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Chinese 5 Element Theory: How It Works

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posted on Jun, 15 2013 @ 04:30 PM

Hi ATS, Happy Saturday!

The ancient Chinese Wuxing, or 5 element, theory is something that has fascinated me for many years and I thought that I would share a little about it with you all. Wuxing theory is relatively young considering China's history and is only a little more than 2000 years old. My knowledge of this stuff comes from my experience with Tzu Ping (Four Pillar) astrology and palm reading. I am going to get in to a little mild Feng Shui, please realize that although I saw my teacher use the Lo Pan and the Bagua, my experience is limited to deriving 'remedies' for Feng Shui and the birth chart via Tzu Ping astrology and palm reading.

As symbol systems go, this one is very elegant and tiny. It is born of the same Taoist school of thought as Yin Yang theory, so the two are meant to dove-tail, one in to the other. That will make it fun and easy for students of symbolism from other systems to adopt the schema rather quickly so that it can be experimented with. Most folks already know about Yin and Yang, so it is not much of a stretch to have the whole ball of wax up and running once the attributes of each of the elements and the 'cycles' are digested.This thread is definitely meant for everyone and I think that anyone that is inclined to tinker with the 5 element system will get some surprising insights. It is also a fun way to get a little peek inside Chinese culture, the 5 element theory permeates Chinese cultural arts and traditions.

So let's get down to brass tacks and take a look at what are known as the 5 phases, or Elements. Each phase has many correspondences, some of which are used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (hereafter, TCM),Feng Shui (geomancy), martial arts and philosophy. I won't be able to list them all but I will put up some of the more interesting ones. Later, I will give some simplified examples of how to apply the 5 element system to some of those things. Certain dreams are also associated with each of the elements but that may need its own section.


The Wuxing traditionally begins with the 'element' Wood and it's simplest symbolic form is the tree. Of the 5 phases, Wood is also the element that most closely relates to human beings. It's growth cycle, whether or not it is rooted, the habit by which it grows and the way that it seeds its own future generations, all relate directly to mankind and our lives and health. Wood is durable, flexible, and strong.

Color: Green

Season: Spring

TCM Organ: Liver and Gall Bladder

Time of day: Gall Bladder: 11:00 p.m.-1:00 a.m. Liver: 1:00 a.m.-3:00 a.m.

Direction: East

Taste: Sour

Sense Organ: Eyes

Emotion: Anger

Sound: Shouting

Climate: Wind

Power: "Capacity for Control"

Life Aspect: Spiritual Faculties.


Warmth, light, heat, dynamism and vitality are all related to Fire. It's our metabolism which propels our enthusiasm for life. It is also related to the domestic life and the hearth. As an aspect of us, it represents our spark for life and the very life-force in us. It is also related to circulation in the body and sexual energy. It is our propensity to seek out warmth and our capacity for generating and giving heat and warmth to others.

Color: Red

Season: Summer

TCM Organ: Heart and Small Intestine

Time of day: Heart: 11:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m. SI: 1:00 p.m.-3:00 p.m.

Direction: South

Taste: Bitter

Sense Organ: Tongue

Emotion: Joy and Happiness

Sound: Laughter

Climate: Heat

Power: "Capacity for sadness and Grief"

Life Aspect: 'Spirit'.


The Earth phase represents Earth, and it is considered special because it is considered that all of the other elements experience their life and death within her. It is the womb and the tomb. It is related to people through the qualities of being rooted, centred, unobsessed and solid. Equanimity, balance and forthrightness are also qualities related to earth. All cycles and circles are related to Earth, as well as fertility and fecundity. The cornucopia would be a shared symbol.

Color: Yellow

Season: Late Summer

TCM Organ: Spleen and Stomach

Time of day: Stomach: 7:00 a.m.-9:00 a.m. Spleen: 9:00 a.m.-11:00 a.m.

Direction: Center

Taste: Sweet

Emotion: Sympathy

Sound: Singing

Climate: Humidity

Power: "Capacity for Belching"

Life Aspect: 'Ideas and Opinions'.


The element Metal, is to me the most esoteric of the 5. It's meaning is structure. Like pure metals whose atoms lie in neat, orderly formula units, metal represents, structure, and the solidity and networking qualities that structure brings. It's medium allows us to sense very subtle energies like vibration and pressure. The purity and sentimental quality of gemstones is also related to metal, as well as the qualities of clarity and endurance. Metal also represents turning inward, concentration intensification and crystallization.

Color: White

Season: Autumn

TCM Organ: Lungs and Large Intestine

Time of day: Heart: 3:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. SI: 5:00 a.m.-7:00a.m.

Direction: West

Taste: Pungent, Spicy

Sense Organ: Nose

Emotion: Grief

Sound: Weeping

Climate: Dryness

Power: "Capacity for Coughing"

Spiritual Resource: 'Inferior, Animal Spirit'.


