Some thoughts on why Stone and Earth are separate elements (from within context of the BIONICLE lore)

So the question has often been raised at to why Earth and Stone are separate elements in the context of the BIONICLE story. Now obviously there are separate real life reasons why this is the case, but I intend to take on somewhat of an internal critique and show that, quite plausibly, there is a relevant difference between Earth and Stone (for the purposes of this, we may also assume I’m referring Ice and Water as well).

Ultimately this issue folds down into the ontology of substance. In our own world, there are different view on ontology of substance, or what substance makes up our world. Some people are materialists (physical matter is all that exists), dualists (physical and mental substance exists), or idealists (mental substance exists).

Now when we look at the BIONICLE story, it’s important to trace back to its origin the creation or conceptualization of the original four elements. These fall back to the Greeks and Aristotle, who thought that the world was made of four substances, Earth, Water, Fire, and Air. In other words, the world was fully reducible to these four substances, which we may call Earth, Water, … , Air, and none of these are equal to each other (i.e. Water at its root is not Air, which is not Earth and so on). It is all otherwise some combination of the four. Now, modern philosophers have one of the three views I mentioned above. Many hold to a purely physical ontology, i.e. world is reducible to the physical substance. Now let’s apply this to the BIONICLE universe. For the purposes here, we can say that their world is just made up of many different substances, each of which comprises and element over which a Toa has power. Ultimately each of these substances is fully separate, and not reducible to each other. And so, in the context of BIONICLE, a Stone is simply not made of Earth, because they are fundamentally different elements and fundamentally separate.

Now thoughts like this seem to solve the Earth/Stone problem. Because BIONICLE runs off of an elemental ontology rather than a physical ontology, and the world is fully reducible to these elements, rather than to physical matter, there just IS a difference between the ontology of a Stone and the ontology of Earth. We may not be clear on what this is, but the fact that it is a separate element ontologically means that Stone and Earth in the context of BIONICLE are not the same.

So, in conclusion, when we’re thinking about why Earth and Stone are separate elements, it seems like the answer simply is that they have a fundamentally different ontology. There is a form known as Stone, and there is a form known as Earth. These forms (as well as other elements) make up the world. This may be viewed like the dualist claim that mental and physical substance make up the world. Ultimately the Toa of Stone controls the form known as Stone, and the Toa of Earth controls the form of Earth. In addition we can say that Stone is not reducible to Earth. Instead, at their root, they are just different.

It seems to me like this, from an internal perspective, solves the ambiguity herein, and resolves the coherency of the distinction. Thoughts?


I think it comes down to earth referring to ‘soil’ I remember in some of the comics vines and dirt could be seen in Onuas projection of his element. Whereas stone is non-organic, is dry and is pebbles and rocks.
Just my two cents.


I can’t say I agree with your conclusion. It seems less to me like a theory, and more like a justification. If ice is not solid water, it is no longer ice.

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But it’s all protodermis

Clearly you’ve thought about this, and there is clearly some in-universe distinction; I think the real problem is that everybody has a different idea of what the distinction is.


Good point. I think it comes down to the ontology distinction and that using irl world type thoughts about physical matter and how it is made up with thoughts on how it works in the world of BIONICLE. I would say that they are just fundamentally different in that context, and simply that we shouldn’t transfer our categories to their context.


And I would say that’s just transferring our concept of ice as necessarily being made of water to a world where I personally think it isn’t. On our world, Ice=Water. In the world of BIONICLE, I think Ice is not equal to Water. But this does bring up some interesting thoughts.

Edited for Double Post- Prentice1215


It’s relevant to note that the Greeks weren’t at all the only cultures to classify the world into “elements.” Chinese, Japanese, and Hindu philosophers all took a whack at it, and those are just the most prominent. The idea of what should and shouldn’t be “elemental” is clearly not something we can pin on just one culture or tradition, and this is kind of how Bionicle got to the point it did–Lego needed a certain number of elements, which is how they arrived at the ones they did. The Chinese godai model, for instance, has fire, water, metal, wood, and earth; and many cultures, including the Greeks, sometimes cited a “void” or “aether” element.

Greg actually said outright that Earth deals with soil and sediment while Stone deals with rocks, describing the difference as that between getting hit in the face with a lump of dirt and with a rock. The trouble arises from the canon use of Earth, which doesn’t always behave as it should according to this rule.

