Inspired by our element-centric November catalog, this is a post by Tracy Allen, who is the wise beauty behind the weekly horoscopes we post on the blog.
From the four humors of ancient Greece to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, philosophers, medical practitioners and psychologists alike have continually tried to explain people’s myriad temperaments through an assessment of their elements. Carl Jung’s typology theory (intuition, sensation, thinking, feeling)— though not an exact fit—may come closest to Western psychological astrology’s interpretation of the elements fire, earth, air and water. Jung’s types and astrology’s elements symbolize different modes of experiencing life and the kinds of energy that we are more and less attuned to.
A birth chart takes some of the guesswork out of which kinds of energy a person will draw from most and least. It’s like a cheat sheet that tells you what you’re made up of. With extra weight given to certain components of the chart such as the sun, moon and Ascendant, your energy pattern is largely indicated by the balance of elements. The fire signs are Aries, Leo and Sagittarius; the earth signs are Taurus, Virgo and Capricorn; the air signs are Gemini, Libra and Aquarius; and the water signs are Cancer, Scorpio and Pisces. Fire and air are positive, masculine, yang, active, extroverted, extensive and self-expressive. Water and earth are negative, feminine, yin, passive, introverted, intensive and self-containing. (Think of the words positive and negative like the ends of a battery, not in terms of good and bad. Similarly, active is not better than passive. Fire and air are directed outward, while earth and water are receptive.)
When you were born, the planets may have been distributed somewhat evenly throughout the elements, but it’s also common to have many planets in one or two elements and few or no planets in the others. The mode of functioning associated with an overemphasized element is likely to dominate, since you’re naturally inclined to overvalue it. Conversely, an underrepresented element often shows a way of operating that you repress, possibly causing problems over the course of time. So if you have many planets in air and no planets in water, you’re liable to prize intellect over emotion. A low or missing element will lead to a need for what that element represents, and whether you realize it or not, you’ll attempt to make up for the lack.
However, if you only know your sun sign, its element alone can reveal where you’re coming from, since the sun fuels the whole chart and symbolizes your core identity. All of the other planets orbit around the sun. You naturally orient yourself via its element and are apt to operate in that mode as a default. If you think of the expression “in your element,” you’ll grasp the concept. At least one of the following elements should resonate for you, and if it’s not your sun sign’s element, it may be the one that you have the most planets in.
Fire is associated with inspiration, life force, action, enthusiasm, passion, vitality, courage, charisma, spontaneity, strength, possibility, will, faith and high spirits. Fiery people are dramatic, direct, forceful, demonstrative and exuberant. They have an inner spark, and they radiate with joie de vivre. They’re self-igniting, thus self-motivated. They dislike weakness and worries. Fire is inherently unstable, and its natural tendency is to rise. Its energy rushes outward, and fire-sign people are outgoing. They need to self-mythologize, seeing their lives as a grand adventure. The fire signs can be brash, impulsive, blunt, impatient, boisterous and flagrant. They’re daring risk-takers, but with a potential for haste and recklessness. “On fire” and “fired up” describe Aries, Leo and Sagittarius when they’re in their element. Overdoing fire can cause you to burn yourself out. If someone has little or no fire in their chart, they may have low energy and lack passion and confidence. They probably have some fear of taking action and may not really trust life. These types could benefit from a fiery person lighting a fire under them. Vigorous exercise is one antidote to low fire, since it heats you up, and sunshine has the power to revive flagging spirits.
Earth is interested in what is tangible, concrete, useful and sensible. People with lots of earth in their charts are dependable—as in salt of the earth, rock solid— and practical—as in down to earth, grounded. They’re hands-on, preferring to deal with substance and matter and form. You can rely on earthy types, because of their firm roots. Earth signs are patient, self-disciplined and industrious. They stabilize by imposing order on their world. A Taurus, Virgo or Capricorn is here to actualize and manifest. Sensory experience takes precedence, gifting them with a notable sensuality. No other element is as in touch with the body. Earth signs operate in the material world, so they can be overly materialistic, and their rootedness may lead them to be overly controlled, conservative and cautious—a stick in the mud. Unlike the other elements, earth stands still. But it’s capable of building upon itself as well, and a lack of earth can spell a lack of resourcefulness and structure, an inability to dwell in the here and now. Quick fixes: A walk in nature will get you to feel the ground beneath your feet, while a massage reconnects you with your body.
