elementary star signs

Reveals an interesting structure in the signs of the western zodiac, of which astonishingly nobody is aware.

First Example: Leo and Fire Signs

But the lion is a stage in a process, as Jung suggests; and it is this process or pattern which brings us into the sphere of the 'fate' of Leo. It would seem [...] that there is an alchemical work to be performed. The Lion is not permitted to remain in its bestial form, but must give way to something other. - Liz Greene, The Astrology of Fate

In my model, Leo's transformation mentioned in the above quote is between elements: earth is turned by fire to air.


The archetypal image is simply a burning fire that transforms wood (earth) to smoke (air). More precisely, Aries is a young fire, made mainly of earth, with not much fire, yet, and almost no air, yet. Sagittarius, in turn, is an old fire, consisting mainly of air, with not much fire remaining and almost no earth left. Leo is in between, a fire at its peak, with a lot of fire, and less but mutually about equal amounts of earth and air.

Astonishingly, this simple model is by far not simplistic.

Let me visit a few themes related to Leo and the fire signs, before exposing the model in a bit more structured way, while also extending it to all signs and elements.

As a primary source for themes and myths, I will use what Liz Greene associates with star signs in The Astrology of Fate (Weiser, 1984), in chapter 8, Myth and the Zodiac. Unless otherwise mentioned, quotes will be from there.

A central theme in the story of Parsifal, and thus also for Leo, is the wound of the fisher king. Young Parsifal first fails to ask the right question and only after much work manages to heal the king and take his place.

In my model, the wound of the fisher king is simply the human body (earth) that is wounded by the fire of life, as any human body is doomed to die one day. Only what is learned in life, can be formulated in words (air) and can thus be passed on to later generations, thus becomes immortal in a way. So there is a transformation from mortal body to immortal soul, or a transition animal->human/king->god.

This explains why conscious awareness (air) is such an important thing to learn for Parsifal. The wound of the fisher king is in the lower part of his body, afflicting his power to reproduce, thus related to the more instinctive and animal-like side of the king (earth).

While the wound of the fisher king can be healed, the wound in a piece of mythology associated with Sagittarius, cannot: The centaur Cheiron was accidentally injured by his friend Hercules with a poisoned arrow in the lower part of his body. But since Cheiron is immortal, he cannot die. This fits very well with the model, where the fire has burned almost down, i.e. the earth (human body) is gone, and only knowledge and wisdom remain.

It is also fitting that the wound is inflicted by Hercules, who was usually wearing a lion's pelt. Cheiron in the end consciously choses to trade his immortality for releasing Prometheus from Hades.

Some cookbook attributes of the fire signs: Aries is considered to be rather secretive, while Sagittarius is known for his openness, and Leo is likely somewhere in between, sometimes being open and sometimes not. This fits with decreasing mortality (less earth). What damage can others do to you if most of you has become immortal (air) anyway. Related to that is also the theme of generosity, which is apparently also increasing from Aries to Sagittarius, in the model for the same reason.

The sun god Apollo "is an image of the power of consciousness, vested in it by the Self, which breaks the 'curse'". A family curse can be seen as rooted in earth, in the tree of ancestors, in physical reproduction. Transforming this inheritance by fire to consciousness (air) frees one from the curse, as knowledge and wisdom can be freely transmitted to anybody, independently of physical relations. Say, if you write a book, that book would be made of trees (earth), but if it reaches many readers, might still transcend its matter by far.

Let me leave it at that for the fire signs for the moment. I will explore such themes in more detail for each fire sign further below. I hope you will agree in the end that this simple model is in many respects a revelation, a marvelous tool for doing astrology, useful for beginners as well as for deep and broad explorations of psyche and life.

There is actually more to this, but let me first expose my model for the other signs and elements.

Libra and Air Signs

In my model, air signs are different stages in a transition fire-air-water. The archetypal image is a cloud (air) which emits both lightning (fire) and rain (water):


Gemini is a young thunderstorm, with lots of lightning and thunder, but little rain, yet. In contrast, Aquarius is an old thunderstorm, with essentially only rain left. Libra is in between.

Libra's dilemma of choice is an abstract one: There is no earth involved in the above model. So Paris was neither attracted by Hera's offer of great literal possessions nor by Athene's offer to "make him victorious in all his battles", but chose Aphrodite's promise of the love of Helena. Since Libra is in the middle of a transition fire-air-water, the choice usually is the latter, water, thus emotions, love.

There is a strive for clarity in the air signs. Gemini is like a child in its quick and random motion, like flames or lightning (fire), by which the child learns to understand the world by looking at everything from all possible angles. Take a coin for example. What the eye literally sees (fire) is just different images, front face, back face, side view. Only if you combine these images mentally in your head (air), does an entity coin, come to be.

Or take Prometheus, who stole fire from the gods to give it to humanity. The universal love of Aquarius towards humanity, is like the water in the rain that rains equally on everybody and when it forms a lake, it evens out hills and valleys, improving equality among mortals.

