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Astrology and the classical elements

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Astrology has used the concept of classical elements from antiquity up until the present. In Western astrology and Indian astrology four elements are used, namely Fire, Earth, Air and Water. Chinese astrology uses a different system of elements totalling five, namely Metal, Water, Wood, Fire and Earth.


Western astrology

Main article: Triplicity

In Western tropical astrology, there are always 12 astrological signs; thus, each of the four elements is associated with 3 signs of the Zodiac which are always located exactly 120 degrees away from each other along the ecliptic and said to be in trine with one another. Most modern astrologers use the four classical elements extensively, (also known as triplicities) and indeed it is still viewed as a critical part of interpreting the astrological chart.

Beginning with the first sign Aries which is a Fire sign, the next in line Taurus is Earth, then to Gemini which is Air, and finally to Cancer which is Water – in Western astrology the sequence is always Fire, Earth, Air, & Water in that exact order[citation needed]. This cycle continues on twice more and ends with the twelfth and final astrological sign, Pisces. The elemental rulerships for the twelve astrological signs of the zodiac (according to Marcus Manilius) are summarised as follows:

  • Fire — 1 - Aries; 5 - Leo; 9 - Sagittarius - hot, dry, ardent
  • Earth — 2 - Taurus; 6 - Virgo; 10 - Capricorn - heavy, cold, dry
  • Air — 3 - Gemini; 7 - Libra; 11 - Aquarius - light, hot, wet
  • Water — 4 - Cancer; 8 - Scorpio; 12 - Pisces - wet, soft, cold

Elements in classical astrology

Triplicity rulerships

In traditional astrology, each triplicity has several planetary rulers, which change with conditions of sect – that is, whether the chart is a day chart or a night chart. Triplicity rulerships are a very important essential dignity – one of the several factors used by traditional astrologers to weigh the strength, effectiveness and integrity of each planet in a chart.

Triplicty rulerships (using the "Dorothean system") are as follows:[1]

Triplicity Rulerships
Triplicity Day Ruler Night Ruler Participating Ruler
Fire (Aries, Leo, Sagittarius) Sun Jupiter Saturn
Air (Gemini, Libra, Aquarius) Saturn Mercury Jupiter
Earth (Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn) Venus Moon Mars
Water* (Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces) Venus* Mars Moon

* (Ptolemy[2] later modified the rulerships of Water triplicity, making Mars the ruler of the water triplicity for both day and night charts--and William Lilly concurred.)[3]

"Participating" rulers were not used after the Hellenistic period. [4]

Triplicities by season

In ancient astrology, triplicities were more of a seasonal nature, so a season was given the qualities of an element, which means the signs associated with that season would be allocated to that element. The seasonal elements of ancient astrology are as follows:

  • Spring - Air - Aries, Taurus, Gemini
  • Summer - Fire - Cancer, Leo, Virgo
  • Autumn - Earth - Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius
  • Winter - Water - Capricorn, Aquarius, Pisces

These associations are not given any great importance in modern astrology, although they are prominent in modern Western neopaganism, druidism and wicca

Elements in modern astrology

In modern astrology each of the elements are associated with different personality types. The following table summarizes their characteristics as follows:

Element Horoscope Description Misused...
Fire Aries, Leo, Sagittarius These signs are fiery, bright, ardent, enthusiastic, leaders, confident, proud, spontaneous, self-sufficient, and romantic. They can be very arrogant, self-centered, bossy, and forceful; and hungers for attention. These signs don't have time to sympathize and comfort others; they have no patience for emotionalism or heaviness. They also tend to take credit for things that others have also taken part in.
Earth Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn These signs are practical, stable, consistent, rigid, determined, dependable, patient, conservative, and sensual. They love material comforts and have good recuperative powers. They can be dull and too materialistic.
Air Gemini, Libra, Aquarius These signs can talk and communicate well; they tend to be intellectual, and they are able to handle abstract reasoning. They are logical, objective, talkative, social, spontaneous, flexible, cautious, idealistic, and unprejudiced. They can be cold, superficial, and impractical. These signs fear something new and hunger for freedom.
Water Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces These signs are feeling, sustaining, and receptive. They are emotional, intuitive, responsive, sensitive, psychic, and deep. They tend to be susceptible to mood swings, and it takes a while to get to know them. They are also nurturing and base many actions they take on sense. They can be self-protective and like to spoil themselves. If their emotions become too strong, these signs can become addicted to drugs, alcohol, food, or anything that keeps them from being overloaded. Along with their empathy, also comes a tendency to actually absorb the emotions of others.

