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The Chinese View of the Elements - How their Character and Qualities Support and Maintain One Another

by Alexander Barrie(more info)

listed in chinese oriental medicine, originally published in issue 175 - October 2010

Of all the relationships of the Elements to one another according to Chinese medical practice and metaphysics, the mind has to grasp the idea of the Metal/Minerals Element supporting or giving birth to the Water Element in The Creation Cycle: The Metal/Minerals Element that produces/supports Water is perhaps the most difficult to understand:


Chinese Element


The following Essay represents a comprehensive study of the Foundation Elements mainly from the Chinese metaphysical viewpoint - its contents will require a certain amount of study time and perhaps several readings to grasp the cogent aspects of this Essay's many meanings:
  • The Earth Element supports the Metal/Minerals Element in several ways; but how? The earth/soil is enriched and nourished every year by the growth, maturity and then the collapse and subsequent rotting of vegetation and of animal organics, as the elemental constituents of these fermenting substances return to the earth and increase the soil material and therefore the soil's richness. This soft earth, by its inherent weight and its natural but slow geophysical movement, and especially so when mixed with fluids [water] that have infused it, is nourished also by this process of geophysical movement. That is, the slow geophysical movements of the soil facilitate the leaching-out of minerals from the bed-rock it [the soft earth] rests upon.

    Interestingly,  the origin of the existence of water on our Planet Earth comes not only from a small relative number of Comets hitting it over millions of years leaving their ice coverings in the form of [fluid] water, but mostly because it has been discovered that H2O (water) is already present in the mineral rocks of the Earth, and this H2O was not boiled-away as previously thought, but released over the rocky earth's surface by the boiling and the volcanic and violent heat/fire when the Earth was being formed in its infancy. In other words, and again, Water was already present in the mineral rocks - even at the time the formation of the Earth was coming into being!  Here is a Kidney connection in the way of filtration of fluids (filtration of water through mineral rock)?

  • Borders and Boundaries, (an aspect of the Metal Element when structure is present) manifest as a result of the many life forms that come into being, either vegetable or animal in origin.  Each life form has individuation and separation by virtue of its outer limits, and these, are its Margins, its Borders. Venus, the planet given to the Metal/mineral Element in this way as by Chinese Metaphysical Philosophy, explains very well the beauty and the value given to an inclusive 'member' of Creation because of its contracted final form, its final perfection and symmetry, its definitive structure, its individuation and separation, its Qi (life force) whether vegetable or animal in origin. It is the perfection of this object once Complete, to have beauty of form and therefore value (Venusian Virtue).

  • The Wood Element generates growth of the different forms of flora and fauna, but it is the Metal Element that endows the final object with perfection, symmetry, strength and weight, and therefore exquisite value [Venus].  For a moment - a day, a week, a year, a decade, a life-time, calm will have supremacy as this Perfected Form is steeped in the awareness of its Perfection, in its Completeness.

    Calm and Harmony
    are Venusian Words.  When at peace and in harmony (relative), all has been achieved, then death may gladly follow, as the purpose of 'that particular creation' has been realized and so, there is no need for it to continue to exist but only to meld back into the broth of life-fluid from whence it came.  This is one of the effects of the 'Gui' (ghost) as expressed beautifully in Maciocia's Book The Psyche in Chinese Medicine. The Corporeal Spirit which is said to reside in the lungs, and supports and gives movement to all the physiological processes of the body, eventually assists the disintegration of that body after perfection has been reached, with the assistance of the 'Gui 'of the Corporeal Soul, only to die with it, releasing and allowing the spiralling away of the Ethereal Spirit which is said to reside in the Liver, to heaven - the one entity only, or non-entity, to survive the body/mind. See below for further clarification.

  • Without mineral elements in water, it [water] is sterile, but sterile water still provides life; pure as it will still support growth, though not as richly as it could if initially infused with the Metal/Mineral elements.  Also, there would be fewer variants of species created.  Perhaps life in its multiplicity is the result of the rich and full deployment of all possible elements of rock sediment/minerals, upon which rests the soft earth, infused in water making that fluid rich in possibilities as it absorbs these Mineral/Metals from the bed-rock it rests on.  With the geophysical movement of the rock and of the soft earth engendering a rich soup/broth, all life-forms ultimately manifesting in fauna and flora come into being with incredible abundance and spectacular complexity.

  • Water Element is given to the Planet Mercury and the reason for this is that Water or fluids act as a medium of communication (Communication: the principle of the Planet Mercury), a watery conduit to bring everything, every constituent together for the good of the Whole - fluids allow electrical conduction and, nourishing elements to go to their right location as well as to all physiological Systems. Life is allowed to flow and to flourish when fluids conduct/convey all constituents. Here again, is another Kidney correspondence as we know it...the nourishing of Essence (ostensibly held in the Kidneys, originating from kidney 'chi') and its movement in and to all areas of the body/mind in fauna, but also in flora, in the way the chemistry of flora operates.

