The Four Elements in Astrology

I tend to preach a fair amount about the classical Four Elements of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. I think it’s a really important system in metaphysics that can be extremely helpful in getting a handle on various other symbols.

For example, if you know that two Signs of the Zodiac are both Fire Signs, and you know the basics of what Fire is all about, symbolically-speaking, then you’ll understand that these Fire Signs will share some common traits. They’ll also have their definite differences – Aries is not the same thing as Leo, and neither is interchangeable with Sagittarius – but it’s a fair bet that these Fire Signs will be concerned with the energetic level of existence, and they’ll share themes of a Fire-y nature, such as passion, will, adventure, charisma, possibly anger issues, maybe lust issues of some kind, and the management of life-force itself.

Elemental associations for the Signs are pretty well-known, sometimes even to non-astrologers (they may not know exactly what these associations mean, but it’s not uncommon for a non-astrologer to at least be able to report the fact that their natal Sun lies in, say, a Water Sign…).

Here’s how those associations play out along the Zodiac:

Sign

Element

Aries

Fire

Taurus

Earth

Gemini

Air

Cancer

Water

Leo

Fire

Virgo

Earth

Libra

Air

Scorpio

Water

Sagittarius

Fire

Capricorn

Earth

Aquarius

Air

Pisces

Water

As is usually the case, though, the Houses are less acknowledged and understood. Just like the Signs of the Zodiac, the 12 Houses are also assigned associations with the Four Elements. You might notice a pattern developing here:

House

Element

First

Fire

Second

Earth

Third

Air

Fourth

Water

Fifth

Fire

Sixth

Earth

Seventh

Air

Eighth

Water

Ninth

Fire

Tenth

Earth

Eleventh

Air

Twelfth

Water

The same sequence of Elements that repeats itself three times over as it runs alongside the Signs – Fire, Earth, Air, Water – does the same exact thing next to the Houses. If you can memorize that F-E-A-W sequence, you’ll have a handy mnemonic device for keeping all of these Elemental associations pinned down…and you’ll also then have a pretty great wellspring of basic meanings to draw from as you do your chart interpretations.

It can be really informative to get a sense of which Elements are emphasized in a given person’s chart, versus which ones are kind of thinly represented.

Heavy emphasis on an Element can indicate great skill with the business of that Element…but it might also flag the possibility of over-reliance on that Element. If you have a platoon of Planets placed in Water Signs and Houses, you might be terrific at the stuff of Water, such as emotions and romance and mystic/psychic phenomena…but you might also tend to be a dreamer, a space cadet, an addictive or escapist type, or a slave to your feelings. And you might have a tendency to try to force everything into a Water-y context, even when that’s not an especially helpful thing to do.

On the flip-side, when an Element is underrepresented in a chart, it can signal a decided unfamiliarity with that layer of life, a discomfort with it, and maybe blind-spots in your ongoing experience of the world. A person with few Water placements at all may have trouble understanding their own emotions or dealing with the emotions of others. This person might also be clueless about romance, or they might lack imagination.

Here’s a simple exercise you can try out so as to see if Elemental analysis resonates for you as a valid technique… Look at your own chart. Make a table, and then tally up your own Planetary placements one at a time. For each Planet you’re tracking, tally its Sign and House Elements. For example, if you have your natal Venus in Cancer in your Eleventh House, then this Planet is in a Water Sign and an Air House. Run through the Planets and record each result. When you’re done, take a look at:

  1. What’s the Elemental breakdown for the Signs in your chart?
  2. What’s the Elemental breakdown for the Houses in your chart?
  3. What’s the Elemental breakdown when you add them all together?
  4. Do the results feel like they map accurately onto the you that you know?

For that last question, just take an honest look at yourself. Say that through this exercise, you discover that your chart shows that you have a preponderance of Air energy and maybe very little Water. A breakdown like that could easily translate to you being very intellectual in your approach to life, while possibly being a bit emotionally detached (that is, you lead with your brain, not your heart). So you’d then need to really examine the question of whether or not that description does accurately apply to you…

You shouldn’t feel pressured to make this the cornerstone of your practice or anything…but working with the Four Elements can add a lot to chart analysis. It can also be especially helpful when you’re in the beginning stages of learning: Astrology is complex, and getting a lock on four symbols (the Elements) is much easier than learning 12 (the Signs), another 12 (the Houses), or all 24 of those at one go.

