The Modalities or Qualities


As we have seen, the signs are divided into four elements; now they are further divided into three modalities or qualities. Each element has three phases of manifestation in physical life. Identifying the signs by element and further identifying them by modality helps us narrow in on the uniqueness of each of the twelve signs, finding its own particular flavor or flair, if you will.

The qualities were long ago determined according to where they fall within the seasons. As discussed before, astrology is observation of the Cosmic clock, the cycles of the Universe, in the overhead sky. We are observing the constant movement of the planets in our solar system in relation to our position here on Earth. Keeping in mind these cycles and their correlation here on Earth, we discuss the modalities with respect to the cycles we are most familiar with on our planet, the seasons.

The three categories are: Cardinal, Fixed and Mutable. Understanding the meaning of each of them requires us to think for a moment about the signs and what time of the year they each occur. While the dates may change by a day +/- each year, the generally accepted dates for the occurrence of each sign’s season is as follows: 

 The Sun enters:         

Aries ON    March 20-21

                   Taurus          April 20-21

                  Gemini          May 21-22

                   Cancer          June 21-22

                   Leo               July 22-23

                   Virgo            August 22-23

                   Libra            September 22-23

                   Scorpio         October 23-24

                   Sagittarius November 21-22

                   Capricorn     December 21-22

                   Aquarius       January 20-21

                   Pisces           February 18-19

When we look to the calendar we notice that an important event occurs within the month of March in the sign of Aries, the spring equinox; the summer solstice corresponds to the sign of Cancer in the month of June; the fall equinox occurs in the sign of Libra; and the winter solstice is in the month of December in the sign of Capricorn. Because these signs contain such initiatory events they are called the Cardinal signs or the signs that begin the seasons, the first phase of elemental manifestation. In this phase the element comes forth into action and will work up to full strength as the year progresses and it transitions into new phases.

The characteristics of the Cardinal signs are INITIATION and ACTION. ALL Cardinal signs, each in their own elemental way, act in ways that begin things, initiate directions and lead in ways that get things done. They are the beginners of projects; as initiators, they get projects up and running.

The characteristics of the Fixed signs are MAINTENANCE and ORGANIZATION. In this stage the season is firmly established, in full bloom, at the top of its game; it has reached full expression and is stabilized. ALL fixed signs, each in their own elemental way, stabilize, maintain, sustain, and keep things going at their peak. They are the sustainers of projects; they preserve things as they are and keep them going for a long time.

The characteristics of the Mutable signs are FLEXIBILITY and WISDOM. In this stage the season begins to transform and wane, ending one season in order to begin the next. Therefore individuals with planets in mutable signs adjust and adapt to be whatever is necessary to accomplish the task at hand. They are able to harmonize with change and provide what is needed for completion and forward movement. They are the finishers of projects, knowing both what is required to end what is and begin what is to come. They complete and transform projects. 

Cardinal individuals tend to initiate and take responsibility while in the lead; fixed individuals tend to maintain the status quo and assume responsibility while promoting stability; and mutable individuals tend to do whatever is necessary to make the transition while following the lead of others.

To get the flavor of each of the signs we combine their element with their modality and get a better picture of their styles through life. Aries is cardinal fire; Taurus is fixed earth; Gemini is mutable air; Cancer is cardinal water; Leo is fixed fire; Virgo is mutable earth; Libra is cardinal air; Scorpio is fixed water; Sagittarius is mutable fire; Capricorn is cardinal earth; Aquarius is fixed air; and Pisces is mutable water.


As we study the signs, their elements and their modalities in more depth we begin to grasp the differing natures of individuals. When we add which planets occur in what signs and are placed in which houses we begin to understand the infinite combinations of uniqueness available to us all and can start to grasp just how much understanding is required to accept and appreciate another individual. And so begins compassion for us ALL.


Mary Sutton