Indian astrology

Main article: Jyotisha

Indian astrology shares the same system as Western astrology of linking zodiac signs to elements. The following table gives the correspondences:

Number Sanskrit Name Western Name Sanskrit Element Western Name
1 Mesha Aries Tejas Fire
2 Vrishabha Taurus Prithivi Earth
3 Mithuna Gemini Vayu Air
4 Karka Cancer Jala Water
5 Simha Leo Tejas Fire
6 Kanya Virgo Prithivi Earth
7 Tula Libra Vayu Air
8 Vrischika Scorpio Jala Water
9 Dhanus Sagittarius Tejas Fire
10 Makara Capricorn Prithivi Earth
11 Kumbha Aquarius Vayu Air
12 Meena Pisces Jala Water

In addition, in Vedic thought each of the five planets are linked to an element (with ether as the fifth). It was said in the Veda that everything emanated from the one basic vibration of "Om" or "Aum." From "Om" the five elemental vibrations emerged representing the five different tattwas (or elements). The five planets represent these five vibrations – Jupiter for Ether, Saturn for Air, Mars for Fire, Mercury for Earth, and Venus for Water.

Chinese astrology

Main article: Wu xing

Chinese astrology uses the Five Elements of (Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal,and Water, ) on top of the twelve animal signs in a sixty year cycle. These are modifiers and affect the characteristics of each of the 12 animal signs. Thus, each of the 12 animals are governed by an element plus a Yin Yang Direction.

Although it is usually translated as 'element' the Chinese word xing literally means something like 'changing states of being', 'permutations' or 'metamorphoses of being'. [5] In fact Sinologists cannot agree on one single translation. The Chinese conception of 'element' is therefore quite different to the Western one. The Western elements were seen as the basic building blocks of matter. The Chinese 'elements', by contrast, were seen as ever changing and moving forces or energies - one translation of xing is simply 'the five changes'.

The balance of yin and yang and the five elements in a person's make-up has a major bearing on what is beneficial and effective for them in terms of feng shui, the Chinese form of geomancy. This is because each element is linked to a particular direction and season, and their different kinds of qì or life force. Each of the elements are also linked to a different planet.

木 Wood

  • The planet Jupiter
  • The east, spring
  • The color green
  • Liver and gallbladder
  • Generous, warm, persuasive, co-operative, seeks to expand and grow
  • Idealistic, ethical, enthusiastic, seeks to explore

Wood governs the Tiger, Rabbit, and Dragon.

火 Fire

  • The planet Mars
  • The south, summer
  • The color red
  • Circulatory system and heart
  • Dynamic, energetic, passionate, enterprising, adventurous, restless
  • Competitive, leadership skills, strong, single-minded, loves a good laugh

Fire governs the Snake, Horse and Sheep.

土 Earth

  • The planet Saturn
  • Center, three enclosures, change of seasons
  • The color yellow
  • Digestive system, spleen and stomach
  • Patient, prudent, stable, reliable, hard-working, ambitious, stubborn, and very energetic
  • Disciplined, logical, governed by service and duty to others

Earth governs the Dragon, Rat, and Ox. It is the central balance of the elements and can lend qualities to all 12 animals as well.

金 Metal

  • The planet Venus
  • The west, autumn
  • The color white
  • Respiratory system and lungs
  • Determined, self-reliant, unyielding, strong, persistent, forceful
  • Reserved, needs personal space, sophisticated, seeks pleasure

Metal governs the Monkey, Rooster, and Dog.

水 Water

  • The planet Mercury
  • The north, winter
  • The color blue
  • Skeletal/excretory system and lungs
  • Diplomatic, charming, intuitive, compassionate, sensitive, creative
  • Flexible, compliant, good at communication, intellectual

Water governs the Pig, Rat, and Ox.

Element cycles


The doctrine of five phases describes two Cycles of Balance, a generating or creation (生, shēng) cycle and an overcoming or destruction (克, ) cycle of interactions between the phases.


  • Wood feeds Fire;
  • Fire creates Earth (ash);
  • Earth bears Metal;
  • Metal collects Water and
  • Water nourishes Wood.


  • Wood parts Earth;
  • Earth absorbs Water;
  • Water quenches Fire;
  • Fire melts Metal and
  • Metal chops Wood.


  1. ^ Late Classical Astrology: Paulus Alexandrinus and Olympiodorus (with the Scholia of later Latin Commentators). [Translated by Dorian Gieseler Greenbaum.] Archive for the Retrieval of Historical Astrological Texts [ARHAT] [1], 2001. P.6. (This is a translation of Paulus' Introduction along with the Commentary by Olympiodorus and related Byzantine scholia.)
  2. ^ [2] Claudius Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos online [tr. by Frank Egleston Robbins] in the Loeb Classical Library, 1 volume, Greek text and facing English translation: Harvard University Press, 1940. Pp. 79-83.
  3. ^ William Lilly, Christian Astrology, Book 3: An Easie And Plaine Method Teaching How to Judge upon Nativities, 1647. 2nd ed., 1659. Re-published by Astrology Classics (Bel Air, Maryland), 2004; by Ascella Publications, ed. D. Houlding, London, 2000; and [in facsimile of 1647 edition] by Regulus Press, London, 1985. [orig.] P. 104.
  4. ^ Joseph Crane, A Practical Guide to Traditional Astrology. ARHAT publications (Reston, VA). 1997, 2007. ISBN 9-780966-226614. Pp.6-10.
  5. ^ Wolfram Eberhard, A Dictionary of Chinese Symbols, pg 93, pg 105, pg 309, Routledge and Keegan Paul, London, 1986
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Astrology_and_the_classical_elements". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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