Playing with Fire, Earth, Air and Water

Posted on September 17, 2023
Posted by Kimberly Maxwell

Elements in Astrology – Part I

Editor’s Note: This is the first of 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.

Fire – Igniting the Spirit

Fire ignites our 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.

As Part I 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.

Stay tuned for Part II – Earth, Part III – Air and Part IV – Water, coming soon in future newsletters, which you can sign up for here.

Astrology Astrology Elements
Kimberly Maxwell

A student of the Sher Institute since 2008, Kimberly has been writing AstroCast since 2012. A long-time Los Angeles resident, Kimberly gives astrological consultations, has various artistic pursuits including the development of a burgeoning creative hub in her community, and works in international television distribution at a major studio.

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