The twelve astrological signs are evenly divided into four different elements: fire, earth, air, and water. They are also divided evenly into three qualities: cardinal (also called ordinal), fixed, and mutable. The signs also have gender, being either feminine (also called fruitful) or masculine (also called barren) in nature. Earth and water signs are feminine, and air and fire signs are masculine.
The most basic understanding of these things can be used to plan mundane daily activities such as fishing or planting a garden, best done on days the moon transits a fruitful sign. An example of a good use of a barren moon transit would be eliminating a habit or destroying weeds. Did I hear a snicker? Well, I laughed a bit, too, but after years of experimentation and observance, I know that as the moon passes through the twelve signs over the course of the lunar month, the day-to-day activity and emotional clime of society as a whole is affected in many ways. Most days now, I do not need to consult an ephemeris to know what sign the moon is in – I just watch people!
The twelve signs are sorted into elements as follows: fire signs are Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius; earth signs are Taurus, Virgo, and Capricorn; air signs are Gemini, Libra, and Aquarius; and water signs are Cancer, Scorpio, and Pisces.
Everyone has an inner feel for the elements. We all can easily understand these monikers: hot head, dynamo, air head, cry baby, wet blanket, salt of the earth, rock solid. In the most general sense, the fire signs are initiative, igniting, and volatile. The earth signs are enduring, steady, and grounded. The air signs are more flighty and cerebral. The water signs are emotional and intuitive.
A deeper understanding can be found by studying each sign individually, as well as each sign’s planetary ruler and the house over which the sign has rulership in the solar chart wheel; however, meditation upon the elements and how we feel about them builds a strong foundation for understanding practical astrology.
Most computerized natal charts will display the circular chart wheel, a grid or list of planetary aspects within the wheel, and a small box or grid indicating which element and quality a natal planet has. The first thing I examine in detail after my eye takes in the overall chart pattern, or placement of the planets within the natal chart, is that elemental grid. An incredible amount of information can be gained from this most basic tool. Are the four elements balanced; an equal distribution of the planets among the elements? Then the individual is most likely balanced with no particular elemental trait outstanding. Are one or two of the elements more heavily weighted? Then the individual may exhibit those elemental traits more strongly than the others. If two are strong, are they harmonious? Air feeds fire, and water feeds earth. Within the chart wheel, this elemental basic of air/fire, water/earth creates the geometric patterns representing energy flow, which are known as aspects. I personally do not find trines and sextiles to be wholly positive, nor squares and oppositions to be wholly negative as some astrology books interpret them. I tend to see the elemental harmony of trines and sextiles as a flow or open conduit of assistive energy, and an elemental discord of squares or oppositions as energy prone to breaks in flow or resistance, or blockage of energy. If two elements are heavily weighted and do “feed” each other, the individual may be more passive, optimistic, or calm in nature. If the two elements do not naturally “feed” each other, such as air/water, or fire/earth, the individual may be more restless or complex in nature.
If an element is entirely lacking, it is not unusual for the person to somehow exhibit the lack. For example, a lack of fire may have limited drive or initiative, a lack of earth may be ungrounded, a lack of water not overly emotional, and a lack of air preferring the practical or proven rather than spending time on abstract or imaginative thought. I’ve observed another interesting phenomenon with people lacking an element. The absent element can be the most significant link between them and one or more of their closest relationships. Most often, conjunctions of natal planets between two people’s charts are the first thing I see in a relationship reading, but in the case of a person lacking an element, the first thing to jump out at me is the excess of one element in one person’s chart balancing the lack of that same element in the partner’s. Sometimes there is little else attracting the two and the missing-element person is not able to explain or understand why he or she is drawn to the other and may not be wholly comfortable with the relationship.
The unconscious taking-in of a missing element through another person can be changed, if desired, through adding more of the element to the surroundings. For example, a fountain, fish tank, or pictures of water in the home may be used to bring the element of water into one’s consciousness. The study of Feng Shui can assist you to create an environment that is in harmony with your planets.
After assessing the elemental make-up of a person, I look to see what proportion of the three qualities (cardinal, fixed, mutable) they have. Just as with the elements, a fair balance of the three adds balance to the individual. Cardinal is initiative and directive, good at giving orders and being in a leadership position. Fixed is hands-on, method oriented, and tends to stay on task from start to finish. Mutable is the most adaptable, flexible, and open to change. Content to leave orders to cardinal and thoroughness to fixed, mutable is good at finding the ways and means or acting as a negotiator.
Just as an element may be in excess or lacking, a quality may be also, and the same dynamic may come into play between people. Awareness of the lack can allow a person to consciously embody the missing quality, rather than relying on another to provide it, if they so choose. For example, a person lacking cardinal signs can decide to be more assertive or accept leadership roles when offered.
I’m certain that an excess of an element or quality is an asset to an individual, most likely chosen to amp up one area that they will fast-track through in their lifetime. One famous rock musician is chock-full of fixed fire Leo planets in Leo’s den of rulership, the fifth house. What a powerhouse of passion, presence, performance, and perseverance all in one person! Even some of the titles of his band’s songs and albums (Locomotive Breath, Passion Play, Warchild) reflect this energy.
The feminine and masculine energy of the signs has no direct bearing on someone’s sexual orientation, but I have observed that a woman with more masculine signs highlighted in her chart may be especially strong or self-reliant, or have many friendships with men. A man with more feminine planetary energy may have good friendships with women or understand what it means to be in touch with his feminine side. If you want to know more about your sex and love life, I recommend you have your chart analyzed, by me, of course.
A natal chart is the most accurate means of discovering where the planets were at the time of your birth, but quick and fairly accurate information can be had easily in a planetary ephemeris. The birth day, month, and year are all you need to know to see which signs the planets occupied and from there you can take stock of your elemental self.
For your reference:
Aries: fire, cardinal, masculine
Taurus: earth, fixed, feminine
Gemini: air, mutable, masculine
Cancer: water, cardinal, feminine
Leo: fire, fixed, masculine
Virgo: earth, mutable, feminine
Libra: air, cardinal, masculine
Scorpio: water, fixed, feminine
Sagittarius: fire, mutable, masculine
Capricorn: earth, cardinal, feminine
Aquarius: air, fixed, masculine
Pisces: water, mutable, feminine