Chinese Elements & Planets
- Hello SL list,
I have finally found time to send another post. This is on the relationship
between the magic square of 3, the Yin Yang theory, and the Chinese 5 elements.
I cannot recommend enough that people who are interested in the planetary
lore and philosophy of old China read an article by Dr. Schuyler Cammann
entitled "The Magic Square of 3 in Old Chinese Philosophy and Religion". This
work untangles lots of BS to give a very interesting account of the origin of
magic squares and the startling relationship that existed between the magic
square of 3 and much other later Chinese lore. There is simply too much in Dr.
Cammann's work to flesh it all out in a single post, but here perhaps is
something very interesting for those who, like Nagasiva, are interested in the
connections between the I-Ching and the squares and the planets.
The now familiar Yin-Yang theory of old China was part and parcel of a
philosophical system founded by Tsou Yen of the Han dynasty, third and second
centuries BCE, which was called the "Yin-Yang and 5 elements school". This
system of symbolism is believed by Dr. Cammann to have been based originally on
the magic square of 3. From here I will quote from Dr. Cammann;
"They (the followers of Tsou Yen) believed that the Yin and the Yang were
not the only forces of nature through which Heaven kept the universe in orderly
operation. In addition, there were the five vital powers which we describe as
the Five Elements, although their Chinese name, wu hsing, really means "five
agents" or "five movers". Despite the fact that they were given literal names
meaning Earth, Wood, Metal, Fire, and Water, they were not just material
elements. They seem rather to have represented astrological forces emanating
from the planets Saturn, Jupiter, Venus, Mars, and Mercury (which were called
respectively, Earth star, Wood star, Metal star, Fire star, and Water star) -
just as the Yang and the Yin were powers emanating from the Sun and Moon, in
token of which the latter were often called T'ai Yang and T'ai Yin. Yet these
Five Elements were still thought to embody the qualities of the substances whose
names they bore.
The old Chinese believed that the Five Elements followed each other in
temporal succession, paralleling the course of the Yin and Yang of the Four
Seasons (which they helped to create). For a long time there does not seem to
have been any general agreement on the order of this succession, but Tsou Yen
arranged their cycle in the sequence listed above, on the principal that each
element was "conquered" by its successors. This seems quite logical, because
Earth can be overrun by by growing plants and trees, which were placed together
under "Wood", Wood can be cut up by Metal (axes and knives), Metal can be melted
by Fire, Fire can be extinguished by Water, and Earth can clog or dam up water
courses (as China's silt laden rivers have drastically demonstrated again and
again throughout recorded history). Tsou also assigned to each a color, yellow
for Earth, green for Wood, white for Metal, red for Fire, and black for Water."
This section of Dr. Cammann's article puts an entirely different light on
the Five Elements symbolism, and reference to the standard texts on the I-Ching
show how the elements are related to the I-Ching and also the square of 3.