  • Water, rich with minerals will support Wood, and therefore, the Wood Element will manifest in myriad Forms abundantly; the Wind is the medium of Wood's communication both in vegetable and in animal creations (see below) - indeed with immense power, with magnificence and a grand gesture. There is a  Liver connection, in as much as the Liver's physiological actions of regulating and protecting, without judgement of good and bad, supports the organism such as to ensure its survival at all costs, and to sustain all functions within it [the organism] regardless of any adverse challenges.

    These challenges to the Liver Organ may take the form of the unhealthy consumption of devitalized food and too much alcohol, and the adverse effects of these will be dealt with as best as possible without question by that very organ.  Part of the Liver's bodily work is to make checks and then to balance-out the whole organism to ensure survival.

    The expansion of Created Forms, mentioned above however, may only happen through the reception of the Fire Element that causes the molecules of the materials of the object to multiply and to develop by heat and agitation (materials vegetable/animal). It is the Wood Element that anchors, stabilizes, controls and feeds the Fire component and therefore it supports the Fire Element.

  • The Ethereal Soul is said to have residence in the Liver (Wood).  Herein, the potential to connect all of humanity with the Universal Soul - all possible archetypes within the Universal Soul filter down to individual Ethereal Souls bringing with them new ideas and concepts to manifest, via the Swirling Winds, the Churning Clouds that fill the Ether and pass over us. Thus, by employing the mundane materials of the Earth, these new ideas and concepts may be given practical fulfilment.

  • The Winds/Clouds are probably the medium or carrier for: 1. The swirling Ethereal Soul which moves within the Clouds and the Wind and disappears and returns like them. 2. New ideas / creations that become known to all of humanity and unconsciously and consciously are expected by it [humanity] to come into being to enable it [humanity] to employ these ideas/concepts for exploitation and eventual mundane application.  3. It is the Wind of Wood that communicates to and with all animal life and all vegetal life - Prof. Rupert Sheldrake's 'Morphic Resonance' explains this magical act of communication amply.  For instance: one species of tree passing a message to the same species in and around the earth so that this message becomes common to the whole of that species. "There is more under heaven and earth than in your world Horatio".

    In different traditions there are: 1. The Holy Ghost (Gui) - as in the Christian tradition 2. Nafas - Divine Breath (Barakha) as in the Islamic/Sufi tradition.  3. Ru'ach Elohim - The Wind or Spirit of God, as in the Hebrew/Cabalistic tradition. 4. Prana - breath/life - as in the metaphysical Hindu tradition.  These words express the ethereality of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Presence - the attributes of the Ethereal Soul and the breath/wind which assists the bringing into being of the Ethereal Soul's purpose for the Earthly/mundane life.

  • The Wood element within animal life has to be understood in a slightly different way as for vegetation. Wood in animal life is configured in the growth and the expansion of structures that allow an organism to thrive - Mineral/Metals within fluids supplies the basic material for the species; but it is the Wood element that gives the variations and ensures the good functions within and without, of the countless forms in its creative purpose all with abundance and relative ease. Further, as regards to animal life, the bones of mammals; bones that utilize that very fluid/mineral broth, but also with structures other than bones such as with sinews and tendons, as well as fascia to some extent, plus the carapaces of insects and similar creatures (exterior protective structures), are assembled with these materials.

    All this, is a Planet Jupiter aspect that the Ancient Chinese Physician/philosophers gave to the Wood Element.  The Wood Element is ruled by Planet Jupiter. Jupiter: Expansion in myriad forms - virtually no limits and has the inherent power to administer regulation and protection without question.

  • Fire represents that spark within all living things, vegetable and animal, and perhaps minerals though inert. Minerals may still in many instances contain an aliveness that is beyond comprehension.  For example the magic of diamond and of gold and of platinum and crystal. This is the Planet Mars factor given to Fire by the Ancient Chinese that causes restless movement by heat, light and therefore as a result perturbation, excitation, agitation, animation and life, whether active or passive: The ineffable giving-off, of heat and light both of which, may be perceived within these inert objects.  Of course, more so within actual living creational forms. Indeed, here is a Heart connection - the organ that animates and gives life to 'All and Everything'.

  • So, Metal/minerals give birth to WaterWater gives birth to Wood, because Water contains Metals that will nourish Wood such as to create multifarious forms.  Wood allows Fire to burn and to thrive - Wood is also fuel in its many forms such as with the products of lost ancient forests transmogrified into Oil by millions of years of pressure they have endured underground. Charcoal and other burnt fragments from harvested vegetable products and their waste, re-feeds the Earth via the Fire Element. So the Cycle begins again.

  • The Earth Element is ruled by Planet Saturn. The influence of this planet with vegetation allows stable growth and maturity and with the animal it produces a foundation upon, and in which food/sustenance grows to nourish and flourish creature life. This nurturing of both these factors [flora and fauna] of life is governed by the Saturn Principle; that is: To give purpose, gravity, and the sustaining of all that is meaningful - in fact enabling the continuance of life fundamental to existence by bringing into being certain Fundamental Laws that govern the vegetal and animal kingdoms. The Spleen connection here is: 1. Ethics (to do what is right) that derives from pure intellect. 2. Upright 'chi' meaning in this case: the integrity of the organism subject to these Fundamental Laws. Or put another way: Laws commanding integrity of human behaviour and, Laws to command the maintenance and the wholesomeness of the organism - proper (uncontaminated) nourishment received on a physical and a mental level.

