While people all over the world have used elements to classify behavioral tendencies for thousands of years—consider the system of Traditional Chinese Medicine, which includes water, fire, Earth, metal, and wood—several Greek philosophers are credited with pioneering the four-element system used in astrology including Empedocles and Plato, says astrologer Stephanie Gailing, author of The Complete Guide to Astrological Self-Care.
Around that period of time, a few centuries BCE, the elements also made an appearance in Hippocratic medicine (a system pioneered by the Greek physician Hippocrates), for being reflective of a person’s general constitution. “Fire is dry and hot, air is wet and hot, Earth is dry and cold, and water is wet and cold,” Gailing says. “This then translated to the four temperaments: fire is choleric, air is sanguine, Earth is melancholic, and water is phlegmatic.”
So, if we can then extrapolate one step further from those terms to modern astrological interpretations, the classic tendencies of the different elements begin to surface: Fire is often connected to extroversion, independence, and radiance; air is linked to communication and social energy; Earth is reflected in responsibility and practicality; and water is associated with emotional and ever-changing energy, says Gailing.
How modern astrologers interpret zodiac sign's elements
Just as your astrological sun sign doesn’t determine your entire personality, the particular element of that sign doesn’t have full sway over your temperament, either (and, not to mention, your zodiac sign compatibility). As Gailing points out, many components of your overall natal chart—and the various elements they reflect—can play into your style or nature. "For example, someone could have several planets in both air and water signs, for example, and in that case, could reflect a blend of both temperaments," she says. The traits associated with the elements color all sorts of aspects of your personality, such as with whom you might be most compatible, and their location within your chart based on the signs and planets in different realms affect your horoscopes in various ways, for example what each new astrological season brings or how lucky you are.
"Someone could have several planets in both air and water signs, for example, and in that case, could reflect a blend of both temperaments."—Stephanie Gailing, astrologer and author
That said, if you have many planets in one element, you may be more likely to express that temperament and way of being to its fullest extent, says Gailing. “For example, if several of the planets and pivotal points—like the ascendant—in your chart are in fire signs, you’re likely very spirited, catalyzed by intuition, and move fast or prefer to be in motion.”
While all of that energy framed in one element could certainly be a strength, the overemphasis could also mean you’re less likely to express qualities associated with other elements. So, if you’re someone who is ultra-fiery in terms of planetary placements, you may be exceptionally instinctive but not have the detachment necessary to readily look before you leap, says Gailing.
By contrast, if you have each of the different elements reflected across planets in your chart in different astrological houses, your disposition likely channels all the different ways of being—which, of course, could be a strength in some situations and a challenge in others. Keep in mind that these zodiac stereotypes aren’t the entire story of someone’s personality, but learning more about the key attributes of each element is a fun way to gain a little more insight into yourself. Below, find a summary of how each element is typically interpreted and a bit about how they go about their lives.
Qualities associated with each of the elements of astrological signs
What fire signs value: This element is dynamic, enthusiastic, and passionate, says Gailing. People who reflect it tend to appreciate movement and spontaneity, along with accessing their imagination for creative problem-solving. And they’re frequently in search of action and adventure and tend to push back against limitations. Fire is an element associated with transformation and change, so they appreciate those who aren’t afraid to make a move and aren’t afraid.
Which planets are associated with fire signs? While there aren’t specific planets associated with each element, some are the ruling planets of the fire signs. Jupiter is Sagittarius’ ruling planet, Mars rules Aries, and Leo is governed by the sun.
How to win a fire sign over: The best way to win a fire sign over is to “be excited and initiate things,” says Gailing. This doesn’t mean all fire signs are adventure seekers or that you necessarily have to invite them to go bungee jumping, but an inclination to create things and prevent boredom helps.
What fire signs are like in love and friendship: Gailing says the fire signs “want things to be really hot and steamy, and [they] want to feel that inner passion and flame.” They want romantic partners who are adventurous, passionate, and enthusiastic—they want to inspired by whomever they’re with. In terms of friendship, they don’t like to be bored and like adventure, excitement, and enthusiasm.
