up WOOD in the above diagram we find WATER and WOOD to be used to enhance this part of our home.
Feng Shui books usually recommend to use plants, my favorite is bamboo (fast growing wood) water fountains, aquariums and other water/plant combinations. Please be aware that all these objects have a very specific sized energy aura field, depending on their height, strength, colour and form.
A tiny chinese lucky bamboo might be a tool in the right direction but is not able to move the stagnant energy of a whole house. A huge water fountain in the entrance hall might be a bit of an overkill for the WATER element of the house and then end up creating more problems than it resolves.
Here is an overview of a few of the numerous aspects representing these 5 qualities:
Water is the energy of resting and stillness, the concentration of forces before spring and a new life cycle. It represents winter or midnight in the shorter day cycle. Its movement is downwards, its form irregular, colours are black and blue, ultramarine more than torquoise, which already counts as wood.
Water is a very important energy in Feng Shui through its close connection with wealth and prosperity. Water was always the basis for rice farming and out of that a synonym for abundance.
Water is strengthened by metal, weakened by wood and controlled by earth.(Sand is used to dam floods or overflowing water!)
Wood is good to apply when you want to add the energy of growth and vitality to your life.Wood is the expanding element of spring or early morning. The typical form is the column, colours are green and torquois. Bamboo as a fastgrowing plant represents the beauty of wood energy. In terms of Chinese medicine, anger is the erruptive emotion represented by wood. Its corresponding organs are the liver and gallbladder. Wood is strengthened by water, weakened by fire and controlled by metal. (An axe cuts wood!)
Fire energy is strongest in summer, early June, and at noon time. At this time, flowers show their bright beauty at a maximum level. The movement is directed upwards, colour is red and various similiar taints, the geometrical form is a triangle. A triangular red candle is a tool of choice to add fire quality to a room.
Fire is the only element which should be used with discretion. It can be overdone easily and then draws in a nervous unstable aspect. Careful with wallpaint, too. Paint only one wall this strong color and definitely be careful in bedrooms (if you want to get some rest...).
Earth energy is grounding, stabilizing and balancing. Rocks, bricks and earthware represent earth energy and can be brought easily into a space. Be aware that objects often carry not just one of these qualities but have combinations of two or even more elements in them. A yellow earthy brick includes quite an amount of fire energy in addition to earth.
Metal Qi is condensing and contracting the earth energy. Metal objects, e.g. big clocks with moving metallic parts are strong metal cures. Metal shapes include round forms, circles and spheres. Metal in the form of 6 coins on a red string are used in Traditional Feng Shui to neutralize negative earth imbalances due to Flying Star Calculations.
One last example how the land forms all life within itself:
Maine's most obvious energetic qualities are water and wood. If we investigate the elements represented by houses and buildings in Maine we would (hopefully) agree on wood (material) and fire (triangular shape of roofs). The energy of the land feeds our homes. This is the natural cycle of support.
Many Feng Shui books describe the 5 Elements. If you'd like to read more on the 5 Elements, look for Lillian Too's books (there are many) or just check out the Feng Shui section at your local bookstore.