Editor’s Note: This is a four-part series to be released through the Sher Institute of Astrology & Metaphysics newsletter.
Astrology can be thought of as a symbolic language comprised of universal archetypal principles. Further, from a Transpersonal Astrology perspective, these archetypes are viewed as a holistic system containing embedded messages from what I consider to be “cosmic Intelligences” that provide information about ourselves, our place in the world, and our mission in this life. The configuration of an individual’s birth chart, imprinted at the moment and place of birth, is wholly unique to that person. It does not tell us who we are, but it represents the starting point for a path of learning which reveals a set of potentials for us to develop. Our natal chart is thus a blueprint encoded with archetypal messages that provide guidance on how to actualize our greatest potential. When we consciously follow this blueprint, it can lead to becoming our authentic, creative, and joyous Self. As our individual development unfolds, we may come to realize we are part of an overarching evolutionary process that opens us to knowing where we belong in the Mystery of the cosmos.
The planets, signs, and houses are the first thing we notice when contemplating a birth chart, with their respective symbols visually prominent. However, underpinning these astrological symbols are the foundational principles of the four elements. Each element – fire, earth, air, and water – represents the fundamental forces supporting all life. One could say astrology begins with the elements, which have figured prominently since ancient times in all cultures, spiritual traditions, the arts, and sciences. The elements are so important in chart interpretation, that they are often the first area of study in an introductory astrology class.
The archetypal qualities of the elements are distinct and more so with respect to how they are expressed through each sign. Understanding the basics of the elements can assist one in better understanding the signs, as well as the planets and houses associated with them. Most importantly, they help us understand the basic nature of an individual and the different modes of expression, motivations, and needs that make up their personhood.
Each of the four elements is assigned to three signs of the Zodiac positioned at 120-degree angles to each other. Anyone familiar with Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome would recognize this equilateral “grand trine” relationship as one of the strongest geometrical formations in nature. The first four signs start the pattern with Aries being a fire sign, Taurus an earth sign, Gemini an air sign and Cancer a water sign. The next four signs repeat this sequence: Leo/fire, Virgo/earth, Libra/air and Scorpio/water. The last four signs complete the triad of groupings: Sagittarius/fire, Capricorn/earth, Aquarius/air and Pisces/water.
The descriptions of the elements that follow delve into their respective fundamental archetypal principles and how they are expressed through the signs. Each sequence of elements supports the progression of the signs from Aries to Pisces, which represents an ordered path of spiraling growth toward becoming a co-participant in the evolution of consciousness.
Below is an archetypal encapsulation of the essence of each element to be elaborated upon in this article:
- Fire – Igniting the Spirit: represents the inspiration and spark for all existence and how our Soul awakens to its existence in this reality.
- Earth – Building the Self: represents the grounding and development of that spark of Beingness and supporting it in the physical material reality.
- Air – Connecting with Others: represents the process of becoming aware of others, our surroundings and the cosmic Intelligences guiding us; how we integrate the information coming in and how we communicate our ideas and experiences in this shared reality.
- Water – Uniting with Consciousness: represents the process of becoming fully aware of our existence as conscious Beings having a human experience, and the experience of our connectedness with others as part of the greater Whole of consciousness.
Part I: Fire – Igniting the Spirit
It is the spark that represents the beginning of Being, the emergence of the Self into existence. One mystic called this birth of Soul “catching fire.” Fire is energy. It is inspiration that awakens something in us which makes us feel alive. Fire is the fuel that gets us to move. As a basic universal building block, fire guided by intention is highly useful but when it is neglected, uncontained, untrained, or corrupted, it can be explosive and utterly destructive. The idea of catching fire, however, requires more than just inspiration setting us off on areas of activity. To catch fire requires conscious effort to reach deep beyond the programming of the mind and survival instincts of the body, which suppress the internal fire essential to connecting with our Soul, the often dormant center of our divine consciousness. Once the fire is thus liberated, it ignites the Soul into awakening, which is all we need to begin our path to the highest expression. Fire is the cosmic force of creation, the big bang of the Being.
Aries is the fire that ignites. As the first sign of the Zodiac, it is appropriate that fire represents the beginning of our path to Beingness. Aries fire fuels the process of self-determination and generates the energy we need to create our Self in this world. Aries is ruled by Mars, an action-oriented planet that archetypally drives us using our internal motivations to propel activity. We need tremendous energy to break through our resistances to be able to launch and propel ourselves into a spiraling spiritual life path. Depending on the boost we need at any given time, the intensity of Aries fire required to light our fire could manifest anywhere from a symbolical strike of a match, to an alchemic quantum combustion catapulting us into an entirely new and pioneering mode of Being.
