Reading Christal Quintasket's - Mourning Dove's - memoir of her life as a Salishan Indian in the late 19th century. She describes the children's traditional spiritual training - which was carried on simultaneously with their Catholic upbringing - in detail, especially how they went out at night to find their spirit-guides, beginning at age 5 or 6. She says the most powerful Spirit Guide to connect with was the spirit of the Sweat-lodge. It had a 'ribbed, conical shape' and was composed of the same Five Elements we find in Chinese Daoist cosmology.
Mourning Dove writes, "No other guiding spirit could ever overcome this power because 'it' had five special strengths: wood for ribs, fire for heat, stones (chinese: metal) for stamina, earth for support, and water for cleansing. In all, it was a symbol of combined strengths, much more than the abode of any animal or spirit."
All of these elements are 'interpreted' basically in the same way as the chinese interpretation. Metal means 'minerals' and is good for structure, organization and upright posture. Wood is often symbolized as beams, columns or posts, because it is the element of 'manifestation,' ie birth, growth and development. The other elements seem self-evident and don't need explanation. In comparison with European and also with East Indian cosmologies, Wood is equivalent to Aether (the space that allows things to happen, allows movement to occur, etc), and Metal/Mineral is equivalent with Air.
The Five Elements are a picture of 'wholeness,' they represent archaic science's understanding of the composition of Creation. None of these words are really adequate, however. 'Archaic' is not quite right, rather what is meant is the kind of science that preceded what we now call 'modern science.' String theory may relate to this former scientific theory when viewed from a creative standpoint. *smile* Also, Creation is probably not the correct term either, but I don't think we really have an adequate term for 'this experience' we all concur that we are having, both in its consensual forms and its non-consensual aspects.
Anyway, I find the Five Elements 'poetic' and enriching in the way that poetry is: sensually, imaginatively, insightfully. Therefore, I like to dabble with them. See my other website for more info on one of the ways I am doing that.