When you learn Feng Shui, you’ll inevitably learn about the Five Elements (also known as “Wu Xing”). They are Earth, Water, Fire, Metal, and Wood.
What do they mean and how are they used? Where did the concept even come from?
In this guide, you will learn the basics of the Five Elements, including its cycles, shapes, and color representations, and how they’re practiced and incorporated in the different schools of Feng Shui.
One thing to keep in mind though – the practice of the Five Elements theory varies from school to school. Throughout this article, you will see which schools I like and dislike, and why.
Where did Five Elements Come From?
According to Wikipedia, the Five Elements theory came to maturity in the second or first century BCE during the Han dynasty. This was used in many different fields such as Feng Shui, astrology, Chinese medicine, music, military strategy, and martial arts.
In short, this theory shows how ancient Chinese view the relationship between the natural objects in this world. The theory goes deeper into how to strengthen and weaken those objects.
Let’s use Chinese medicine as an example. A person’s liver is correlated to the element of Wood. Thus, if a person’s liver is weak, you’d have to make sure the person’s kidney is in good shape because kidney’s element is Water, and Water can nourish Wood.
Another example is Bazi astrology. A person born in a certain date and time will have a different elemental composition than other people. Also, an element is associated with time. For instance, 2018 is the year of the Earth dog. Earth can be beneficial for some people but not the others, depending on the person’s Bazi chart. (You can learn about the ups and downs of your life with a Bazi consultation here.)
The examples given here are over-simplified. The point here is that the Five Elements theory can be applied to a wide variety of objects, including time when it comes to astrology reading.
How Five Elements Theory is Used in Feng Shui
Feng Shui is mainly divided into two different schools – the Form School and the Compass School.
The Form School focuses on what you can see with the naked eye. The Compass School focuses on the compass directions and the Qi energy that cannot be seen.
The Five Elements are used in Form School based on the object’s color, shape, and material. Similarly, the Five Elements are used in Compass School based on the eight cardinal directions, where each direction is correlated with one of the Five Elements.
To begin applying Feng Shui cures and enhancements, you’ll need to understand the relationship between each of the Five Elements. The Feng Shui practice varies here. Some will use the object’s color, shape, and material to strengthen certain elements that will benefit you and weaken those that will harm you. You will see a summary breakdown of the different practices later in this article.
Let’s start by understanding the relationship between of each of the elements.
The Growth Cycle
This cycle is also the strengthening or production cycle. Below is an image that illustrates the Five Elements Growth Cycle in pink arrows.
It follows the concept of nature as follows:
- Wood produces Fire: Wood is needed to feed fire.
- Fire produces Earth: Fire, after burning wood, creates earth in the form of ash.
- Earth produces Metal: Earth is where metal can be found. Minerals are mined from the soil.
- Metal produces Water: This is less intuitive. The common explanation is when metal is being heated and cooled, water is captured in the air in the form of condensation.
- Water produces Wood: Water is needed for plants to grow.
If something grows, then it must have consumed energy or nutrients from something else (like us consuming food to grow). This is where the weakening cycle comes in.
The Weakening Cycle
This is the cycle where energy is drained. Below is the same image as above. Notice the weakening (exhaustive) cycle in gray arrows.
The cycle flows in the opposite direction of the Growth Cycle.
Here’s the thought process: for one element to be produced, the other element needs to be sacrificed or weakened.
- Fire weakens Wood: When fire is created, there will be less wood (or no more wood if the fire keeps burning).
- Wood weakens Water: Wood absorbs water in order to grow.
- Water weakens Metal: Water is why rusts grow on metal and steel.
- Metal weakens Earth: To mine minerals, we’ll need to excavate earth.
- Earth weakens Fire: Earth cannot burn, and fire can be extinguished if enough earth is placed on top of it.
The Controlling Cycle
This is also called the “Conflicting” and “Clashing” cycle. Below is the same image as above, with the Five Elements Controlling Cycle in black arrows.
This cycle shows how the elements can aggressively fight with one another.
- Fire controls Metal: Fire melts metal.
- Metal controls Wood: Solid metal can cut down wood.
- Wood controls Earth: Wood depletes nutrients from earth (the reason why we need fertilizers).
- Earth controls Water: Earth controls how water flows (like land formations and water dams).
- Water controls Fire: Water extinguishes fire.
When you’re trying to balance the Five Elements, it is always better to use the weakening cycle instead of the controlling cycle. That’s because the result of the clash can sometimes do more harm than good.
The most evident clash is how water controls fire. If you’ve ever tried putting out fire with water, you’ll see that smoke will be produced, and the heated water will splatter all over.
On a side note: for those of you that cook, do NOT use water to put out grease fire in your kitchen. See the video demonstration below to see why:
Now, let’s see how the natural objects around us are correlated and interpreted using the Five Elements theory.
