the five elements - wu xing
Long before words such as gravity, kinetics, heat or even energy were invented, ancient man knew how nature worked by simply observing the environment. He knew that the properties of water, fire, bronze and wood were not the same, and that the world around him was subject to change. The changing of the seasons were natural, but some events, such as when excessive heat evaporated the water supply, were not.
From this understanding, he gained incredible insight and developed the "five elements", which together with yin and yang, forms the basis of Chinese culture, including Feng Shui and Chinese astrology.
The term "Five Elements" used in the west is somewhat misleading and implies that like the four elements of earth, air, fire and water, the energy is fixed and inactive. However, the Chinese five elements or Wu Xing should not necessarily be taken literally and are merely an attempt to describe the nature of the five types of energy. The basic tool kit for dealing with this is the Sheng Cycle, which means "birth" or "generated" and all matter, colours, shapes, textures and forms correspond to at least one of these elements. The Sheng cycle consists of five basic elements; Water, Wood, Fire, Earth and Metal.
In natural terms, water represents winter. Rainfall penetrates deep into the earth, replenishing water tables and initiating life. Water is therefore a descending type of Qi. Deep water is denser than shallow water and within a few metres, the barometric pressure actually doubles. Waters colours are black and dark blue; shapes are wavy and flowing. Water people are very bubbly or deep and reflective, with little or no middle ground, outgoing, superficial, adaptable, easygoing, receptive, worrisome, passionate, philosophical, generally unromantic but strong sexually.
Water gives birth to Wood Energy
After winter, water is deep within the ground and trees and shrubs put down roots for nourishment. Spring is when plant life is regenerated and as it re-emerges through the soil it expands. Therefore wood Qi is expansive. Colours are green and light blue. Shapes are tall and upright. Wood type people are positive, high spirited, often getting into difficulty but always getting out as well. Full of optimism and the spirit of youth, they live for pleasure and fun!
Wood gives birth to Fire Energy
After spring comes summer, hot and bright. Nature reaches its zenith and plants reach their height of growth. Fire needs wood for fuel and air as a catalyst. Fire Qi is ascending, where the flames rise and reach out for fuel. Fire colours are red, pink and peach, with warm colours also considered fire. Shapes are triangular. Fire people are artistic with a good sense of proportion, attractive, idealistic, impulsive and outgoing. Generally, they are bright and intelligent but may not finish things.
Fire gives birth to Earth Energy
Earth qi rotates, producing the stabilising magnetic force we know as gravity. Colours are those on the earth's surface; ivory, beige, pale yellow, brown and terracotta. Shapes are square and squat. Earth people are great assistants, conservative, gentle, pleasing, indecisive but tactful. Some are dedicated to public service; others are fatalistic gamblers and do things the hard way.
Earth gives birth to Metal Energy
This represents autumn when it turns cold and leaves fall from trees. Metal Qi is contracting, controlling, condensing, cold and cutting. Colours are white, grey and metallic, with round, curving shapes. There are two types of metal people; one is a great leader, active, ambitious, egotistical, competitive, self critical, materialistic and can seem stubborn. The other is a great orator, tactful, elegant and well liked. They dislike supervision and hate to be ignored.
When structures, shapes, and colours appear in a different order to this, one element controls another and is known as the Ke Cycle.