Introduction to the Five Elements

The Chinese work on a five element system; Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. These elements, how they interact with one another, and their relationship with the Bagua are one of the least understood aspects of Form School Feng Shui. Each element has a colour, season and attribute.  They are very potent and, just as correct application can result in miracles, incorrect placement brings disaster.


Wood is represented in the East which is the Health and Family sector, also known
as Arousing Thunder. An imbalance in the East can show up as tired, lethargic, run-down, general ill-health or chronic disease in one or more individuals in the household, as well as continuing extended family issues. In this instance, “family” refers particularly to ancestral family. Perhaps there may be a situation that you are required to attend to, concerning an elderly parent or relative who may not even be living with you.

An imbalance can also show up as unwittingly frittering away seemingly small amounts of money creating strain on your weekly budget.

Wood is associated with spring. Consider the aspects of growth and renewal that plants posses. It is represented as Wood furniture, fence palings, items made from Wood, items and artwork representing plants and living plants. The quality we associate with Wood is that of intuition. Colours are mid-range greens and blues.


In the South is the Fame and Reputation sector which is represented by Fire for illumination and light. Next time you are near a Fire, watch how the flames ‘cling’ to the Wood. It is said in Feng Shui that our reputation, good or bad, clings to us like Fire. If our reputation is good then we are allowed two or three (sometimes more) foolish mistakes before others change their perception of our character. When our reputation is poor, it takes a long time to gain the trust of others and change their perceptions of the person they have come to know.

Colours in the red spectrum (from pink and apricot all the way to maroon and burgundy, including orange) represent the element of Fire. Other Fire representations are animals and items that depict animals, objects that come from animals, leather, shells, feathers, wool, fur as well as candles, triangles, fireplaces and stoves.

In Feng Shui, emotions are considered to be ruled by the Fire element. We don’t have red airports or hospitals because these are situations where people’s emotions are already high. Red stimulates the emotions increasing both the positive and negative aspects, passion and aggression. In our culture we mention fiery redheads. Summer is the season associated here.


The element Earth is placed in the centre. It provides a solid foundation. Its season is high summer, those few weeks in the middle of summer which are hot and dry. Consider Earth in terms of grounding. Square is the shape and yellow (from the lightest Cream to the brightest Yellow,  as well as light brown tones up to the colour of Milk Chocolate, darker tones are said to be Water)  are the colours associated with this element.

Clay bricks and tiles, and items in clay, porcelain, and terracotta also represent the Earth element.  This element is about being grounded, practical and real.

Locate the centre of your home, office or business by squaring off missing corners and drawing two diagonal lines. The centre is the place where they intersect.

Ideally, flooring in this area would be clay, so the earthen floors of our ancestors were perfect and today terracotta tiles are excellent. 


In the West Metal is the element of Children and Creativity and is also the sector known as Joyous Lake. Colours are white, chrome and pastels. (Metal becomes white-hot when it is heated.) We use whites and pastels as a neutral background in our homes so we can accessorise our individual style and taste. It is great in helping us express ourselves as we can easily change our environments to reflect us as we are now and who it is we are becoming.

Metal is the element associated with autumn and is represented by circles and arches. Crystals, stones, rocks and precious metals are items considered to belong to the Metal family.

You will notice that people who think a lot are surrounded by lots of white and chrome. Lab coats worn by intellectuals such as scientists are always white. The quality of Metal is intellect.


Water belongs in the North, the sector related to Career, our Life Path/Purpose. Just as water flows in streams and rivers as we also ideally flow rather than struggle on our journey through life.

It is associated with winter and black and dark tones. Water is considered to be asymmetrical; that is, it does not have a definite shape of its own.

Its attribute is spirituality, not fixed in our view or direction, where we are receptive to whatever opportunities flow to us and we experience life as a synchronistic pathway of happy co-incidences.

Elemental Cycles

There are two major elemental cycles. They are the Productive and Controlling Cycles. One is not more important than the other; they just work in different ways. We use the Productive Cycle to help us build up elements in a sector to enhance an area and the Controlling Cycle where an excess of an element occurs so as to create harmony.

Productive Cycle Diagram

In the Productive Cycle:

Wood feeds Fire. Fire cannot burn without Wood. Without Wood to feed the Fire, Fire extinguishes.

Fire creates Earth. Out of the ashes of Fire, Earth is created.

Earth produces Metal. The tectonic plates of the Earth rub together, compressing on matter which creates minerals (crystals and rocks).

Metal condenses to produce Water. Water can also be contained in a Metal bowl.

Water sustains plants. Without Water to nourish plants, they die. 

If we are looking to enhance a sector by introducing the element which is most beneficial to it, then we can further support that element by introducing the element in the cycle preceding it, which nurtures the enhancing element. The nurturing element is referred to as the parent element.

The parent element of Wood is Water, so to enhance the Health
and Family gua we would introduce the Wood element, if it was either not already present or only had a token presence. Then we would also ensure that the parent element of Wood, Water, was also present.

Controlling Cycle Diagram

In the Controlling Cycle:

Wood is controlled by Metal. Trees (Wood) are destroyed, cut down and chopped up with Metal and stone tools (axe).

Metal is controlled by Fire. Fire melts Metal altering (manipulating) its shape.

Fire is controlled by Water. It is not possible for Fire to burn in the centre of a body of Water.

Water is controlled by Earth. Water flow is controlled by dams constructed of Earth.

Earth is controlled by Wood. A crumbling bank is held together by tree roots. Also consider the desert. It is barren, with sand dune after sand dune; an oasis (usually palm trees) converts this image to one that feels peaceful. The trees introduce balance and harmony.

The Controlling Cycle is useful where one element is dominant.
We use the element known as the grandparent in the Productive Cycle. That is, the element prior to the parent controls the element appearing immediately after the parent according to the Productive Cycle.

In the Health and Family sector when Metal is a dominant element (where Wood is the enhancing element) and we wish to reduce Metal’s negative effects, Feng Shui suggests we use Fire, the grandparent of Metal, to control and reduce the destructive properties of an excess of Metal.

There is another less significant cycle - the regression of the Productive Cycle. Child controlling parent, it is not as potent as the Productive and Controlling Cycles as it tends to wear away slowly, but it is worth remembering the pattern below;

Wood soaks up Water.
Water rusts Metal.
Metal makes Earth unsuitable for cultivation.
Earth smoulders Fire.
Fire consumes Wood.

© Debra Yuille

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