Introduction to Zodiac Signs – 2:
Polarities; Elements; Constitutions; Symbolism
– written by Philip Graves, 1 Jan 2004
– reformatted for WordPress, June 10th, 2016
Positive vs. Negative signs
The signs of the zodiac are alternately deemed positive or masculine and negative or feminine, forming six adjacent pairs of polarised value. The positive signs are of the Elements Fire and Air, while the negative ones are of the Elements Earth and Water. The positive signs, in their general character and by natural aspects thrown to every other sign, have a mutual sympathy but a relative mutual antipathy with the negative signs, which in turn have a mutual sympathy with each other.
The positive signs are considered more favorable to public acclaim than the negative signs, on account of the relatively extroverted character of the former compared with the latter.
The masculine and feminine polarities theory, developed by Ptolemy in unified application to the planets and signs, and inherited by astrological tradition ever since, has attracted much controversy. James Wilson remarked: ‘I would advise the student to give himself no trouble about the sex of the planets, but to study their influence’.
Influences of the Elements
The Elements, divided into Fire, Air, Earth and Water, were named to metaphorically represent observed characteristics of the signs in each grouping. Karen Hamaker-Zondag regards the elements as representing one’s psychological perspective on reality.
Each element is represented symbolically by its fixed sign, which is believed to typify it most closely. Thus, the Fire element, or Inspirational Nature, is depicted by the lion; the Earth element, or Practical Nature, is depicted by the bull; the Air element, or Intellectual Nature, is depicted by the water-bearer; and the Water element, or Emotional Nature, is depicted by the scorpion.
The Fire element, anciently deemed Moral and associated with the contemplation of spiritual aspirations, conduct and character, is characterised by energy, enthusiasm, adventurousness, excitability, passion, activity, dynamism, impulsiveness, spontaneity, openness, honesty, naiveté, romanticism, ardency, self-sufficiency, self-belief, forcefulness, and intuitiveness.
Those with Fire strongly marked in their nativities may appear headstrong, rapid, fearless, courageous, spirited, independent, solitary, pioneering, self-centred in the pursuit of their personal needs, impatient, disinterested in material truths, inclined to pursue conceptual possibilities, and sometimes hopelessly impractical, overindulgent, unable to commit, disinterested in others, bossy, arrogant, inclined to push themselves past their physical limits, or demanding to the point of being overwhelming. Routine work is intolerably dull for them. But they can be deeply insightful in response to experiences.
Too much Fire in a nativity can induce restlessness, over-activity leading to exhaustion and burn-out, lack of self-restraint, wildness, extravagance, self-indulgence, recklessness, egotism and vanity.
Too little Fire is manifested by low self-confidence, absence of enthusiasm, pessimism, faithlessness, slowness to overcome psychological trauma, an inclination to shirk from the demands of life, listlessness, lack of physical vigour, and poor digestion.
The Earth element, anciently deemed Physical and associated with the contemplation of body functions and needs, is characterised by groundedness in reality and the physical world, practicality, common sense, carefulness, scepticism with regard to the abstract, sensuality, materialism, stillness, patience, composure, leisureliness, tenacity, perseverance, endurance, dependability, good organisation, economy, emotional self-control or repression, and conservatism; and potentially closed-mindedness.
Those with Earth strongly marked are inclined to value material security and physical beauty, and to test all concepts against sensorily perceptible evidence. They love food, massages, and other sensual pleasures. They are at peace with what life’s limitations, tend to be poorly comprehending of the value placed by others on the realms of the imagination, and may lack the ability to draw natural connections of understanding.
Too much Earth in a nativity can manifest as a lack of imagination, narrowness of outlook, cynicism, pragmatism devoid of ideals, and excessive psychological dependency on work status.
Too little Earth is manifested by disconnection from material and practical necessities, a feeling of being societal and vocational alienation, absorption in an alternative reality of spiritual and creative distractions, and physical self-neglect.
