Astrology is based around the 12 signs of the Zodiac, but more basic than that are the 4 elements, Fire, Earth, Air and Water, into which the signs are divided. They are called the Triplicities, because 3 signs belong to each element: there are 3 Earth signs, 3 Water signs and so on. The Quadruplicities are the qualities of Cardinal, Fixed and Mutable, and 4 signs belong to each of those.
Just in case you are starting to think I am technically proficient at astrology, I’d better let you know that I had to remind myself what the Quadruplicities and Triplicities are before I wrote this! I was chatting a few weeks ago to an author, who includes astronomy/astrology in his writing, and he was talking about the Sidereal Zodiac, and I thought Oh shit, he’s talking to me as a knowledgeable astrology writer, and I can’t remember what Sidereal means! So I nodded as though I knew what he was talking about, but he kept using the term, so eventually I said I can’t remember what Sidereal means! And then he told me and I remembered, it’s that 23 degree thing that the Indians take into account and which I know perfectly well, it’s just that I’d forgotten what it was called.
Anyway, what I’m going to write about the elements – and I don’t yet know what I’m going to write – is unauthoritative. It will not be taken from a book by a reputable author, it will be just what comes out of my head as I write!
What I like about the 4 elements is that they bring us back to a very basic and early way of experiencing the world. I use the word experience. The modern elements – Hydrogen, Oxygen, Uranium etc – are not something we experience. They are something we are told about. All ‘important’ knowledge is like that these days: it is not something we experience, it is something we are told about by Science. In that sense, it is no different to medieval Christianity, where the priests were the experts on angels and heaven and hell, and ordinary people took as a straightforward reality something they did not actually experience. And I’m not sure the priests experienced it either.
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Knowledge and power are intertwined, and a way to have power over people is to persuade them to believe something they don’t experience. The modern priests, the scientists, not even they actually experience phenomena like cell biology, the ozone hole, atoms, quantum reality etc. It’s belief, not knowledge.
I was at a seminar years ago, and the person leading it, a highly regarded astrologer, said I was playing games when I said that motion is relative, and that it is just as valid to say the Sun and the planets go round the earth as it is to say they all go round the Sun. As if ‘really’ we all go round the Sun and it is a mathematical game to suggest otherwise.
But actually there is a profound point about the nature of truth within what I was saying. It might seem like I was playing with abstractions versus common sense, but in fact it was the other way round. I was using the abstract language of physics to argue for experience over theory. Our experience is that the Sun, Moon and planets go round the earth. We are told otherwise. And who has actually observed the planets going round the Sun? The odd astronaut? But would that be their experience, or would it be like when you are in a stationary train, and one starts up alongside, and your experience is that it is you that is moving? And then you change your mind?
So which is true: that which we experience, or that which we are told is true? This is a huge point. And I don’t think it is completely either/or. Science does have claims to truth. Partly because some of its stories, like Evolution and the Big Bang have an elegance and a compelling quality to them. That is what makes them true to my mind, like any good creation myth, rather than so-called ‘evidence’. But science also has claims to truth because its theories lead to practical results, and it would be dis-something or other to ignore that.
In fact, the practical results of science have been so spectacular that it is understandable that we should start placing other people’s theories, which by and large we don’t understand, above personal experience. And this scoops us out. Truth is ‘out there’, in the hands of other people, rather than within, in our own ability to know, which we have forgotten.
So I think astrology should to stick to its ancient guns and maintain that the Sun, Moon and planets go round the earth. (Even the earth as a sphere is an abstraction for most of us. Our experience is that it is flat!) I don’t like it when I read astrologers describing retrograde motion as being due to the ‘apparent’ motion of the planets round the earth. No, the planets really do go round the earth, I know that because I experience it, and I’m not going to let a theorist tell me otherwise. And worse still, have that theory promoted to the level of ‘common sense’.
So coming full circle, this is why I like the 4 elements of Fire, Earth, Air and Water. They are where astrology begins. They are primordial, we have an ancient experiential relationship with them. The planets – well, we can observe them, but we can’t taste them, they are not quite so real, apart perhaps from the Sun and Moon. The signs of the Zodiac are another step towards abstraction, though the myths behind them can speak to us powerfully.
