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Qualities and Elements

Certain signs of the zodiac share common features and attributes, allowing them to be grouped together in a variety of ways. The most common of these divide the twelve signs into groups of three, four and six signs, as detailed below.

Quadruplicities or Qualities

Each of the signs of the zodiac has one of three qualities: cardinal, fixed or mutable. In this way, the twelve signs are divided into three quadruplicites of four signs each.

Cardinal Signs: Aries
Aries
Capricorn
Capricorn
Libra
Libra
Cancer
Cancer
Fixed Signs: Leo
Leo
Taurus
Taurus
Aquarius
Aquarius
Scorpio
Scorpio
Mutable Signs: Sagittarius
Sagittarius
Virgo
Virgo
Gemini
Gemini
Pisces
Pisces

The quadruplicities describe modes of activity and behavior, reflecting the three-fold principle that objects or events are created or initiated, reach some kind of stability, then change.

  • The cardinal signs are initiators, capable of understanding potentials and starting new ventures (though not necessarily seeing them through).
  • The fixed signs are tenacious and reliable, single-minded and stubborn.
  • The mutable signs are adaptable and resourceful, seeking variety and synthesis.

Triplicities or Elements

Each of the signs also reflects the qualities of one of the four elements: Fire, Earth, Air and Water. The elements divide the signs into four triplicities of three signs each:

Fire Signs: Aries
Aries
Leo
Leo
Sagittarius
Sagittarius
Earth Signs: Capricorn
Capricorn
Taurus
Taurus
Virgo
Virgo
Air Signs: Libra
Libra
Aquarius
Aquarius
Gemini
Gemini
Water Signs: Cancer
Cancer
Scorpio
Scorpio
Pisces
Pisces

The triplicities describe temperament through their links to the elemental components of nature expounded by the ancients.

  • The fire signs are active, self-assertive, creative, energetic and impatient.
  • The earth signs are practical, careful, reliable and resolute.
  • The air signs are intelligent, communicative, sociable, versatile and unpredictable.
  • The water signs are emotional, intuitional, sympathetic and imaginative.

What the Zodiac Expresses

Now that the quadruplicities and triplicities have been introduced, the signs of the zodiac can be seen as an embodiment of the mutual interaction between the qualities and the elements: a cyclical expression of each quality acting through each element, with every combination covered and none repeated (3 x 4 = 12). This can readily be seen from our illustrations of the signs, where each background indicates the quality of the sign and the color of the sign's symbol shows its element:

  Fire Signs Earth Signs Air Signs Water Signs
Cardinal Signs Aries
Aries
Capricorn
Capricorn
Libra
Libra
Cancer
Cancer
Fixed Signs Leo
Leo
Taurus
Taurus
Aquarius
Aquarius
Scorpio
Scorpio
Mutable Signs Sagittarius
Sagittarius
Virgo
Virgo
Gemini
Gemini
Pisces
Pisces

The number three relates to Heaven and the higher realms, not just through the concept of trinity but also as the vertical axis of three-dimensional space; and the number four pertains to the Earth and the manifest realms, partly through its relation to the square and the four directions of two-dimensional space. Twelve is thus a number of totality, expressing the multiplicative possibilities of Heaven and Earth as well as Heaven in a new mode (12 and 3 are numerologically equivalent, as 1 + 2 = 3). Hence the zodiac can be seen as expressing totality (the twelve signs) through the mutual interplay of two forces (the qualities of the higher realms and the elements of the earthly ones), making it a Western counterpart to yin-yang and the trigrams of the I Ching.

Masculine and Feminine Signs

The signs may also be divided into two groups of six: masculine and feminine (yang and yin). The masculine signs are the fire and air signs, and are active, extroverted and apt to take the initiative. The feminine signs are the earth and water signs, and are passive, introverted and reactive.

Masculine Signs: Aries
Aries
Leo
Leo
Sagittarius
Sagittarius
Libra
Libra
Aquarius
Aquarius
Gemini
Gemini
Feminine Signs: Capricorn
Capricorn
Taurus
Taurus
Virgo
Virgo
Cancer
Cancer
Scorpio
Scorpio
Pisces
Pisces