Four elements, from earth, through water and air to fire. From the densest and most solid to the lightest and most subtle. We explore the meanings of the four elements in western astrology and how they can help us understand the 12 signs.
Earth, the densest of the four ancient elements.
The most associated with the material plane, concerned with physical reality.
Earth, our planet, our mother. Our physical possessions.
The Element Earth relates both to the world of traditional agriculture and also to the modern world of finance.
Fixed earth. The soil. The place where plants grow. The earth that needs water in order to be fertile. The earth that needs to lie fallow from time to time to save it from depletion.
Mutable earth. The fruits of the earth. The harvest. What can be traded, bought and sold.
Cardinal earth. The state that builds silos to store grain in case of a poor harvest and to seed next year’s crops. The banking and insurance systems that provide the finance to support the farmers and the agricultural cycle.
Taurus: The farmer
Virgo: The trader
Capricorn: The financier
The 3 earth signs can also be related to the three functions of money in modern economic theory.
Taurus: The store of value.
A society needs a way to store wealth. That can be gold or jewellery or works of art. But money has the advantage that it is generally accepted as a convenient store of wealth that doesn’t deteriorate.
In astrological terms, Taurus is ruled by Venus, the planet of love, the planet of beauty, the planet of ‘that which I hold dear’, in other words the planet of value.
Virgo: A medium of exchange.
Without money we would have to rely on barter. For example, I have chickens, you have apples. We do an exchange. But if you don’t need my chickens or I don’t need your apples, no deal. Barter depends on this ‘double coincidence of wants’ – you need what I have and I need what you have. While money facilitates the whole business of exchange by being something that can be easily transported and that everyone will accept.
Virgo is ruled by Mercury, not only the communicator, but also the trader, the merchant, whose business is to do with exchange and who needs a means that facilitates exchange.
Capricorn: The unit of accounting
To determine the relative value of a good or a service we need a standard way to measure value. Something that allows value of a good or service to be compared. Money has this function.
Capricorn is ruled by Saturn in that Saturn’s insistence on responsibility and accountability is a crucial part of Capricorn’s role as providing the underlying structure to the world of business.
Water cleanses and heals. Heals by cleansing.
Each water sign heals in its own way, from Cancer, to Scorpio to Pisces.
Each deeper than the one before.
Water heals infection, eliminates toxins, removes putrefaction, aids the natural processes of elimination.
Trust your body’s ability to heal itself. All it needs is rest and comfort, to allow itself to be wrapped warm and protected so that the gentle being within you may grow and strengthen till it is ready to face the world again.
Ruled by the moon, the celestial mother whose instinct for protection and caring creates safety for all her children.
Why are you holding on to that which is destroying you? The toxic thoughts that you repeat to yourself, affirming and reaffirming the feelings of guilt and worthlessness – the putrefaction and trauma that have been handed down to you, generation after generation. I shall share my fearlessness with you and accompany you into the darkness to rescue the damaged, frightened child that you were. I shall show you the poison that has buried itself in your soul. But I shall not release you. You shall release yourself.
Ruled by Pluto, lord of the underworld, the god that takes you to the depths of yourself in order to transform you. The god that requires total surrender of all desire in order for you to achieve. Who requires loss in order for you to gain. Who requires the destruction of the old so that new may grow in its place.
I will show you the way to know solitude and not feel alone. Know that you can share your tears with me. (Knowing – unspoken, silent knowing.) That your pain flows into me and out like breath into the universe. My mercy allows you to be merciful to yourself. My forgiveness allows you to forgive yourself. I shall stay with you even as you curse me and push me away – for you are part of me.
Ruled by Neptune, the planet whose imagination knows no limits. Whose understanding of the oneness of creation is beyond language, beyond thought.
Thought, intellect, communication, logic, ideas.
Without air fire cannot burn. Breath is the first independent act of the new-born child. For the ancient Egyptians the ankh symbolised breath or life force. In Hebrew the word nefesh means soul, mind, psyche, person, spirit or breath.
Air needs to move, to flow from one place to another, from one state to another, from high pressure to low pressure. Heated it rises, cooling it falls. It carries messages coded as sounds, smells, atmospheres. It is the medium of communication for language. Even being live on radio or TV is described as being ‘on air’. The airwaves so-called are in fact electromagnetic but we call them airwaves for want of a better name.
But air is more than a medium for trivial chatter. It is logic, organised thought, the construction of a philosophical or legal argument, the abstract principles according to which we conduct relationships and resolve disputes.
The sign of the twins is about more than the fact that twins share the womb. It is about the polarity created by the duad. Sharing ideas means accepting and negotiating the differences between A and B where A and B have different points of view. The duad also opens up the possibility of games for two, of competition, of rivalry, of winning and losing.
