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
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.
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:
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:
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.