Fire, Earth, Air, Water…Fire, Earth, Air, Water…Fire, Earth, Air, Water…

ASTROLOGY TIP: A Clue for Reading Charts

IMG_5229
In the last days of WWII, a British couple named Anthony and Elva Pratt conceived of a new board game designed as a murder mystery. It was published a few years later in England as “Cluedo,” and in North America as “Clue.” The game asked players to deduce the three main components of a murder: whodunnit, what weapon did they do it with, and in which room of the old mansion where the action takes place did they do it?

Whodunnit? The game provides a small cast of suspects, any of whom could have committed the nefarious deed in question. Was it the alluring femme fatale, Miss Scarlet? The bookish Professor Plum? The aging hunter and imperialist, Colonel Mustard? Each has a distinctive personality and agenda.

What’d they do it with? This layer of the deduction offers insight into how the crime was committed. Did it involve the bloodless, up close and personal use of the rope? Or the more detached, at-a-distance firing of the revolver? How about the bludgeoning brutality of the lead pipe? The weapon employed sheds light on the overall mood and flavor of the crime, and on the vibe of the perpetrator.

Where did they do it? Tudor Mansion is large, and comprised of plenty of possible stages for such a drama. Did the murder go down in the stately conservatory? The rather functional kitchen? The elegant ballroom? The setting of the felony tethers it more to concrete reality.

If you grasp how the three sets of Clue symbols – suspect, weapon, room – work together to produce a unique, three-coordinate, “who/how/where” combination from out of many possible such combinations…then you grasp Astrology.

If we set aside the murder part of the equation, the rest translates terrifically well. In Clue, we can say this: “The SUSPECTS act, the WEAPONS tell us how they act, and the ROOMS tell us where they act.”

You only have to swap in the appropriate terms to see how the three main sets of symbols work in Astrology: “The PLANETS act, the SIGNS tell us how they act, and the HOUSES tell us where they act.”

Congratulations – you’re pretty much ready to start reading astrological charts!

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Astrology and Romance…

IMG_4186The other day, I taught an Astrology workshop focusing on what birthcharts can say about a person’s romantic potential (you know: Valentine’s Day and all…). We leaned mainly on the personal Planets and the Ascendant, and off to one side, I tallied up all of the Sign placements in the attendees’ charts, because I’m nerdy like that, and because I thought it might be illuminating to see which Sign-energies might be most likely to propel people out into the cold to try to improve things in their romantic spheres…

Q: Care to guess which Signs were the most represented?

A: By a very wide margin, it was the Signs of Virgo (first place) and Leo (very close second) that topped the polls here. Not a gargantuan sample size, and only one event in one geographic locale studied here, but still interesting (he says, with his Mars in Virgo…).

Astrology 101: Aspects – Meet the Majors (Part 2 – “Hard” vs. “Easy”)

This table – presented for the first time in the post that immediately preceded this one – will hopefully be a helpful aid in getting a grasp on the basics of the Major Aspects:

Aspect

Glyph

Degrees

Character

Conjunction

360° (= 360°/1)

Variable

Opposition

180° (= 360°/2)

Hard

Trine

120° (= 360°/3)

Easy

Square

90° (= 360°/4)

Hard

Sextile

60° (= 360°/6)

Easy

Last time around, we looked at the Conjunction, often celebrated as the most powerful Aspect of them all. If you look at that table again, you might also notice something else that makes the Conjunction stand out from the rest of the pack: it’s the only one whose cell in the “Character” column says “Variable.” All four of the other Major Aspects are listed as being either “Hard” or “Easy.”

Here's the birth-chart of actress Julie Newmar, probably the most famous television version of super-villainess, Catwoman. The colored lines at center represent Aspects. Some are rendered in a cool, soothing blue, because they're believed to be easy and pleasurable for the chart-holder to experience, while others appear in angry red, as they're taken to be tense and friction-heavy...
Here’s the birth-chart of actress Julie Newmar, probably the most famous television version of super-villainess, Catwoman. The colored lines at center represent Aspects. Some are rendered in a cool, soothing blue, because they’re believed to be easy and pleasurable for the chart-holder to experience, while others appear in angry red, as they’re taken to be tense and friction-heavy…

The idea here is that two of the Major Aspects – the Opposition and the Square – are generally regarded as being “hard” on the person whose chart features them. These Aspects can represent connections among some of our inner drives that are filled with tension and friction for us. These drives, which are symbolized by various Planets, will refuse to blend easily together for us, and this refusal will be more or less a lifelong state of affairs. We can (and should) work on integrating these planetary energies as we continue to grow, but their “default settings” will always be urging them back toward that state of struggle. More on the specifics of Oppositions and Squares later on…

But then meanwhile, there are two other Major Aspects – the Trine and the Sextile – that are usually considered to be “easy” on those whose charts are marked by these types of connections. Where Oppositions and Squares show inner stresses, Trines and Sextiles show tendencies for distinct inner drives to get along well, and maybe even to help each other out in symbiotic fashion. These Aspects can represent ease and opportunity.