How the Five Elements Theory Correlates to Our World
You can use three ways to determine the underlying element of every object you see in our world:
The goal here is for you to identify the element of a particular object. Then, you can use that object to strengthen or weaken a particular element that’s associated to an area of your home. (more about this in the later section)
1. Color Representations of the Five Elements
Many Feng Shui practitioners today associate colors with one of the Five Elements. In general, here’s how the Five Elements are represented by colors:
Metal: White, Gray, Silver
Wood: Green, Light Green
Water: Blue, Black
Fire: Red, Pink, Orange
Earth: Yellow, Brown
Colors can be applied to anything, such as your wall color, pillow covers, and anything else. Uncle Dixer taught me that colors have its energy that is absorbed through our vision. That is why we experience different types of emotions when we see certain colors.
[insert image – How logo designs use color for branding. Image credit: The Logo Company.]
Although I know how colors can influence us, I have my doubts on its effect on Feng Shui. In other words, colors influence you, but not Feng Shui.
2. Material Representations of the Five Elements
This is pretty straightforward. In essence, the object’s element is the material that it is made of.
For instance, water brings energy of the Water Element. If the desk is made of wood, then the desk brings the Wood energy. Need more metal as a cure for Flying Stars? Get something that’s made of metal and place it in that section.
But what about electronics? Which element do they belong to?
Many Feng Shui practitioners have a different opinion here. The general consensus is that electronics correlate with the Fire element because it generates heat and requires electricity to operate.
But isn’t electronics made of metallic materials? Well, some experts do say electronics have some Metal energy as well because of that.
And what about the refrigerator and dishwasher? They generate heat, are made of metal, and have water and electricity running inside them. Are they correlated with all elements?
Also, what about a triangular fish tank filled with a brownish background picture?
The answer you’ll typically find is not one that I like.
3. Shape Representations of the Five Elements
Here’s how different shapes are associated with a different element:
The application of shapes can range from small items, such as a fish bowl or an aquarium, to land plots (fenced) and houses, buildings, roads, and waterways such as river, streams, or sewers.
Shapes of land plots, buildings, waterways, and mountains are what the Form School of Feng Shui is about. Shapes of mountain and waterways are written in Classical Feng Shui. They also bring the strongest Feng Shui effect.
For instance, people living in a triangular house are likely to have more arguments (Fire is related to temper). It is also said that triangular shaped houses are more prone fire disasters.
But what constitutes as a triangular shaped house? Is it the shape of the building, the plot of the land, or the fence surrounding the house? What about the Feng Shui effects of houses shaped in other elements? This is when I ask you to find a Feng Shui consultant to take a look at the property.
Putting It Together: The Five Elements and the Different Schools of Feng Shui
Based on the information above, you can probably see how this section unfolds. If a section or area of your house needs more Wood energy, you’ll need place items correlated to Wood or Water in that area (because water produces wood).
But how do you know which section needs more Wood energy or other types of energy? The Feng Shui practice varies here.
The Bagua Directions and Its Associated Elements
This is the most popular practice found on the web. I personally have doubts on the efficacy of this practice.
In the Bagua, each direction is associated with a certain element:
Below is an image illustration of the Bagua and its associated element.
Using the growth, weakening, and controlling cycles mentioned above, you can decide which element you’d like to promote or weaken.
The most popular practice is to use colors for Feng Shui bedroom. For instance, if your bedroom is located in the Northern section of the house, your bedroom is associated with the element of Water.
Using colors associated with Water or Metal will help boost the Water energy of the bedroom. Again, I have doubts on the efficacy of this practice
The Eight Mansions School of Feng Shui
The Eight Mansions practice has minimal to no mentions on using items to boost an area’s Qi energy based on its Five Elements. Instead, the very basis of this practice uses the Five Elements based on the house and the person. Here’s a very brief summary of this concept.
The Eight Mansions practice divides houses and people into East and West groups.
As mentioned earlier, East belongs to the Wood element, whereas West belongs to the Metal element. The Eight Mansions categorize the East and West groups based on the growth cycle of the element of East (Wood) and West (Metal).
Since Water produces Wood, and Wood produces Fire, therefore, those elements belong to the East group. They are: Wood (East), North (Water), South (Fire), and Southeast (Wood).
Since Earth produces Metal, therefore, those elements belong to the West group. They are: Metal (West), Northwest (Metal), Southwest (Earth), and Northeast (Earth).
The idea is that people who belong to the East Group should live in houses that also belong to the East Group, and vice versa. Otherwise, there will be a clash between the Five Elements of the house and the person.
First, here are the Five Elements of all the Kua’s:
The East Group:
Kan 坎 (Kua #1): Water
Zhen 震 (Kua #3): Wood
Xun 巽 (Kua #4): Wood
Li 離 (Kua #9): Fire
The West Group:
Kun 坤 (Kua #2): Earth
Qian 乾 (Kua #6): Metal
Dui 兌 (Kua #7): Metal
Gen 艮 (Kua #8): Earth
For instance, someone with personal Kua of Kan (Kua #1) correlates to the Water element. He belongs to the East Group. If he lives in a Gen (Kua #8) or Kun (Kua #2) house, the Earth element of those houses will clash with the person’s Water element.
