The elements and qualities describe the basic mode of action/energy and the basic temperament of each sign. You’ll learn a lot about a person by observing the balance of planets and important chart points as they fall into the different elements and qualities. As an example: A person who has a heavy dose of planets in cardinal signs but very few in fixed will be a person who rushes after the things they want in life, full of energy and dynamic action but probably will lack the stamina and initiative to follow through on their efforts.
Elements and qualities provide a background flavour to any astrological chart, and the balance of elements and qualities present and – just as importantly – lacking should be carefully considered.
When looking at any astrological chart, whether personal, electional or horary, it is very important to start off by assessing the balances of elements and qualities within the chart.
Here we will try to give a brief explanation of what elements and modes are, and what they mean to an astrological chart.
Each and every sign of the zodiac is associated with both an element and a quality.
- four elements – earth, air, fire and water, and
- three qualities – cardinal, fixed and mutable.
There are 4 elements, fire, air, earth and water. The elements describe the basic temperament of the sign.
We’re all familiar with the twelve signs of the Zodiac but there is a very important and ancient further subdivision of the Zodiac based upon it’s the geometric layout. This subdivision gives us the Elements of which there are four: Fire, Air, Earth and Water, and each contain three signs. The Elements correspond with our temperament. Fire and Water are largely primitive and instinctual, having to do with our spontaneous emotions and impulses rather than deliberately planned ideas. Air is more mental or intellectual whereas Earth is more practical and down-to-earth.
The four elements- fire, earth, air and water- also play a large part in determining our natural soul mates. Count how many planets you have in each element- the signs and their elements are listed below. If, for instance, the majority of the planets in your birth chart are in earth signs, you will feel naturally in tune with those who share your emphasis on earth. However, you may also be strongly attracted to people who have what you lack- if most of your planets are in earth signs, but you lack water, you may be drawn to someone who has a lot of planets in water signs. Also, if you do have the majority of your planets in earth signs, but you have Mars and Venus in water, your earth sign orientation may well override your Mars and Venus signs at times.
Ideally, we would be a balance of all four Elements but we’ve usually more of one Element than another. Below are descriptions of the Elements, what happens when one Element is lacking and how to tune into that Element and bring it into your life. You may find that when you lack a certain Element you attract that quality in others. For example someone with a lot of Air may have lots of great ideas but they need the support of someone with a lot of Earth to help ground them and put their ideas into practise.
The Fire Elements – Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius
Fire comes across as the most positive of the Elements. Fire people are warm, outgoing, passionate, optimistic and enthusiastic. Fire is active and has a tendency to try to dominate and so Fire people will frequently try to force events, especially Aries and Sagittarius. While this can mean they rush things, or act prematurely; they can also achieve success ahead of more hesitant individuals. Fire people want to assert themselves and their needs, to make things happen. Fire energy is forceful, self-confident and aggressive; fond of good living, sport, exercise, company, and adventure; always ready for a new challenge they’re not afraid to take risks in life or love. The problems with Fire energy usually come from its excess such as when they’re too pushy, selfish, impatient, reckless, extravagant, or crude. They may have unrealistic goals and show little sympathy for others.
When your Fire energy is low…
Feeling burnt-out, you lack enthusiasm, vitality, optimism and get-up-and-go. Self-confidence is low; you feel bored and come across as too serious. You’re not very demonstrative and undertaking tasks feels heavy and burdensome. You avoid energetic people and busy places.
How to tune into your Fire Element…
Don’t sit around, don’t be a spectator, get involved. Spend time with other Fire people. Do some exercise or something physically demanding, get involved in something that inspires you or where you can promote yourself or your ideas. Light some candles, go to a fireworks display, and get some sunshine.