So, the evolution is from learning to teaching, from quickness to constancy, and from many views to a unified one, which is transparent like water.

Libra's deep insights, probably due to their abstractness and thus ignorance of the status quo (earth), often lead to turmoil, like in the Troyan War or Teiresias' fate: By his answer about a rather literal question, namely whether women or men have more fun during sex, "Hera was so exasperated [...] that she struck [him] blind", while Zeus granted him "inner sight and the ability to understand the prophetic language of the birds". Not astonishingly, in light of the model, both gods agreed that his external vision (fire) had to go in order to give him deeper insights.

Scorpio and Water Signs

In my model, water signs are different stages in a transition earth-water-air. The archetypal image is a river:


Cancer is a source and young river emerging from the mountains, maybe from a glacier (earth), and has not merged with much other waters. As the water flows down, it merges with more and more rivers and becomes a stream: Scorpio. Finally, Pisces is the sea, into which practically all rivers flow and from which the water eventually evaporates again (air).

So, the transition is, like for the fire signs, from earth to air, but this time caused by a passive, female element. The river that flows down to the sea is more fated than fire, since it is passive, it cannot resist the movement.

Protection is a strong need for Cancer, but since there is a transition to water, also the fight for independence from its roots (earth) is an important theme. "This deeply mystical linking of Cancer with the very seed and source of life connects it not only with the primordial Mother, but with the Father as well [...]". Hera ordered a crab to bite Hercules into his ankle while he was fighting the Hydra in the swamps. Both the crab, who got his place as a constellation for his obedience to Hera, and Hercules ("glory of Hera") are part of the theme, as is also the Hydra and the swamps, by the way.

Scorpio is already more open than Cancer, but still suspicious and somewhat afraid to be hurt. "[...] I can see a great deal of of Scorpion's daimon, which pulls violently both upwards and downwards yet which [...] must confront and ultimately learn to live with that vital and terrifying image of instinctal life [...]". The conflict between moving up and down is in the model between earth and air, or between source and sea, and the way to go is ultimately down, hence conscious evolution (air) is important.

Taoist philosopher Chuang Tzu describes in the famous Autumn Floods how a river feels so strong and important and gaining power from the smaller rivers that flow into it. When the river arrives at the sea, this all changes, as the river realizes that size is relative, that he is much smaller than the sea. Any influences that flow into the river symbolically broaden the number of different views that one incorporates, until in the end, in the sea, all opinions and views occur with similar magnitude: It has all become relative.

Again, this is, of course, very far from a complete and unbiased description of the water signs, but, once more, I hope that it has become clear how useful my elementary model can be for investigating such themes, even if looking much deeper into the soul than I did here...

Virgo and Earth Signs

In my model, earth signs are different stages in a transition fire-earth-water. The archetypal image is a tree:


Taurus is mainly made of fire, focusses on the directly visible, but short-lived beauties of the tree, the leaves and flowers that grow with the power of the sun (fire). Capricorn is mainly made of water, restrains himself to the parts of the tree that persist across seasons and which keep it from falling down, namely trunk and roots, which feed it with water and the substances diluted in it.

Virgo is in between, not sure which to chose: Beauty or structure ? This solves the riddle that even though Virgo is often depicted as being very concerned about order, many Virgos do not keep their lives and homes in strict order. It is Virgo for whom order is an issue, for Capricorn it is a given and for Taurus is not that important, except a bit, as Taurus is transforming from fire to earth.

Associated with beauty-order is also living vs. planning. Taurus enjoys the moment, but plans little, while Capricorn often keeps both an eye on the present and on possible future paths. Virgo is again in between.

The abduction of Persephone by Hades fits the model very well: Persephone is collecting flowers, looking at the sunny (fire) side of life, but she is already starting to look down to earth, probably at least unconsciously starting to wonder about how things work, what makes the flowers grow, etc. The ground opens up and Hades abducts her and makes her his wife, the queen of the underworld.

Hades/Pluto is ruler of Scorpio, the middle water sign, the one made mainly of water. So, Hades does symbolize the water towards which Virgo is evolving in the model.

"Demeter and Persephone form a unity, the paradox of woman as a maiden and a mother". The tree with its roots symbolizes also the generational tree. Literally speaking (earth), what emerges out of a woman's womb can be a man or a woman, but men apparently disappear like leaves or fruit from the tree, while women often bifurcate the tree further if they have children. Therefore such identification is a natural (earthy) thing for women.

The Model

Let me summarize the model in a table:

element qualities image transition
fire hot+dry fire earth-fire-air
air wet+hot cloud fire-air-water
water cold+wet river earth-water-air
earth dry+cold tree fire-earth-water

The listed qualities are according to Aristotle's views. According to Aristotle, elements can only transform by changing one of the qualities. For example, if you make fire cold, you transform hot+dry to cold+dry, which is earth. So the elements go in a cycle fire-air-water-earth-fire.