And when you look at a chart, the Elements can be the first thing to look at. And you can work out for yourself what the elements mean. They are something we experience strongly, but they also have a lot of ancient symbolism behind them that we have unknowingly inherited. That is a great combination for the imagination/ intuition to work at.
And I tend to use the personal planets and the Asc for the elemental nature of someone. Someone’s elemental nature, I like that. It means kind of raw, natural, full of life force, before the sophistications get hold. I don’t use the outer planets because they are not part of our ordinary personality, and anyway their elements are generational. I think the elements function differently there, a watery Neptune (like I have) doesn’t make me personally watery. It makes me transpersonally watery, particularly as it is next to my Node: in an ordinary social setting, I have to remind myself to be aware of others’ feelings; but it feels very natural to do readings etc for people, it’s just what I do.
And it’s particularly the ‘big three’ that I use, Sun, Moon and Asc, to assess the elements. In fact, I use those 3 as the basis of the reading, and draw everything else in around them. Keep it simple, and then really plumb the symbolism within that simplicity.
So Mr Obama has Sun in Leo, Asc in Aquarius and Moon in Gemini. So he is Fire, Air and Air. As a campaigner, what we saw (in his first election) was Fire, the enticing vision of the future, the boldness of this man who had risen from nowhere and taken on the heir apparent, Hillary Clinton, and defied the conventional black political thinking. A man who didn’t ask us to think, but to imagine and to hope. And then, once he was President, the stronger Air element came to the fore. The man thinks, he is an intellectual, even an academic who on a personal level is not very connected to people. But who at the same time can communicate clearly. Everything he says is considered.
Fire does not think, in a way it does not need to. Fully formed ideas that can take us into the future present themselves to the fire mind and emerge as poetry. I am Air Fire Fire. If I have an idea, I tend to act on it and think later. I have had to learn when not to do this, to think things through. But sometimes it is best just to act, the intuition is there that this is a good thing and that it will unfold, and thinking can just get in the way. My blog began in this way, it took about 24 hours from having the idea to having the blog. My current travelling astrologer idea, which could change everything, took about 8 hours from conception to acting on it. But when I’m writing, though Fire always begins the process, a single idea taking wing, Air predominates, I spend time ensuring the words are right and that logic is present.
Tony Blair has Sun in Taurus and Moon in Aquarius trine Mars Rising in Gemini. So Earth Air Air. And words were his strength. He was a great Parliamentary performer. He always had the words for an occasion, like calling Diana ‘The People’s Princess’ when she died. But he was also cautious, and that is the Sun in Taurus. As he said, he campaigned in poetry and governed in prose. He did not do as much as he could in his first term – when the wind is with you – through caution. But the economy flourished – that is practical, money-loving Taurus. And he had no personal water in his chart, and this came out later in his ability to ignore popular feeling in his Iraq War policy. He had 12th House Sun, so he was an actor, he could simulate emotion, as in Diana’s death.
The 4 elements are also a repeating series. They begin with Fire, as in Aries, the beginning of life, a new idea or being or course of action that is charged, it is full of life and potential. Then that seed finds form in Earth, it grounds (Fire types can sometimes find this difficult, as can Earth types the other way round, being bold and imaginative.) Then comes Air, the new being forms a relationship with the world around it, it is even able to stand back and become self-aware.
And then that experience of embodiment and relationship is processed in the Water element, the deeper parts of our being, feeling and instinct. Water is where we absorb experience and are changed by it. And then it is time for death and re-birth as a new Fire element comes in.
I said at the start that I would just write what came out of my head. Well I’ve changed my mind. I found a great description of the 4 elements by a guy called Ken Ward, and here they are:
Fire tends to go upwards, and can raise things into the clouds and beyond. The sun and the stars are fire – high in the sky! Fire cannot truly be confined, although it can be controlled. Even so, it eventually escapes into the sky. Not surprisingly, fire is associated with spirit, high ideals. Fire ideas can be very distant from the ideas of this Earth. While fire consumes, it also creates new life (forest fires remove the old and enable the new - some plants even wait for the fire to release their seeds!). Of all the elements, fire captures our attention the most. Archetypal fire goes high above the earth, is consuming, clinging and captivating and creates the new and removes the old.
