How to interpret the elements in astrology
The astrological elements are life in the raw. Fire, earth, air and water are not merely abstract categories but elemental realities. Knowing your own elemental makeup is a signpost back to that larger reality often obscured by daily life’s schedules and demands. Regardless of mental perceptions, your real nature is raw Nature.
Your astrology chart reveals your dominant element and unique balance of energies predisposing you to certain dimensions of experience. Among other things, this describes the way you distance yourself from the healing power of nature … as well as the way back.
Since the four elements are the stuff of life, they also have the power to heal. You will be predominantly an earth, water, air or fire type, yet life is the opportunity to develop the weak elements as well as the strong. This whole-making process is the healing process. A “missing” or weak element can make itself felt as a lack and vulnerability. Consciously cultivating this as an elemental strength can be like coming home to yourself.
Because the Sun’s sign represents your radiant style and solar purpose, if you wish, you can simply read that as your dominant element. Yet if you want to know more, explore the energy balance of all the planets at the time you took your first breath. This personal birth chart is easily accessed (try www.astro.com), so you may like to examine your whole astrological pattern before reading on.
To get a sense of your own picture, take particular notice of the Big Three: Sun, Moon and Ascendant. These are the keys to your element type and in that order. If all three are in different elements, check other planets — particularly Mars and Venus — as their back-up teams. Air and fire back each other up, as do earth and water.
As a rule of thumb, earth types are stoic, strong and more prone to slow-building chronic conditions, while water types are sensitive and vulnerable to moist, psychologically draining ailments. Air types are speedy, curious and prone to “nerves” and stress-related ailments, while fire types are volatile, excited and inclined to accidents, fevers and fast onset, inflamed, acute conditions.
Self-assertion, strong will, pride and ideals announce a fire sign. They have a hard task carrying the “flame of the gods”, learning the lessons of passion, containing the inner fire of spirit.
The fire element includes Leo, Sagittarius and Aries and it’s an extroverted “warm, dry and masculine element”. Aries is the hottest of these warm signs because it is the “cardinal” spontaneous action-oriented sign; Leo holds onto its fiery passions with the most determination because it is “fixed” and Sagittarius disperses and spreads fiery energy in a wide range of ideas, plans and suggestions because it is “mutable”. All fire signs have a strong will to action and to free self-expression, so are not known for their tact or patience — fire burns! They are known for their enthusiasm, energy, inspiration, high ideals and for rushing into things with childlike confidence. Fire energises, inspires and creates.
Fire’s crisis mode
The alchemical process of transformation linked to fire was called calcinatio (burning by fire). Being burned by consuming passions and frustrated desires can be a very uncomfortable form of the fiery healing crisis. Astrologer and counsellor Kat Duff, herself a Leo, wrote The Alchemy of Illness after her own physical breakdown and slow return to health. In an interview, she describes her fiery sense of invulnerability as leading her to push herself too hard and precipitate breakdown. The term “burn-out” refers to a similar process.
The headstrong rush of fire can obscure the body’s needs, while passions like rage are internally and externally destructive. Yet fire has the courage to stay in the fray, to be battered into wisdom, to keep the light of aspiration burning. Fire types soothe others with their warmth. Fire restores in simple ways — things like sunlight and laughter can heal. Open-hearted connecting is a strength that burns away petty fears.
Lack of fire
A lack of the Fire element can show itself as a lack of confidence and liveliness and even as weak digestion and low energy. Challenges can evoke fear and hesitation. Faith in life can be hard to find. Our language pays homage to fire when we talk of being “all fired up”. On the other hand, a lack of fire makes spontaneous moves difficult.
Fire’s healing love
These passionate romantic idealists will confront or flame up in pride or anger — with alarming speed. Put two fire types together and it’s a combustible romance! Those who want to cool down a fiery partner will find agreement or humour work like a charm. Mostly they run hot, driven by the fire in their heart. This is the most optimistic and joyful element, so getting a little singed comes with the territory. Fire stirs romantic dreams and energises the true adventure into the heart. Sexual and spiritual healing can merge.
Solid, steady strides, self-control, ambition and determination announce an earth sign. They have a challenging task embracing reality with all its faults, tending to the task of life in the material plane, nurturing ambition.
