The Four Elements and Three Modalities

The following is an excerpt from Cosmic Navigator by Gahl Sasson:

Navigators on sea and land rely on the four directions of the compass for orientation. Cosmic navigators use the four elements:

  • Fire, representing action and creativity, fuels the signs of Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius.
  • Water, symbolizing emotions, underlies the signs of Cancer, Scorpio, and Pisces.
  • Air, corresponding to intellect, is the dominating force for Libra, Aquarius, and Gemini.
  • Earth, which stands for substance and practicality, is the hallmark of Capricorn, Taurus, and Virgo.

According to the ancient wisdom of alchemy, these four elements form the basis of all life. Right now, as you hold this book in your hands, you embody the four ele- ments. The physical aspect of the book (cover, paper, ink) belongs to the element of earth, the words and information that appeal to your intellect evoke air, the action of holding and reading the book falls under the rule of fire, while the emotions triggered by the information in the book come from the element of water. When you kiss your lover, you also create alchemy. You generate the physical touch of the lips (earth), the emotional rush (water), the thoughts running through your brain (air), as well as the passion and attraction (fire).

Alchemists endeavor to balance the four elements in order to transmute imper- fect, ordinary, and mundane situations, symbolized by the metal lead, into the per- fection of love, symbolized by the heart and the metal gold. The alchemist’s or astrologer’s laboratory is his or her own body.
We can group the four elements into two folders: feminine (water and earth) and masculine (fire and air), which mirrors the two major human archetypes, feminine (nurturing and practical) and masculine (active and communicative). That division tells us that for balance, to create a golden life, we need to honor and augment both our traditionally female and male characteristics, regardless of our gender.

The Three Modalities

The four elements form the backbone of all Western mysteries, including Kabbalah. So why do we need twelve signs?
Each of the four elements can be expressed in three different styles. These var- ied modes of expression are called the three modalities. Astrology follows the four seasons, which correspond to the four elements, and each of these three-month-long seasons is comprised of a beginning, middle, and end. Every month manifests in nature in a slightly varied way. The beginning of winter, for example, is not as frigid as the middle. The middle of summer is usually quite a bit hotter than the end. The three modalities represent those three parts of the seasons:

  • The cardinal modality marks the beginning of the season and the power of initiation.
  • The fixed modality corresponds to the middle of the season and the power of sustaining.
  • The mutable modality represents the end of the season and the power of change.


  Elements and Modalities
  Fire Water Air Earth
Cardinal Aries Cancer Libra Capricorn
Fixed Leo Scorpio Aquarius Taurus
Mutable Sagittarius Pisces Gemini Virgo


Each of the four elements presents a cardinal expression, a fixed expression, and a mutable expression. Four elements times three modalities equals twelve distinct energy fields and therefore the twelve signs. Even though Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius, for example, are all fire signs, they each represent a different archetype. Aries person- ifies the warrior or soldier. Leo embodies the king, who is protected by the warrior. And Sagittarius connotes the prophet, wizard, or adviser, who insures the upholding of the ethics of both the warrior and the king. In the Bible, David, the redheaded Aries warrior, was anointed by Samuel, a prophetic sage emblematic of Sagittarius. David usurped the kingdom from the old king Saul, initiating a dynasty. Aries, the cardinal fire sign, begins the process. Sagittarius, the mutable sign, acted as the mes- senger, the connector, the agent of change from one season to the next—in this case from one dynasty (Saul) to another (David). Leo, the fixed fire sign, then receives the flame from Aries and strives to maintain it. In this case, King Solomon, who symbol- izes the born-a-king sign of Leo, inherited the kingdom from his father and ruled peaceably with his harem of a thousand wives. After all, a Leo is a Leo . . . . The cardinal signs initiate the seasons: Aries kicks off spring, Cancer births summer, Libra brings autumn, and Capricorn delivers us into winter. These cardinal signs push us forward, urging the best from us. They act as personal trainers who cajole our finest, our healthiest muscles, out into view.
The fixed signs, embedded in the middle of the season, radiate the full force of the seasonal trend. Taurus occurs when spring blooms everywhere; Leo falls under the strongest sun. Scorpio, the sign of death, rules when the leaves fall from the trees, and Aquarius rules when ice and cold fiercely grip the ground.

