The symbolism and meanings of the three zodiac subdivisions

Italian version

Binary subdivision

The zodiac’s most linear and substantial division describes the concept of polarity that animates existence (space-time, light-dark, positive-negative, action-reaction, yin-yang, man-woman). Each positive sign is between two negative signs, the opposite for a negative sign.

The positive (masculine) signs are Aries, Gemini, Leo, Libra, Sagittarius, Aquarius. They represent the active and dynamic qualities: drive, volubility, action, energy, excitability, vitality.

The negative (feminine) signs are Taurus, Cancer, Virgo, Scorpio, Capricorn, Pisces. They indicate passivity, receptivity, sensitivity, concentration, formative values and centripetal force.

It will be helpful to note that we must not interpret the symbolism of polarities based on cultural conditioning, which prompts us to use two weights and two measures to support the prevailing thought. Terms such as negative or passive only acquire meaning with words that oppose them.

A further analysis, clearly visible if we refer to the zodiacal chart, concerns the opposite signs of the zodiac; we will notice that they are of the same polarity. This fact indicates both a contrast (like the equal poles of a magnet repelling each other) and an opportunity to recognise similarities and establish cooperation. In interpretive astrology, when two planets form an aspect of opposition (when they are found, in the zodiacal circle, at 180 ° of longitudinal separation), the dynamics face each other; they tend to keep their distance in order not to interact except through conflict. Only recognising unity in diversity predisposes to the cessation of planetary enmity. We note again that the Fire-Air and Earth-Water elements face each other. Air feeds Fire, but Fire consumes Air; Water makes the Earth fertile, but Earth hinders Water.

Another analysis factor arising from the binary subdivision of the zodiac is the contiguity of the masculine and feminine signs, as highlighted at the beginning of the paragraph. In interpretive astrology, the distance of 30 ° longitudinal is called semi-sextile; two semi-sextile planets create a moderately harmonic relationship. The symbolic meaning of the masculine-feminine sequence is inherent in the very concept of contiguity. Referring to the seasonal cycle, for it to occur in its fullness and continuity, each monthly fraction of the process must absorb from the previous one and distribute in the next. That is possible thanks to the opposite polarities of the contiguous signs.

Quaternary subdivision: the Triangles of the Four Elements

In the zodiacal circle, the quaternary division inscribes the Triangles of the four Elements; each Triangle unites the signs belonging to the same Element. Each Element (Fire, Earth, Air, Water) is thus divided into three parts: the first sign of each group represents the depth, the past, the primordial state of the Element; the middle one, the expansion, the present; the third the height, the future.

The Fire Triangle (Aries, Leo, Sagittarius) represents the fiery state of matter, a giver of vitality, ambition, enthusiasm, dynamism, bilious temperament. Aries is the initial Fire, the first impulse of life. Leo is the individual Fire, energy in human form. Sagittarius is the transpersonal, idealistic, spiritual, divine Fire.

The Earth Triangle (Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn) represents the solid and dense state of matter, the concentration and petrification, the melancholy temperament. Taurus is the Earth of the spring season, rich and fertile. Virgo is the Earth that differentiates and exhausts itself giving its fruits. Capricorn is the Earth as rock, heavy, hard and strong, the densest state of matter.

The Air Triangle (Gemini, Libra, Aquarius) represents the gaseous, impalpable, light state of matter, movement, mental expansion, subtlety, invention, the sanguine temperament. Gemini rules the Air of the spring season, warm and healthy: the Air of the breath. Libra is the Air of the exchange, realising the affective empathy. Aquarius is the atmospheric Air that unites humanity, the Air of understanding and brotherhood.

The Water Triangle (Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces) represents the liquid, unstable, dissolving and informal state of matter, openness, imagination, emotionality, the lymphatic temperament. Cancer is the Water of springs and rivers, the living Water of gestation. Scorpio is stagnant, marshy, corrosive Water. Pisces is the ocean Water, the collective unconscious Water.

In interpretive astrology, the longitudinal separation of 120 ° between the planets (the distance in degrees that separates the signs belonging to the same Element) represents a happy harmony between the dynamics of the planets themselves. It is considered the most favourable aspect that one can find in the horoscope.

Ternary subdivision: the Cross of the Four Elements

From the undifferentiated unity containing all the opposites, through the binary division symbolising the splitting of unity into the positive-negative duality, passing to the triangles of the Elements representing the evolutionary potential, we arrive at the Crosses of the Elements, the creation in progress, the life as a reflection of the One in the manifold.

The ternary expression of the zodiac finds its reference in the number of the four Elements of matter (Fire, Earth, Air, Water) and the principle of differentiation of opposites. Dry and moist derive respectively from the warm-cold binary pair; Fire is warm and dry, Earth is cold and dry, Water is cold and moist, Air is warm and moist. In the zodiac, the quaternary figure inscribes in the circle three squares whose opposite vertices come together in the Crosses of the Elements.

The Cardinal Cross (Aries, Cancer, Libra, Capricorn) brings together the primordial strength of the four Elements and is united in the human being at the basal metabolism. Aries is the creative Fire; Cancer is the Water of life that shapes the spirit of Aries; Libra is the Air that harmonises the two sides; Capricorn is the Earth that has the task of preserving what was born over time.

The Fixed Cross (Taurus, Leo, Scorpio, Aquarius) ensures the expansion and realisation of the creative components of the Cardinal Cross; from the physical point of view, it represents endocrine functions and cardio-circulatory activity. Taurus is the Earth which provides the substantial basis; Leo is the Fire that differentiates the created forms; Scorpio is the Water that ensures the dissolution and regeneration of substances; Aquarius is the Air that connects the individual with the human community.

The Mutable Cross (Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius, Pisces) ends the cycle that begins with creation in the Cardinal Cross and continues with the materialisation of the Fixed Cross. It represents the cyclical movement of life that eventually returns to the source from which it arose. On a physical level, it represents the nervous system. Gemini is the Air of thought and expresses the principle of adaptability; Virgo is the Earth of completion; Sagittarius is the Fire of the future; Pisces is the Water of dissolution, the total and collective fulfilment of manifestation.

In interpretive astrology, the aspect of longitudinal separation of 90 degrees between the planets (the distance in degrees that separates two consecutive vertices of a square) is called a square; it is considered a critical aspect. In analogy to the symbolism of the Elements, we can, in fact, observe that the interaction between the consecutive elements of the Cross is not easy (e.g., Water extinguishes Fire). The symbolism of the Cross of the Elements, as aimed at forming living beings, implies an effort that must be supported by the will to obtain stable results.