The Air element, anciently deemed Intellectual and associated with mental concepts and thought processes, is characterised by reasoning ability, logic, intellect, the creation of ideas, inquisitiveness, abstract and theoretical thinking, analysis, thirst for knowledge, study, objectivity, clarity, impartiality, alertness, collectedness, detachedness, aloofness, elusiveness, precise and abundant communicativeness, flexibility, and idealism.
Those with Air strongly marked tend to look on the world from a dispassionate distance, and to be fascinated by and very observant of people, with a tendency to analyse the behaviour of self and others to draw logical inferences. Their minds are excellent at drawing connections and devising theories of cause and effect, then testing them experimentally if only by human observation; but their concerns may sometimes appear superficial to others, and their theories may have little objective practical value to the rest of the world. Frequently they deny feelings or dilute them in filtering them through rational analysis prior to expression, limiting intimacy. They need space to themselves to think things over, and freedom from being excessively tied down to long-term feelings, commitments and projects that will demand too much time; and are inclined to spread themselves broadly.
Too much Air in a nativity can lead to isolation from the outside world through being locked into the personal sphere of one’s mind, an inclination to contemplate ideas without ever converting them into realities, a risk of being besieged by excessive mental anxieties, stasis in the life as action is forever postponed by thought, and nervous system disorders.
Too little Air can manifest as problems and practical burdens stemming from a lack of considered forethought, trouble coping with reason and integrating and accepting new ideas, and excessive subjectivity leading to relationship difficulties.
The Water element, anciently deemed Aesthetic and associated with soul yearnings and emotional responses, is characterised by intuitiveness, sympathy, sensitivity, impressionability, emotion, caring, kindness, gentleness, charitability, moodiness, responsiveness, reflectiveness; connectedness to the unconscious self; perceptiveness of human nature, and of others’ motivation and under-the-surface currents of consciousness; inner reserves of psychological strength in the face of adversity; clinginess; the faculty of merging one’s consciousness with all that lies outside oneself; the urge to dissolve alienation and unite in universal love and harmony; sometimes instability; and occasionally vindictiveness.
Those with Water strongly marked crave stimulation, and tend to evaluate experiences and observations with reference to the feelings these evoke in them, as opposed to by reason, drawing direct awareness from their emotional connections with all outside. They are sometimes empathic to the extent of being able to absorb others’ identities (and at the very least their feelings) into their own being, and responsive on reflex to the extent of appearing unfeeling and automated. Because of their lack of psychic boundaries, they are susceptible to suffering from the troubled or negative energies of others, while if troubled themselves they can lead others to suffer by the intrusiveness of their own energies on the environment. Many conceal their sensitivity behind an unemotional persona, or blend in seamlessly with their environment to hide their individuality.
Too much Water in a nativity can manifest as a lack of anchoring stability or self-direction of destiny in the life, excessive susceptibility to being pushed around through life by circumstances and people in the environment, inability to cope with normal social functioning as psychic sensitivity and emotional impressionability are so great, lack of clarity about what it is that one yearns for, excessive clinging to others to hide from self-awareness, and a need to continually eliminate residual emotional impressions in order to retain one’s composure and self-identity.
Too little Water is manifested by a shortfall in connectedness to the feelings of themselves and others, a fear of emotional risk-taking, and in extreme cases a total denial of the personal emotions; a cold, unsympathetic outlook on others; a lack of trust in intuition; a tendency to loneliness that cannot be bridged; and an inclination to accumulate toxins in the body, which can only be overcome by careful diet and opening up more to one’s emotional nature.
Influences of the Constitutions
Karen Hamaker-Zondag regards the constitutions, which she terms crosses, but which have also been known as qualities and modes, as representing the manner in which one assimilates one’s psychological impressions of reality. Bil Tierney describes them as showing the manner of acting and reacting when faced with particular situations and goals.
The Cardinal constitution, also known as Movable, Acute, Leading, Changeable or Initiating, is characterised by fast, busy, little-planned activity and decisions; an energetic, outgoing nature and world focus; initiative; enterprise; a drive for progress; impatience with obstacles and delays; but adaptedness to external circumstances when directing one’s drive. Some cardinal signs (Cancer and Libra) are better than others (Aries and Capricorn) at seeking the co-operation of people outside the self, which is needed for the realisation of progressive drives.
