Signs of the Zodiac express energy in very different ways based on the element they belong to and the mode of their expression – cardinal, fixed, or mutable. Three signs represent each of the four elements – air, earth, fire, and water, behaving in certain ways according to their modes.
Looking at signs on the basis of element and mode, it would be logical to assume that signs with the same element and same mode would work well together, but that is not the case. Some do and some do not. This article will look at Sign compatibility between the various elements and modes.
How Do Signs Interact?
Discovering your Sun sign allows you to think of yourself in terms of an archetype and question whether that archetype correctly identifies you. More often than not, people find even the most general description of their Sun sign valuable and useful in some way. I often hear, “I am so Pisces” or “my brother is such a Scorpio”.
Even though the Sun sign really barely scratches the surface of what astrology can offer in terms of information about your living design, the archetypes are very useful to understand different ways energy can express through the human consciousness. Aries, for example, represents energy that pioneers, acts first, and asserts; while Cancer energy nurtures, heals, and caretakes.
Some energies work well together, while others struggle to negotiate, and some combinations really do not understand one another. Thus, signs interact through the expression of their elements – air, earth, fire, and water and the expression of their modes (qualities) – cardinal, fixed, and mutable.
Elements and Modes
The fire signs are Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius. The air signs are Libra, Aquarius, and Gemini. The earth signs are Capricorn, Taurus, and Virgo. And the water signs are Cancer, Scorpio, and Pisces. The cardinal mode signs are Aries, Libra, Capricorn, and Cancer. The fixed mode signs are Leo, Aquarius, Taurus, and Virgo. And the mutable mode signs are Sagittarius, Gemini, Virgo, and Pisces.
The element of fire is ACTIVE. The element of air is CEREBRAL. The element of earth is REALISTIC. And the element of water is EMOTIONAL. The cardinal mode LEADS. The fixed mode STABLIZES. And the mutable mode ADAPTS.
And so, Aries leads action; it goes first. Libra leads thought; it decides and judges. Capricorn leads goals; it accomplishes. And Cancer leads emotions; it takes care of others. Leo stabilizes creativity; it performs. Aquarius stabilizes thought; it idealizes. Taurus stabilizes reality; it builds. And Scorpio stabilizes emotions; it survives. Sagittarius adapts creativity; it explores. Gemini adapts intellect; it learns. Virgo adapts to reality; it serves. And Pisces adapts emotions; it dreams.
Compatibility, Compromise, and Collaboration
When people meet and share their Sun sign identity, they end up conveying a metamessage (represented by words in parenthesis). “I am an Aries (when I was born my Sun was in the sign of Aries, which is a cardinal fire sign).” “Wow, I am a Virgo (when I was born my Sun was in the sign of Virgo, which is a mutable earth sign).
These two people might go to a website, ask a friend who has a serious interest in astrology or consult a practicing professional astrologer to try to determine how compatible an Aries is with a Virgo and vice versa. There is a good chance they will read something like, or get a response that says, “oh, earth and fire, not really a good match”.
But the truth is that all signs can work with all other signs depending on non-astrological factors, like maturity and intelligence, as well as other combinations between the charts. Yes, Aries and Virgo will need to work to actually function together, but that can be a very good thing for both signs. Aries is impulsive and Virgo is careful; if they collaborate, Virgo can keep Aries from “burning out” and Aries can keep Virgo form “stagnating in a routine”.
It is commonplace to assume that elemental similarity would “make things easy”. “Hey, you are a water sign and I am a water sign; we are both guided by our emotions!” Well, that’s great if you both have positive emotional development, but can be disastrous if you are both emotionally wounded in some profound way that really needs professional and long-term healing work.
I say one thing I have learned in my life journey over and over again, “there are NO SHORTCUTS!” This mantra is particularly true in the study of astrology. Yes, the generalizations are useful, so long as they are seen as guidelines and not “facts”. Will cardinal fire energy and mutable earth energy frustrate each other, more often leading individuals into compromise rather than collaboration? Generally speaking, yes, that is a much more likely outcome due to the nature of the signs.
It is fair to assume, generally, that signs that share elements or modes will more easily flow and connect, certainly. But astrology, at its core, is not about the generalization, but rather the particulars. And the more details you possess about your chart the more powerful the tool will be for you. Clients have told me that they started reading about astrology and discovered that their mom and dad have “radically incompatible Sun signs” but “they have been together for 30 years, most them happy times”.
The Truth is in the Details
I will ask my confused client for the birth details of the parents and run the charts. Yes, the parents have challenging Sun signs (one turns out to be a Scorpio and the other a Leo, fixed water and fixed earth), but they also happen to have air moons, one in Gemini and the other in Libra. It does not explain everything, but it puts a huge kibosh on their presumed incompatibility. Digging deeper into the chart, we are able to see that the Suns are really the only “incompatible” points.
The Aries/Virgo example above has a lot of potential because the nature of Aries is to lead (cardinal) and the nature of Virgo is to serve and adapt (mutable). There is a tremendous opportunity for collaboration based on mode even though there is a considerable challenge based on the element. If an Aries and Virgo are together and the Aries has a business meeting, she or he would do well to let the Virgo pick out the clothes for the meeting.
The Virgo energy is naturally conservative, as all earth energy inclines to be, but in an Aries partnership the Virgo would need to honor the Aries with choices that have some elements of “fire” in the clothing, touches that would still reflect the Aries energy while, in turn, honoring Virgo’s awareness of what works conservatively in public circumstances. This energy has a much better chance to succeed if both people involved are mature adults, but real and problematic tensions could arise if the Virgo is the parent of a teenage Aries, and, honestly, more so than if it is an Aries parent of a Virgo teenager.
Again, let me conclude that even the parent/child examples above can be happy and successful, but the energy differences do make a difference and do require more effort than what you might find in a Leo parent/Aries child, which can be like the difference between (in the first example) a professional athlete with a non-athletic child and a professional athlete with an extremely athletic child. Remember that the second example does not “guarantee” a happy relationship, it just makes ease in connecting.