star signs

Star signs in the Western zodiac seem to reflect transitions between elements within Aristotle's circle.

Fire signs seem to transform from earth via fire to air, while water is missing:


The archetypal image is simply a fire that transforms wood (earth) to smoke (air). Aries as a young fire has most earth, Leo most fire, Sagittarius most air.

In psychological astrology a wound is a central theme for the two later fire signs Leo and Sagittarius, namely for the fisher king in Perceval and Chiron in mythology.

In the model that wound 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 mind, or from animal via man/king to god.

Learning and getting compassion—the element water that is missing in the transformation of the fire signs—in the process is a vital goal for older fire signs.

Air signs seem to transform from fire via air to water, while earth is missing:


The archetypal image is a cloud (air), which emits both lightning (fire) and rain (water). Gemini as young air has most fire, Libra most air, Aquarius most water.

Paris, who is associated with Libra, chose Aphrodite's offering of love and marriage with Helena, the most beautiful woman in the world, hence love (water) and thus the possibility for the missing element earth in the form of children as fruits of love. Similarly, the opening of Pandora's Box, associated with Aquarius, symbolizes birth.

Water signs seem to transform from earth via water to air, while fire is missing:


The archetypal image is a river with Cancer as a source and young river emerging from the mountains, maybe from a glacier (earth), merging with more and more rivers and becoming a stream as Scorpio (water) and finally flowing into the sea as Pisces from where most water eventually evaporates again (air), by the power of the sun (fire), the missing element and goal for the water signs.

So, the transition is, like for the fire signs, from earth to air, but this time for 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.

But the way up in the end towards light is important, like, for example, for the crab that bit Heracles into his ankle while he was fighting the Hydra in the swamps, and got its place in the sky as the constellation Cancer.

Earth signs seem to transform from fire via earth to water, while the missing element is air:


The archetypal image is a tree with Taurus focussing on the directly visible, but short-lived beauties of the tree that grow with the power of the sun (fire), Capricorn restraining 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, and Virgo in between, between beauty and fate.

It is this 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.

Persephone, who is associated with Virgo, was collecting flowers as a maiden, looking at the sunny (fire) side of life, but already starting to look down to earth, starting to wonder about how things work, what makes the flowers grow, etc., when the earth opened up, Hades abducted her and she became his wife, the queen of the underworld.

For all elements transitions start with a dry element and end with a wet one. This mirrors that often when one gets older, one realizes that things are not so clearly and reliably what they appeared to be when first encountered.

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

Maybe some day it will be possible to synthesize most properties of the star signs formally from the transition between the elements defined by in/out and rest/move.

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 or my book Elementary Star Signs (2018), which are both also available in German.

    The idea dates back to 2001 and was first published in 2002.
  • The four tasks of Psyche in Apuleius' The Golden Ass seem to mirror the same transitions very beautifully and precisely, in the order earth-water-fire-air, with goals air-fire-water-earth.
  • Are there similar elemental transitions in the Chinese zodiac?
© 2002-now Alain Stalder