If Wood is considered to most closely represent us, then Water must surely come next. Water is essential for life and, of course, it takes the shape of whatever container it is placed in; including our people-shaped container. Inside each of us we have oceans, rivers and streams of 'water' that are our circulatory systems. Along with the blood vessels travel the nerves and, in the case of TCM, vessels full of Qi energy coursing along with them. Water is also rhythmic and cyclical, and it is deeply ingrained in the narratives of all cultures. It shares with the west the quality of representing the deep subconscious.

Color: Blue

Season: Winter

TCM Organ: Kidneys and Bladder

Time of day: Bladder: 3:00 p.m.-5:00 p.m. Kidneys: 5:00 p.m.-7:00p.m.

Direction: North

Taste: Salty

Sense Organ: Ears

Emotion: Fear

Sound: Groaning

Climate: Cold

Power: "Capacity to Create Trembling"

Spiritual Resource: 'Will Power and Ambition'.

Next we are going to take a look at the different 'cycles' that the elements can be seen to be subject to. This will allow us to make more interesting correlations amongst the attributes of each element. This will sort of 'bring them to life' for us, even more.



Traditional Acupuncture: The law of The Five Elements by Diane M. Connelly, PH.D. 1979.
edit on 15-6-2013 by Bybyots because: .

posted on Jun, 15 2013 @ 04:48 PM
Okay, to get the whole machine working, we need to introduce the 5 phases in to either the Creation Cycle, The Destruction Cycle or The Control Cycle. All three go clockwise with the elements stationed evenly at points around the circumference of an imaginary circle.Try to keep in mind that we have an extra layer of complexity operating with the Yin and Yang aspects of the elements; each has a Yin and a Yang; yin earth, yang earth, and so on.

In the Creation, promotion, generating or mother cycle we have:

Wood fuels Fire

Fire develops Earth (potash)

Earth fosters Metal

Metal enriches Water

Water develops Wood

In the Destruction, overwhelming, controlling or father cycle we have an interesting chain of events.

Wood infiltrates Earth (roots)

Earth restricts Water

Water kills Fire

Fire incinerates Metal

Metal chops Wood

With the Destruction cycle we need to be aware of a fine point so as not to get confused. Notice as we go in our circle that the elements all skip one place this time. For instance, in the promotion cycle we see that they come in sequential order but not so here. That's because it is a grandparent relationship, as we shall see, and grandparent elements "control" the outcome for their grandchildren.

Those are the two basic cycles that we can put the phases through, and then there is one more that is not as commonly seen, but has a more direct bearing on fortune telling (Tzu Ping, Feng Shui) when it comes to family dynamics and fine tuning other applications for the system, like medicine and boxing.

This was taught to me as the 'Control' cycle and you will see right away how it works; it's the same as the D cycle only with familial associations:

Water is the parent of Wood (yin or yang), the grandparent of Fire and is child of Metal.


Earth is the parent of Metal, the grandparent (controller) of Water and the child of Fire.

Each element's own element is called a sibling.

It's that simple. I hope now that the grandparent-controller relationship reflected in the D cycle is clear now. So, now we can get a rudimentary idea of how the elements and their correspondances influence, support, control, destroy and promote one another.

Now, that we have all of that together, let's look at some of the ways that this system may be applied in some of the traditional Chinese cultural arts I mentioned above. I am going to generalize broadly upon how this is done. I need to be sure that you know I am not meaning to represent myself as any kind of authority on Traditional Chinese Medicine. I offer this whole thread merely as an introduction and simplification of the subject in order that we may have fun with it and learn about another culture.

As you can see, each element has a unique familial relationship with each of the other elements including its own kind, for 5 relationships in all. For instance:

Metal's parent is Earth

Metal's sibling is Metal

Metal's child is Water

Metal's grandchild is Wood (controls/destroys) Wood

Metal's grandparent is Fire (controlled/destrroyed by)

For the case of astrology and Feng Shui, a person's birth chart, face and palms provide a snap-shot of what the elements were doing at the time of a person's birth. Using the system described above, the Feng Shui expert will look to see how everything is situated elementally so that weaknesses/deficiencies or strengths/excesseses can be revealed.

Here's why: The 5 familial relationships described above can be thought of as Ying/Yang differentials of the 'energies' of Giving (parent), Recieving/Taking (child), Supporting (self/sibling), Controlling (grandparent) and Being Controlled (grandchild).

If there are excesses or deficiencies in any of these elemental energies they can be balanced. Excesses and or deficiencies in any of the elements are treated, basically, in two ways; there is what you could think of as 'the main plan' and the plan to support 'the main plan'.

