See "I Don't Mean To Suggest That I Think There Are Only 5 Elements"
I thought I'd comment on the elements and their ties to the directions.
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="445" caption="Not these elements..."][/caption]
This is my own personal belief, and I've come up with it [while not entirely, mostly] on my own. It incorporates elements (no pun intended) from mostly druidic, wiccan, Greco-Roman, and ancient Egyptian cultures, as well as ideas I've come to by myself or with the input of my friends.
There are five elements, and they are each associated with a color and a direction. They are also associated with various aspects of life and the living. The living body contains some part of all five of the spirits.
Red is the color of fire, and fire is east. It is the direction to behold the rising sun, and the sun sustains all life. Even though animals have not the ability to use sunlight directly, it's still where all our energy comes from; plants and some bacteria use sunlight to create the sugars that we then break down and use for the energy that sustains us. If somehow the sun were to stop shining but everything else remained survivable (ie the world was still warm) life would cease because all our energy comes from the sun. Many cultures worship the sun, notably the ancient Egyptian Horus, Quetzalcoatl of the Aztecs, and Apollo of the ancient Greeks and Romans, to name a few. Even Christian saints harken back to their origins as divines from other cultures with the halo, which is a representation of the sun.
But the element here is fire, and the sun is not only fire (as I'll discuss later). Fire is in all of us; in the simplest example, you are an endothermic organism and generate body heat. I treat each element in a somewhat metaphorical sense, so when I describe fire as the chemical reactions involved in respiration and other cellular processes, I'm not saying that there is literally fire in your body. Fire is more like the energy; the kinetic energy of muscle movement, for example, and the potential energy of the electrons of a carbon atom. Fire is in every living thing; without fire, life would cease to exist.
Air is south and yellow. Air's presence in the body is more literal, for me at least; if you look at the body of a living animal, you will find air. Animals breathe air, and it carries oxygen which your blood carries to your cells to make the fire of life.
Okay, that's all well and good, animals breathe air, blah blah blah… but what about animals that don't breathe air, like fish. Literally, we could look at fish and aquatic animals (the ones that don't surface for air) as still needing the scientific elements of air, mainly oxygen. But that sort of doesn't cut it for me; it seems like a cop out, a back way out of answering the question. Also, that doesn't necessarily explain the importance of air for organisms like bacteria that live in anoxic environments and anything that gains energy through anaerobic respiration. So… I think of "air" in a metaphorical sense as well. I think of living things a little like balloons, and figure that air is the element that gives us shape. Not quite as literally as blowing up a balloon, but more like the air within and without gives us shape and the ability to move and stand and be. Air is what holds us up, pretty much (I have no idea about gravity, so I'm not even going there). If there was no air around us we would explode like a balloon in a vacuum (why do you think astronauts have to wear those heavy suits?), and if there was no air within us we would crumple like paper bags between the sweaty palms of the external air pressure. And if there was no air at all we'd just sort of be dead. So really, in an extremely vague and metaphorical sense, air is balance; it has to be there, but too much one way and you're an obie doll…
and too much the other way and you're this guy…
The next element is water; it is blue, and west. Water's part in our existence can, like air, initially be described quite literally. Water is in every cell and therefore every part of our bodies, and it is also a major component of blood, which is to many (myself included) symbolic of life. So, water literally applies to every living thing on earth, but it also has a symbolism. It is the flow of life, the flow and movement of energy and matter. Water is also the beginning; all life is evolved from aquatic organisms and the first self-replicating molecules (think nucleic acids like RNA and DNA) existed in an aqueous environment. (gotta love Wikipedia)
Earth is north and green. Earth is our support, as well as our corporeal selves. Water might be an integral part of our cellular structure but water is just that without the earth of all the molecules and ions that make up the cell itself. In a way water contributes to us and earth is us. "Earth" is just a name for it, then; the real name should be "matter," but "earth" is so much catchier. Earth is the element upon which we build our lives and ourselves, and without it we are lost. Remember those ball pits you used to play in at Chuck E Cheese's or whatever? (Actually never been to Chuck E Cheese's, thank the gods.) Well I don't think this is possible but I saw this "Johnny Bravo" episode once (such a 90s kid) where he got lost down in one of those things and didn't know which way was up. If there was no earth it might be sort of like that; you would have no direction. Actually, more than that; you wouldn't exist without earth.
The last element is purple and is one of my own conception (as in, you will never find anyone else that has these five elements and in this order); I don't really know what to call it, and that's appropriate, I suppose, because it sort of defies classification. The easiest name for it is "spirit" but that sounds really hokey to me (apologies to anyone who calls it that) and witchy, and I don't define myself as a witch (ie wiccan). So I interchangeably call it "spirit," "soul," and "life." But when you call something "life" it gets mixed up with the act of living and the condition of being life and the chronological collection of a being's existence, which is unfortunate because "life" seems the most accurate name that I can think of for this element. What I really need is a new word for it… I'll get on that.
But for now I'll use "spirit" to describe it for you. You may have noticed by now that I've used up all the cardinal directions, and no, spirit is not "northeast" or something. Rather, spirit is in the center, kind of where it belongs, because the four traditional elements are just wanton energy and matter without spirit. The fifth element is what brings them together and makes them more than chemical reactions and molecules, for it is life. Sometimes I just call it "the fifth." I actually find this difficult to articulate, because it's such a subconscious, visceral concept for me. It's inscribed in my marrows.
I've arranged the elements in this order for a reason, and it comes from when I had three sisters. I don't have two of them anymore, but one of them is still very much my sister.
I realize that a bit of clarification is necessary here. These three are not my biological sisters; in fact we're not even related and I don't have a biological sister.
We were 12-13; it was the year we were in seventh grade. We didn't like the world that we lived in, so we created one of our own. We renamed ourselves (which is seen in many faiths and religions as a transformation or a rite of passage). But that's not the point; the point is that we each adopted a controlling element, and they were air, water, earth, and fire. We put them to a wheel, so that they would balance each other and the wheel, and this was the orientation we came to. I added the fifth independently through my own contemplations. Fire masters air because heat makes air insubstantial. Air masters water because it steals water molecules and makes the water evaporate. Water masters earth because stone is eroded with the passage of water. And earth masters fire because it suffocates the flame and steals the heat. The fifth is outside the circle and masters all as it brings them together to make an organism. But it is in turn mastered by all; an excess of any of the four elements can extinguish life. Still, spirit transcends.