My own personal view that’s evolved over time prompts me to add one more layer for your consideration (and you can feel absolutely free to dismiss it if it doesn’t seem to hold true for you)…

I’ve come to believe that the so-called Hard Aspects (Oppositions and Squares) will very often highlight areas of a chart-holder’s life in which the world will dump challenging experiences right onto that chart-holder’s head. Quite often, the existence of an Opposition or a Square can’t be avoided. You can try to hide from them in your safe room, but even there, the determined Opposition or the intrepid Square may find you, and club you about the face and neck repeatedly with demanding situations and developments.

In contrast, though, while Trines and Sextiles can surely symbolize terrific opportunities and lucky breaks, I believe that they’re also more passive. Instead of tracking you down and force-feeding you experiences as their “hard” relatives might, these Aspects are more likely to play it coy with you when they appear in your vicinity – so it may be on you to be the active party in the scenario. As an example, imagine that probabilities become enormous at some point that you can win the lottery… That would be some fantastic news, but it would still be on you to get up off the couch, and go buy yourself a lottery ticket if you want to have any real shot at turning those probabilities into reality.

Julie Newmar: as her chart indicates, even TV's Catwoman faces challenges within her own psyche and in the world outside, in addition to the more free-flowing and fortunate-seeming internal and external occurrences she'll experience in life...
Julie Newmar: as her chart indicates, even TV’s Catwoman faces challenges within her own psyche and in the world outside, in addition to the more free-flowing and fortunate-seeming internal and external occurrences she’ll experience in life…

So the Hard Aspects are active, and may confront you whether you like it or not…while the Easy Aspects are more passive, and may well require a fair amount of effort and initiative from you if you want to reap their potential benefits…

Now, if that’s what the “Hard” and the “Easy” Aspects are about in general terms…why are Conjunctions held aside in their own category of “Variable,” and what does that mean, exactly…?

The concept here is that when it comes to Conjunctions, the overall ease or difficulty of any individual example of this kind of Aspect will be far more dependent on which specific Planets are involved than would be the case for any of the other Major Aspects. With Oppositions and Squares, we know that no matter which Planets are connected, their energies won’t merge very easily. With Trines and Sextiles, probabilities will lean strongly toward the connections being pleasant and user-friendly. With Conjunctions, though, it’s important to really examine whether the basic natures of the Planets involved will tend to combine well or not.

For example, the reflective, Yin energies of the Moon will flow very agreeably with the dreamy, mystical energies of Neptune. The effects will probably feel very “easy” to any person whose chart bears this feature. But then again, the results of this Conjunction in that person’s life might conceivably involve too much dreaminess, too much passivity, a decided lack of drive or productivity or action – so while this Conjunction might feel “easy,” its overall effects in life might be “hard.”

Here's an example of one of those Neptune-Mars Conjunctions, this one taken from the chart of famed conqueror, Napoleon Bonaparte. It could be that Napoleon felt a fusion of his spiritual (Neptune) drives with his urges to fight and conquer (Mars), like it was his cosmic destiny to defeat the world in battle. This Conjunction may well have been a huge factor in compelling him to become such a noted and successful aggressor...but with the Conjunction, we can't assume this would have been either
Here’s an example of one of those Neptune-Mars Conjunctions, this one taken from the chart of famed conqueror, Napoleon Bonaparte. It could be that Napoleon felt a fusion of his spiritual (Neptune) drives with his urges to fight and conquer (Mars), like it was his cosmic destiny to defeat the world in battle. This Conjunction may well have been a huge factor in compelling him to become such a noted and successful aggressor…but with the Conjunction, we can’t assume this would have been either “easy” or “hard” for him to deal with in his life. It may well have been both at various times…

But then consider that same dreamy, mystical Neptune forming a Conjunction with fiery, combat-prone Mars. We might be looking at a situation that’s almost the reverse of the Moon-Neptune Conjunction: this one might feel “hard,” and brimming with inner turmoil as placid Neptune and raging Mars vie for control…but dealing with the Conjunction might bring about phenomenal, positive results. Think about the phrase “spiritual warrior,” which might be a good descriptor for a Neptune-Mars Conjunction person. This might be someone compelled to spread their spiritual views to the world against difficult odds, or to use their spirituality as the means by which they enlighten and even protect others. These may be very challenging roads to travel (“hard”), but they might bring tremendous rewards in life, such as enlightenment, fulfillment, fame, and financial well-being (“easy”).

