The Five Elements

The theory of the Five Elements – 五行 – is a cornerstone of all sciences within Chinese Metaphysics. In order to understand and use Feng Shui applications correctly, it is absolutely essential to first master the Five Elements concept. 

The Five Elements are known in Chinese Metaphysics as Wu Xing五行. This translates into the “Five Transformations” or the “Five Phases” of Yin and Yang interaction, or Qi. As we have learnt, the interaction between Yin and Yang results in in the creation of Qi, life energy. Depending on the different qualities or proportions of Yin and Yang within this interaction, the outcome of the Five Transformations of Qi  results in different elements. 

The Five Elements in the study of Classical Feng Shui, and in Chinese Metaphysics in general, are the following:

  • Fire  火
  • Earth  土
  • Metal  金
  • Water  水
  • Wood  木

Each of these elements has its own very unique attributes and qualities, and is used to represent different types or stages of Qi. This means that the elements can manifest in different forms – and not necessarily in their literal, physical form. It is important to note that the Five Elements do not always represent the same thing in different contexts. For example – Fire represents Passion, but it can also represent actual fire, or our heart and eyes. It is therefore important to familiarize yourself with all aspects and facets of the Five Elements in their relevant context in order to interpret them correctly.

The Three Essential Relationships between the Five Elements

As discussed earlier, the Five Elements are in constant interaction with each other. These interactions or relationships are also known as “Cycles”, within which each element can affect the phase or stage of another element. There are three such cycles: Productive, Controlling, and Weakening Cycle.

Productive Cycle

When the elements are in the Productive Cycle, each element supports and strengthens the next one. The Five Elements interact harmoniously with each other and grow and expand the energies within.

In the Productive Cycle

  • Water nourishes and grows Wood;
  • Wood creates Fire;
  • Fire burns and reduces to Earth;
  • Earth produces Metal; and
  • Metal, through condensation, attracts Water


Weakening Cycle

The Weakening Cycle is essentially the reverse of the Productive Cycle. Since too much of one element is never ideal, we need to know how one element can be used to weaken an element that is too strong in order to restore balance. This is an important concept when it comes to Feng Shui remedies.

In the Weakening Cycle, any element that produces another element is weakened by the element it produces. This transformation is not a forceful or aggressive process, it is a natural transformation of energies through phases

In the Weakening Cycle

  • Water weakens Metal;
  • Metal weakens Earth;
  • Earth weakens Fire;
  • Fire weakens Wood;
  • Wood weakens Water.

Controlling Cycle

In the Controlling Cycle, one element is controlled – or countered – by another element. It involves the use of aggressive and oppositional force of one element to control another element. Control is not necessarily a bad thing. It is all about checks-and-balances.

In Feng Shui we try to avoid using the Controlling Cycle, since it often produces “clashes” before the desired outcome is achieved. The Weakening Cycle will obtain the same results, albeit slower, but with less risk attached.  Feng Shui tries always tries to go with the flow, not against it!

In the Controlling Cycle

  • Fire controls and shapes Metal;
  • Metal controls Wood;
  • Wood controls Earth;
  • Earth controls Water; and
  • Water controls Fire

Memorizing the Five Elements and the way in which they interact with each other is essential if you plan to practice and apply Feng Shui. We always ask – “Which element is responsible for a certain problem?” Once the culprit is identified, you can then go ahead and weaken that element.

Again, it is important to note that the Five Elements refer to a TYPE of Qi and not necessarily to the physical element. Each element can represent a multitude of characteristics and attributes. A Feng Shui remedy always looks at the circumstances before selecting the different attributes that are in need of a cure.

NOTE: With the exception of the color red, colors play a very minimal role in Feng Shui. Avoid using colors in your remedies because the effect is so minimal.