For example, the Onu-Matoran live in a cave system. Caves are entirely comprised of rock, and Onu-Wahi even looks the part–the Onu-Matoran even make a living by mining, which entails boring into rock. Why is this their chosen biome? All the other tribes on Mata Nui have pretty logical homes, but the Onu-Matoran are actually removed from soil and mud. You’d think they’d be more at home in a swamp or a forest.

And Onua’s powers don’t line up with what we’re told his element is. The most kick-■■■ moment in MoL, though of dubious canon, is still official media, and it depicts Onua bringing the house down…in a cave. Made of rock. It even looks like boulders; and he uses more rocks when fighting the Rahkshi. Toa of Earth can also create earthquakes–how can they do this except by moving the rock layers which comprise a planet’s crust?

And, in Divided we Fall, he creates a ramp that sends Pohatu flying. To make a ramp that can support Pohatu’s weight at that speed (and I have no doubt the THICC Toa of Stone weighs a lot), he would need to concentrate to push back on each of Pohatu’s footfalls with every step taken–at the striding speeds offered by the Kakama, mind you. There’s no way any Toa can think fast enough to do that, or else we’d see those godlike reflexes in other battles; yet if the ramp was made of stone, it’d behave more as it does in the comic. I also recall Whenua making a ramp to support the Lhikan I, but I forget when this happened.

If Earth were to obey this distinction, it’d just be this really soft mush that’s in a weird space between the functionality of the solid elements and Water, which basically makes it the lamest element. “Toa of Dirt.” Hooray.

The last issue is sand. Where the hell does it fall? Is it Stone because it’s just tiny rocks? Earth because it’s sediment? Its own thing? It’s impossible to come up with an answer that makes sense.

So…yeah, the Earth/Stone thing is super contrived and doesn’t seem very consistent.

Chemically, yes. Practically, it’s obviously very different from liquid water. Classical element systems are never based on chemical makeup, else fire and aether would never be elements at all and no models would split earth and wood.


There are many good philosophy points (and that’s really cool, don’t get me wrong), but the thing is, that philosophy explanations are not really irrefutable. You said that they have elemental ontology - but they also might not, and we don’t really know, I don’t think it was ever stated. And also yeah, there is that fundamental distinction, I totally agree, but it is the most interesting part - what that distinction is?

I think that it is the right place to say:
The difference between Earth and Stone is that Earth means solid ground, it comes from below. And Stone is just sand and rocks, just throwing something into enemies, wherever you are. But, of course, when rock lies beneath the ground, that complicates it slightly… or no because that’s it - it is a stone liying under earth.
@SirKeksalot Miramax movies are semi-canon, that cave just was made from earth, or the rock shattered because of bioquake or anything else. And that ramp could be made from more pressed, solidified earth. And yes, “Toa of Dirt/Mud” is quite a correct name, Onua himself mentioned it:
" Nothing like controlling earth when you are in a world of mud – I feel like Kopaka in a blizzard! "
— Onua, Swamp of Shadows

Fire and Ice and Water: My statement here is that there is no Toa of Ice, Fire and Water. Toa of Fire = Toa of high temperature, Toa of Ice = Toa of low temperatures, Toa of Water = Toa of liquid, because there is a little water in every liquid in MU, it seems. And also Toa of Air = Toa of gases. I think that really does solve all the problems, but, you know, it just sounds bad: Tahu, Toa Mata of high temperature. And on questions like “then how Kopaka creates Ice?” my answer is: he just freezes moisture in the air, or it magically appears from nowhere (because Toa of Stone can create Stones out of nothing - why not?), and it is just frozen something, presumably liquid protodermis.


I’ve always kind of just assumed that (and other things where he’s seemingly moving stone) was seismic activity rather than direct control over the rocks. He’s making the “earth” rumble and shake, but the rocks are still falling apart as a result. Like how an avalanche can just naturally be triggered by an earthquake despite them not being the same thing.

Because stone and earth are naturally in each other’s environment a lot, it would make sense that Onua would be adept at “pushing” stone around with the soil underneath it. But he never demonstrates the level of aptitude with it that a Toa of Stone would - making giant fists of rock, shaping huge boulders, etc.

It’s not like this sort of thing is unprecedented in the other elements either - Lhikan “created” a column of ice by drawing all the heat from a water pillar, but that’s still elemental “fire” at work.


