Each of the phases has distinctive characteristics that can be used in diagnosis to understand how an individual’s energy is. Here I give a brief introduction to each phase and some of the classic associations with that phase. In the future I’ll provide more detailed descriptions of each phase.
Wood 木 mu
A tree can be seen as a link between the Celestial realm (天 tian) and the Earthly realm. Many cultures have myths about sacred trees. Ancient Sumerians had a god of vegetation that was a tree of life. Christmas trees evolved from pagan or Celtic traditions invoking the rebirth of the light at the solstice. In both Norse and Mayan mythology a “world tree” was a central pillar around which their cosmologies were organized. In Buddhism, the bodhi tree was the location of the Buddha’s awakening and enlightenment.
Wood describes organic growth, the upward budding energy of a plant, and that expansive springing forth associated with initial activity. It has an impulsive, vital, activating energy much like sap rising in a tree. It resonates with the season of spring, the beginning of the day, and the direction of the east. It's color is vital green. It's energy is rising yang and is connected to the wind. The Liver and Gallbladder are the organ systems associated with the wood. One's capacity to adapt and respond is governed by the wood. It links desire, particularly sexual desire, and the capacity for action.
Fire 火 huo
Fire has been associated with the divine in many cultures across time. Its nature of appearing out if nowhere and disappearing again is magical as are its transformative properties. Some anthropologists suggest that we can thank cooking with fire for our evolution into a large brained thinking species. In world mythology fire is a power of the gods that is stolen by a trickster for the benefit of humanity. Lighting can be a voice from the Celestial realm. In the Old Testament God appears as a burning bush to Abraham. The phoenix is seen as rising out of a transforming fire. Fire also has often been used as a metaphor for desire or passion.
Fire describes burning and combustion, warmth, light, luxuriant growth, and joy. It refers to fire, flame, blaze, climax, zenith as well as maturity and ripening, accomplishment and happiness. It contains an expansive feeling of upward movement and excitement. The season of the fire is the summer. It is associated with midday, blood and body heat, the direction of the south and the color red. It is the height of the upward energy of the yang or yang at its most expansive. It is the Heart and Small Intestines as well as the Heart Protector (or Circulation) and Triple Heater in body systems.
Earth 土 tu
The earth is the source of all of life and is viewed as a mother in many cultures. Many earth goddess figures, such as the Venus of Willendorf, which depicts a full figured fecund woman, are some of the oldest human made artifacts found. For the Greeks earth was Gaia, to the Hindus Durga or Shakti, and around the globe a mother to us all. The Earth is the nurturing feminine counter part to the masculine Sky. Within the five phases the earth is a matrix in which living processes develop or a fulcrum around which the other phases transform one into the other.
Earth describes soil, ground, dust, clay and ashes, the surface of the earth on which everything rests and from which everything grows. It is the central hub or pivot and the place of transformation that promotes exchange and interchange. Its color is yellow or the brown of dirt denoted by the Chinese word 黃 huang. It is plagued by damp and humidity. It’s energy is circular and transforming, yielding and bringing forth, sowing and harvesting. It is connected to the Spleen/Pancreas and Stomach and their work of assimilation and distribution of nourishment.
Metal 金 jin
Humanity has long valued the metallic treasures of the planet. The dragon’s hoard, sacred chalice, and philosopher’s stone are the object of many a quest in search of uncorrupted purity. Carl Jung identified this as a metaphorical journey to self realization. An alchemist’s elixir or a pearl of wisdom as the riches of life. Weaponry is another metaphor for the energy of the metal phase. Something that cuts away the evil or protects the boundary of the pure.
Metal describes all forms of metal, ore, and gemstones. It refers to concentration, coagulation, crystallization, contracting and condensing, casting as well as insight and conceptual thought. It is both the refinement of pure essence as well as the remaining essence when all else has been destroyed. There is an aspect of loss and reduction about the metal. It is the seed of a plant. It is about energy moving in toward the center in its concentrated form. It is associated with autumn, sunset, the west, melancholy, and sadness. Its color is white - the color of death and purity in Chinese culture. Its climatic feature is dryness and it is the beginning of the yin cycle. It restrains things into form. It is connected to the Lung, skin, and Large Intestine.
Water 水 shui
Water is like the Dao itself. The source from which we all arise and to which we return in many mythologies. It is the ocean and the womb. Floods are significant early tales across the globe. The Greeks crossed the river Styx to get to the land of the dead, Noah saved humanity and all the animals in a floating houseboat, and Hindus return their dead to the Mother Ganges. The power of water is vast. The seas are the deepest most unknown places on the planet that hold the origins of who we are.
Water describes fluids, flowing, and streaming movement. It refers to water in all its forms from streams and rivers to seas, oceans, steam and ice as well as the flow of feelings and the hidden secret, dark, mysterious energy within each of us. It is downward motion and heavy sources. Associated with the north, winter, midnight, fear, and cold. In the body it is the Kidneys, Bladder, and bones.