You’ll find that this application of the Five Elements is consistent throughout other houses and Kua, until you encounter the same person living in Dui (Kua #7) and Qian (Kua #6) houses. If that’s the case, wouldn’t the Metal element of those West Group houses produce Water, helping someone in the East Group?
This is one of the holes in the Eight Mansions practice.
Flying Stars School of Feng Shui
The school of Feng Shui I’m about to introduce here is a little similar to Xuan Kong Flying Stars.
I won’t get into much details here, but I’ll just mention how this school of Feng Shui uses the Five Elements Theory into practice.
The Flying Stars have 9 stars (same as Xuan Kong). Their association to the Five Elements is as follows:
- One White Star (Kan): Water
- Two Black Star (Kun): Earth
- Three Blue Star (Zhen): Wood
- Four Green Star (Xun): Wood
- Five Yellow Star (Center): Earth
- Six White Star (Qian): Metal
- Seven Red Star (Dui): Metal
- Eight White Star (Gen): Earth
- Nine Purple Star (Li): Fire
The stars are placed differently into the 9 palaces of a home, based on the sitting and facing direction of the home. (I won’t get into details on how they are placed.) For instance, a house that’s sitting North and facing South will have the following chart (with North at bottom where Six White is):
Then, find the Five Elements’ relationship of eight palaces to the center palace (which is One White Kan Water in the example above).
Using the same concept of growth, weakening, and controlling cycles mentioned above, you will get five relationships:
- Shen Qi (Growth): Exact same words as the Shen Qi in Eight Mansions Feng Shui. Here, it means that the element PRODUCES the center element.
- Wang Qi (Boost): The element is the SAME element as the center element.
- Xie Qi (Weaken): The element is PRODUCED BY the center element.
- Xa Qi (Control): The element CONTROLS the center element.
- Si Qi (Killing): The element is CONTROLLED BY the center element.
Then, plot the relationship into the chart. Using the same example above, you will get:
Have you noticed that there’s no Wang Qi in the chart above? That’s because there’s only one star that’s associated with the Water Element.
After you have plotted the chart and overlaid it onto your floor plan based on directions, you can then determine the optimal layout of your place.
The general rule is that Shen Qi and Wang Qi are auspicious areas, whereas Xie Qi, Xa Qi, and Si Qi are negative areas. How rooms are placed here is similar to Eight Mansions, where the bed, bedroom, front door, and kitchen are best placed at auspicious areas. The restroom, storage, electronics, or heavy furniture are best placed at negative areas. The only exception is the Xa Qi area, where some masters say that the place is also suitable for the bed.
My Thoughts About the Practices Mentioned Above
From my observation, non-professional practitioners are going crazy about using the Five Elements in Feng Shui (especially the use of color). Because of this, some professional practitioners are recommending cures using color and items that don’t work, but helps to ease the client’s mind.
But what do I mean about going “crazy”? They vary widely.
For instance, a few people would like to paint the kitchen blue, but are worried that there would be a clash between kitchen fire and the color blue.
Others are wondering about the efficacy of excessive metal as a cure for Flying Stars.
There’s also the question about electronics and household appliances. They are said to belong to the element of Fire because they generate heat. However, aren’t they made of metal and plastic? And what about a green refrigerator that has water inside of it?
A practitioner focused on the practice of Five Elements will tell you that there should be a balance in every section of your house. However, merely trying to balance requires you to categorize everything based on its shape, color, and material. This is quite an excessive practice!
My suggestion? Don’t go too overboard on this practice. Based on experience, I have doubts on this practice if it is practiced alone.
As for Flying Stars, it presumes all houses that’s facing the same direction, built in the same year, has the same Feng Shui. It is a good school of Feng Shui, but something’s missing.
As for Eight Mansions, I have been noticing more holes in its concepts. The one mentioned above is one, and the imbalance of people in the East and West groups is another.
Overall, I didn’t find the Eight Mansions practice to be a practice that produces results. That, along with the holes in its concepts, are the main reasons why I’ve been moving away from this practice.
The Five Elements theory is one of the underlying concepts of Feng Shui, Bazi, Chinese medicine, and many other practices. However, many of today’s Feng Shui practitioners are going overboard with this practice. They try to categorize everything with the goal of achieving “balance”.
Instead of using the Five Elements on the micro level to achieve “balance” in every section of your house, I suggest you use the theory on the macro level. Meaning, consider the shape of buildings, houses, roads, mountains, and their relative elemental energy (if they’re close to you). If you’re not sure how to do this, I suggest you take Feng Shui classes offered by experts or consult with a Feng Shui expert.
Have you used the Five Elements theory to Feng Shui your home? How has it worked for you? Share your story with us by commenting below!
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