While the Western world
today thinks of Taoism
as a quiet semi-mystical philosophy of going with the flow
, traditional Taoism also comes in a hands-on
format. Just as the Western esoteric tradition
has its alchemy
, so does Taoism, although the numbers are a bit different. Western alchemy uses four traditional elements
of fire, water, air, and earth; Taoist alchemy, on the other hand, uses five
, and wood
The Taoist elements can fall into two cycles -- one creative and one destructive -- as follows:
The creative or nurturing cycle:
- Fire nurtures earth because it produces ash.
- Earth nurtures metal because metal is mined from the earth.
- Metal nurtures water because water condenses upon metal.
- Water nurtures wood because plants require water to grow.
- Wood nurtures fire, which should be obvious!
The destructive cycle:
- Fire melts metal.
- Metal chops down wood.
- Wood depletes the earth.
- Earth soaks up water.
- Water puts out fire.
The Taoist elements give rise to a good deal of that Traditional Chinese Medicine we've heard so much about lately, including feng shui. This "medicine" is now rightly regarded as a pseudoscience. However, as with Western alchemy, at the time it was formulated it was an attempt at science, at finding regularities or laws of the universe.