The Five Elements

by Carol C. Wheelock

Dear Carol,

How do I figure out which element I am and which element to emphasize in my house?
Sharon D.

The elements in feng shui are wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. These are the elements that are used in Chinese astrology, and are also the same elements that are referred to by acupuncturists. Whether in your body or in your surroundings, the goal is balance. This balance can be achieved through a variety of ways.

In feng shui, each element is represented by a color, shape, the substance itself, things made from it, and art which depicts it. Greens and columnar shapes, representing tree trunks, are qualities of the wood element. Floral prints, fabrics and other materials made from plants, are more examples. Wood symbolizes growth and outward energy. It is the energy of spring.

Reds and oranges, the colors of fire, are associated with the element of fire. Triangles and pyramids, representing the shape of flames, are the fire element shapes. Lighting, candles, animals and things made from them, all symbolize this element. It is an upward energy, the energy of summer.

Earth tones, yellows, and things made from the earth (adobe, brick, etc.) symbolize the earth element. Rectangular, flat shapes support earth. It is a gathering energy, the energy of the harvest.

Metal energy is represented by white and pastels. Circles and ovals, anything made of metal, and rocks and minerals are all examples of metal. The energy of metal is inward and contracting. The season associated with it is autumn.

Blues and dark colors are water. Asymmetrical shapes, mimicking the flow of water, and reflective surfaces, which represent another quality of water, also represent this element. Water is important to support intuition, communication, relaxation (that "go with the flow" feeling), and inspiration. The season of water is winter and the energy is downward.

The concept of the elements is the most difficult feng shui concept to grasp. It takes time to learn how to determine which element a particular item in your home might be because many things represent more that one element. A rectangular wood table that is painted red reflects three elements - wood for the substance, earth for the shape, and fire for the color. A round mirror is both metal (the shape) and water (reflective surface).

Balancing the elements is one of the layers of feng shui that is used to bring balance to your life and your space. Look around your house. If you have one element that is dominant, it is apt to create an imbalance in your life. For example, if you have an excess of wood, you may feel overwhelmed or over-committed. There are specific techniques that use the natural cycles of the elements to bring about balance, but space does not allow exploring those this month.

Much can be done by looking at the whole space and being aware of the elements in it. By removing items and bringing others in with intention, you will start the process toward balance. Houses and rooms that contain all the elements feel the most comfortable. By having a balance of the elements in your home, everyone who enters that space will feel comfortable. Everyone who lives there will feel more in balance, more supported by the space, and that is the goal of feng shui. Personal taste, which stems from which element a person is, accounts for why someone may prefer a stark all white environment (metal) and someone else may like a more cluttered homey feel (earth). Carried to the extreme, however, these environments may not be comfortable even for others who live in the same space. It also leads to our having too much of our own selves and that "I am in my own way" feeling.

Although you may gravitate toward things that are one element, try to include things in your surroundings that represent the others as well. This is usually not as difficult as it sounds. If you feel you home is lacking the fire element and you don't like red or orange, include more candles or art that includes people and/or animals. You could also hang a group of pictures to form a triangular shape on the wall. Or maybe a bowl of oranges or red apples on the tables would be pleasing to you.

According to Chinese astrology, everyone of us is born with a dominant element, one which influences our constitution and personality. The problem is that there are several different systems for determining a person's element and the various systems don't always give you the same element. This definitely leads to confusion.

Fortunately there are other methods to determine which element someone is. One of these is by personality. Fire people, for example, tend to be very outgoing, passionate, and dramatic. They are apt to wear bright colored clothing. Water people, in contrast, are more introspective and emotional. Their clothing is more apt to be flowing and very soft in texture. Those with a dominant wood element are optimistic, practical, and active. They like casual clothing made of natural fabrics.

There is also a system of reading people's facial features to determine the dominant element. For example, metal people tend have sculptured features with high cheekbones, whereas earth people are apt to have rounder cheeks. The eyes of water people have a lot of depth, often with darkness beneath the eyes, while fire people have sparkly eyes.

The personality/clothing/facial element does not always jive with the astrological element. This is due in part to the different systems. It may also be that the birth element is where we are intended to end up as we evolve. Some of us are born with a clarity of who we are and others of us work toward that goal throughout our lives.

In the end, you want an environment that supports you, welcomes you, and makes you feel at peace and balanced. By honoring all the elements, you will create an environment that supports not only you, but also those with whom you share or invite into your space. In the process, you are also honoring the natural rhythms and cycles of nature.

Carol C. Wheelock, M.Ed. of Feng Shui Vermont is a certified feng shui practitioner who has studied in the United Sates and China. She practices Black Sect or western feng shui. Carol does private consultations for homes, schools, libraries, and businesses; clutter counseling and clearing; spaces clearings; phone consultations; presentations; and teaches workshops throughout the United States. She also does personal clearings.


Copyright 2000-2011 Feng Shui Vermont
Carol C. Wheelock