The problem with ground elements on Spherus Magna

I’m not actually sure if this will warrant its own topic- if not, you can move this post accordingly

Ever since the confirmation of there being an Earth Tribe I’ve been thinking about what defines the various rock based elements in Bionicle, specifically in Spherus Magna(as it’s the most convoluted). See, we end up with a issue of what qualifies which element, and with not one, not two, not three, but four different groups that could claim power over the same clump of… ground, it becomes difficult to see what powers these elements could exclude from each other.

To elaborate, there are the following elemental tribes on Spherus Magna; Earth, Rock, Sand, and Iron. Greg’s go-to response when questioned about what separates Earth and Rock is along the lines of the often disputed Earth and Stone of the MU- Stone is rocks and solid objects, Earth is more like dirt and organic matter in the ground.

This, however, becomes especially problematic when we introduce a Sand element. If Earth is most like soil and the bigger chunks of rock that are carried along with it(it’s presumable that those bigger chunks aren’t actually under the earth elemental’s control so much as just being carried by the material). What would happen if they were to face off against both a Rock and a Sand elemental? If the Earth elemental were to lift up a clump of their element, the Rock guy would remove the bigger chunks, and as you can see in the chart below and the Sand guy would strip the remaining material of its sand(assuming Spherus Magna has a similar soil composition to earth’s).

What would the earth guy be throwing? Silt and clay? That doesn’t seem like a terribly effective element.

And before you suggest it, there’s no component of gravity in Earth, at least according to Greg.

It’s not just earth that gets severely stripped down, either. Add Iron to the list; Rock elementals are now excluded from not only being unable to control stone below a certain(undefined, might I add) size, but they also can’t control stones with a high enough iron content. They’d be left with a very niche power set in a fight against Sand and Iron elementals.

It’s also questionable whether this rule would apply to sand- We don’t know whether the Sand elemental would gain control because the particle size is small enough, or the Iron elemental would take precedence for iron content. Generally speaking, iron content in sand is pretty minimal so we could hazard to say that sand would take precedence… But that’s still just guessing.

So uh, anyone have ideas to resolve this problem?


Who says that the elements can’t overlap?

Let’s look at two other elements, ice and water. Those with water powers can still manipulate ice, to some extent. However, they can’t freeze water or change the shape of ice.

I’d imagine the same thing applies. Given a chunk of dirt with iron in it, the earth lord could move it, but couldn’t mold the iron in it, while an iron glatorian can move the iron inside but can’t shape the dirt around it.

This isn’t impossible of course(and likely the canon answer), but it provides some ambiguity as to what actually defines each power- What is the Lord of Earth doing that allows her to move the iron chunk, but that same force can’t apply pressure to it? Is the stipulation that she can’t create more iron, whereas she can create more clay and silt?

Furthermore, what would happen when there’s a conflict of interest, say she was in a fight with the elemental lord of Iron? One would assume that the Lord of Iron would have more power over the chunk and little to none over the dirt around it, but then one would have to question what about iron keeps the Lord of Earth from having any less power over it than all the other ground materials that qualify as Earth. If it’s decided that she has the same amount of power over it as everything else, does that not make her categorically stronger than Iron? In any case where she was not fighting an Iron elemental, she’d be able to use the same powers(or imitations thereof if she’s using earth force to mold the iron) as an Iron elemental. Iron would be entirely obsolete as an element.

Kind of a ramble and sorta besides the point, but still relevant

Also, that lends “element” to be a bit of a misnomer; each isn’t controlling a particular element of nature, but rather an odd set of powers loosely inspired by that nature. Kind of ruins the whole idea of elemental tribes being an innate thing. (Though I suppose that’s more of an argument against the concept than the function; gotta love that element of oxygen based combustion reactions)


Stone/Rock - Self-explanatory. Technically also Lava/Magma, despite not being able to manipulate heat.
Sand - Also self-explanatory. Potentially also Glass.
Iron - Solid metal, possibly Mercury.
Earth - Soil/Dirt, tremors, and quakes (two things everyone always conveniently seems to forget). The need to throw something is irrelevant when you can simply open up chasms beneath someone’s feet and effectively bury them alive.

