The Five Elements and Their Two Cycles:
Although the word element is commonly used in this context, reference is not being made here to chemical elements. The Chinese elements are more symbolic manifestations of five basic patterns of energy. Directly translated from Chinese, there is a sense of change, movement or process; Wu Xing, (五行 wŭ xíng). This indicates more clearly the changeable and dynamic nature of the five elements. Everything we experience can be classified by the activity of one or more of these elements.
Each element is associated with a colour and many other characteristics. Fire is red and represents active, pulsating and spreading energy. Earth is yellow, representing gathering and stabilising energy. Metal is white and symbolises solidifying energy. Water is black, representing floating energy. Wood is green/blue and represents up and outward moving energy.
There are two basic ways these elements interact. When each element supports and encourages or gives birth to the next element, this is called the “Cycle of Birth”. For example, Fire is supported and fed by the Wood element, and gives birth to the Earth element. So, Wood is the mother and Earth is the child of the Fire element. There is another side to this though. The weak Wood will be drained by supporting Fire and Fire will be drained as a result of supporting Earth.
The other main cycle is called the “Cycle of Destruction”, and this is formed when elements destroy each other. For example, Wood attacks and destroys Earth; Earth spoils Water; Water extinguishes Fire; Fire melts Metal and Metal cuts and destroys Wood. However, this is not a strictly destructive process. Sometimes when a certain type of energy is too strong and wild, it can be useful to use the “destroyer” to control the situation. For example, Metal is needed to control Wood as in pruning.