We use four elements to characterize the twelve signs. These are called the “triplicities” as there are 3 (tri) signs in each of these groupings: fire (Aries, Leo, Sagittarius), earth (Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn), air (Gemini, Libra, Aquarius), and water (Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces). The elements and their corresponding signs can be also divided into two broader categories of six signs each: male (the fire and air signs) and female (the earth and water signs). Basically, the male signs are outgoing, doers of actions, while the female signs more receptive in nature, tending to draw life and events to themselves.
The elements may be characterized as follows (reference Alan Oken):
Fire is the element of creation. It is said in an ancient text that: “Out of the fires of the Mind of God, the universe was born.” We can therefore say that fire is the primal force of creativity. It is the fire in a chart that characterizes a person’s drive to create one’s own reality. When positively expressed, people in whose natal chart we find a great deal of fire stand up for the oppressed, generate inspiration to others, are highly moral, and project independence, initiative and courage. When expressed negatively, fiery people tend to be selfish, egotistical, foolhardy, opportunistic and inclined to give way to their passions and pleasures.
Earth is the element of form. As the initial creative impulse is given forth through fire, it is picked up by earth and “grounded”. The earthy signs “make the word flesh.” They build on the physical level, structuring and organizing the material plane around us. All three signs of this triplicity have many traits in common. Positively, this manifests as circumspection, caution, patience, long-range planning, determination for worldly success, and practicality. Negatively oriented “earthy” people can be too pessimistic, melancholy, lacking in imagination, greedy, selfish and fearful of loss.
Air is the element of communication. As no animals are associated with Gemini, Libra, and Aquarius, these three are referred to as the “human signs”. The zodiacal signs of this element embody the faculties of reason, intuition and relationship. This urge to relate extends beyond the dynamics of rapport between people but also characterizes the relationships between humanity, our environment and all the other kingdoms of nature. When positive, air expresses itself as intelligent, cooperative, objective, humane, and uplifting. When negative, the air signs tend to be superficial, deceitful, aloof and emotionless, hyperactive and nervous.
Water is the element of feeling and sensation. These are the most psychic, impressionable, understanding and compassionate of the signs. Yet they also tend to become “flooded” by such feelings when their water has no boundaries or containers. Water has endless depth and must circulate in order not to become stagnant. Certainly, the signs of this element are the most mysterious. When positive, water is sensitive to others, artistic, romantic, charitable and empathetic. When negative, the watery signs tend to be overly concerned with their own emotions and express addictive behaviors. They can also be quite self-indulgent, moody and unpredictable.
In addition to elements, the signs are also classified by qualities, or “quadruplicity” as it is also called because each of the qualities pertains to 4 “quad” signs. The quadruplicities are: cardinal (Aries, Cancer, Libra, and Capricorn); fixed (Taurus, Leo, Scorpio, and Aquarius) and mutable (Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius, and Pisces).
The qualities may be characterized as follows (reference Alan Oken):
Cardinal signs are motivational in nature. Think of a wheel having three parts: the rim, the hub, and the spokes. The cardinal signs signify the rim, as it is this part of the wheel that touches the earth and moves the conveyance forward. People born in these signs are active, often ambitious and like to generate momentum in any group of people in which they are found. Individuals with the majority of planets in the cardinals will be constantly seeking to move forward in life. When positive, the cardinal signs are very keen to use their creative drive to accomplish their envisioned aims and goals. This trait becomes negative when such ambitions are purely selfish, opportunistic and egocentric in nature.
Fixed signs are determined in nature. In terms of the wheel, they represent the hub. It is the hub that brings integration and wholeness to the wheel. It is the center around which the rest of the mechanism moves. All four of these signs are willful and determined to maintain their positions or desires in all of life’s situations. Individuals with the majority of planets in the fixed quadruplicity are always endeavoring to establish themselves at the center of activities. Their personal values are extremely important to them. When positive, people of these signs are loyal, reliable, patient and persistent. When negative, the fixed traits become opinionated, inflexible, inert, lazy, and resistant to change.
Mutable signs are changeable in nature. They tend to be communicative and reach out into life in order to augment experience. In effect, people of the mutable signs tend to be active and busy. In terms of the wheel, they represent the spokes, reaching out with many arms in a wide radius of expression. Mutable sign people prefer variation to repetition, versatility over predictability, difference over sameness. There is often a longing for movement, a need to travel, and the urge to be constantly occupied. As a result, mutable sign people also tend to be restless and nervous. When positive, they can adapt themselves to any situation, make the most out of the least, and easily learn new methods and techniques that help them in life. When negative, they tend to be wasteful, indiscriminate, exaggerating things out of proportion while they magnify details and are blind to the whole.
When we attempt to interpret a chart, it is very important for us to note the element and quality of each of the planetary placements.