As you can see, the transitions proposed in my model are all parts of Aristotle's cycle.

Also interesting is that the transition for each element starts with a dry element (earth or fire) and ends with a wet one (air or water). This can be associated with the older age of star signs later in the zodiac. To Aries, for example, a tree is often just a tree, just what the eye can see (fire). To Sagittarius, in contrast, a tree is often "Maya", just an illusion (air). It is probably an experience of life that not everything is what it appears to be at first.

What I only mentioned briefly with Libra and the air signs is that there is always one element missing in each transition. Thus, while Libra lacks realism in judgement, Leo lacks compassion, Scorpio imagination and Virgo reason (even despite the Mercury ruler).

Where do you go from here ? Read the more detailed explorations of the 12 star signs below and look at the leads, or make your own investigations, revisit your favorite themes or the ones that you always felt that they do not fit completely, and look at them from the point of view of the model which has just been presented. There is so much to explore and I hope and believe that all these considerations will rather enhance than reduce the richness of the zodiac.

One more thing should be mentioned: Since apparently nobody has been aware of this simple structure, at least not in the previous two thousand years or so, the existence of this structure in what people say about star signs, makes it rather unlikely that there is nothing to astrology, that it would just be the illusion of only a few, or many, delusional individuals, without any connection to reality.

In fact, such a simple model could, of course, come in very handy when it comes to proving astrology in quantitative scientific experiments. What is usually ideal in science, is a simple model that nonetheless spans the whole space of possibilities, i.e. is simple, but not simplistic.

It can scarcely be denied that the supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single datum of experience. - Albert Einstein

Myth and the Zodiac

In the following, I will simply revisit all themes and myths that Liz Greene relates to the star signs in chapter 8, Myth and the Zodiac, of The Astrology of Fate.

I will compare each theme with my elementary model of the star signs. Often that will simply mean that I will relate an expression that Liz Greene uses (or quotes) directly to the corresponding element, using common associations, like these:

fire energy of life, light, sun,
vision, imagination, creativity
air mind, logic, spirit, abstraction,
rationality, consciousness
water feelings, love, beauty, fate,
collective, unconscious, river
earth physical reality, body, land,
mother nature, tree

For example, when Liz Greene relates "sunlit" to Venus' sexuality when talking about Taurus, I will associate that with the element fire that Taurus is mainly made of in the model. But let me start the journey...


In the model, Aries is a young fire, made mainly of earth, with little fire and air, yet:


Amun  Liz Greene starts by associating Aries with the ram headed ancient Egyptian god Amun, mentions that his name means "the hidden one" and uses attributes like "primeval" and "the force behind the invisible wind".

Let me start to analyze with "wind", a form of air. Air is part of the image of a burning fire in two ways: As the smoke that emerges, but air is also needed to fuel the fire. Especially when starting a fire one has often to blow (wind) quite a bit and also has to protect the fire from too much wind that might extinguish the small flame.

This associates Aries in the model with wind, and also with the protection that a young life (fire) needs. Hence Aries' knightly side, an urge to protect himself and anything weak. With protection often comes secrecy, reluctance to tell (air) things to others, as a means to protect himself and also others. Hence "the hidden one" and the "invisible" (like air) in the "force" (fire) "behind the invisible wind" make sense in terms of the model.

In preparation. This site has been growing steadily, but also very slowly since 2005. Preparing high quality content simply takes time...


  • In terms of my definition of the elements as presented in the section elementary philosophy, the model might even be made more specific to a degree at which it might formally generate all attributes of the star signs, or maybe not.
    Libra, for example, learns from observation of motion outside (fire) and inside (water). Since Libra's transition is towards water, the gift of "inner vision" is given to Teiresias and outer vision had to be reduced, except for observing omens, which are outer reflections of collective inner intentions.
  • Besides the The Astrology of Fate, there are many more books by Liz Greene and others about psychological astrology, which seem to fit my model very well. The reason this approach seems to fit so well might be that psychological astrology focusses on the motivation of the star signs. It does not make any certain predictions about what people and situations will become, but 'only' about what people will feel in a given situation, where they will feel to be driven to. And it is exactly such transitions, the description of where one comes from and where one is going to, that my model provides. Specifically by Liz Greene about the star signs, I can additionally recommend Star Signs for Lovers (Stein and Day, 1980), later republished as Astrology for Lovers and also a lecture titled The Myth of the Individual Journey originally published in The Jupiter/Saturn Conference Lectures (CRCS Publishers, 1984); the revised edition 1991 by the same publisher is titled New Insights on Modern Astrology. And, of course, there are the works of C. G. Jung, on which a lot of Liz Greene's work is based.
  • In A few new discoveries in physics, which I first published in 2002, the model is exposed in a lot more condensed way and goes deeper than this text. See archive (odyssey.zip).
  • Astrologically, the story how my model came to be seems to be quite closely related to the Saturn-Pluto cycle.
  • See magic carpets and astro reloaded.
© 2002-now Alain Stalder