Originally written for the Beginner’s Corner with Sheridan at the Shamanic Astrology Mystery School.
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Basics: Element and Modalities
If you’ve been around the astrology block for a while, you will be familiar with the elements and the modalities. All astrological signs can be divided into these two categories. There are four elements: Fire, Earth, Air and Water. Conventional astrology names the three modalities: cardinal, mutable and fixed. What do those even mean? Shamanic Astrology, instead, calls these modalities Householder, Self- Interest and In Service to Spirit. Those are more descriptive, don’t you agree? The point is Shamanic Astrology has a different take on these two topics; our view of the elements was directly inspired by Carl Jung’s concept of the “Four Functions” (Jung’s theory on psychological types).
Shamanic Astrology evolves the four elements from simple personality traits into the deeper realm from where their power arises. If you have mostly fire signs in your chart, you aren’t just a “fiery” person. You are motivated from or learning about the intuitive side of life. You get a spiritual download and then take action on it. I find that to be much more empowering than simply writing yourself off as “fiery”, which kind of sounds like you’re angry. After the element, add in which modality your fire is in and we see in which area of life you take this action. It is a dynamic flow of energies and intentions that you are playing out for the evolution of your Soul.
4 Elemental Realms
Earth is concerned with the physical aspect of life. Earth walks within the sensation realm, where we experience the physicality of living with our five senses: touch, sight, smell, hearing and taste. Solid and tangible, that’s earth. Practical, realistic, stable and “of this world”. To get all ‘70’s, Earth is “down to earth, man”. Taurus, Virgo and Capricorn make up the earth signs. Taurus enjoys the body through all the senses have to offer. Virgo connects spiritually to Gaia herself and sees the patterns and cycles of the natural world. Capricorn manages and directs the energy of the physical realm with the wisdom of our elders.
Water floats in the feeling realm. This often an unconscious area for many of us dictates our lives. Water lives in this emotional realm, either excelling at it or studying it anew. Water feels deeply and is sensitive to those feelings, whether inside or in others. Like the ocean, water can be a gentle lapping at your feet or drown you in scary fifty foot waves. All the elements experience emotions, but the water signs are particularly attuned to them. Cancer, Scorpio and Pisces are the water signs. Cancer feels for and nurtures the needs of its young. Scorpio goes to the depths of its feelings, riding those huge waves. Pisces feels everyone and everything’s emotions.
Air flies high in the mental realm, within the head. Air is the opposite of the new age mantra to be more in your heart and less in your head. Air is all about being in your head and beyond! It is interested in thoughts and communication, in consciousness and awareness of ourselves. The air signs are Gemini, Libra and Aquarius. Gemini wants to shift our consciousness. Libra discovers awareness of itself through its relationships. Aquarius wants to expand consciousness itself.
Fire burns bright in the intuitive realm, where it instinctively knows something and takes action it. Fire is energizing and activating. It is spontaneous and acts from those internal understandings, just knowing what is right and going from there. Fire is of the spiritual realm. All the signs have a spiritual path, but fire acts within that realm of knowing. Aries, Leo and Sagittarius are the fire signs. Aries takes action on what it knows is right. Leo knows it is Spirit and acts from that place. Sagittarius seeks the knowledge and truth of Spirit itself.
Shamanic Astrology sees the modalities differently from mainstream astrology. We call the cardinal signs, Householder or Culture-Bearer. These signs serve the culture in some way. I think of these signs as being in service to the community. Aries, Cancer, Libra and Capricorn are the Culture-Bearer signs. They each support the creation and maintenance of the community in some way. Aries does this through protection. Cancer through nurturing the seeds. Libra through personal relationships. Capricorn through grandmotherly knowledge and direction.
The mutable signs are In Service to Spirit signs. Isn’t that much cooler than mutable? In Service to Spirit is pretty self-explanatory. These signs are always looking through the lens of serving Spirit or Great Mystery. Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius and Pisces are the In Service to Spirit Signs. Gemini serves Spirit by playfully breaking us out of our limited boxes. Virgo serves by attuning us to the patterns of the earth and sky. Sagittarius explores the higher truths and meanings of the universe. Pisces holds space for us to heal collectively.
Fixed signs are considered Self Interest or Self Exploration in Shamanic Astrology. They are not in service to anyone other than their own exploration and seeking. These are Taurus, Leo, Scorpio and Aquarius. Each of these signs are the deepest expression of their element. Taurus is the most embodied, earth. Leo is the most fire, knowing it is Spirit. Scorpio the deepest feeling water. Aquarius is universal or cosmic consciousness.
Putting them together
Depending upon where the elements show up in your chart, you can either be learning about these realms or are already an expert in them. Same for the modalities. If your Moon sign is in air then you are an expert in the mental or consciousness realm. If it’s your Venus or Mars then this is new information you are studying or trying on. There is a need to synthesize all these parts of yourself. For example, if your Moon is Cancer and your Ascendant is Aquarius, you are moving from a deep knowledge of the feeling realm in service to the community into the widest expanse of air as an exploration for its own knowledge and experience. These two might not flow naturally from one to the other. That is where your unique alchemy comes into play. How will you learn to make all of your parts work together? That is your individual evolutionary journey.
Thankfully, there are no “shoulds” in Shamanic Astrology, so it is not better or worse to have certain elements or modalities on your chart. It is not better to have all the elements equally represented, nor all of the modalities present. From a Shamanic Astrology perspective, your birth chart is your unique Soul’s journey to evolve in this lifetime. We all trust your Soul knows exactly what it is doing and what it came here to learn. It has its own intended path, that doesn’t include every element equally, nor every modality. We would never say, “Oh wow, your Soul should have more water in its chart.” How ridiculous would that be?!? Your Soul’s got this and you are definitely up for the challenge or you wouldn’t be here!
Information taken from the Scripts and Archetypes class with Daniel Giamario and Cayelin Castell at the Shamanic Astrology Mystery School.