It is also to do with the dualistic thinking that has its roots in Aristotelian thought, that distinguishes the observer from the observed, mind from body, that sees man as separate from nature. It is the binary relationship between zero and one, between signifier and signified.
Even in the grammar of many languages, it is the distinction between subject and object. ‘The dog bit the man,’ parses as ‘the dog’, subject, ‘the man’, object. In other languages the structure might be non-dualistic, “There was dog-man-biting,” or “Dog-man-biting occurred,” without any emphasis on the duality of subject and object, of dog and man, just giving us one unified act to be understood from experience and context.
Gemini is ruled by Mercury the messenger of the gods. His attributes are quickness of thought and also, as the patron of thieves, the ability to deceive. For language can be used to mislead as well as to elucidate.
While Gemini deals with the logic of ‘either-or’, Libra deals with ‘both-and’. Above all, Libra, as the sign of the scales or balance, looks for fairness and compromise.
The clearest illustration of the principles of Libra can be found In Chinese philosophy where the well-known taijitu or ‘yin-yang’ symbol represents the union of opposites. It takes the distinction implied in the duality of yin and yang: yin dark, yang bright; yin inner, yang outer etc and shows not only an embrace of the two equal principles but also that yin is at the heart of yang and yang is at the heart of yin.
Rather than declaring a winner and loser when resolving disputes, Libra looks for common ground. It determines what both parties want and uses that as a basis for arbitration to find the best solution that satisfies both sides.
It should be apparent that Libra’s approach is essentially slower and more painstaking than Gemini’s. Libra needs to weigh all the options to be sure that a balanced outcome is achieved, something that satisfies both parties as much as possible. This can take time.
Ruled by Venus, Libra’s sense of balance and fairness is complemented by Venus’ concern with beauty and harmony.
While Gemini deals with contradiction and Libra deals with compromise, Aquarius takes a more transcendent approach:
• We start with a thesis: a statement or theory that is put forward as a premise to be maintained or proved.
• Then we confront the thesis with its opposite, the antithesis which negates or contradicts the thesis.
• Then we resolve the contradiction by finding a higher level of truth that transcends the contradiction between thesis and antithesis – the synthesis.
Often the synthesis can be reached by challenging the assumptions that underpin both the thesis and the antithesis.
• Thesis: Group A says, “This land belongs to us”.
• Antithesis: Group B says, “This land doesn’t belong to Group A, it belongs to us.”
• Synthesis: The idea that land can belong to anyone is mistaken. The land doesn’t belong to anyone and can be shared by all.
This example illustrates what is sometimes called Dialectical Thinking. But this word has many different uses in philosophy. Here we are using it in Hegel’s sense.
There’s another master who argues by challenging the assumptions behind the different positions, the Indian philosopher, Krishnamurti.
Until Uranus was discovered in the late 18th century, Aquarius was considered to be ruled by Saturn. While Saturn’s rulership bestowed a sense of logical structure on the air sign, Uranus’ rulership introduced a change in thinking, challenging and disrupting accepted ideas.
The cauldron, the crucible of experience in which we are transformed.
Not the mere ideas of air, the insubstantial ether of communication but the transforming power of life, the burning fiery furnace through which we walk, praising God, to emerge unharmed. For we are spirit, for our spiritual essence is fire and through the fire of experience we become who we are.
Socrates is reported as saying, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” In the context we are creating here, no matter how much you experience (fire), unless you examine (air) it is of no value.
But then some wag turned it round and said, “The unlived life is not worth examining.” Or if you haven’t lived and experienced, you have nothing to examine.
To bring these two statements together, there is a reciprocal relationship between experience and examination of the experience. Just as there is a reciprocal relationship between fire and air. Fire needs air to burn. Too much air and fire gets out of control. Air without fire is cold and static. Air needs fire to get it moving.
The first sign in the zodiac is the sign of the initiator, the pioneer. Aries starts the fire, gets things going.
Mars, the ruler of Aries is the decision maker, the one who gives impulse to action.
This fixed sign sustains the fire, tends it and keeps it fed, making sure it doesn’t burn out. Leo’s fire creates a welcoming space where we can sit together and be warm.
Leo is ruled by the sun, the hearth and heart, the central flame of our solar system.
Mutable sign that uses the inspiration of fire to teach, to spread knowledge, lighting our path, acting as a beacon, guiding us on our journeys.
Ruled by Jupiter, the largest planet in the solar system. Jupiter as Zeus was the king of the gods in Ancient Greece. In India he is known as Guru. In Cabbala he is associated with the sephira, Chesed, the compassionate teacher.
Aries, the initiator, starts the fire.
Leo feeds and sustains the fire – warming and gladdening us.
Sagittarius uses the fire, spreading, teaching – the beacon, guiding us.
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