The earth element includes Virgo, Capricorn and Taurus and it’s an introverted “feminine, cool, dry, element”. Capricorn is the most reserved and determined because it’s a “cardinal” driven sign, with formidable ambition. Taurus extends the physical senses with appreciation and pleasure, holding onto people and things, because it is “fixed”. Virgo, the “mutable” earth sign analyses and manages situations to achieve perfection, ever redesigning and serving. Earth signs have strong resistance, staying power and respect for the status quo, so they are slow to embrace change — earth builds substance.
Earth’s crisis mode
The alchemical mode of transformation linked to earth is called coagulatio, or falling into earth. Again, in common usage, we describe a reality check as “hitting rock bottom”. Naturally, the body and its mortal limits catch up with us in an earthy crisis and there will be the feeling of being stuck and restricted by physical limitations, caught in the wasteland. These crisis modes are not limited to your Sun sign element; rather, as Kat Duff says, “We slip in and out of them, back and forth among them … according to our temperamental inclinations and the requirements of our souls.”
The solidifying, constraining qualities of earth can crystallise and strangle growth, just like soil turned to desert. Yet Earth is all about getting physical, hands-on, embodying life, so earthy wisdom instils patience, regularity and discipline to make the journey of recovery. Earth types also help others in practical ways and can ground an inspiration. They can ‘hold it together’ in challenging situations that unsettle others. Realism, stability and simplicity are earthy strengths that heal with a return to natural rhythms, regular time spent in nature and an attitude of slow growth towards clearly defined goals.
Lack of earth
A lack of earth can show itself as irresponsibility and evasion, ignoring basic physical maintenance such as good food and rest. There can be a sense of being rootless and anxious, even in the face of material opportunities.
Earth’s healing love
Elemental earth gets down to business, the body’s business. Earth signs need sensuality, security and acceptance or they slowly withdraw and build barriers. Two earth types together can get stuck in routines or sensual overload. Those who want to put down roots with an earth sign had best learn patience. Earth’s slow and gentle touch soothes body and soul. Since earth is naturally stable, these signs might resist change at first but can absorb it gradually. Earth is the receptive principle that absorbs influences and yields new life. The harvest is a steady love that is realistic and tender. Sensuality can touch the soul and the earth gang know this.
Invisible, ethereal, essential — air is all these. The clear, lofty realm of the mind is air’s stamping ground and a detached, logical yet engaging style of communication announces an air sign. They are challenged to make sense of the human condition — no easy task.
The airy trio includes Libra, Gemini and Aquarius and it is a “warm moist element” of an extraverted “masculine” gender. As the “cardinal” air, Libra leads relationships, defines cooperation and likes to design the “We”. “Fixed” air Aquarius holds onto opinions and seeks to build community with great determination, while “mutable” Gemini is the perpetual youth who enjoys the mind play and gathers a variety of information and experience. The not-so-charming side of air, commonly referred to as “an airhead”, may avoid and rationalise their own emotions while evaluating others like a butterfly on a pin. Yet air makes the connections and oils the works of social life and learning.
Air’s crisis mode
The alchemical process of transformation linked to air is called sublimatio, or rising into air. During air’s healing crisis we try to rise above the situation. As Duff writes, “Transcendence on the one hand and isolation and detachment on the other.” This can be the physical numbness trauma invokes, or stepping out of the body into the head. If this manifests as philosophical acceptance, that can be healing, but the extreme of mental denial invites a flip into an opposite state such as fiery anger or emotional disintegration.
Too much air exhausts the nervous system with an overload of interests and activities. Yet talking, playing with ideas, learning new things, socialising and cooperating with others to gain the gift of many minds are essential aspects of a dynamic society. These air-sign strengths are healing for the human social animal and air provides balance via this natural tribal impulse and quest to know.
Lack of air
A lack of air can show itself as someone who is excessively subjective, uncooperative and threatened by new ideas. There can be resistance to articulating ideas and reasons, even outright suspicion of reflection as a mode of thinking. As astrologer/psychologist Stephen Arroyo explains, the nervous system can be weak and there can be “a lack of satisfaction in close relationships stemming from the inability to cooperate effectively”.
