The Four Elements in Astrology

Much has been written about the Four Elements in Astrology.  One of the earliest and most informative books I read on this topic was "Astrology, Psychology, and The Four Elements", written by Stephen Arroyo, and I recommend his work to any aspiring astrologer.

Yet how the four so-called Elements, Fire, Earth, Air and Water relate to other models of the human psyche, is not much clearer than why, for example, Aries should have get-ahead qualities, or Taurus a tendency towards stability.

Since it is possibly easier to relate four, rather than twelve, types to a more familiar conceptual model, I started with an attempt to fit the four elements into a diagram with Stability/Neuroticism on the X axis and Extraversion/Introversion on the Y axis.  Please refer to Diagram 1.

Diagram 1

It should be noted here that the term "Neurotic" is used to suggest a description of nervous activity of a subjective or projective nature, rather than to carry any suggestion of mental instability in Fire and Water!  Similarly, the reputation for the stability of Earth and Air possibly arises from the fact that these elements operate in the external world: they are public, rather than private.

Traditionally, Fire and Air Signs are described as Positive, while Earth and Water signs are described as Negative.  This would suggest the link between Extraversion and Fire and Air, and between Introversion and Earth and Water.

Supposedly Air and Fire interact well, (either within an individual strong in both Fire and Air, or when a person strong in Fire relates to a person strong in Air), and this is because both Air and Fire are Extravert in nature.

Similarly, Earth and Water get on in view of their mutual Introverted quality. Earth and Air share Stability, while Fire and Water share Neurotic qualities.

The problem comes when considering Fire/Earth or Air/Water combinations.  These are widely said to be quite incompatible, possibly in view of their having nothing in common, according to the diagram.  Yet this incompatibility is quite contrary to my own experience.

I draw some benefit from looking at diagram 2, where the four elements are plausibly related to the four processes in a decision making cycle.  Different business schools will use different labels for the four steps, (and possibly put in a few more steps), but I have tried to keep things simple. 

Diagram 2

One can start at any of the four points in the cycle, indeed you may well be able to notice at which point you normally enter the cycle by looking at your horoscope and finding which element is most strongly represented.  If you have a lot of Fire emphasis, for example, you may make decisions from within yourself, spontaneously or intuitively.  You will then put them into practice, gather information about the outcomes, and evaluate the feedback.  In the light of the feedback you may make further decisions and so on.  Again, how much importance you attach to each of the four stages in the cycle may well depend on your strength in the corresponding element.

My point is that the cycle can flow freely, particularly if you know where you are relatively strong and where you are relatively weak.  Air/Water and Fire/Earth combinations are not disadvantaged in this model: they can work quite well together, being adjacent points in the cycle.  While the world accepts the Scientific Method (Air and Earth), and tolerates what might be called the Artistic Method (Fire and Water), there is plenty of room for a general or Reflective Method, and for a specific or "Steamroller" Method.

In this model the Fire/Air and Water/Earth pairs, being composed of non-adjacent elements or points in the cycle, would appear to cooperate less well.  One certainly sees Fire/Air people who have put so much energy into building up and mapping out their boundaries that they burn themselves out, while there are plenty of Earth/Water types who become stick-in -the muds.  Decision making does not come easily in these situations.  Yet there are difficulties with all the other combinations too.  Air/Earth can be too objective, and miss out on the appreciation of the human side of life, while Fire/Water can lack objectivity to the extent that they are regarded as unstable.  Air/Water can spend ages dreaming and speculating without actually doing anything, while Fire/Earth combinations can do rather too much without regard to the broader picture.

There are some advantages to taking a 3 dimensional approach as in Diagram 3.

This diagram is meant to represent a tetrahedron embedded in 3 dimensional space.  It is not brilliantly drawn, but I hope the idea comes across.  The four points of the tetrahedron consist of the four elements, while the six lines joining them represent element pairs.  Fire and Water are supposed to be near the "front" of the diagram, while Earth and Air are near the "back" of the diagram.  For those who prefer a table, I give one below.






It will be noticed that each element shares one attribute with every other element, and differs from each element in two of its attributes.  I believe that this model can be helpful when considering the relationship between the four elements, at least conceptually.  Admittedly I am not entirely impartial, since I have a considerable amount of Air and Water in my own chart!

While it is not too difficult to treat the four elements to this type of analysis, some difficulties arise when trying to extend the model to include the twelve methods of expression represented by the twelve Signs of the Zodiac.  While an analysis of the four elements can take place in a spatial model, the extension to twelve involves a multiplication by three.

Traditionally this is done by taking each element and saying that it can operate in one of three modes, Cardinal, Fixed or Mutable.  Loosely speaking, Cardinality suggests initiation or motion, Fixedness indicates perseverance or solidity, and Mutability suggests changeableness or elasticity.  In an analogy with the three divisions of Time, one might consider Cardinality to correspond to action arising from the Past, Fixedness to staying grounded in the Present and Mutabilty to preparation for the future.

Many astrologers point out the correlation between the four Elements of Astrology and the four Functions used by Carl J. Jung, those of Intuition, Sensation, Thinking and Feeling.  I believe this to be an accurate correlation, but in my opinion too little attention has been paid to Sigmund Freud's model of the Psyche, consisting of the Id (or the unconscious urges), the Ego and the Superego.  The Parent - Adult -  Child model of Eric Berne has similar potential to be linked with the signs in Astrology.

Another way of grouping the Signs in three groups of four, is to take the first four signs, Aries to Cancer, the second four signs, Leo to Scorpio, and finally Sagittarius to Pisces.  It then leaps to the eye that the first four signs correspond to the Id, the second four to the Ego, and the final four to the Superego.  The Id, The Ego and the Superego each have four parts, each part corresponding to one of the elements.

How might one represent this diagrammatically?  Well one could add more dimensions, but I am not convinced that this is necessary.  Cosmologists debate endlessly  the "shape" of space in the universe, since it has important implications regarding the beginning and end of the universe.

At the risk of some oversimplification, there are basically three types of space.  There is normal Euclidean space, with zero curvature, Spherical space with positive curvature and Hyperbolic space with negative curvature.  If one can have conceptual mathematical spaces, I see no reason why these should not be able to be mirrored in psychologically correlated spaces.  I rather like the idea of the Id corresponding to Hyperbolic space, the Ego to Euclidean space and the Superego to Spherical space.  It is certainly possible to draw a tetrahedron in any of these spaces, though straight lines do not look very straight in spaces with non-zero curvature!

I am still working on these models, and wonder whether anyone has speculated along similar lines.  If this is the case, please let me know, or indeed please let me know if you are aware of any other work being done in this field.

Hopefully updates to this page will follow in due course.......

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Page Created 18th August 1999



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