Leo is the fire that illuminates and radiates. As the fifth sign of the Zodiac, Leo is the fire sign that leads us through the second round of elemental development. Leo fire inspires us to creatively express our unique Self in the world simply for the sheer joy of it without thought of reward. We dance and play with Leo fire for the delight of seeing what new forms we can create. Leo is ruled by the Sun, the fiery heart of our solar system. This seems the perfect symbol to represent the Leo fire of playful, creative self-expression radiating through us and generating generous amounts of warmth and love needed to thrive in life. When I contemplate that all the stars in the sky are suns, it gives me a sense of awe and appreciation for the tremendous power inherent within each of us to express this fiery source of life and love-affirming creativity.
Sagittarius is the fire that lights our way. Once we’ve developed the Self and established our path of creative self-expression in the world, Sagittarius fire represents the third and final elemental round of igniting our spiritual development. Sagittarius is ruled by Jupiter, the planet of philosophy and seeking experiences that expand our worldview. Sagittarius fire sets us off on adventures to far-off places in search of greater meaning and purpose. It can be symbolized by a torchlight that illuminates our path of exploration, or a bonfire that attracts us to commune in our shared reality. It could also be experienced as the symbolic spark that goes off in our mind as we journey through the frontier of new thought. To me, Sagittarius fire is my archetypal North Star guiding me to live a life eternally directed by a divine cosmic force untouched by hubris or corruption.
Part II: Earth – Building the Self
Earth grounds us in this reality. It is a cosmic force of manifestation that stabilizes and builds. Literally, earth is our planet, its ecosystem as well as the ground on which we walk that supports the activities of living. Astrologically, it also refers to our physical reality and is the ground zero perspective of our solar system from which our natal chart is cast at the exact location of our birth. Symbolically, earth correlates to being steadfast, practical and purposeful. Once we are ignited by fire, we then begin to use earth to develop our talents and abilities in ways that are useful, and also our values on which we stand. Earth sustains this effort through qualities of perseverance and commitment to mastering that which we dedicate our attention to. There is a sacred quality to all the elements, but the sacredness of earth is special from a human perspective. It is our sanctuary in the universe, and we are its stewards charged with its care no matter what space on the planet we are occupying.
Taurus is earth that stabilizes and sustains. After the fiery thrust that propelled us into this life, we need to ground and get our bearings in this new reality, and to get a sense of our place in world. When we experience earth’s spectacular creations, it brings a sense of awe and reverence. Taurus earth therefore is where we first contemplate the meaning of beauty and its connection with divine grace. Taurus is ruled by Venus, which governs our values and hence what attracts or repels us. Taurus earth evokes deep nature experiences. It can be likened to a verdant forest, a quiet place of solitude and sensual ambiance where we attune to the natural rhythms of life. When I imagine myself deep in a forest of trees soaring high in the sky, I feel a sense of connection with the priceless gifts this life has to offer in total balance and harmony with earth’s ecosystem. But most of all I feel embraced by the divine grace.
Virgo is earth that serves in a resourceful, productive way. After the grounding earth of Taurus, Virgo earth asks us to get to work in this second round of stabilizing development. Further, it focuses us on dedicating our talents and abilities in service to something greater than ourselves. As the ruler of Virgo, Mercury brings to this sign an acute ability to perceive and analyze situations down to the minutest detail to see what is working and what is not. Virgo earth is called to being of service to the greater whole wherever it is needed, looking for ways to make useful contributions that improve upon a situation or create a sustainable ground for a humble yet fruitful existence. Virgo earth can metaphorically be described as wide-open land transformed into something purposeful that serves the collective, like a prairie or a valley that becomes farmland or a place to house people. I experience Virgo earth as land containing essential resources that can be harnessed with Virgo’s elegant efficiency and attention to detail in ways that support the production of life and spirit-sustaining activities while retaining its original essence of natural simplicity.
Capricorn is earth that builds. As the third earth element, it follows our development of grounding and being of service with the principle of manifestation. Capricorn earth teaches us to create a strong foundational structure with total integrity that will support us in reaching the pinnacle of our talents and abilities. Saturn, the ruler of Capricorn, is the planet that represents structure, continuity, mastery through practice and effort, and learning how to harness the power of limitation and restriction, including time itself. Capricorn earth applies organizational principles and resourcefulness in its efforts to gather the contributions of many to create a functioning society. Capricorn earth seems best represented as a majestic mountain beckoning us to make the immense effort to reach its summit. I see that mountain also as the home of the hermits, yogis and wisdom keepers who selflessly watch over humanity so that we may endure for generations to come.
We invite you to share your thoughts and experiences of what the element of earth evokes in you in the comments section below.
As Part II of our series concludes, we invite you to share what these elemental images might have evoked in you and your own thoughts about the nature of the elements.