Kabbalah calls these four fixed signs Hayot, or “the Creatures.” They are yoked to “the chariot,” a mystical Kabbalistic code for the vehicle (or meditation) used to ascend to a communion with the divine. These creatures first appear in Ezekiel’s transcendent vision (Exekiel 11:10): “As for the likeness of their faces, they four had the face of a man [Aquarius], and the face of a lion [Leo] . . . they four had the face of an ox [Taurus] . . . they four also had the face of an eagle [Scorpio].” Later, Christian mystics associated the four creatures with the four apostles Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John. What is the significance of all this? Well, the fixed signs tend to take themselves very seriously and demand that we take them seriously too. No wonder the accounts ascribed to these apostles were later compiled into the New Testament and came to be regarded by close to a billion people as the word of God. The fixed signs stand as the pillars that support the zodiac, just as the four creatures support many of the esoteric mysteries of Kabbalah and the four gospels form the basis of Christendom.
The mutable signs, meanwhile, foster the transition of one season to the next in the same way that film editors endeavor to avoid jarring jump cuts between scenes. Gemini bridges spring and summer, Virgo ushers summer into autumn, Sagittarius shoots arrows from autumn to winter, and Pisces thaws winter into spring. Just as diversity and mutations in evolution insure the survival of many different species and therefore a dynamic and functioning biosphere, the mutable signs provide the change and diversity that permit survival amid the earth’s changing physical states. The mutables guarantee our ability to adjust.
In Hinduism, these three modalities, or principles, gave birth to the Divine Triad: Brahma, the god of creation and initiation; Vishnu, the sustainer; and Shiva, the destroyer. The Greco-Roman culture mirrored this essential trio in the three god- desses of Fate; the first offers the thread of life, the second measures the thread, and the third cuts it. The Kabbalistic Tree of Life similarly features three pillars: a pillar on the right that expands, a pillar on the left that constricts, and a central pillar that balances and sustains.

The Core Power of the Signs

You can learn much about any astrological sign simply by combining the charac- teristics of its element with those of its modality. This easy formula will help you determine the root power of any particular archetype, which will deepen your understanding of the people around you and the events that seem to occur during particular times of the calendar year.

Root Power = Modality + Element

Aries: You are cardinal fire. Your root power stems from an ability to initiate (car- dinal) action (fire). Your success requires initiation, the pushing and furthering of your goals. You need to liberate (fire) yourself from any oppression so that you will be able to lead (cardinal) yourself and others.

Taurus: You are fixed earth. Your root power comes from stability (earth), patience, and sustaining (fixed) an effort for long periods of time. You need to con- nect to your five senses and ground yourself (earth and fixed) in matters that concern your talents, values, and finances.

Gemini: You are mutable air. Your root power manifests in the ability to adjust (mutable) the style of communication (air) to any fluctuating circumstance. As long as you improvise (mutable) and wield your intelligence (air), you will achieve your aspirations.

Cancer: You are cardinal water. Your root power derives from initiating (cardinal) emotional processes (water). You are a giver (cardinal) of life. To tap your potential, you need to give birth (cardinal) to situations that will allow you to nurture (water) people or projects.

Leo: You are fixed fire. Your root power comes from perseverance (fixed) in action (fire). You can become famous and respected in your circles if you main- tain a steady and focused (fixed) creative force (fire) with the ultimate goal of benevolence.

Virgo: You are mutable earth. Your root power emerges from your ability to edit, fix, and adjust (mutable) situations so that life around you becomes more efficient and effective (earth). This editorial work ultimately ought to be directed toward service to humankind.

Libra: You are cardinal air. Your power root lies in initiating (cardinal) commu- nication (air). This ability grants you mastery over relationships and justice, provided that you initiate (cardinal) conversations and work on your diplomacy (air).

Scorpio: You are fixed water. Your power root springs from the ability to remain (fixed) intensely emotional and intimate (water) in relationships. You can be success- ful if you allow yourself to expose and be exposed, to heal and be healed, and to dive as deep as you can into the fundamental (fixed) essence of the emotional (water) motives of others.

Sagittarius: You are mutable fire. Your root power emerges from your capacity to spread (mutable) philosophies, moral codes, and belief systems (fire), especially when you engage your innate sense of optimism. Your duty to humankind relates to teaching, learning, and adjusting (mutable) the negative attitudes and actions (fire) of others.

Capricorn: You are cardinal earth. Your root power comes from initiating (car- dinal) practical applications of talents, assets, and resources (earth). You embody the business plan of the zodiac wheel. Your success is assured when you set a definite goal (cardinal) and then practice patience and discipline (earth).

Aquarius: You are fixed air. Your root power stems from a stable and consistent (fixed) interplay with your community and friends (air). You are the pillar (fixed) of a large group of people (air). Your success lies in cultivating innovative, funny, and futuristic ideas (air).

Pisces: You are mutable water. Your root power derives from your capacity to improve life and generate change (mutable) via imagination, mysticism, and com- passion (water). Your can cultivate success with your sensitivity to the emotional (water) states of others. Dreams and fantasy (water) often serve as the tools by which you manifest your preferred life.