Air’s healing love
These charming signs live in the mental stratosphere of their own ideas. Your ideas are welcome, too — the more the merrier. Air signs are the society builders who seek relationships, communication and to explore human ingenuity. Two air types together is a very busy combo indeed. Gemini, Libra and Aquarius are essentially shape shifters who ride the currents of social life. Their occasionally rigid rationality can be softened by humour and by getting small tastes of how good letting go can feel. Air is the element that evokes self-analysis and a reflective approach, which heals misunderstandings. Air shines the light of reason onto challenging situations and honours friendship as the heart of love.
Fluid, nurturing and all-encompassing, water sustains life. A gentle, slightly mysterious and often shy demeanour announces a water sign. They are challenged to feel the pathos of human life and develop true compassion — a noble task.
Water includes Scorpio, Pisces and Cancer and it is an introverted, “feminine, cool, moist element”. Water follows an inward path that flows deep. Cancer is “cardinal”, so is driven to protect and nurture family and home, while “fixed” Scorpio focuses the willpower to achieve powerful desires. “Mutable” Pisces is more oceanic in their ability to embrace a changing array of feelings, projects and causes.
The alchemical mode of transformation linked to water is called solutio, or dissolving in water. Great surges of emotion, crying, confusion, anxiety and disintegration can make this a very overpowering state. Blood and water cells act as magnetic and receptive forces within the body. The water function stores impressions and anxieties for a long time, which is why the crisis mode can literally wash us away.
Water is introverted and well aware of the potential for pain when the heart’s needs are naked for all to see, so water types have a natural self-protection. While this strong security urge can create timidity, manipulation or deception at times, it’s also a true repository of caring and giving and loving. This is the realm of the fertile yin, which nourishes all life and flows into every little nook and cranny of feelings. Tolerance, intuition and tenderness make water the gardener of life.
Lack of water
A lack of water can show itself as a lack of sympathy for the feelings of others, an overly formal style of interacting, fear of psychic impressions and a tendency to swing between obsessive sensuality and aloofness. Since water flushes away impurities, there can be a poor sense of self-nurture and resulting toxicity.
Water’s healing love
Drawing on emotional power, depth of feeling and imagination, water is healing personified. Two water types together will sometimes feel submerged by the intensity of their feelings. Water is most finely attuned to others, to the vibrations of emotional atmospheres. We all have the potential for a healing touch and healing presence, but water types are more likely to develop this and use it in their work. Water can also heal by releasing a flow of creativity to achieve spiritual integration.
From fire sign Aries to the water of Pisces, the 12 personality types are the faces of the four elements. Brash and bold or fluid and changeable — it’s all in the stars. Different personalities are as natural as the many rivers that all reach the sea.
The catch is that opposites can repel as well as attract. For example, water runs deep, not shrinking back from any depth of feeling, while air builds bridges of communication. However, many air types will shy away from emotional scenes, deep introspection and being probed about their feelings. Air prefers to rise above the murky world of feelings, yet feelings are the other side of the coin of human relationships. It’s only elemental that love and friendship need all these and more!
The attraction of opposites is a growth opportunity, but if each partner refuses to shift gears from the most conventional form of their element, problems start. Another example of opposites is a fire sign on a mission with a deeply conventional earth sign. Too much angry heat makes earth signs dry up emotionally, like an arid desert. While fire goes hot under stress, earth goes cold and resistant. Fire’s passion turns to ashes when too much cold earth is piled on. This would be a wasted relationship opportunity as the right amount of heat is exactly what earth needs, just as plants need sunlight to grow. Fire’s heated enthusiasm can also make earth yielding, as in open to change or very turned-on. Likewise, the earthy lover’s attention to detail can make fire hang around for the slow-burn relationship.
Opposites are drawn into this archetypal dance of love to heal their lack. The healing power of love helps us to cultivate that point of the opposite type and hold it central to our heart. We can make this leap because as the Sufi poet Rumi says, “Love is the flame that, when it is kindled, burns everything away.”
References available on www.wellbeing.com.au.
Christine Broadbent is passionate about astrology and loves her work. She writes extensively and offers personal consultations in Sydney and Auckland. See www.astrologyspot.com.au for her current schedule and an archive of articles. T: (02) 9938 4382.