The early Taoist philosophers used the metaphor of the Five Elements, Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water, to explain the relationship, interaction, and ongoing change of everything in the Universe.
The metaphor was used first to describe the evolving cyclical seasons by dividing the year into five segments, or phases – spring, summer, late summer, autumn, and winter – and then assigning each season an element that would help to explain the nature of the seasonal changes and interactions, including the interrelationships among seasons.
Even the most humble peasants could relate to these metaphors and their specific associated traits in order to effectively farm their land, fish their lakes, and prepare their homes for the inevitable revolution of climate.
These same associations were later applied to every single aspect of life, whether it was physical, mental, or spiritual.
Each of the Five Elements Affects the Others in Either a Positive or Negative Way.
Fire generates Earth, Earth generates Metal, Metal generates Water, Water generates Wood, and Wood, completing the circle, generates Fire. This Generating Cycle – or Supportive Cycle – is the sympathetic cycle of harmony and support, meaning that each element receives support from the previous element and gives support to the following element.
The Controlling Cycle is the nonsympathetic cycle of dominance wherein each element is controlled by one other element, which is recognized as its stronger counterpart. Fire controls Metal, Metal controls Wood, Wood controls Earth, Earth controls Water, and Water controls Fire.
This continuous cycle of mutual generation and control sustains and balances the Universe.