Would’ve thrown in Protodermis as well, but that’s sort of redundant, considering it makes up about 90-95% of the MU already, including biological components.
Otherwise, it’s probably best to just keep things simple.

But that doesn’t cover every situation. And we’re here to overanalyze.

So if an earth elemental was put in space with a chunk of the same stuff he could manipulate on the ground, would he be powerless?

Then tell me exactly how small it has to be to stop being stone and start being sand. Plus, if stone can be whittled down to the point where it stops being stone and starts being sand what prevents iron from undergoing the same process? There are often bits of iron in sand, just as there are in stone…

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Well, if an Earth elemental was put in space, they could always just spew soil from their fingertips… in the event that they don’t have to worry about things like breathing and the lack of air pressure and/or heat destroying their organic bits, that is. And again, their quake powers lie somewhere between Sonics and blatant Kinetics, so it’s more than likely they could use them to shatter or break other objects as well.
Stone stops being Stone somewhere between pebbles and the granular level, I’d assume. Iron is still a completely separate elemental substance entirely, so it acts more like Stone in the Earth/Stone dynamic; Sand can move the metal inside it similar to how an Earth elemental can still move rocks, but they just can’t manipulate it directly.

Yet more logistical problems arise when we consider that Toa of Earth can make Earthquakes. This means that they’re manipulating not soil and clay, but the planet’s actual crust–that is, a giant slab of rock, which would fall more under the category of Stone or possibly Iron. So how does that work? Where do we draw the lines? Is it just a matter of where the stuff is located, and not what type of stuff it is? Because then, that’s not elemental powers, that’s just magic.

To clarify, I’m not getting into the science of it, I’m just saying that the only time different types of Toa should control the same material is if it’s in different conditions that give it radically different properties, like Ice and Water.

If the elements overlap, there’s not really a point to categorizing them into elements to start with. Why bother with establishing rules if you have no intention of following them?


Tremors wouldn’t sensibly be a separate power from the rest of their element… why even call it Earth if their ability is actually kinetic energy? And it’s not like we haven’t seen Kinetic Energy specifically outlined as separate a power either; look at Kardas. Additionally, suggesting that Earth has some other force aligned with it goes against what Greg has said regarding the question. I’m pretty sure earthquakes in the context of the element of Earth is literally just shaking soil.

How is Stone tied specifically to Sand whereas Iron isn’t? To my knowledge there’s never actually been any official word saying that Sand is tied to what defines Stone. If a piece material that falls under Iron is small enough and is part of a grain of sand, is it not Sand? Sure, most of sand is made of materials that would qualify as Stone/Rock if they were big enough, but at the same time it’s also made of things that qualify as Iron. Why should Iron hold precedence when Stone doesn’t? It’s very ill defined.

See, I think the original plan for Bionicle deals with this in a very clever way; Everything is made of one chemical, Protodermis. That way, contrived powers are okay because nature is contrived as well. They’re controlling what appears to be forces of nature, but are actually a simplified versions of it that lend themselves to being easily and cleanly manipulated. This all falls apart though when elemental powers are introduced to a natural setting that’s much more complex chemically, ie Spherus Magna.

That is generally how things work in the real world, yes. For the purposes of Bionicle, however, it’s just easier to assume that the ability is simply the result of excessive movement or maybe even displacement caused by massive amounts of absorbtion.
Sand is not Stone in this sense because Ice is not Water. The latter is a change in its basic state of matter due to a difference in temperature; the former is simply erosion. Chemically speaking, Sand and Stone are effectively the same material, where as metal is considered to be an entirely separate substance. The only real difference between the two is how they are controlled, as Sand moves more similarly to Water or Air.

Think of it this way: say I have the ability to move metal. Now, if I wanted to move a chunk of wood, obviously that doesn’t fall under my power set. But if said wood was sitting on a slab of metal, I could lift the wood by lifting the metal.
That’s what I meant by overlap. It’s not that they have the same powers, but that they can do the same things with those powers. Given a chunk of dirt with iron in it, an iron Toa and an Earth Toa can both move it, but for different reasons.

Now, as far as the four elements go:
Iron: metals. Pretty obvious
As to the other three: dirt and rock are definitely different, but the issue lies with sand, which is just tiny rocks. Perhaps sand in Bionicle only defines a certain kind of rock, and rock a different kind?

