If you've dabbled in the world of astrology, then you know there's way more to this complex system than horoscopes alone. There are the 12 zodiac signs in astrology, and each archetype has unique energies, qualities, elements, and strengths attributed to them. One way of categorizing the zodiac signs is by their modality, which will either be cardinal, fixed, or mutable. All zodiac signs are divided into one of these three categories — and they can tell us a lot about how we express ourselves in the world.
The three modalities in astrology (aka quadruplicities, as there are four zodiac signs in each group) are cardinal signs, fixed signs, and mutable signs. These classifications represent the unique ways each group of signs expresses their energy, reacts to different circumstances, and operates in the world as they move through life. "The modalities are another way to break down signs and elements," astrologer Lisa Stardust tells Bustle. "They represent the sign and element’s ability to move and evolve with time." They describe the mode in which these signs do things and the general methods they use in their approach.
Modalities are not to be confused with elements in astrology (which are fire, earth, air, and water), although these are both classifications used to categorize the 12 signs. Elements represent certain qualities and motivations attributed to a group of zodiac signs, while modalities represent the manner in which those particular qualities are expressed. That said, each modality contains one sign from each of the four elements and each element contains one sign from each modality — meaning that the energy is evenly distributed across both systems.
If you want to spot a zodiac sign based on their modality, there are a few basic qualities to look out for. "Cardinal signs are always moving onto the next project, fixed signs are usually stuck in completing projects, and mutable signs can be uncommitted as a result of their relationship to the modalities," Stardust says. So while all fire zodiac signs are known for being passionate and action-oriented, they'll each express that vibe differently based on their modality — that’s why cardinal sign Aries’ strengths include being a motivated self-starter, while fixed sign Leo’s strengths are in channeling its passion into hard work and loyalty. Mutable sign Sagittarius, on the other hand, is more go-with-the-flow.
Are you a cardinal sign, fixed sign, or mutable sign? Discovering the modality of your zodiac sign can help you dive a little deeper into your personal astrology and understand the complexities of your sign even more thoroughly.
Cardinal Zodiac Signs: Aries, Cancer, Libra, & Capricorn
When something is described as cardinal, it signifies that it's both fundamental and important — and that's certainly the case when it comes to the four cardinal signs of the zodiac. "Cardinal signs are the 'initiators' of the zodiac," says Stardust. "They represent a spark or idea. They also signify the beginning of the season." Cardinal signs are the zodiac's big ideas people. You can always count on them to get fresh energy flowing, launch new projects off the ground, and build out a solid foundation for any endeavor (although they sometimes struggle to complete everything they start). The cardinal signs are visionary, as they're able to create new things seemingly out of thin air and charge forward on new beginnings.
That all said, it makes sense that the first day of each cardinal sign's astrological season coincides with the first day of each meteorological season: Aries season aligns with the spring equinox and Libra season aligns with the autumn equinox, while Cancer and Capricorn seasons begin on the summer solstice and winter solstice, respectively. The fresh-start cardinal sign energy helps us kick off each season with gusto.
Fixed Zodiac Signs: Taurus, Leo, Scorpio, & Aquarius
The fixed signs of the zodiac always have their eyes on the prize. These signs are able to capitalize on the cardinal signs' ideas and make them reality by following through on the plans. "Fixed signs are the 'doers' of the zodiac," explains Stardust. "They carry out the ideas manifested by the cardinal signs [and] do all the work needed to complete the task at hand." Each of the fixed signs are laser-focused when they set a goal, great at sticking to a plan, and have a knack for identifying exactly what needs to be done (and then doing it). This can make them quite stubborn sometimes, but their hardworking nature outshines that.
Because the astrological season for each of these signs falls right smack in the middle of spring, summer, autumn and winter, the energy of the fixed signs is focused on momentum and dedication. Fixed signs’ strengths come out when they're in the thick of something and fully submerged — and they can be relied upon to push through the toughest parts of any situation with steadfast dedication.
Mutable Zodiac Signs: Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius, & Pisces
Cardinal signs get things started while fixed signs follow through on the plans — then finally, the mutable signs of the zodiac swoop in to complete things and help us embrace life’s inevitable changes. "Mutable signs represent the end of each season and the finality of a project or task at hand," Stardust says. "They are flexible due to their understanding of change." Things don't always go according to plan, but mutable signs can handle the unexpected shifts. Their changeability and adaptability shines when faced with endings, challenges, or shifts, as they can gracefully change course and go with the flow. This can sometimes make them a little whimsical or hard to pin down, but mutable signs have the power to roll with (and make the most of) just about any situation.
The astrological season for each mutable zodiac sign takes place during the final month of each spring, summer, autumn, and winter, respectively — meaning that as the sun leaves each of these signs every year, a whole season ends, too. That energy is fully reflected in the mutable signs' adaptable ability to accept things as they are and shape-shift to accommodate the circumstances. Whether it’s a project, a conversation, or a whole season, these signs know how to bring things to a natural conclusion.
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