In the case of deficiency or Weakness: In this case, the main plan is to pump up the parent and sibling elements to get them good and strong. As a back up, we give a nudge to the grandparent element so that the parent element is in a better position to support the child and a modicum of control is added.

In the case of Excess: Here, the main plan is Control, so the grandparent element is encouraged and promoted. As a backup plan of support, the child element is added to take from the over-excited element and deplete its excess


posted on Jun, 15 2013 @ 04:50 PM
I started a TCM thread a few weeks ago .
I kept it simple to not confuse people who are unfamiliar with it.

posted on Jun, 15 2013 @ 04:51 PM
Now it might make sense to some, if they've ever wondered, as to why compass direction (besides the lo pan) and color and timing come up when Feng Shui is mentioned. Remedies are created from the dynamic interaction of the elements and their correspondances when they are compared to each person's particular birth chart. It might be imagined as a very, very complex combination lock, and the unique contents locked away for each person is unlocked and freed by applying the birth chart like a key.

It is in this way that it may be determined that a person is a Yang, Wood, Rat, or maybe a Yin, Metal , Horse, maybe even a Yin, Earth. Rabbit. We can see now how Chinese astrology goes way beyond the menu at your local Chinese restaurant.

Well beyond the scope of this thread is how precisely all of this is used in Traditional Chinese Acupuncture and Medicine. But if this introduction is taken as food for thought, it might make the importance of the color of the tongue or the sound of the voice more obvious when it comes to the beginnings of diagnosis within the TCM model. for the really imaginative, I bet it makes sense now as to why certain acupuncture points are addressed at certain times of the day. Although we may not be able to plumb the depths of acupuncture here, we can at least have fun discussing it. maybe we have members that are pro acupuncturists that will chime in.

Thanks ATS, I hope that you all find something interesting in this thread.

I will be around as I am able to answer any and all questions that I can.

Have a great weekend.

posted on Jun, 15 2013 @ 05:02 PM
reply to post by Bybyots

I've always kind of felt the western four elements was taken from the original five ,but lost something in translation .
They are valid as well ,but its not quite right somehow

I have a hard time embedding images ,because I'm on a cellphone ,so its much nicer with pictures .

I will do the next chapter soon . Please add to the thread if you like .

posted on Jun, 16 2013 @ 12:38 AM
wow! fascinating.

I was curious to find a personalized analysis and I was satisfied with what I found here: chinese astrological analysis

and a screencap of my results page...

posted on Jun, 16 2013 @ 12:51 AM
reply to post by tgidkp

There are styles of acupuncture that do treatments according to the patients astrological make up ,or the astrological time frame you are in .
That's actually the basis of the art called dim mak ,which was allegedly the way Bruce Lee was killed .
Blows to certain acupuncture points he received on his body ,killed him by upsetting his body's qi and meridian systems ,which occured long after he received these blows .
Or so it is said .

edit on 6/16/13 by PtolemyII because: (no reason given)

posted on Jun, 16 2013 @ 06:56 AM
reply to post by PtolemyII

that's pretty frightening.

that makes his death seem less accidental. do those "allegations" include murder?

on that page I linked to, they layed out a plot of "luck" against an 80 year time span. according to that chart, the only time I will find luck in my life will be from age 60 to 72...they say this will be a good time for me to get married or start a career.

posted on Jun, 16 2013 @ 08:51 AM
reply to post by tgidkp

Well that's just one of the rumors of how he died ,as there are many ,but that is the premise .
Hit someone in a series of important points ,it can hurt or even kill you .
Many king fu styles also capitalize on this ,but not with the astrological angle .

And I've seen that website before . It is amusing

posted on Jun, 16 2013 @ 08:54 AM
reply to post by tgidkp

Here is a bit more about it.

posted on Jun, 16 2013 @ 09:24 AM
reply to post by Bybyots

My favorite element is Water, because it reflects the truth and it doesn't even have to do anything but stay still; and it nourishes all life.

In the way you explained it here however, my favorite would be Fire.

If we all had Fire (Laughter, Joy, Happiness) then nothing else would be needed.

posted on Jun, 16 2013 @ 09:37 AM
reply to post by arpgme

It's why the Chinese wedding dress is red.
Red means joy ,so the women marry in a red dress. Tradition Chinese style .

posted on Jun, 16 2013 @ 01:24 PM
reply to post by PtolemyII

It's why the Chinese wedding dress is red. Red means joy ,so the women marry in a red dress. Tradition Chinese style .


Thanks for coming and adding to the thread, PtolemyII, I enjoyed learning about the red wedding dress, I didn't know that.


posted on Jun, 16 2013 @ 01:27 PM

Originally posted by tgidkp
wow! fascinating.

I was curious to find a personalized analysis and I was satisfied with what I found here: chinese astrological analysis

and a screencap of my results page...