Alternatively: what if they aren’t distinct? Maybe, years ago, a group of rock Agori and Earth Agori split off from their tribes and formed a new tribe, and through the generations their powers mixed?

That example isn’t overlap at all. You’re not moving the wood, you’re moving the metal which has wood on top of it; the wood gets carried along for the ride, but its movement does not directly result from the properties of your powers.

I already explained why Earth and Stone are not sufficiently different, and there’s no reason to think that Sand is just a different type of rock because we don’t really know what kind of rock Toa of Stone typically use, if they’re even confined to one type, which we have no reason to believe they are.

And on Spherus Magna; a naturally rocky planet withing the habitable zone with a-

Oh my god

No way

I just realized; Spherus Magna is made of Protodermis too! That’s what the Core War was all about!

Okay, so that changes things. I was working under the presumption that Spherus Magna is a natural planet with a varied chemical composition like our own. But if everything on Spherus Magna is actually made of naturally occuring Protodermis based structures… It would work like a more random version of the MU! Hence why Toa, with their contrived elemental powers are able to still use them on Spherus Magna. It’s made of the same stuff.

Ugh, but that’s not confirmed canon in any capacity, just speculation.

Does anyone know of examples where Toa are outside of Spherus Magna, any of the derivative planets, or the MU?


And I’ll explain why they are: they’re two different things.
To quote Takuma (least I think it was Takuma) would you rather be hit with a rock or a clump of dirt.
Want a definitive difference? Dirt is soluble. Rock is not.

Not the way you’re defining it, no. Maybe “overlap” wasn’t the right word to use. What I’m getting at is, if you have a chunk of dirt and rock stuck together, both elements could move it, but for different reasons. Two powers, same usage.

@Garnira we know that the Bone Hunters are distantly related to the Rock Agori. What if Sand Agori Glatorian are offshoots of the rock tribe, whose powers work best on tiny rocks?

I don’t think SM is made of Protodermis. It just had an Energized protodermis core.
Which is a shame, because you’re right: that would solve everything.

There’s a brief scene in one of the serials with Lewa in space, but he only creates air, he doesn’t control preexisting air.
Takanuva in the pocket dimension could count, but again, he only created light.
The inhabitants of the kingdom AU planned to go off to space, but we never saw it.
Kopaka’s power works on the red star, but it’s technically part of the MU.
That’s all I got.

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Except it’s canon that Toa of Earth can cause earthquakes. That can’t by done unless they have control over rock. That’s what I said before. You can’t cause earthquakes without manipulating rock because that’s not what tectonic plates are made of.

Then, yes, Toa of one element can move another indirectly. But that doesn’t really explain the differences between the (for lack of a better term) rock elements.

Except there’s an Elemental Lord of Sand, which indicates that it is a completely separate element(at least according to the Great Beings). Even if they’re derivative of the same Element at some point, the differences were distinct enough for the GBs to recognize it separately, which is odd considering that we’re having trouble defining it.

I’m not actually sure how innate elemental powers are within Agori and Glatorian. Sure, they align themselves by element, but is that a natural thing or just odd societal structure? Perhaps the elements were assigned rather than awakened within the Elemental Lords, thus it’d makes sense for them to be sort of contrived?

Hmm… Seems like Aqua Magna was confirmed to be covered in real water at some point, that alone would disprove it.

Ah well. It was a nice thought.

Ooh, a G1 Discussion! My favorite!

Well, what defines “real” water? See (pun not intended), the water around Mata Nui is stated to be water to juxtapose it against the “water” around Metru Nui, which was just Liquid Protodermis. It’s possible that the water on Aqua Magna was Liquid Protodermis that takes a form similar to real-world water, while the silver seas of Metru Nui were just liquid Protodermis in its default form.

Anyway, I can’t find anything that says if SM is made of Protodermis or not… Let’s ask Greg–Oh, wait.

Well, you gotta keep in mind: the EL’s were meant to lead the tribes. If you’ve got a tribe of people who are of the Sand Element, it makes sense to make a Sand Element Lord, even if it isn’t a “true” element.