Air Elements – Gemini, Libra and Aquarius
Like Fire, Air is a very positive and outgoing Element but Air people are more consistent and less assertive or willful than Fire. Air is associated with the mind and intellect, thinking and logic. Air likes to communicate, share ideas, and is the most sociable Element. Although socially adept, Air people sometimes have problems with the feelings side of life and the more emotional, Water types who take them at face value. Air can be detached, while the Watery nature of emotions can “do one’s head in”. Air people are idealistic, truth seekers, willing to co-operate, bringing people together to share and spread ideas. Air people’s tendency to live in their heads can make it difficult to deal with practical reality and getting by in the real world. Air people also need freedom to express themselves and their ideas and they also like physical space.
When your Air energy is low…
You’re not in the mood to talk, you don’t feel very sociable and your outlook becomes narrow and pessimistic. You take things too personally, lacking perspective you may loose touch with reality. You’ve no time for dreams and big plans.
How to tune into your Air Element…
You need change, variety and the opportunity to communicate. Write, get on the phone or get out and about socially with other Air people. You need to express yourself intellectually, to relate to others who share your ideas. Get out into wide open spaces, get some fresh air, have a stroll, meditate.
Earth Elements – Taurus, Virgo, and Capricorn
Earth people are very practical, dry and matter-of-fact. The Earth is our source of food and support, and along with Water, our source of life. Like the Water Element, Earth is fertile but there is something more solid about Earth. The Earth Element is the most resistant to change, preferring stability and maintaining the status quo. Earth people seek to create something tangible, they are builders, makers, craftspeople and those able to find practical solutions to problems. The Earth Element gives ability to bring about something solid, concrete and useful. The problem with Earth is that it can be skeptical of idealism and the spiritual dimension of life. At their worse Earth people become too materialistic, cautious, and conservative and lack imagination. Feeling safe in their habits and routine they become reluctant to try anything new and different, getting themselves into a rut. Earth people can become workaholics.
When your Earth energy is low…
Feeling unsupported, rootless and out of place, dealing with the day-to-day details of life becomes tedious and you feel trapped by your responsibilities. You find practical people uninteresting and heavy-going. You may pursue impractical goals and neglect you body’s physical needs.
How to tune into your Earth Element…
Eat healthy fresh food. Get yourself into a regular routine that adds structure to your life. Take on additional practical responsibilities, do something useful and spend time with other Earthy people. Ground yourself by connecting with nature, get out into the countryside or spending time in your garden or allotment.
Water Elements – Cancer, Scorpio, and Pisces
Water is the most complex of the Elements and therefore the most difficult to understand, especially if one tries to apply logic or practical considerations to emotional issues that are difficult to express. Water is the best at feeling relationships. Water people live in the world of feelings; they have emotional depth, sensitivity and compassion for others. Of the other Elements, Water is most different form Fire. While Fire acts and initiates, Water people re-act and often withdraw, instinctively to protect themselves, keeping their feelings to themselves which is the opposite to self-promoting Fire. Water people are generally careful, sensitive, sympathetic with the natural instinct to protect and nurture. Psychic ability is associated with the Water Element. Water people’s problems can be very complicated; they can become slaves to their emotions. Fearful, distrustful and suspicious if the real world becomes too harsh they may prefer to escape into a fantasy world or drown themselves in drink or drugs.
When your Water energy is low…
You’re reluctant to express your feelings, uncomfortable in emotional situations you distrust your feelings and you’re unlikely to feel very sympathetic. You’ll feel tired and lethargic and may want to withdraw from the world.
How to tune into your Water Element…
Be guided by your intuition. Let your heart rule your head. Surround yourself with other Water people, express your feelings and become emotionally involved in what you do. Spend time near Water, go swimming, and drink more Water.
Briefly, the elements can be interpreted like this:
- Fire: (Aries, Leo, Sagittarius)
A chart that is strong in fire will be optimistic, energetic and, as the name implies, fiery. Pride and anger are fire traits, as is generosity. Fire signs tend to be life lovers and embrace their interests with vigor. They are optimistic and enthused for the most part but capable of theatrics and temper outbursts when angered.