Part III: Air – Connecting with Others
Air animates our being. Everyone on the planet is literally connected by the air we breathe from the moment it initiates our life at birth. Symbolically, air also connects us through thought and ideas coming through the mechanism of the brain into our consciousness. Air represents how we harness our power of perception and inquisitive nature to reach cognitions about who we are. After fire and earth, air is the element that moves us to recognize we are not alone in this reality, which sets us on the path to connect with others, gathering information about our world as we go. We learn how to communicate with each other through the cosmic force of air via all forms of symbols, from words and pictures to ones and zeros. Air is considered to have an intellectual quality and further it gives us the ability to access the universal database from whence all ideas originate. If we inquire deeply enough, we may discover, or indeed experience, that we are all connected to this database, also referred to as the Akashic Records. Our individual consciousness is the lesser whole that perceives our connection to the greater whole of Galactic Consciousness, and the constant two-way communication between the two. As we go through life, we upload our own unique personal experiences and what we learned on our journey, and when we sit in silent contemplation, we can also receive, or download, information from these records. It is information sharing at its highest level of expression between the “cosmic intelligences” and each Being connected to them.
Gemini air gathers information. It is the first level of connection we experience, activating a curious nature that loves to collect data from our surroundings. Once we develop our sense of Self and place in this reality through Taurus earth, we naturally shift our focus to having experiences with others in the sign that follows. Gemini is also ruled by Mercury, the Messenger of the Gods, where here it focuses on our manner of perceiving and communicating that which we experience. At its highest level of expression, Gemini air leads to the exciting exchange of ideas, information, customs and lifestyles between cultures with others acting as conduits for the abundance of rich diversity available to us. Gemini at play can be archetypally associated with Trade Winds whose currents filled the sails of ancient merchant ships transporting them from one continent to another, the equivalent of our modern-day commerce, journalism and cultural exchange programs all rolled into one. To me, at its highest level of expression, the synaptic-like air of Gemini with its constantly moving currents, acts to keep information flowing through a call and response, sending and receiving process between this reality and beyond.
Libra is air that gathers us together to formalize relationships. Once Gemini air establishes initial contact with others, we are now primed to focus on the nature of those connections and ensure they remain in balance and harmony with their purpose. Libra is also ruled by Venus, which takes the values we developed on our journey and applies them in our experiences with others. Through observing the creative impulses and behavior of ourselves and others, we come to understand what attracts or repulses us in relation to the archetypal principles of divine beauty and love. Libra air can be expressed in the form of interpersonal agreements that codify our shared values and intentions. As our values evolve, so must the dance we do with others. As we learn and grow, our consciousness expands and the trajectory of our destiny shifts, which is reflected by how our relationships change with new connections coming in, existing ones growing deeper and some moving on. Symbolically, the highest values of Libra air seem to express as a soft gentle wind, like an Island Breeze or a Zephyr that allures us to engage with others in ways that support each of us to be who we are, as we are in any moment. To me the soft, swirling nature of Libra air coaxes us into a circle of engagement where the magic of interpersonal bonding creates the potential for something new to be born.
Aquarius air is the force of change. It is what keeps us moving on our path of evolving in consciousness. If the relationships we developed through Gemini and Libra become stagnant and non-productive, Aquarius air could blow them away. As ruler of Aquarius, Uranus expresses as the great Awakener, bringing spontaneous, often shocking realizations that lead to needed growth. The archetypal force of Aquarius air may manifest in the physical reality as unexpected eye-opening events, but most often it operates as significant internal shifts in our consciousness in sometimes radical directions. It wakes us up to the true reality of who we are, as conscious beings having a human experience, if we but pay attention from the eye of the windstorm. Aquarius air can symbolically be seen as gale force winds of change that catapult us in an instant towards the trajectory of our destined future. It can be likened to the Sirocco of the Sahara which can reach hurricane speeds, or the Santa Ana winds of Southern California which often gave me the feeling they were opening me to a different dimension. I sense these powerful winds are there to blow down the veil separating me from another way of being that has been quietly, persistently calling me. And sometimes they feel like they are outright forcing me through a wind tunnel as they blow at my back to pull me into my future. Aquarius air ultimately can lead to a mutation of our consciousness as it accelerates our processing speed so we can connect with the cosmic intelligences.
Part IV: Water – Uniting with Consciousness
Water is consciousness. It is the realm of the imagination and intuition, penetrating spaces our limited intellect is unable to go so we can come to know our connectedness with everything. Water is the element that teaches us how to feel and become one with the deep currents of consciousness of which we are a part, united with all existence, from our life on earth to the entire universe including other dimensions of reality. Ultimately, water is the cosmic force of Love. We express water through our sense of protecting others, merging with others at the deepest levels and giving ourselves over completely to Love through heroic acts of compassion.
