One of the most basic and useful distinctions within astrology is the one of the four elements. Fire, earth, air and water - cornerstones of the psychological foundation of astrology because of its strong indication of temperament and general reactive patterns. Every zodiac sign is of a certain element, and the three signs sharing the same element are structurally on the same distance from each other (forming a big triangle if one would connect them with a line). The picture below shows the earth element triangle connecting the signs Taurus, Virgo and Capricorn. Had the lines been drawn between three signs of another element, the figure would still have been the same (equal-sided triangle). Also the planets can be considered to belong to different elements. However, this belonging is less certain and logically clear-cut.
The beauty of the element-idea is its simplicity, since associations and understanding of what the elements represents come easily (most people probably get an immediate feeling for the temperamental differences between say earth and air). But also in its elaborateness, since the key concepts of the different elements can be expanded widely without seeming too far-fetched. Here is a summary of the temperamental and symbolical character of the elements:
Fire: The most immediate and traditionally "masculine" of the elements, fire is about reaching out and making a direct and impact on the world. It desires intimate and authentic experience. Fire relates to the "Choleric" temperament, representing enthusiasm, spirit, passion, will, activity, expression, purity, extroversion, creativity, force, the ideal. The fire signs are Aries, Leo and Sagittarius. When fire is strong in the horoscope there is a focus on being here and now, and on the flow of spirit from the inside to the outside. There is vitality and often an obsessional quality to every expression of the self.
Earth: The element of "reality", in the sense of what we perceive as the physical plane of existence. It is about sensing; the senses as the apparatus through which we experince the external world. Earth is a grounding substance, enduring and high in density. Earth people come across as rooted, sensual and earthy, with a pragmatic and result-oriented approach to life. Earth relates to the "Melancholic" temperament, representing matter, construction, everyday affairs, form, common sense, security, organization, persistance, business. The earth signs are Taurus, Virgo and Capricorn.
Air: The mental or intellectual element. Air conceives of the world as idea, thought and abstract representation. It relates to the "Sanguine" temperament. Air is defined by terms such as communication, movement, relating and social outreaching, reason, logic, idea, versatility, changeability, words and language. When air is strong in the horoscope, the levels of detachment and objectivity increases in strength. Air people prove to be impersonal and flexible, intent on relating, yet may be reluctant to probe deeply into emotional or "heavy" matters. The air signs are Gemini, Libra and Aquarius.
Water: The "emotional" element, however confusing it may sound. Water is a unifying substance with less clear boundaries than the other forms, and can seem irrational to others. A strong influence of water in the horoscope adds an internal, introspective dimension to everything, seldom satisfied with surface appearance. It relates to the "Phlegmatic" temperament. The embracing nature of water leads the mind to sensitivity and healing, and to limitless spheres of depth and mystery. Imagination, inspiration and intuitive sensing. The water signs are Cancer, Scorpio and Pisces.
Another division of the signs result in what is known as modes or qualities. These are Cardinal, Fixed and Mutable, each harbouring four zodiac signs. Rather than temperament, these formulas define stances towards the world and very general states of activity.
The cardinal signs are Aries, Cancer, Libra and Capricorn. These are the initiators and executives, directing energy towards clear objectives according to their individual nature and temperament. The cardinal signs show a "critical" stance, inclined to percieve everything as some kind of problem needing a solution.
The fixed signs are Taurus, Leo, Scorpio and Aquarius. These are stabilizers and integrators, deepening and centering the experience initiated by the cardinal signs. The fixed signs are related to values and the ideal, as well as to structuring and organizing through a persistent, stubborn attitude.
The mutable signs are Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius and Pisces. These are communicators and transformers, administrating what is intitiated and sustained by the cardinal and fixed signs. Mutable signs are related to consciousness and change in that they are to take experience to a broader and higher level.The table formula below shows the zodiac signs arranged according to their division into elements and modalities. It becomes apparent that no two signs share the same element as well as the same modality. This is an important aspect of their individual purpose.