I think the ontological definition of Bionicle doesn’t quite work, but I don’t think it’s necessary either. There’s other instances of elements that have overlap in their abilities.

Toa of fire and Toa of ice both have the ability to exert direct influence over the temperature in either direction they choose. However, fire and ice are still distinct by the other assortment of abilities that come with the element. More notably, Alternate Teridax can use his power over elemental light to create and control darkness.

This shows that Bionicle elements do not need to be fundamentally different in nature to be classified as separate elements.
So the difference between stone and earth would be the focus of their abilities.

As for what the differences are in practice, I’m going to make an educated guess. Keep in mind that this second part is only conjecture.
I personally think Stone is more focused on creating and controlling more complex and clearly defined defined solid structures while earth exerts control over maybe a more generalized area (which doesn’t mean that earths control is any less precise, just that the ability treats a given mass of ground as an amorphous whole, without being able to distinguish the material within).

I don’t think it is that simple either though. The applications for elemental ability are broad, but they are still very much specific, even though their versatility can make it appear otherwise. A Toa of water for example doesn’t control liquid, they are limited to regular water in liquid or vapour form and liquid Protodermis in liquid or vapour form in particular. Among others, they can’t control

  • Energized Protodermis
  • Lava
  • Molten metal

Similar conditions likely apply to air and the other elements as well, even though air probably has some leniency to the extent of “all the gases air is usually composed of in Spherus Magna”.




This is like that ■■■■ from Totally Spies or whatever it was called where the blonde chick takes 2 mirrors and shoots lasers into them and makes them face each other and that somehow makes infinite lasers.

I’ve never seen or heard of sediment that behaves as though it were a rock, short of sedimentary rocks, which are bloody rocks. Sediment is either a soft mixture like dirt or loose particles like sand. Anything Onua controls would have to be sediment by definition, and in even a really thick sediment, Pohatu’s feet would at least sink in partially and make him trip, but that’s not what happens. If sediment would be a solid, then it’s just a rock.


To defeat Tuyet I believe, also fire chains because that’s realism

Also Tahu sucked the heat out of the air around Krika to the point he began to cake in ice

no that’s a Melee thing


Might’ve overdone with water, you have a point here. Toa of water =/= Toa of liquid. And Toa of Air then kinda controls only special gases, and not the other ones, and there is no explanation about that… air is compicated.
@SirKeksalot Earth=/=unsolid, you do not plunge it while walking, running, jumping… And here we have not just casual earth, but earth controlled by a Toa. It could’ve supported one run, even that fast.


Stone is on surface. Earth is the surface. Just like lava is on the surface, while magma is becoming the surface.


Good points all. I wasn’t aware that Greg had made this distinction. Also yes, I don’t mean to alienate other civilizations haha, the Greeks were just the main ones to come to mind.

And I certainly agree it is contrived. I’m just aiming to show it could be self-consistent. But certainly some of the movie moments and other things you’ve provided make this somewhat of a problem. Ultimately as well, I think even if we assume what I said about ontological difference, it does become curious because then the question becomes why it is that earth functions like stone (as in the Divided We Fall instance). Great stuff though!

@Lesnichiy Certainly no way to show it’s the case in that context. I’m just trying to provide a plausible framework which might explain the distinction. And good points and thoughts otherwise!