Actually… it seems that Normal Glatorian don’t have any Elemental powers… plus, there’s Gresh and Vastus, who got Air powers despite being Jungle Glatorian…

So, I think I have the answer to your question, Garnira: the “elements” are based on where they live/what they do. Sand tribe live in the desert, so sand; Earth Tribe, on the plains; Iron Tribe, mined Iron; and Rock Tribe, lived in the mountains.

Then the GB’s made the EL’s masters of the element their tribe was named after. Now, their exact powerset can overlap because they’re just random things anyway.

Then, they made the Toa. There, they were a little more sensible, and didn’t make Toa of Sand since it would be redundant with Stone already there.

Then, Mata Nui gave some of the Glatorian Elemental powers. Since he viewed green to be air, he gave Gresh an Vastus Air powers. The others just so happened to line up wit the MU Elements, but I imagine that, had he run into a friendly Skrall, he would have given it Earth powers because, to him, Black=Earth.


Alternative answer: Greg just loves Dirt.



That crossed my mind, but it also seems like an oddly specific detail to note. BS01’s phrasing is just “water”, unhelpful as it is. Can’t find the reference.

This could be correct, but confirmation isn’t exactly, well you know.

This is good! Perhaps we’re on the right track.

If this is accurate, however, it leaves as lot to be desired as far as how the different elements would interact. As arbitrary power sets, they could literally share powers- which means some tribes may have gotten seriously shafted in the process.

Although at least it doesn’t doesn’t bring up questions about the fundamental laws of nature in Bionicle- or lack thereof.

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After reading Garnira’s post, I was going to write this big paragraph on how maybe the elements are derived from biomes or something like that… then I scrolled down and realized you beat me to it.

This is almost exactly what I was about to propose, so of course I agree with it.

This is still a problem, though. Maybe, along the veins of the elements coming from occupation/location, the elements are a bit more conceptual instead of scientific. If I were to give you a pile of sand, a pile of dirt, a pile of rocks, and a pile of metal, you could probably tell me which is which. Regardless if the rocks have some metallic content, or if it’s rocky soil, conceptually it’s an easier divide. So, if the elements were divided conceptually, this would solve a lot of the problems we’re having. People tend to have a fairly defined concept as to each of these things, so someone controlling sand wouldn’t think about the fact that they’re controlling small rocks, or how small the rocks need to be to be sand. They look at something, define it as sand, and know they can control it. Did that make sense?

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Luckily, I just so happen to have an almost encyclopedic knowledge of BIONICLE lore.

Voyage of Fear. The Toa Metru get to Mata Nui. Nokama tastes the water, spits it out, and says “This is not water. At least not the water we’re used to.” Now, all Nokama has ever known is the liquid protodermis around Metru Nui, and she came to identify it as “water”. So when confronted by “real” water, she knows it’s different.

Also, decided to look up “Water” on BS01, and I found an interesting tidbit:

"In the Matoran Universe, Water is often represented by the Matoran prefix Ga- as well as the color blue. Here, the only naturally occurring water was Liquid Protodermis. Despite this, these beings are able to control the water of Spherus Magna, because the substances are alike in composition and behave similarly in the life processes of Matoran Universe denizens. "

Sadly, this would seem to confirm that, at the very least, the water on SM is not Protodermic. But hey, it explains why Toa powers work on SM, too.



“Alike in composition” is odd phrasing, the alikeness could still mean that it’s protodermic to some degree- just not the same makeup as the completely synthesized fluids designed for the MU. How this would work in real chemistry terms is dubious, but I suppose it’s still possible.

Problem is, if natural elements and compounds are the same as our own, it doesn’t make sense for the GBs to just be able to manipulate them without realistic mechanics. Which takes us back to square one with sand that contains traces of iron, how big it has to be to qualify as sand or stone, and so on.

Yes, but there kind of has to be a point at which it is absolutely not sand or absolutely not iron and so forth. Otherwise characters could plausibly be convinced that they have power over an element that they were not granted… But then suddenly they do because it’s flimsy.

Another possibility is that they may have assigned powers for more utilitarian usages based on their location, not anticipating them to be used for combat as well. Therefore the question would not be brought up as to why any one group is inherently more powerful; they all serve separate purposes to aid with life in their respective climates.

Sure, this would be kind of a dumb oversight on the Great Beings’ part, but then again oversights in the behavior of living creatures seems to be their specialty.