The zodiac is one of the most fundamental informational systems in Western occult, which is why we’re spending so much time on it (after this chapter we’ll move onto something else). This chapter will weave together three of the main subjects we’ve covered so far: the three worlds, the four elements, and the zodiac.
Each zodiac sign is associated with one of the four elements. The wheel is split evenly between them, so there are three signs for each element. They alternate between fire, earth, air, and water (in that order). Each sign is heavily colored by the nature of the element it embodies.
This symbolism goes even deeper: the three signs together form a cohesive portrait of that element. Each sign embodies an aspect of its element.
Each element manifests differently in the three worlds. You could also say each element has different manifestations that correspond to each world. Either way, the threefold world structure is an excellent metaphor to convey the often threefold nature of things. These three manifestations of each element, one for each world, are represented by that element’s three signs on the zodiac.
The elementary (elemental world) manifestation is the most coarse and unrefined embodiment of that element. Its nature is generally how we experience that element in our physical world.
The elementary signs are the first four signs: Aries, Taurus, Gemini, and Cancer. Aries is fire as we experience it: powerful, but dangerous. Taurus is the raw earth and soil that must be plowed and cultivated by the ox. Gemini is the shifting and abstract nature of the literal air and winds, and cancer is water as we find it in nature: healing, pure, and nurturing.
The next set of signs reflect how that element manifests on the celestial plane. We could say it is a higher manifestation of the element, a more refined embodiment of each element. As the celestial realm bridges the gap between the physical world and the higher realms, the celestial signs have both a spiritual character and a command of the physical world.
The celestial signs are Leo, Virgo, Libra, and Scorpio.
Leo is the refined and directed nature of fire. Virgo is the earth that has been directed to give forth wheat for harvest. Libra is a more stable and directed manifestation of air. Scorpio lacks many of the qualities of mundane water, while retaining the depth, power, and emotional intelligence that come from water’s higher manifestations.
The final set of signs are the embodiment of that element in the divine sphere. This is an embodiment of each element’s highest and most archetypal and heavenly qualities. The intellectual signs often have a power that is difficult to harness. They may be a powerful force that has difficulty getting traction in the lower realms, or powerful sources of virtue and change.
These signs are Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, and Pisces.
Sagittarius is the ability of fire to refine, and it’s tendency to to always push higher and reach into the upper realms. Capricorn is the alchemical aspect of the earth, and its seemingly magical ability to take in death and bring forth life. Aquarius is the life giving nature of air, and Pisces is the infinitely deep, mystical, and adaptive nature of water.
We can also look at them as being grouped by their element, instead of their spheres.
So for fire, we have its initial and chaotic nature in Aries, the fire man has tamed and utilized and directed in Leo, and the fire of the intellect in Sagittarius.
For earth, we have in Taurus the coarse and physical world, in Virgo the world made ripe and fertile by man’s intellect, and in Capricorn the ability of earth to bring forth life.
For air, we have the wind of Gemini, the stabler air as a force that communicates or elevates in Libra, and the air as a carrier of spiritual forces in Aquarius.
For water, we have the physical water and oceans of cancer, the esoteric power of water in Scorpio, and the changeable and understanding nature of water in Pisces.
It may help you at this point to imagine this in terms of how the elements manifest in the world, in man, and in our higher nature.
Just to be totally clear this idea of the zodiac signs representing the elements in the three worlds is not an official or even classical designation in Western occult (unlike their elemental attributions – that is set in stone). It’s often hinted at, sometimes discussed, but I wouldn’t expect other people to actually know about it, as it’s not really a common way to break up the wheel. It’s an oversimplification, but I thought I would throw this out there to help you get a grip on all this information if you’re just learning the zodiac. It’s a lot of information to take in all at once and conceptualizing it this way will help you “memorize” what each sign is really about, in my opinion.
We’re going to introduce another topic in the next chapter: the planets. This will lay over all this information and add an additional layer of complexity, so you should have kind of a grip on everything we’ve covered up until this point before going forward. You don’t have to have everything memorized, but you should be able to draw the chart at the top of this page from memory before we move on.