When you’re dealing with any Aspect, it’s important to analyze the inherent natures of the Planets involved, and also to take note of which Signs and Houses they inhabit. However, with the “Hard” Aspects, you can start off by defaulting first to the notion that the planetary energies involved will probably be merging in the more difficult of the ways that exist within the spectrum of reasonable possibilities. With the “Easy” Aspects, the mergers will most likely tend to happen in the more harmonious ways possible. With the Conjunction, assume neither of these things to start – begin your analysis of Conjunctions at conceptual Ground Zero, and approach it like a detective sidling up to a crime scene: what do the facts say? In the absence of other factors, how would this Planet in this Sign in this House most likely be inclined to merge with this Planet in this Sign in this House…?

The next post will get into specifics about each of the remaining four Major Aspects…

Holiday Astrology Special

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Astrology 101: Aspects – A Few Chart Basics

Here's classic Hollywood film star, Lana Turner -- her birth-chart will graciously illustrate some principles for us in this post...
Here’s classic Hollywood film star, Lana Turner — her birth-chart will graciously illustrate some principles for us in this post…

Last time around, we looked at a technique by which we can use the concept of Planetary Rulerships of Signs to point out connections between different Houses. These connections can be very definite and direct in the life of the person whose chart is being examined…but they’re not made visually obvious in a chart for us. In other words, unless you already know what Planetary Rulerships are, then you might have no idea that these connections even exist among the Houses.

The birth-chart of actress Lana Turner...  Notice all those colored lines cluttering up the center portion of the chart?  These are Aspects, and they represent different kinds of connections that can link Planets together...
The birth-chart of actress Lana Turner… Notice all those colored lines cluttering up the center portion of the chart? These are Aspects, and they represent different kinds of connections that can link Planets together…

There’s another kind of connection, though, that is marked for us in standard charts, and that is therefore visually obvious. This variety of connection is called an Aspect; it represents a mathematical/geometric relationship between any two Planets or Points, and Aspects are represented by most Astrology software packages as colored lines running amok within the central portion of a chart. Some of the lines are blue, and some of them are red…some are dotted, and some are dashed. The next few posts will get into what these all mean, and what kinds of information they can provide…

First, though, if we’re about to set sail into waters that can be described by terms like “mathematical” or “geometric,” I want to be sure to first issue the informational life-preservers that you’ll need so that you’ll feel comfortable along the way, and not like you’re about to get sucked down forever by some merciless undertow of eggheadedness. If you already have a good grip on the ins and outs of a circle, you might be able to speed-read through all this, but if not, I’m aiming to make this as painless as possible, and as quick as it can be without assuming too much.

Let’s start with the circle. As you’ve likely noticed by now, that’s exactly what a birth-chart is: a circle. It’s riddled with symbols, it has a fat rim around its outside that factors into the mix, and it’s cut into a dozen little pie-slices…but essentially, when all is said and done, we’re dealing with a circle.

You can feel free to ignore most of what's happening in this image, but DO please note the fact that at the far right, the same little hashmark represents both 0 degrees and 360 degrees.  This is because any circle is said to be split into 360 equal units of length called degrees.  360 degrees equal a full circle, and the end is the beginning all over again...
You can feel free to ignore most of what’s happening in this image, but DO please note the fact that at the far right, the same little hashmark represents both 0 degrees and 360 degrees. This is because any circle is said to be split into 360 equal units of length called degrees. 360 degrees equal a full circle, and the end is the beginning all over again…

And a common convention used when dealing with a circle is to divide it into 360 equal units of measurement running around the outside of the circle that are called degrees. Here, a degree is a unit of distance, not of temperature, although the symbol is the same as it would be if we were discussing readings on a thermometer: “A circle has 360°…”

Degrees in this context are not absolute, objective measurements, either, not in the same way that units like, say, centimeters are. A centimeter is always the same length no matter who’s using it, or where it’s being used around the globe. A degree, though, changes relative to the size of the circle being discussed. If we were looking at the biggest crop circle ever made, and it was 360 kilometers around its outer rim, then each degree of that crop circle would measure 1 km. If we then looked at a circle that was only 360 centimeters around its rim, then each of that circle’s degrees would measure 1 cm. The point is that it doesn’t really matter to us in chart interpretation how big the circle is in objective terms – all we care about is that a degree equals 1/360th of the chart. This is our entry-point into meaningful discussions about charts with other people.

