Signs in astrology can be grouped according to whether they are Cardinal, Fixed or Mutable and understanding this characteristic is crucial in being able to understand a birth chart. The interplay between the the element of a sign (fire, water, earth and air) and whether the sign is Cardinal, Fixed or Mutable can provide a great deal of basic information about an individual.
Cardinal signs can be thought of in terms of the rising sun, or the start of the season. The French word, ”Cardo” means ”hinge”, the notion of something turning. There are four cardinal directions and four seasons. Cardinal signs are known for their self-initiatory zeal and their ability to lead the way. They are great at starting projects. The Cardinal signs are Aries (fire), Cancer (water), Libra (air) and Capricorn (earth).
Fixed signs are Leo (fire), Scorpio (water), Aquarius (air) and Taurus (earth). Like the name suggests, these signs are fixed and stubborn, unmoveable and steady. They can be slow to change and are dedicated in their purpose. They are the sun fixed high in the sky, the depths of the season.
Mutable signs are Sagittarius (fire), Pisces (water), Gemini (air) and Virgo (earth). These are the signs that are changeable and adaptable. They are the setting sun as the evening closes in or the end of the season mixed up with the arrival of the new season. In that sense, mutable signs can be chaotic and restless but change does not trouble them.
Whether a sign is Cardinal, Fixed or Mutable goes some way towards explaining why Capricorn, Taurus and Virgo (earth signs) are not all alike.
Like all things in the occult world, there are further meanings and associations we can draw on based on the figures. The number 3 is important in the occult world because it signifies the balance between the first and second. In religions throughout the world, the trinity often crops up. For example, God, Goddess and Son, Father, Son and Holy Spirit and in Chinese medicine, we have the yin, the yang and the Tao. Those familiar with the Tree of Life will recognise the spheres of Kether, Chokmah and Binah.
In general, the understanding of the trinity is that the first is the active (male) aspect, the second is the receptive (female) aspect and the third is the balancing force (the child) between them. This cycle is played out time and time again and can be viewed as the cycle of birth, life and death (i.e rebirth).
Applying that to the qualities of Cardinal, Fixed or Mutable, we begin to see that Cardinals can be active and creative with respect to the element that applies to each. For example, Libra can be creative in terms of verbal, mental and non-physical projects (i.e. an air sign). Cancer can be the first to want to talk about emotional matters or matters of the home (water = emotion). Capricorn (earth) may be great at physical projects and first up in the morning to start building their new house.
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A Cardinal, Fixed and Mutable Sign can be found in each quarter of the chart
This can also be played out with the Fixed and Mutable Signs. But taking each group, we can see that the ”male” and ”female” are balanced by the third sign.
If we look at the water signs of Cancer (cardinal), Scorpio (fixed) and Pisces (mutable), we see that Cancer might be pro-active in their emotional life, Scorpio might be stubborn or unyielding when it comes to their feelings and both are balanced by Pisces with its patient and kind understanding of the emotions of each. This triangle of active, receptive and balance plays out in the elements of Air, Earth and Fire when viewed through the prism of Cardinal, Fixed and Mutable.