Awesome, tgidkp! I had hoped to find a simple way for folks to get a basic chart so that they can feed their stuff in to the 5 Element 'machine' to see what kind of results they'd get. Thanks for putting that up; it makes the thread much more interactive.

posted on Jun, 16 2013 @ 01:29 PM
reply to post by arpgme

If we all had Fire (Laughter, Joy, Happiness) then nothing else would be needed.

Hi arpgme,

Thanks for coming by. When I saw your post I couldn't help but think that alchemists from both east and west would agree with you on that one.

Have a good Sunday.

posted on Jun, 16 2013 @ 04:46 PM

This thread has made me feel strangely happy today; couldn't tell you why. Must be all the pretty colors.

So, I am going to go ahead and digest Diane Connelly's elemental dream attributions, which might be fun for anyone that is still hanging about, and post that. I am also going to post the Chinese boxing attributes, there has to be someone hanging around that's interested in that; and I enjoy talking about it.

Thanks to all that have participated and read it through.


edit on 16-6-2013 by Bybyots because: .

posted on Jun, 16 2013 @ 05:10 PM
Very interesting stuff. It is a little different than what I have studied about Yin and Yang. I have to reread it when I feel more alert though, I'm kind of tired from monkeying around with stuff all day.

Isn't Lo Pan a Chinese food? I guess I must be hungry, seeing food in a thread...Maybe after I eat I will be able to comprehend this better.

I have a little problem associating Chinese and Ayervedic medicine with modern American medicine. If I hadn't learned the basis of the crappy and greedy system we have here in America I think it would be a lot easier to understand. I find that both of these medicines deal with basics which is better than complicating system of treating diseases instead of preventing them here in America.

posted on Jun, 16 2013 @ 05:33 PM
reply to post by rickymouse

Isn't Lo Pan a Chinese food? I guess I must be hungry, seeing food in a thread...Maybe after I eat I will be able to comprehend this better.

Oh God!, Now I'm hungry too. Need noodles badly.

Alas, we won't be able to eat this Lo Pan, but it might be able to help us find the noodles...

Like a conventional compass, a Luopan is a direction finder. However, a luopan differs from a compass in several important ways. The most obvious difference is the Feng Shui formulas embedded in up to 40 concentric rings on the surface.

This is a metal or wooden plate known as the heaven dial. The circular metal or wooden plate typically sits on a wooden base known as the earth plate. The heaven dial rotates freely on the earth plate.

A red wire or thread that crosses the earth plate and heaven dial at 90-degree angles is the Heaven Center Cross Line, or Red Cross Grid Line. This line is used to find the direction and note position on the rings. The schematic of earth plate, heaven plate, and grid lines is part of the two cords and four hooks geometrical diagram in use since at least the Warring States period.

The things are beyond my ken, but I think that they are really neat.

posted on Jun, 16 2013 @ 07:39 PM
Hi everyone,

I hope that this does not disappoint terribly. But this won't be quite as simple as just posting D. Connelly's attributions. It will probably be best if I just try to convey the general them of how this is supposed to work.

The reason that I am backing off is because this gets in to TCM again in a way that is not really within the scope of this thread. My main intention here is to just convey the general schema of the Wuxing and how they can be made to interplay with one another. But I'll give it my best shot.

See, beyond Connelly is Manfred Porkert. Turns out that Porkert was one of the first westerners to write about acupuncture, and is (he's still around, apparently) considered to be a great German scholar of TCM and Chinese culture.

He translated, as best as I can tell, a book by a one Ling Shu called Hong Lou Meng (Dream of the Red Chamber, 18th century C.E.) and that is where he got the dream associations that Connelly talks about.

As far as dream symbology is concerned, we must look no further (for a basic understanding) than the lists of elemental attributions given above.

The reason that people are asked about their dreams during the diagnostic interview for TCM is to simply see how their dreams relate to their state of health. It seems that seeing some quality or symbol of a certain element at a distance reflect a deficiency, while having one of the attributes inflicted upon ones self in a dream, i.e. 'being chopped up' (Metal), 'waking in a dream under a tree and being afraid to move' (Wood) might reflect an excess. Porkert spoke of these as "elemental dream motifs

Seems pretty simple and straightforward to me. One might have a disturbing dream and consult the elemental attributes for insight.

edit on 16-6-2013 by Bybyots because: .

posted on Jun, 17 2013 @ 12:26 AM
reply to post by Bybyots

The reason that people are asked about their dreams during the diagnostic interview for TCM is to simply see how their dreams relate to their state of health.

this really highlights what i am loving about this type of medicine: that it is so personal.

i have always felt that "no one knows my body better than myself", and thus that the sterile cookie-cutter approach to medicine is flawed from the get-go.

anyways, i have found this thread to be really useful and has given me a lot to consider regarding my well-being.

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