  • There are three directions to the process of mineral generation, and they are:1. The enriched minerals from the demise of vegetation and animal life - elements that go back to Earth; 2. From the geophysical movement of soil upon rock, scrapping-out additional but pure minerals that further enrich the soil substance; 3. The minerals washed-out by the relentless movement of Water over rock such as with the rivers-beds and streams which exist almost everywhere.

    It is interesting that the Air we breathe may also have a constituent whose origin is from Metal/Minerals.  The oxidation of iron releases vast quantities of oxygen into the atmosphere. This may be a clue to Metal's Lung connection. However, there is also a Wood connection in that Air/Oxygenation is given-off by Wood also.

    It is curious that Wood and Metal have an interesting relationship, in addition to the end tsubos of toes and fingers being either of Wood or of Metal meridian-wise, in that one of the creational cycle theories in Chinese Medicine, i.e. after liver, the lung follows as in the Chinese Horary Clock especially, and both are Yin. In the Control Cycle they act similarly to the relationship between that of 'husband and wife' (Liver controlling Spleen as it should be), but sometimes the (Husband) Liver overacts on the Lung (the Lung may be likened to the Wife in this instance), hitting back causing interesting Lung Symptoms, such as sniffing (cold - Coryza-like symptoms).  Alcoholics appear to have continuing sniffing-like colds, when it is actually the Liver (husband) striking back at the Lung (wife).  Normally it is the wife (Lung) regulating/controlling the 'wayward' husband (Liver). As women do in life, in reality!?!

Some Speculation

Another possible connection of Liver and Lung in relation to Air/Oxygen, though tenuous, may be as follows: As the Corporeal Soul resides in the Lungs, and has all the physiological functions of the body in its thrall, it, the Corporeal Soul enters and exits the body, employing the air/breath to do so.  In the function of breathing, Air must possess one or two heavy constituents that form it, that make-it-up.  The remainder of the Air's lighter, more ethereal constituents may be absorbed by the Liver, and then exuded by it, in whatever form?

In this way, the Liver has to be inclined to breathe in a very special way, not in the way of the Lung but in the way of the infusion of the lighter/ethereal Air/Oxygen components.  The clue to understanding this is that the Corporeal Soul is the coarser and the physical counterpart of the Ethereal Soul, the Ethereal Soul that is of a sublime or psychic order and is therefore not able to be seen, but only may be felt, or perceived by our 'higher centres', as to its existence. In other words, the breath taken in by the Lungs may be split into two as it is taken-in. 

The breath's heavier parts go to the Lungs and the lighter parts go to the Liver. We know that the Kidneys have a special relationship with the Lungs in that each breath drawn-in, is grasped by the Kidneys and chi extracted by the Kidneys in this way. The Kidneys grasp this constituent part out of the Air drawn-in by the Lungs. It may behove us to accept the idea that the Liver uses a certain part of the Air drawn-in by the Lungs as well; only the more refined parts of the Air that befit and benefit the Ethereal Soul?
  • Returning to the Metal Element, an item [fauna or flora] that has been perfected and has completed its work as a perfected form by centripetal force that was inherent within it 'in the beginning' and whose purpose was to perfect that form, does not halt there.  It continues until that perfected form, whether animal or vegetable “The following essay represents a comprehensive study of the Foundation Elements mainly from the Chinese metaphysical viewpoint – its contents will require a certain amount of study time...”  This first sentence is a good description of a very detailed introduction to Chinese metaphysical thinking, at once unfamiliar and counter-intuitive to the reader imbued with Western scientific thought, with the help of 'Gui' as indicated earlier in this Essay, and so it develops brittleness, eventually breaks-up and disintegrates and its constituent parts return to the rich soup of life, with renewable potential.

Further Information

Of course there exist a bevy of miraculous Systems/Matrices which elucidate the Laws relating to the connectivity of all phenomena with God, Man, Universe and Nature i.e. their relationships to one another according to particular Foundational Laws. These enable man to comprehend the structure and the plan for our existence which must include the Alpha & the Omega. The Chinese Elements are just one of these splendid expressions of these Laws.


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About Alexander Barrie

Alexander Barrie MRSS CSTA Dip MS Astrol Back-Pain Consultant is a Physician of Natural Therapies. He is the Founder of The Alexander Barrie System of Pelvic Correction™︎, Registered Craniosacral Therapist, a Registered Shiatsu Practitioner and British Wheel of Yoga Teacher. He is also an Astrologer and Musician and author of: Wholesome Is Our Precious Gender Divide, Essay I-Say and Correct Your Pelvis & Heal Your Back-Pain. Alexander is Married, a Father and Resides in North West London UK. He may be contacted at the Alexalign Clinic, also in Harrow on Tel: 020 8423 5659;

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