How fire signs present at work: At work, Gailing says fire signs want newness and action—they don’t want to be bored. They’re eager and enthusiastic to charge into a new endeavor. “They want things to be busy, and they don't want to work on something forever,” she says.
What air signs value: Linked to the agile and changeable nature of thoughts and observation, air signs are typically cerebral and intellect-driven. People who fall in this camp are often witty and thoughtful, while also prone to over-thinking. And they’re generally sociable creatures who draw energy from communicating and forming alliances with others, says Gailing. They value intellectual curiosity and social connection.
Which planets are associated with air signs? Gemini is ruled by Mercury, Libra is ruled by Venus, and Aquarius is ruled by Saturn.
How to win an air sign over: win them over by being curious, asking them questions, wanting to get to know them and their thoughts and their ideas. Win them over water, being really caring.
What air signs are like in love and friendship: Air signs are very relationship-oriented, says Gailing, so they care about their social circles and networks (even if they’re only a few people)—a partnership that allows them to remain part of these groups is key because they’re social and like to meet people. They also are quite intellectual, so a partner or friend with whom they can discuss and engage in conversation is something they'd like. “They want to be intellectually challenged in a relationship where they can learn from [their partner] or with them,” says Gailing.
How air signs present at work: Generally air signs are great communicators, so they tend to like collaborative work environments where they can bounce ideas off their colleagues. They may be the ones to arrange meetings and focus groups to facilitate discussions and idea exchanges, says Gailing.
What Earth signs value: Grounded, solid, and practical, Earth energy relates to the world on a deep and sensual level, says Gailing. People with this element in their chart are often resistant to change, appreciating routines and rituals instead. They also tend to seek out material comforts and success and place a high premium on dependability and stability.
Which planets are associated with Earth signs? Taurus is ruled by Venus, Virgo’s ruling planet is Mercury, and Saturn is Capricorn’s planetary ruler.
How to win an Earth sign over: The best way to win an Earth sign over is to be “practical and pragmatic,” says Gailing, and to also let them indulge in the sensual, fun side of themselves. “Offer them a bouquet of roses or tickets to a Beyonce concert, or what have you,” advises Gailing.
What Earth signs are like in love and friendship: Earth in their relationships, they would probably want them to be a container for practicality, sensuality. That's really the importance of that reliability. sense of security and that sense of your grounded needs, and we can co-create things together.here's a sense of, again, safety, security, comfort, your mundane needs.
How Earth signs present at work: These are patient, hard workers who will put in consistent, meticulous effort over time. They’re often the reality check, and care a lot about logistical details. “Earth signs are like, ‘Do we have the resources and do we have the budget for this?’” says Gailing.
What water signs value: Fluidity and freedom are linked closely with this element. Water-y people embrace nonlinear understanding and are typically sensitive and receptive to changes in their environments, says Gailing. They look for depth and emotional fulfillment above all, and often through creative or artistic means.
Which planets are associated with water signs? Pisces is ruled by Venus, Cancer is governed by the moon, and Scorpio is ruled by Pluto.
How to win a water sign over: Showing exactly how much you care and honoring a water sign’s emotions is the way into their heart. Galing says an ability to tap into your own feelings and having a flowing and active imagination helps.
What water signs are like in love and friendship: Water signs are the ones to form and seek out deep emotional connections, and really desire their emotions being cherished. “I would say it’s really important for their partner to be sensitive to their needs and also sensitive to the world,” says Gailing. “If you are a water sign and your partner views the world with rigidity and doesn’t see the magic in life, you probably wouldn’t like that.” They value the same in their friends, too.
How water signs present at work: Waters signs bring a distinct creativity and imagination to their work and are able to use their emotional depths “They not just care about their colleagues, but they're also going to care about what they’re creating,” explains Gailing. “It’s like, ‘Is it good for people and will it make them feel good?’”
- Yapijakis, Christos. “Hippocrates of Kos, the father of clinical medicine, and Asclepiades of Bithynia, the father of molecular medicine. Review.” In vivo (Athens, Greece) vol. 23,4 (2009): 507-14.
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