Air is concerned with thinking, relating, communication, concepts and comprehension. Sociability, abstract reasoning, curiosity, logic, objectivity and intellectual perspective are all strengths. With so much emphasis on the mental and verbal, one might question why relationships are associated with this element. Air signs thrive on exchange. Just as they need to associate one thing with another in their heads, they need personal interaction. Humans forge connections through language; to relate means to tell. Air itself moves horizontally, and airy people relay information and give and take ideas. Their minds are lively, which can sometimes overload their nervous systems. If they talk too much, we say they’re full of hot air. When they live in their heads, they’re labeled airheads. And if they’re all theory with no practicality, the expressions fly-by-night and flighty can apply. Their rational broad-mindedness gives air-sign people a detached, dispassionate quality, yet someone with little or no air in their chart will have a harder time adapting to new ideas and unfamiliar people. If you’re overdoing your air, meditation helps to still the mind. If this is your low or missing element, fresh air awakens the mind, restoring alertness.
Water’s domain is sensitivity, intuition, compassion and imagination. The water signs are all about emotions and vibes. They’re aware of how they feel, how you feel and what the tone in the atmosphere is. Watery types are known for their depth, given that water seeks the deepest level. They have considerable access to the subconscious, so they’re attuned to hidden undercurrents. By nature, water is nonlinear and penetrating, and these signs are subjective and empathic. Waves of feeling can make one moody, but letting feelings wash over you can be healing and purifying. Like water, feelings may flow or freeze. Emotionality causes someone to get misty or feel like they’re in a fog. When overwhelmed by feeling, people say they’re drowning or they’re in too deep. Water signs are vulnerable, considering their susceptibility to the environment, and this makes them rather private and self-protective. They can become ultrasensitive and overly impressionable, tending towards wallowing and compulsion. But too little water makes it hard to trust one’s gut and process—or even sanction—emotions, creating emptiness, callousness and fear of pain. For people who lack the element in their charts, being in or near water seems to promote connection with sentiment and soul.
While reading the above descriptions, you no doubt thought of others in your life and perhaps wondered about compatibility. Traditionally, each sign is assumed to be compatible with the other signs in its element as well as the signs in its polarity (remember fire and air are yang, while earth and water are yin.) So if you’re an Aries, you’re thought to be compatible with Leo, Sagittarius, Gemini, Libra and Aquarius. Sometimes the opposite signs (Aries-Libra in this case) are said to be a good match, and sometimes you’re told to avoid each other like the plague. It’s very true that the elements have varying degrees of compatibility. Air fans fire, whereas water and earth extinguish it. But there’s much more to the rapport between two people than the elements of sun signs, although the overall blend of elements generally points to the type of chemistry involved. People with seemingly incompatible charts are often drawn to each other out of an unconscious need for completion. If you’re missing an element, you can fill it in through relationships. Just because you don’t have any water in your chart doesn’t mean you don’t have feelings! Someone with plenty of water in their chart is bound to help you draw them out.
Consciously and unconsciously, we all compensate for elements that we don’t have, don’t favor or don’t know how to use. We do this not only through relationships, but also through behavior. As an example, if you don’t have any fire in your chart, you may emphatically stand up for yourself at random times because self-assertion doesn’t come naturally to you and every once in awhile you get tired of feeling like the meek one. Or your boyfriend might have several planets in water signs and only one in earth, but as a male, his culture encouraged him to make money, fix every problem and keep it together (earth) rather than follow his instincts, do something more artsy and talk about how he’s feeling (water.)
Even more important than your relationships with others is your relationship with yourself. The balancing act you perform with your elements is an indicator of how all the different parts of you get along with each other. No element (and no sign, for that matter) is better or worse than another. Every single one is essential if we want to be well-rounded individuals experiencing the full spectrum of life. If an element isn’t well represented in your chart, all the more reason to strive to understand it and work with it. But make a point of honoring the element of your sun sign, because it’s the stuff you’re made of, and it will nourish and sustain you. Respect the best fire, earth, air and water have to offer and attempt to draw it out in yourself and others; then try to accept humanity’s imperfect expression of the elements. A sense of humor helps!
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