As you may remember from the first article on Elements and Qualities, the Qualities are derived from the Three Principles of Alchemy, and can be thought of as the 'energy' infused to each Element. The first Quality is Cardinal, which begins every season and every cycle. So that seems like the most obvious place to start.
When was the last time you opened up a new chapter of your life? Think about how it feels - the excitement, the nervousness, the mix of confidence and insecurity as you count down the days before you start. Maybe it's a move to a new town, or into a new house. Maybe you are getting ready to start school in a new year, with a new group of friends, new classes, new school supplies. Maybe you met someone new and the relationship is young, and everything you do together is for the first time. Perhaps you are starting a new job or a small business, and there are days when the nervousness outweighs the excitement, and days where hope overcomes all of that. Cardinal energy is that mix of apprehension and exhilaration as you dive head-first into new adventures. It is the moment a seed is broken by the sprout inside, or when an egg hatches, or as the seasons change.
Each Cardinal Sign starts with an Equinox or Solstice in Western astrology. Aries starts spring with cold, frosty mornings and sunny afternoons. Cancer starts summer with dry heat and early summer harvests. Libra begins autumn with a sudden chill in the morning and yellowing of the trees. And Capricorn begins winter when the holiday season comes to a close, and all of us settle in for cozy nights looking out at the snow.
As the Signs that start each season, Cardinal Signs are leaders and initiators. They put themselves in charge and lead the way, imposing their will on everyone else. Aries and Capricorn are direct, aggressive, and confrontational in the way they dominate a group, but they are also more outgoing and excitable in getting people to follow them. They lead with absolute certainty, and make very good leaders for the people who follow strong convictions. Libra and Cancer are much more subtle and manipulative about getting their way, and are much more passive-aggressive, but they consider the ideas and feelings of other people when they are making group decisions. They lead with compassion and include others in the decision-making process, and people feel more included when their voices are heard.
THE cardinal SIGNS
ARIES is the Cardinal Fire Sign, meaning that it leads using the Fire Element. Aries is a loud, energetic, powerful leader who leads instinctively. They don't plan ahead or think too much about the possible consequences of their actions. But not every situation calls for that. In the middle of all the action, when it is impossible to make a plan or set a goal, you want someone who can creatively make decisions on the fly and lead a group to victory. Think of them as a military leader on the battlefield or a sport's team leader in the middle of a game. Aggressive and independent, loyal and generous, adventurous and fun-loving, Aries works best with people who follow their lead but don't slow them down.
CANCER is the Cardinal Water Sign, so they lead others using the Water Element. A lot of people do not see this Sign as a leadership sign because their particular kind of leadership is softer, more intuitive, and more sensitive emotionally. It is less direct and more persuasive, sometimes becoming downright manipulative in how they lead. Being an emotional leader means they are the mothers of the zodiac. You can see them as the mother taking care of her children with good food and a stable home life, built on traditions passed down through the family. They guide others through their ups and downs, provide comfort and security, and steer the group through heavy emotional waves, and so work best with others who are as sensitive and compassionate as they are.
LIBRA is the Cardinal Air Sign, which leads with the Air Element. I like to explain them as democratic leaders: they sit on equal footing with everyone else in the group, listen to everybody's ideas and points of view, weigh everything carefully, and then deliver a solution that everyone can agree on. But don't make the mistake of thinking they are catering just to you - Libra is the master of making you think you made the decision together, when really they steered you towards the conclusion they wanted! Think of them as a politician, or a spouse, or an avid debater, all of which use their way with words to lead a group without coming across as bossy. Intelligent and fair, with strong beliefs in justice and equality, they work best with others who consider the rights of others without putting themselves on a pedestal.
CAPRICORN is the Cardinal Earth Sign, so they lead with the Earth Element. These are goal, future, and money-oriented people who care about long-term success of the project they are working on. Their slow, methodical approach is made for amassing material wealth and making it last for a very long time. You can imagine them as corporate leaders, managers, business owners, or even as a stern-face father who loves his family and works hard to give them the life they deserve. Strong-willed, stubborn, materialistic, and status-seeking, they work best with organized and hard-working people who can keep up with their demands and follow through on their commitments.
Look at your Natal Chart and count how many planets you have in Cardinal Signs. Between 4 and 5 is an even, average amount to have. 3 or fewer and you are quite low, and 6 or more and you are quite high.
Without a strong Cardinal influence in your chart, you lack the energy to initiate, lead, direct, and confront problems. You may be able to independently lead your own life separate from other people (off doing your own thing) but you are not one for taking the reins and directing a group. Instead, you look to strong leaders for direction and follow what they tell you to do. Because you do not like to initiate big changes, however, you may find yourself passively watching the world go by. You dwell on problems instead of confronting them. And you let yourself be bossed around, following stronger, louder people when you ought to be leading yourself.
Put some of that exciting, nerve-wracking, enterprising Cardinal energy into your life. Start a new project, a new course, a new hobby, a new relationship! Move to a new city or a new home. When a problem pops up confront it right away, forcefully, until it is resolved. Take the wheel and steer yourself, even when a lot of people are depending on you to get it right. Issues you had that were due to the lack of Cardinal energy in your personality will be righted once you take the initiative to do these types of things. And you will be happier for it!
If you have an overwhelming amount of Cardinal in your chart, you are almost certainly either self-employed or in a higher-up management position. And if you are not, you are ambitiously working towards either one. Because you are such a strong, independent person, and because you are naturally a leader, you can't sit back and be told what to do. You can't have other people dictating or controlling your life. You frequently run into problems with authority figures (law-makers, employers) because you want to do things you own way and expect them to trust you to handle it. You know what you're doing. Hell, you can probably do it better than they could, and it would be so much better if they would listen to your suggestions and do things the way you want. Right? Well, maybe.
You have good ideas and a lot of natural talent when it comes to being a leader. You can take control in a crisis and confront problems head-on. But if you are not in a leadership position and just acting like you are, your employer (and coworkers) may find you bossy, arrogant, and see that you are overstepping your boundaries. If you can't respect the authorities above you and follow the rules they lay out, it would be better for you to go off on your own. Do your own thing, your own way, and be responsible for your own decision-making. You will probably like it better anyway!
THE CARDINAL transformation
As the excitement and nervousness of the new season wears off, comfort and familiarity settles in. Cardinal transforms into Fixed: Aries to Taurus, Cancer to Leo, Libra to Scorpio, and Capricorn to Aquarius. After a new project is begun, then comes the work to follow-through. The energy becomes less about action and initiative and more about building and maintaining. It slows down and becomes more concrete, more stable, less changeable, and more consistent. Cardinal is all about starting, where Fixed is all about doing. The seed has sprouted. The egg has hatched. And new life, new projects, and new journeys, follow!