Very interesting post and ideas! I like the approach, but don’t ultimately agree, and I’ll do my best to explain why.
The distinction between stone and earth as their own fundamental substances means that there is no pure physical substance; if stone and earth cannot be reduced beyond these distinctions, then there are, of course, different pure physical substances, each as distinct from one another as they are from, say, mind (mind in the traditional dualist sense, instead of as it exists in Bionicle). So far, so good. If this is the case, and Earth and Stone at their most basic are entirely unique, then any instance of seeming identicality between them in the story (“Onua looks like he uses stone here”; “this stone looks more like earth”; etc) can be explained away as an epistemic gap in our knowledge instead of a metaphysical issue. This is to say, just because we appear to understand the nature of stone/earth, we don’t actually have a clear picture of their base capabilities; when Onua appears to use earth in a stone-like way, this is because our grasp of what the pure-earth-substance can do is faulty. I might also say, in a quite flawed analogy, that some metals can operate similarly—steel and iron can both be used to produce weapons, but in a vernacular, non-metaphysical sense we would agree that these are not the same things. It is not an immediate disqualifier to take note of overlap in the functionality of (allegedly) two or more fundamental substances.
Moreover, it is not an immediate disqualifier that such fundamentally pure substances might interact with one another; this is the crux of the mind-body interaction problem (how is it possible that an immaterial mind, which has no corporeal aspect, could influence or interact with the entirely corporeal body?). The idea that it is possible has sometimes been ridiculed as the notion of a “ghost in the machine”, but nevertheless dualism (in a variety of senses) has persisted into the present, and there are some strong anti-materialist arguments and issues that can be presented. What I mean to say, is that the unresolved nature of this dilemma means that one can imagine the truth possibly being on either aisle (despite whatever one believes about the probabilities of one over the other), and we can have a logically possible universe such as Bionicle’s in which fundamentally unique mind, stone, earth, and more can interact with one another.
What is a disqualifier, however, is for one substance to be generable by another. If mind is, say fundamentally, at base, different from the physical world, then I would argue that mind cannot be generated by the physical world and it cannot become a part of the physical world. And yet, the machines that produced the Matoran are able to create fundamentally pure substances that are (presumably) not their own. Toa, who are not their element itself (Toa of fire, particularly) can generate a pure substance. How can this be? Even if we assume that, as the immaterial mind could interact with a corporeal body, Protodermic biomechanical beings can interact with foreign substances, it doesn’t explain their ability to generate them, as Tahu creates a fireball. If Tahu creates this fireball, then the fireball is entirely downstream of Tahu and fire is not a pure substance. If the mind is generated by the physical processes that create the body, then the mind is not a pure substance and is downstream of the physical.

The last thing I’ll say (I’ve gone on long enough already) is that your hidden premise is shaky. This premise is that the Great Beings who created the world valued pure substances enough to put it into their functional creation as a central aspect. So far as we can tell, our world does not have a strict or discernable function in the manner of the Great Spirit Robot, in which everything is designed to assist in the fulfillment of a central purpose. Creating a cultural/physical structure based on 13(?) sure substances, presumably the entire spectrum of pure substances (to throw stone in redundantly simply due to its distinction means it would probably apply to any other substances with the same distinction) doesn’t seem to further this objective goal in any practical sense, and doesn’t seem to have an inherent logic behind it. this criticism applies also to people who criticize, say, the Rahkshi powers, from any angle other than narrative. Redundancy from an in-universe perspective could just be the nature of things; reality is not necessarily streamlined. However, given this idea that most things in the MU which contain redundancies do so, either as a random consequence or in furtherance of the 100,000 year plan, it makes sense to attribute the same considerations to this question.
While Makutas’ insect control and rahi control are redundant and inconsequential, a central component of the universe—the existence of Po-Matoran—could only be the former. This redundancy probably served some sort of practical purpose undiscernible to any but those on level with the intelligence of the Great Beings, instead of being a seemingly pointless tribute to the pure substances.


Have you read Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics?

Here are the exact quotes for reference (from The Many Deaths of Toa Tuyet)

Lhikan didn’t answer. Instead, he focused his energy on drawing all the heat out of the column of water on which Tuyet stood. The effects were immediate – water became ice. Before the Toa of Water could respond, Nidhiki had picked up a pole made of solid metallic Protodermis and swung it, smashing the pillar of ice to pieces.


Lhikan had encircled Tuyet with fiery chains. Although they did not touch her, she could not move without being burned, and they burned so white-hot that any moisture instantly evaporated on contact.


Because there’s a lot of it and it’s on a giant layer of rock. When a sinkhole forms, it becomes…well, a ■■■■■■■ hole.

Does that mean Gali could have made a ramp out of water?

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The idea behind earth control is that you’re controlling a substance which has the ability to harden and, if there’s a substantial amount of it, support extra weight. Yes soil entirely on its own is gonna do next to nothing in terms of holding people up, but there’s a reason we don’t as Les said sink straight to the nearest rock layer the moment we step outside.

Soil can be loose and also be compacted. Water… Is water.

It depends on whether Gali is able to force something to be unable to sink into the water, or increase the pressure or surface tension. I really haven’t been reading this topic much so I don’t know how defined your limitations on elements are, but if Gali’s got insane surface tension control, she could turn a puddle into concrete or use water as a more literal weapon.


I get this is an easier argument than the Earth vs Stone one, but here is my thought: why are there toa of water and toa of ice? they are the same thing, just slightly different. I also agree with the earth is more of soil and clay with stone being… well stone and rocks

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