The 4 Elements
The 4 Elements of Earth, Air, Fire and Water, according to Aristotle, were different aspects of a single substance called “primary matter”. In Asian philosophy there are 5 Elements. Ancient philosophers of both systems considered “The Elements” to be essential energies that permeated all of existence. The 4 Elements are modified by astrology’s 3 Modes.
In traditional Western astrology there are four triplicities based on the classical elements. Beginning with the first sign Aries which is a Fire sign, the next in line Taurus is Earth, then to Gemini which is Air, and finally to Cancer which is Water – in Western astrology the sequence is always Fire, Earth, Air, & Water in that exact order (except in sidereal astrology, where currently Pisces is the first sign). This cycle continues on twice more and ends with the twelfth and final astrological sign, Pisces. The elemental rulerships for the twelve astrological signs of the zodiac (according to Marcus Manilius) are summarised as follows:
Fire – Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius – hot, dry; ardent
Earth – Taurus, Virgo, and Capricorn – cold, dry; heavy
Air – Gemini, Libra, and Aquarius – hot, wet; light
Water – Cancer, Scorpio, and Pisces – cold, wet; soft
Triplicity rulerships are a very important essential dignity – one of the several factors used by traditional astrologers to weigh the strength, effectiveness and integrity of each planet in a chart. Many Hellenistic astrologers considered triplicity rulership the most powerful and demonstrable of the several essential dignities of a planet.
In traditional astrology, each triplicity has two rulers, which change with the “sect” – that is, whether the chart is a day chart or a night chart.
Day Ruler Night Ruler
Fire – Aries, Leo, Sagittarius: Sun Jupiter
Air – Gemini, Libra, Aquarius: Saturn Mercury
Earth – Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn: Venus Moon
Water – Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces: Mars Mars
Traditional astrology also organize triplicities according to the actual season in which the zodiac rose. For example, Aries, Taurus, and Gemini appear during the spring season. The triplicities of seasonal elements in ancient astrology were the following:
Spring – Earth – Taurus, Capricorn, Virgo
Summer – Fire – Leo, Aries, Sagittarius
Autumn – Air – Aquarius, Libra, Gemini
Winter – Water – Cancer, Pisces, Scorpio
Knowing each sign’s element tells us much about how that particular sign interprets its surroundings, what is its natural orientation toward life in general, and what is the lens it uses to assess reality. Each element represents a basic quality of consciousness that contributes to our personal awareness. It acts like a psychological sense organ, and describes how we are apt to perceive both our inner world and outer environment.
Elements are the four filters we use to interpret whats happening to us. They describe how we naturally perceive the people and things around us, as well as how we understand our internal drives and urges. Ideally, we need to partake of the insights afforded by each astrological element, even if only certain ones actually dominate our basic, day-to-day temperament.
The 4 elements of astrology all have equal value and are interdependent, although in a manner not always obvious at first. They also unfold in a meaningful sequence. There is an intelligent reason why from Aries to Pisces, all around the zodiac – fire always starts each cycle and water always completes it.
The 12 zodiac signs are thus divided into these four categories. Each element is associated with three zodiac signs. The fire signs are Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius. This immediately tells us that these three share something in common that the remaining nine signs do not. The earth signs are Taurus, Virgo, and Capricorn. The air signs are Gemini, Libra, and Aquarius, and the water signs are Cancer, Scorpio, and Pisces.
Many standard traits possessed by each sign are very much the result of its elemental makeup, especially at its core level. They reflect a sign’s innate qualities, although such features can be molded, even distorted, by the constant pressures of social programming. It’s impossible to find any of us doing a pure expression of any element, untainted by unconscious, collective attitudes and assumptions that we’ve likely adopted. The 4 elements in astrology are core energy patterns and states of consciousness (certain ways of being). Everyone has all four resident in their psyches, but only a few are emphasized.
Fiery Signs are motivated by desire and ideals, and exude a great deal of inspiration, warmth, and energy. Active and confident, they have great enthusiasm for life, however, they are often impractical and insensitive. Lacking a solid connection with their bodies, they may be somewhat accident prone.
Earthy People are drawn to the material world, and are concerned with details and results. Attuned to their physical bodies, they are often cautious, rational and disciplined, and find it difficult to relate to the intangible realm of ideals and dreams.
Airy Individuals live and breathe in a world of ideas. They are verbally expressive, endlessly curious with rich inner lives. Too active to concern themselves with the mundane and “nitty-gritty”, they have a difficult time translating their ideas and dreams into reality.
Watery Souls may drown in their emotional currents and deep fears, living below the surface of outward appearances. Sensitive, receptive, imaginative, accepting of unconscious motivations and “other” realities, they are moody, irrational, intensely passionate and lack objectivity about their lives and relationships.
Everyone has their own unique blend of these various elements. For instance, Fire and Water blows the lid off, Fire and Earth equals head-long determination, and Water and Air are pure, nervous energy. We can hope for more comfortable pairings. Fire and Air consume and feed each other, while Earth and Water absorb and shape each other.
The 3 Modes – Cardinal, Fixed, and Mutable – introduce the dimension of change. The Cardinal mode is creative energy that radiates outward. The Fixed mode takes that new energy and builds a recognizable form. Radiating inward, it creates a strong center that resists change. The Mutable mode is adaptable and less defined and ordered. It moves and seeks change in consciousness or action.
Each of the 4 elements manifests in all three modes. Fire/Cardinal (Aries) is the essence of creation – forging “all things new”. This force of nature can initiate but does not have the staying power to handle the details and hard work required to produce results. The following evolutions of the soul require the Fixed signs to finish the job.
Water/Mutable (Pisces) is the Zodiac’s “Dream Lover”. Inhabiting the deepest, darkest abyss of emotions and fantasies, this sign is powerless in the face of the tides and currents of everyday life that require “rational” thought. These are the people who dream of things that never were and say, “Why not?” Handing the “idea” off to a Fire sign, the cycle begins again.
Medieval European scholars accepted the theory of the 4 Elements as the supreme authority on all physical matters for nearly two thousand years. The ancient Greeks related human personality types to the elements as: Sanguine (wet & hot), Choleric (hot & dry), Melancholic (dry & cold), and Phlegmatic (cold & wet).
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