Water helps us develop immense sensitivity so that we may recognize the hidden energetic currents operating in any situation. Some of us have our best ideas while in water, often in the shower which could be considered a daily cleansing ritual that empties the mind and opens us to the unseen currents outside physical reality. Water teaches us we are more than our bodies and our mind and that we are part of something much greater. At its highest expression, water represents the movement towards consciously learning how to feel, not just at an emotional level, but at a Soul level where we able to recognize and differentiate the psychic origin of our feelings. Bringing unconscious feelings to consciousness takes great effort and focus, yet it is essential to evolve our psyche from a seemingly default state of chaos sustained by recurring fragmented thoughts, emotions and memories, to a unified whole state of consciousness.
Cancer is water that nurtures. As the first water sign, Cancer is tasked with teaching us how to feel the nature of love as the basis of life. Coming last, after Taurus, in the first round of elemental development, Cancer water turns us inward from the great efforts of establishing ourselves in the physical reality so we can begin to discover who we are and where we belong in it and beyond. The ruler of Cancer is the Moon, which represents our inner world reflected outward, at whatever state of consciousness we may be at any time. Cancer water invites us into the process of understanding the hidden currents of life, particularly the depths of our own inner state. It opens us to exploring our natural sensitivities and helps us develop a way to protect ourselves against the harsher expressions of the elements. At its highest level of expression, Cancer understands that love is the greatest protective force there is. Archetypally, Cancer is water that is still, protected on all sides, like a deep lake. The stillness is required so that we may more easily develop our ability to differentiate what is our true nature from what we blindly accepted from others as truth. Paying attention to these currents is how we learn to feel at the deepest level. I have the sense that Cancer water gently teaches us how to swim through life and go with its flow. Further, we learn we belong here, which is the beginning of the process of unification with spirit.
Scorpio is water that penetrates. In the second round of our encounter with water, Scorpio’s expression takes it to the next level, passionately seeking all openings as voids that must be filled so virtually everything is connected to this current of feeling. It then investigates into the deepest nature of what it feels. At its highest level of expression, Scorpio water teaches us how the mechanisms of life work at the most profoundly fundamental level. It can relentlessly probe ever deeper into the caverns of our unconscious to fathom the great mysteries hidden beneath the surface of our awareness. Pluto, ruler of Scorpio, serves to amplify everything it touches, creating the alchemic heat necessary for transformation. Scorpio water yearns to merge with whatever its focus is on, to have the feeling of losing its very identity so that it may unify with something greater than itself. Scorpio water can be symbolically seen as thrilling rushing rapids undaunted by any obstacle or barrier. It could also be likened to an underground river leading us through unknown territory to face our deepest fears. My experience of Scorpio water is that it is the fathomless pool of our psyche calling us to explore its depths in search of hidden treasures at the core of our Being.
Pisces water dissolves all boundaries. Following the immersive experiences of feeling in Cancer and Scorpio, Pisces water lifts us into the realm of higher consciousness that prevails over all existence. Ultimately, it represents our complete unification with Galactic Consciousness. Pisces water flows over, through and under land, infuses itself into air and dances with firelight on its surface. It provides the very conduit that allows the lightening of spirit to strike. Pisces is ruled by Neptune, the symbol of boundless consciousness through which we experience the Mystery, the ultimate force of unconditional Love animating all existence. The consciousness of Pisces water is archetypally represented by the seemingly boundaryless ocean, and further by each of us as drops of spirit that make up the greater whole of this cosmic ocean. I sense this when I float in the great Pacific on a sparkling summer day. I feel a part of its vastness as well as the intimacy of its tender embrace that keeps me buoyant. As the last water sign and the last sign of the Zodiac, Pisces water also represents the completion of our archetypal journey where the essence of all we learned forms the individuated drop of consciousness that is cast forth into our next cycle of learning as we swim up the spiral of evolutionary growth.
Epilog – The Power of the Four Elements
It can be challenging to hold the power of the four elements at once as all of them are in a constant state of interplay. Our birth chart is alive with them, whether or not any natal planet is placed in them. The house cusps are ruled by signs related to each element so that can be a good place to start, focusing on the arena of life covered by the respective house. The elements are also activated by the planets where they are in present time, transiting through the respective signs in alignment with our natal charts.
After reading this series, we invite you to experiment invoking any one of the elements at a time you feel you may need their assistance. To ignite your Spirit, call on Fire. To focus on building the Self, contemplate Earth. To explore Connections with others, breathe in the essence of Air. To feel Unity with the Whole of Consciousness take a dive into Water.
We invite you to share your thoughts and experiences on the nature of air in the comments section below.