Balance Your Life with the Five Elements

By Paul K. Smith, M.Ed. 

History of the Five Elements 

The fifth century B.C. Greek philosopher Empedocles originated the concept of four elements of nature:  Fire, Water, Air, and Earth.  These represent the realms of the cosmos within which, and of which, all things consist.  These four elements were discussed in the writings of Plato, and the early Greek physicians Hippocrates and Galen used them to describe the four humours of the body.  A century later, Aristotle and the Pythagoreans added the fifth element, which they called Ether.  This element represents the substance of the heavenly bodies, which is latent in all things.  This element is also called Quintessence or Space.  These same five elements are also found in Hinduism, which influenced the philosophy of Yoga.  

Qualities of the Five Elements 

We can use the five element system to better understand our lives.  Each of the elements represents a different aspect of our daily life – by including meaningful interactions in each of these areas, we can have more balanced and fulfilled lives.

The five elements relate to several other symbolic systems of self-analysis:  the Personality Typing of the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, the Astrological signs, and the Tarot cards.  All of these can be helpful tools of self-exploration.  The following chart shows how these systems relate together, including the classical assignment of each of the elements to a direction, the realm of our life that element represents, how we can use that element as a path of spiritual growth, and potential problems we may encounter if we focus our energy in one particular area.

Element Jungian Personality
Corresponding Astrological Signs Tarot Suit Direction Realm Way to Spirit Potential Problem(s)
Fire Intuition Aries, Leo, Sagittarius Wands South Action, intuition, creativity Movement, action; living for the joy of living Burning out
Water Feeling Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces Cups West Emotions, love, dreams Love we give to others; love we receive from people and from life itself Passivity; vagueness; apathy; empty dreams
Air Thinking Gemini, Libra, Aquarius Swords East The mind, logic, conflict Intellect; cutting through illusions; recognizing and accepting the truth Ungrounded thought; seeing so many sides that action becomes impossible; sorrow, pain, anger
Earth Sensing Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn Pentacles North Work, money, home life Work that allows us to appreciate the value in ordinary things; the world of the senses; love for the world of nature around us Over-involvement with money and work
Ether Spirit N/A Major Arcana (cards 0 - XXI) Center Our spiritual journey through life Spiritual practices Getting stuck at one level before reaching a state of spiritual enlightenment

The Jungian Personality Types 

In 1920 Carl Jung came up with the idea that people are different in fundamental ways, even though they all have the same multitude of instincts (archetypes) that drive them from within.  What is important is our individual preferences for how we function in the world.  In the 1950’s, Isabel Myers and Katheryn Briggs devised the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator - a tool for identifying personality type based on sixteen possible patterns of interaction.  The following quiz is based on their ideas.  

Circle the letter of the description - “a” or “b” - that you feel fits you best.  

        1. Higher energy level, sociable
        2. Lower energy level, reserved, soft-spoken
        1. Interprets matters literally, relies on common sense
        2. Looks for meaning and possibilities, relies on foresight
        1. Logical thinking, questioning
        2. Empathic, feeling, accommodating
        1. Organized, orderly
        2. Flexible, adaptable
        1. Outgoing, makes things happen
        2. Shy, does fewer things
        1. Practical, realistic, experimental
        2. Imaginative, innovative, theoretical
        1. Candid, straightforward, frank
        2. Tactful, kind, encouraging
        1. Plans, schedules
        2. Unplanned, spontaneous
        1. Seeks many tasks, public activities, interaction with others
        2. Seeks more private, solitary activities with quiet to concentrate
        1. Standard, usual, conventional
        2. Different, novel, unique
        1. Firm, tends to criticize, holds the line
        2. Gentle, tends to appreciate, conciliate
        1. Regulated, structured
        2. Easygoing, live-and-let-live
        1. External, communicative, expressive
        2. Internal, reticent, holds things in
        1. Considers immediate issues, focuses on the here-and-now
        2. Looks to future, global perspective, big picture
        1. Tough-minded, just
        2. Tender-hearted, merciful
        1. Preparation-oriented, work-minded
        2. Goes with the flow, play-minded
        1. Active, initiates
        2. Reflective, deliberates
        1. Facts, things, seeing "what is"
        2. Ideas, dreams, seeing "what could be", philosophical
        1. Matter-of-fact, issue-oriented, principled
        2. Sensitive, people-oriented, compassionate
        1. Controls, governs
        2. Latitude, freedom

To find your personality type, check under “a” or “b” to record your response to each numbered question.  Add the number of “a” and “b” responses in each column and circle or highlight the letter at the bottom of the column that has the most check marks.





a b

a b

a b

a b
























E - Extrovert:  You charge up energy by being around others and staying connected to people, places, and things.  

I - Introvert:  You restore your energy through time alone and find retreat from others a welcome relief.  