Fire is raw energy.
The fire signs (triplicity) are Aries, Leo and Sagittarius.
Fiery people have high spirits, great self-confidence, enthusiasm, and direct honesty and openness. They project a radiant, vitalising energy that glows warmly. They need a good deal of freedom to express themselves so they can insist on their own point of view. They are consumed - even entranced - by whatever they do. They are motivated by excitement, insight and intuition. That is, they get an idea which captivates them. They do not consider rational or logical thinking or practical feasibility, because the idea comes to them fully formed and full of power. While the idea may grow over a period of time, it does not grow logically but grows intuitively. For this reason, sometimes fiery people do not know why they must do what they must do!
Fire appears as if from nowhere, it grabs everyone's attention, and forces its way through almost everything, consuming the air, evaporating the water and chars the earth. Even the rocks are scorched or even melted (larva).
Not surprisingly, fire people are assertive, individualistic, active, self-expressive and freedom loving. Fire sign energies can stimulate others, but they can also overpower and exhaust them. Good natured and fun-loving, they may have many friends. They are generous with their time, energy, and resources. They value having a good time above material possessions. They are generous but can be egoistic. Fiery people may believe so strongly in their own powers and abilities that they fail to notice the powers and abilities of others. This may mean that they do not give others the credit they deserve, or it may be that they underestimate their opponents. They believe that "If you want a job done well, then do it yourself". However, they belong to a group that is the most daring and capable inspiring natural leaders. They lead from the front. In war or business, they are out in the front leading the way. They are independent and individualistic leaders, rarely consulting others before they act. In fact, they may not even think things through to themselves, because their mode of thought is intuitive – the decision comes fully formed, so they may not know why it arose. They are always "on stage" and need to be recognised and admired for their attainment and accomplishments. They consider being appreciated more important than being rich. Nothing hurts them more than being ignored. The fire sign sense of honesty is straightforward and often child-like. They believe everyone is like themselves an open book. This may lead them to be gullible and naïve, or to others exploiting their openness.
The earth triplicity is Taurus, Virgo and Capricorn.
Of all the elements, the earth element is the most easy to confine and capture, to hold in the hand. It is rigid, fixed and stable. Anything that is attainable is "down to earth" and not "airy fairy", or "high in the sky". Archetypal earth is real, heavy, and the basis of all achievement. It is the foundation of all that is. Like the real earth, it is fixed, stable, organised and (sometimes) predictable. It is limited and disciplined.
Of all the elements, it is the earth that can be possessed and owned. (No one claims to own the sea, the air or fire!) It provides a solid basis for our existence (dependable and stable), yet it can rise only so far. And the higher it rises (a bolder on a mountain), the farther it has to fall, making it unstable and less reliable, so earth people are cautious about extending too far. Unlike the other elements, it cannot easily rise and almost never disappears. Fire goes out, water trickles away, and air just disappears. If earth turns to dust, however, it can rise as high as fire, even travelling to other planets. But to do so, if must forgo its limitations (having a visible shape and organisation) and let go of its fixed nature.
Earthy people are, therefore, cautious, premeditative, conventional, possessive, practical and dependable. They live by a practical, common-sense code and seek physical wellbeing rather than spiritual enlightenment, or to rise high. The expression "down to earth" sums them up. They are responsible, methodical, and concerned with detail. Children of the earth element are therefore well suited to life on this planet. They are realistic, builders and hard workers. They are pragmatic, materialistic and reductionist - they reduce everything to what is practical, useful and observable. They particularly value skills and abilities. Earth types are successful business people in the sense that they can stably manage things. While the fiery type is an innovator, the earth type is cautious and practical, being more interested in established business activities than new innovative ones. Imagination to an earth type is of realistic representations of the five senses (or a few of them). They think about what is, rather than what might be. In a way, they lack imagination. They can be too fixed to rules, regulations and procedures.