star signs

A simple model of the star signs of the (Western) zodiac in which each star sign is a stage in a transition between elements within Aristotle's circle.

element transition missing image
fire earth-fire-air water fire
air fire-air-water earth cloud
water earth-water-air fire river
earth fire-earth-water air tree

The missing element is also a goal to reach, something to create, for the signs of the respective element.

Fire - Aries-Leo-Sagittarius

For the fire signs, Aries-Leo-Sagittarius, the transition is from earth via 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.

The wound of the fisher king, for example, is a central theme in the story of Parsifal and thus for Leo. (If you are not aware of such common associations in so-called psychological astrology, see e.g. Liz Greene's Star Signs for Lovers and The Astrology of Fate). 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 must 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 animal-man/king-god. Learning and getting compassion (water) in the process is vital.

Air - Gemini-Libra-Aquarius

For the air signs, Gemini-Libra-Aquarius, the transition is from fire via air to 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. 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 a great warrior, but chose Aphrodite's promise of the love of Helena. Since Libra is in the middle of a transition fire-air-water, the choice is usually the latter, water, thus emotions, love.

The choice of love often leads to a realization (earth), when children are born from the love, like, hardly veiled, for Aquarius when Pandora's Box was opened.

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.

Water - Cancer-Scorpio-Pisces

For the water signs, Cancer-Scorpio-Pisces, the transition is from earth via water to 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. 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.

Finally, this also created a story with lots of imagination (fire) within that is still told today.

Earth - Taurus-Virgo-Capricorn

For the earth signs, Taurus-Virgo-Capricorn, the transition is from fire via earth to 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, between beauty and fate.

And it is this very fate or necessity, which creates minimal structures (like the branches and roots of a tree), thus order, the abstract element air.

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 it 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.


In the model, 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 so clearly what it appears to be at first.

There is always one element missing in each transition. Thus, while Libra lacks realism in judgement, Leo lacks compassion, Scorpio imagination and Virgo reason.

A good way to try to prove such a model formally would maybe be to start with writing down associative maps, maybe starting with common associations with the elements, 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

And then you would continue from there, synthesize and match more complex themes, not manually as in the examples above, but using computer software somewhat similar to what internet search engines use.

Of course, that would only prove that the model matches common themes associated with star signs, not that astrology has anything to do with reality, but such a result would certainly make people wonder if there is more to it.

Beyond that, maybe some day it might be possible to synthesize most properties of the star signs formally from the transition between the elements.

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 by Zeus and outer vision is reduced by Hera, except for observing omens, which are arguably just outer reflections of collective inner intentions.


  • For more detailed expositions, see the longer article Elementary star signs under 'artemis' (also in a German version) or my book Elementare Sterzeichen (2018) in German.
  • The four tasks of Psyche in Apuleius' The Golden Ass seem to be of unknown origin and to mirror the same transitions in the order earth-water-fire-air, with goals air-fire-water-earth.
© 2002-now Alain Stalder