The Fixed constitution, also known as Grave or Executive, is characterised by stability, tenacity, patience, persistence and stamina; constructiveness; a methodological, controlled approach to activity, with a view to completion; strong desires; resistance to being controlled or governed; stubbornness in the face of pressure; a tendency to be set in habits; adaptedness to one’s inner values and needs, with an interest in the unveiling to the conscious self of the personal unconscious; and relatively little concern about the perceptions held by others of oneself.
The Mutable constitution, also known as Dual, Common or Flexed, is characterised by swiftness, versatility, mediation skill, transience, changeability, adaptability; perennial youthfulness; dissolution and redistribution of the obsolete; submergeance of the ego; curiosity; love of variety; a mental orientation; openness to learning; observancy of life; the search for understanding; inclination to serve others; indecisiveness; scattered application of energies; a lack of clear direction; free-flowing psychic and nervous energy; and elusiveness. It is capable of rapidly switching between inward and outward orientation. People with this constitution strongly marked benefit from, and sometimes depend upon, contact with others of a more definitely cardinal or fixed nature to lead them to find themselves.
Symbolism of the Signs
Aries is represented by the horned head of a ram, traditionally a weapon of the gods, and a symbol of will and the power to attack; by a sprouting grain, indicating the flourishing of new life; or by a metaphysical fork in the road. Aries is considered as the embodiment of Self.
Taurus is represented by the horned head of a bull, which is related to the ancient Egyptian sacred Apis cult, whereby bulls were buried in tombs and regarded as incarnations of Ptah, the god of Memphis, and Osiris, the god of the dead and resurrection. Taurus is considered the manifestation of the Self.
Gemini is represented by two pieces of wood joined together, indicating the conflict between two opposing processes of mind. The symbol is associated with Castor and Pollux, and with the Pillars of Hercules. Gemini signifies the relationship between the Self and substance.
Cancer is represented by the claws of a crab, or the male and female progenitors of new embryonic life – in line with the sign’s association with nurturance and parenthood. Cancer describes the living organism.
Leo is represented by the lion’s tail, or the nimbus of the Sun, indicating the creative energy and splendour of the cosmos.
Virgo is represented by the Girdle of Hymen, referring to the Immaculate Conception of a saviour of the world. It is also represented by a virgin holding a green branch or an ear of grain. It indicates the differentiation of sex.
Libra is represented by the balancing scales, signifying justice and equilibrium – clues to the sign’s association with co-operation; or by the Sun setting on the horizon. Libra signifies cosmic reciprocity.
Scorpio is represented by the two legs and tail of a scorpion, its diagonal upwards-pointing arrow of tail signifying the sign’s attacking power and traditional domicile rulership by Mars. It stands for cosmic purpose.
Sagittarius is represented by an arrow drawn upwards from part of a bow, indicating aspiration and effort applied to far-flung ideals. Sagittarius stands for cosmic progress.
Capricorn is represented by the head of a goat with the tail of a fish, which has been thought to symbolise the union of Christian and Jewish religiosity, and perhaps the contrast within the sign’s psychology between practical aspiration and a sensitive inner consciousness. Capricorn signifies cosmic order and justice.
Aquarius is represented by a stream of water, depicting vibrational waves, such as those of an electrical nature, highlighting the sign’s sensitivity on such levels; and by a man upturning a jug of water, denoting the liberal cosmic distribution of subtle vibratory energies. Aquarius denotes the co-ordination of spirit and matter via the humanitarian principle.
Pisces is represented by a pair of sea-horses tied together with a yoke, yet attempting to swim in vertically opposite directions. This symbol indicates being bonded to others, inhibited from self-expression, and torn between death and life, between failure and success, or between the unconscious depths and the surface of consciousness. Pisces stands for self-denial.