Keywords: Strong, dramatic, enthusiastic, direct, outgoing, joyful.
Read more about Fire Element Symbolism & Meaning
- Earth (Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn)
Earth charts tend to be just that – down to earth, no nonsense types. Practical and hardworking, solid and reliable, with plenty of common sense and patience. Earth signs handle things with responsibility, foresight and seriousness. They are stable and goal oriented. They are generally more concerned with things which affect them directly.
Keywords: Physical, Material, practical, detail oriented.
Read more about Earth Element Symbolism & Meaning
- Air: (Gemini, Libra, Aquarius)
A strong air chart will be above all else communicative. Air also confers logic and reasoning ability, together with objectivity and agility. The air signs channel everything through their thought processes and tend to be tolerant and understanding. They are people oriented signs and extremely communicative.
Keywords: Creative, positive, thought oriented.
Read more about Air Element Symbolism & Meaning
- Water (Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces)
A chart that is strong in water will be dominated by emotions and sensitivity. Dreaminess and psychic abilities are also water traits. Water signs filter everything through their emotions and feelings. Life is felt on deep levels rather than observed. They are intuitive people readers and tend to be sensitive and vulnerable and often create strong self defensive shells to deflect potential wounds.
Keywords: Emotional, responsive, reflective, fertile.
Read more about Water Element Symbolism & Meaning
Qualities describe action , activity and energy levels. It is how the chart native utilizes his energy to go after goals.
Cardinal, Fixed, Mutable
Briefly, they can be interpreted like this:
- Cardinal: (Aries, Cancer, Libra, Capricorn)
A strong cardinal chart will be full of ‘get-up-and-go’ and the drive for action. Cardinal charts get things done – not necessarily the right things, at the right time, but they take the initiative at all times. Cardinal signs actively pursue their needs. They are dynamic examples of their elements, full of energy, drive and activity. Cardinal signs do first, think later and impulsivity and impatience can become problems when an overabundance of cardinal energy is found in chart.
Keywords: Active, dynamic, forceful
- Fixed:( Taurus, Leo, Scorpio, Aquarius)
Fixed charts are just that in many ways. These are stable and steady, with endurance and determination, but not very good at getting the ball rolling to start with. Fixed signs utilize a very directed and focused energy. They are answerable after they have selected a goal. Dedicated purpose and intensity are trademarks of chart strong in fixed signs. Too many fixed points and the person can be unbendable, opinionated and excessively stubborn.
Keywords: Stable, latent, directed, tenacious. Read more about Fixed Signs
- Mutable (Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius, Pisces)
Strong mutable charts are very flexible and adaptable, often being all things to all people. An ability to change is their greatest asset, but indecisiveness is common. Mutable signs go with other peoples energy. They bend, give and harmonize and tend to flow all over the place. Their basic mode of activity tends to be emotional and changeable according to the element. Too much mutable in a chart can result in lack of motivation, over emotionalism and too much tolerance and apathy.
Keywords: Adaptable, harmonizing, free flowing.
Each of the three earth signs has a different quality, as does each of the three fire signs and so on. The way it works out is like this:
- Aries Fire Cardinal
- Taurus Earth Fixed
- Gemini Air Mutable
- Cancer Water Cardinal
- Leo Fire Fixed
- Virgo Earth Mutable
- Libra Air Cardinal
- Scorpio Water Fixed
- Sagittarius Fire Mutable
- Capricorn Earth Cardinal
- Aquarius Air Fixed
- Pisces Water Mutable
From these very brief sketches, you can see that if a chart is particularly lacking in an element of quality, that person or situation will not be benefiting from the positive traits it can bring. On the other hand, a very strong dominating element or mode can mean that the negative traits of that element or mode outweigh the positive ones.
We cannot draw any startling conclusions simply from looking at the balance of modes and elements alone, but we must base the conclusions we do draw against the backdrop of this overall flavour.