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Want to learn more about how to do astrology? You've come to the right place!

Elements and Qualities in Astrology

Ashley Thiessen

Now that you've gotten a Natal Chart, you can dive into some actual lessons about astrology. We'll start with the basics, since that seems like the most obvious place to start.

Each Sign is made up of two things: the Element and the Quality. The Element (Fire, Earth, Air, and Water) describes the basic component present in the sign, while the Quality (Cardinal, Fixed, Mutable) describes how that Element is being expressed. Put four and three together and you get twelve possible combinations, as seen in the chart below:

4 Elements x 3 Qualities = 12 Signs!


The four classical Elements originated in Ancient Greece, but since their inception have been present in related philosophy, medicine, spirituality, and religion from Europe to Japan and back for nearly 1500 years. Across time and culture they have became symbols for the basic building blocks of everything in the universe, from states of matter, to the medicinal humours, directions on a map, platonic solids, and so on. Fundamentally, everything is said to be made up of the four Elements. And that, in one way or another, includes people.

In astrology each Element (also called a triplicity) stands for a piece of a person, as so:

  • FIRE is the SOUL It is alive with energy, drive, confidence, aggression, recklessness, and sexuality. Here is your thirst for adventure, fun, and excitement, the part of you that is driven for happiness and fulfillment. This is the element of creativity and self-expression; the ego-driven, self-important, inner child whose lust for life and endless stores of energy are uninhibited.
  • EARTH is the BODY Living in the real, physical, material world makes this element one of practicality and sensuality. This element is more grounded, serious, anxious, and more concerned with safety and security than anything else. Here is a love of nature, good food, wealth, a nice home, a stable income, a love of sensual pleasure, and a deeply held fear of unexpected change.
  • AIR is the MIND What we commonly recognize as the most "human" part of ourselves, what sets us apart is our human consciousness and advanced ways of thinking. This element is the most logical, intellectual, and rational among them, more concerned with problem-solving and advancing society in a positive way. it is also talkative, social, and relationship-oriented, even though it is largely detached emotionally. 
  • WATER is the EMOTION One of the most deeply personal, this is the element of human emotion, of compassion, empathy, spirituality, and physic intuition. Water has no shape, taking on the structure of whatever container it is in; in this way, your emotions reflect and react to what is going on around you. This element is not highly social, but these relationships are deeply personal, emotional, private, and formed through loyalty and trust. 


Whereas an Element is the basic building block itself, you can think of the Quality as the energy infused into the Element, showing how it being expressed. Qualities (also called modalities, quadruplicities, or modes) seem to have cropped up in medieval Europe, where they were derived from the Three Principles of Alchemy

  • SULFUR is CARDINAL Every seasonal cycle starts with a Cardinal sign. These signs are leaders, authorities, initiators, and directors. These signs are all alphas in their own way. They are enterprising, outgoing, author their own destiny, and take over other people. Even if they are more subtle about it, the dominant Cardinal energy is there.
  • SALT is FIXED After the initial beginning the season is sustained by a Fixed sign. This is the quality that maintains and keeps on building. Reliable, loyal, strong, and persistent, they have a hard time changing or letting go of anything. Most often they are characterized by their stubbornness, attachment to the things that are "theirs", and their determination in getting what they want. 
  • MERCURY is MUTABLE The season eventually ends with a Mutable sign. Hence, this is the quality of versatility, adaptability, and changeability. At once restless and directionless, these signs tend to become inconsistent, unreliable, and scattered. But they are excellent in service and communication roles, and their flexibility leads them to become valuable omegas to any group they are a part of.


This image was made by the lovely  Kaleidoscope . She is the same person who designed my logo for this site! 

This image was made by the lovely Kaleidoscope. She is the same person who designed my logo for this site! 

As you can see from this diagram, everything cycles. Starting with Aries, the pattern around the wheel is Fire, Earth, Air, Water, with each element transforming into the following one. At the same time it also goes Cardinal, Fixed, Mutable, with each Quality turning into the next one in line. This order is very important, as it is the natural flow from one to the next. We will be going more in-depth into these ideas as the series progresses. But for now, just take a moment to look over this diagram and take in the patterns you see, and notice how this circle matches up with the grid at the top of this article. 


On the Natal Chart you got from Astrodiest you can see this little box:

Go ahead and take a look at what yours looks like now. That's Cardinal, Fixed, and Mutable in the vertical columns and Fire, Air, Earth, and Water in the horizontal ones. Ignoring (for now) the AC, MC, and True Node symbols, look at how many planets you have in each Element and every Quality. 

In a perfectly balanced chart that uses 12 planets (the 10 original ones, plus Ceres and Chiron), you would have 3 or 4 in each Element. If you only have between 0-2 you are low in that Element; 5+ and you are high in that Element. As you can see in my chart, I am low in Fire and Water, very high in Earth, and about average in Air. 

You would also have about 4 or 5 in each Quality. 0-3 would be low, 6+ would be high. I am about average in Cardinal, but very high in Fixed and low in Mutable. 

How does your chart line up? Are you perfectly balanced on all sides? It's definitely possible, and if you are, you are very lucky! But most people score higher in one area than another.

Too much of one Element and not enough of another and you become unaligned, unbalanced. And you need to then work extra hard on growing the Elements you are missing and trimming down what you already have an abundance of. Your Qualities need to be balanced too. Your need Cardinal to get things moving, fixed to get things done, and Mutable to allow for some flexibility and adaptability. Take any of these out, or throw in too much of another, and your energy becomes too dominant, too ridged, or too scattered in turn. 

For several hundred years Western medicine was founded on the idea that the human body was made up of the four humours, themselves symbols of the four Elements. Good health and well-being came from achieving internal balance, and it was imbalance between your internal elements that caused you pain and sickness and suffering. This idea was combined with medicinal astrology and flourished until European enlightenment and new advances in science revolutionized how we view medicine. We no longer use the four humours in regards to actually treating illness, nor should we. But this basic philosophy - that we are made up of the four Elements, and that we need to keep them balanced within ourselves for optimal heath - is one of the key tenets in using astrology as a tool for self-betterment. 

You need to feed your Body (earth) with healthy food, deep sleep, and exercise, which we all know. But you also need to feed your Earthiness with routine, financial stability, sensual pleasures, and a connection to the Earth itself. You need to nourish your Soul (fire) with fun activities, new adventures, creative self-expression, and an outlet for your energy. Your Mind (air) needs interesting things to think about, people to talk to, problems to solve, and a community to belong to. And your Emotions (water) need to be felt, understood, and accepted compassionately by you and the people you love. Being healthy in a holistic way means viewing yourself as a whole, interconnected person, and knowing that yes, you need to take care of your physical body, but you also need to care about your mental health, your emotional health, and being happy!


In the next seven articles in this series we will be talking a close look at each Element and Quality in turn. We will examine their descriptions and symbolism, reflect upon their cycles, and learn how to balance yourself if you are too high or too low. Having a very thorough understanding of these basic components will make everything you learn later on much easier, so go out and do as much independent research as you can. You can start by watching the video I made about this article, or clicking on any of the articles below to start reading!