S - Sensing:  You gather your information about the world through your five senses; you are practical, literal, and factual.  Sensing relates to the Earth element.

N - Intuitive:  Your ability to perceive meaning and significance allows you to move beyond the immediate and see possibilities for the future.  Intuitive relates to the Fire element.

T - Thinking:  You trust decision-making that is based on sound reasoning, objective data, and just policies.  Thinking relates to the Air element.

F - Feeling:  The high value that you place on relationships allows you to balance facts with feelings, moral standards with circumstances, and principles with compassion.  Feeling relates to the Water element.

J - Judging:  Your ability to be well organized makes you the perfect project manager.  

P - Perceiving:  Your spontaneity and sense of freedom create a great deal of opportunity for exploration.  

Notice which of the elements you relate to the most in the Meyers-Briggs Test, based on the above description. 

The Tarot Cards

The 22 cards of the Major Arcana symbolize our individual journeys from birth, through the challenges of life, to enlightenment and harmony with the universe.  The Minor Arcana can be seen as a kaleidoscope of human experience in all its varied forms.  The Major Arcana depicts broad principles; the Minor Arcana refers more to actual events in our lives.  

Because each of the cards has a symbolic, archetypal image, the cards can be useful as a tool for meditation.  By imagining ourselves journeying into the scenes of the cards, we can connect with parts of our subconscious mind that resonate with the images.  This can help us get deeper insights from the meditations.


The Five Elements Meditations 

Based on the Myers-Briggs results you may have a sense that you operate more comfortably in some realms of life than others.  The following meditations on the five elements will help you find ways to feel fulfilled in each of the five areas - both those which you are more and less comfortable with.

Pick one Tarot card that appeals to you the most today from each of the five suites.  

Take three to five minutes for a meditation on each card, contemplating the role of that element in your life.  Imagine journeying into the scene on the card as you consider the questions listed below for the specific elements.  Feel free to ask any character in the card for assistance, and see if they have any answers for you.  You can also try role-playing, picturing yourself as one of the characters in the card.

Wands:  Questions for life-balance using the Fire element:

How can I wisely use intuitive decision making in my life? 

How can I do projects that use my creativity every day (either work for pay, or hobbies)? 

How can I take action to bring about what I would like to see in my life? 


Cups:  Questions for life-balance using the Water element:

How can I wisely use emotional decision making in my life? 

How can I best cultivate emotionally satisfying relationships in my life? 

How can I be most fulfilled in my roles as parent, child, spouse, friend, etc.? 

How can I best give (and receive) positive emotional support to (from) those around me?


Swords:  Questions for life-balance using the Air element:

How can I wisely use logical, analytical decision making in my life? 

How can I include intellectually satisfying activities in my daily life (e.g. taking classes, reading books, participating in a book club)? 

How can I best deal with conflicts in my relationships with others? 


Pentacles:  Questions for life-balance using the Earth element:

How can I wisely use practical decision making in my life? 

How can I maintain financial stability in my life? 

How can I do work that is fulfilling and meaningful? 

How can I have a satisfying home environment? 

How can I best maintain the health of my physical body (e.g. nutrition, exercise, healthy habits) 


Major Arcana:  Questions for life-balance using the Ether element:

How can I wisely use spiritually enlightened decision making in my life? 

How can I incorporate daily and weekly practices for spiritual fulfillment (e.g. meditation, prayer, spiritual readings, religious services)? 

How can helping others be part of my spiritual practice (e.g. volunteer work, helping friends and family)? 

How can I participate in a religious/spiritual community that is right for me and helps me to grow? 


Five Elements Tarot Spreads

Five Elements Tarot Spread:  This spread focuses on finding fulfillment in the five areas of life corresponding to the classical elements.


Five Questions Tarot Spread:  For this reading, come up with a specific question pertaining to each of the five elements.  For example:  Ether – “What spiritual practices would be most helpful to me?”, Fire – “How can I overcome my writer’s block?”, Water – “How can I improve my relationship with John?”, Air – “How can I best use logic and analysis to develop a business plan?”, and Earth – “How can I improve my financial situation?”  



“Classical Element,” Wikipedia,

“Five Elements,” Wikipedia,

Jordan, Peg, The Fitness Instinct.  Emmaus, PA:  Rodale Press, Inc., 1999.

Keirsey, David, and Marilyn Bates, Please Understand Me.  Del Mar, CA:  Prometheus Nemesis

        Book Co., 1984.

Noble, Vicki and Jonathan Tenney, The Motherpeace Tarot Playbook.  Oakland, CA:  Wingbow

        Press, 1986.

Pollack, Rachel, Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom.  San Francisco:  Thorsons, 1997.



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Tarot Reflections is published by the American Tarot Association - Copyright (C) 2009

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