Just as the astrological elements (fire, earth, air, and water) are also called triplicities because they each include a group of three signs, the astrological modalities are also called quadruplicities in reference to their four-sign groupings. But while the elements tend to reveal the general temperament or nature of the signs they encompass, the modalities—which include one sign of each element—speak to behavioral style and the circumstances most suited to your personality, says SirCheo, an astrologer and psychic empath for spiritual-advice platform Keen.com.
So, to revisit the group-project framework, the cardinal signs are the energetic initiators who vibe in leadership roles, while the fixed signs are the dependable stabilizers who get things done, and the mutable signs are the easygoing adapters who gravitate toward spontaneity.
"The modalities of the zodiac symbolize three universal life conditions: creation (cardinal), preservation (fixed), and transformation (mutable)." —astrologer and psychic empath SirCheo
To put it differently, the modalities of the zodiac symbolize three universal life conditions: creation (cardinal), preservation (fixed), and transformation (mutable)—and the astrological system is organized so that each season has its own cardinal, fixed, and mutable sign, SirCheo says.
By envisioning the calendar year, you can picture how each astrological modality is aligned (and also remember the behavior it tends to encapsulate): The start of each season is marked by a cardinal sign (Aries for spring, Cancer for summer, Libra for fall, Capricorn for winter), while the midpoint progression is symbolized by a fixed sign (Taurus for spring, Leo for summer, Scorpio for fall, Aquarius for winter), and the season’s end and transition into the next season comes with a mutable sign (Gemini for spring, Virgo for summer, Sagittarius for fall, Pisces for winter).
How to interpret the modality of your astrological sign:
Because your sun sign (aka the zodiac sign you’d read for in a horoscope) is typically most indicative of your overall identity and personality, the modality of that sign will likely be the one that reflects your behavioral approach. That said, a variety of planets in different signs make up the whole of your natal chart, and depending on the modalities that they all embody, your energetic approach could be more cardinal, fixed, or mutable in different aspects of your life.
For example, the modality of your moon sign will have greater sway over how you process and react to anything emotionally driven (since the moon rules over the emotional realm). People with cardinal moon signs tend to openly and directly express their feelings, while those with fixed moon signs often suppress them, and those with mutable moon signs do just the opposite, rapidly responding to different scenarios with ever-changing emotions, says SirCheo.
In general, the more planets in your natal chart that fall within any given modality, the more likely you are to reflect that modality’s associated behavioral style in all aspects of your personality—and the less likely you are to demonstrate any of the other approaches. Someone who has an even mix of cardinal, fixed, and mutable signs in their chart, alternatively, might take a different energetic tack depending on the situation in which they find themselves.
With that in mind, read on to learn how each modality in astrology is typically interpreted.
The classic qualities linked to each modality in astrology
Aries, Cancer, Libra, Capricorn
“Cardinal signs like to be first, taking charge, and leading the show,” says SirCheo. “They crave followers and may get frustrated if others don’t quickly follow their lead.” In the best of circumstances, a cardinal sign is a natural-born leader, summoning the best qualities of those on their team with grace and panache. And when they’re functioning on a lower octave? They could fixate on control or skew toward micromanagement.
In terms of how the different cardinal signs uniquely embody this get-going spirit, Aries tends to initiate action, Cancer initiates emotional bonds, Libra initiates relationships, and Capricorn initiates long-term plans, SirCheo says.
Taurus, Leo, Scorpio, Aquarius
Think of fixed signs as, well, fixed in place or fixated on a goal. “Fixed signs uphold traditions, maintain responsibilities, and work steadily to complete larger projects,” says SirCheo. Because of their steadfast reliability, they can always be counted on to get something done, and they’re similarly devoted and loyal as friends and partners. People of this modality tend to struggle when they’re faced with upheaval: They have strong opinions and convictions and may occasionally resist change to the point of perceived stubbornness.
To get specific, the different fixed signs tend to direct their stabilizing approach toward different elements of life: Taurus harnesses the power of the material world, Leo harnesses the power of the persona, Scorpio harnesses the power of emotional intensity, and Aquarius harnesses the power of the intellect, says SirCheo.
Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius, Pisces
Almost in direct opposition to the fixed signs, mutable signs thrive off change, chance, and chaos, making them the life of the party, says SirCheo. “They are down for just about anything and are willing to try anything at least once,” he says. “But while they love this quality in others, they also need people that bring natural structure into their lives to truly thrive.” In general, they work best in situations that provide opportunities for variety and spontaneity, even if they occasionally have trouble channeling their ongoing flurry of thoughts and ideas into action.
As for how the different signs reflect this transformative energy, adds SirCheo, Gemini disperses information, Virgo disperses skills, Sagittarius disperses enthusiasm, and Pisces disperses dreams and visions.
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