So you may recall that the outer yellow rim of a chart represents the Zodiac belt. If you look at a chart, you will also see that both the outer rim and the inner rim of the Zodiac belt are scored by legions of little hashmarks – each of these hashmarks represents a single degree. If you have the time and the inclination, you can count them, and you should find that each side of the Zodiac belt boasts 360 such marks.

You may also recall that the actual Zodiac belt out in space is made up of 12 equal-sized patches of sky through which all of the Planets seem to move as we look out at them from our vantage point here on Earth. So that’s valuable info right there: if a circle is made up of 360°, and if that circle is divided up into a dozen sections of equal size:

360° / 12 = 30°

The twin wavy lines symbolize the Sign of Aquarius: when Lana Turner was born, the Sun had wandered 19 degrees and 34 minutes into the patch of sky that we here on Earth call Aquarius.  You can see how that Sign -- and, in fact, every Sign -- is made up of 30 degrees, each represented graphically by a little hashmark.  Degree 30 of one Sign is also Degree 0 of the next Sign...
The twin wavy lines symbolize the Sign of Aquarius: when Lana Turner was born, the Sun had wandered 19 degrees and 34 minutes into the patch of sky that we here on Earth call Aquarius. You can see how that Sign — and, in fact, every Sign — is made up of 30 degrees, each represented graphically by a little hashmark. Degree 30 of one Sign is also Degree 0 of the next Sign…

Each Sign then covers thirty degrees (30°) of the Zodiac belt out in space, and of its corresponding representation in a chart. You can pick a Sign and count the hashmarks bristling from it to check me on my math if you feel like doing so – it will take way less time than going all the way around the chart, and most astrological software packages also help us out by making every fifth hashmark a little bigger than the single ones, and every tenth hashmark larger still.

Astrologers can get very precise, though, and quite often, one 360th of the circle doesn’t feel specific enough, so the astrologer will drill down even deeper into the measurement. Have you ever used an interactive map program such as MapQuest or Google Maps to look at a location? If so, then you know that you can change the apparent distance from which you’re viewing the map: you can start out looking at an entire continent, as though you’re watching Earth from a passing space shuttle, or you can zoom in, closer and closer, descending into a view that closes in on a single city…then a neighborhood…a single street…one individual address… If these programs were higher-powered, you could probably get down to the atomic level. But the point is: you can zoom way in.

The same holds true for a birth-chart. We now know that the rim of the chart is divided up into 360 equal measurements called degrees. Here’s the next step, then, which is like zooming in from city-view to street-view in MapQuest: each single degree is then subdivided into 60 smaller, equal units of measurement called minutes. It’s the exact same term we use when describing 1/60th of an hour in a day, but in the context of chart analysis, a “minute” is another unit of distance, and has nothing to do with time. We indicate minutes in written notation with the same mark that, in regular writing, we call an apostrophe. So, if famed actress Lana Turner has her Sun at 19 degrees and 34 minutes into the Sign of Aquarius, we write that as 19° 34’…

This table located beneath the birth-chart tells us that should we want to get really, really specific, we can say with great accuracy that Lana Turner's natal Sun lies 19 degrees, 34 minutes, and 2 seconds into the Sign of Aquarius...
This table located beneath the birth-chart tells us that should we want to get really, really specific, we can say with great accuracy that Lana Turner’s natal Sun lies 19 degrees, 34 minutes, and 2 seconds into the Sign of Aquarius…

In fact, within the chart itself, you’ll see that degrees are written in a larger font than minutes…so Lana Turner’s Sun has a notation next to it that features a large 19 with a smaller 34 just next to it. But down in the chart below, which lists all of the Planetary placements, you’ll see yet another notation for her Sun… Remember how each degree is subdivided into 60 minutes? Well, if you want to drill down deeper still, each minute is then split into 60 equal subdivisions called seconds. Again, this measurement shares a name with a unit of time, but in chart interpretation, a second is a measurement of distance. In written notation, we indicate seconds using a double-apostrophe. So when we see the listing for Lana Turner’s Sun as 19 Aqu 34′ 2”…this means that when Lana Turner was born, the Sun up in the sky had traveled a distance of 19 degrees, 34 minutes, and 2 seconds into the patch of sky that we call Aquarius.

Now, it’s likely that you’ll almost never really need to get so specific that you’re getting into seconds when discussing a placement. To be honest, even zooming down to the level of minutes probably won’t be something you’ll be called on to do all that often. For the most part, you just need to know how astrologers keep track of placements. In practice, you’ll find that most of the time, rounding to the nearest whole degree will do the job just fine.

Next time, we’ll start to get into how we can use this measuring system to pull all kinds of valuable information from out of a chart…