The Cardinal Signs in Astrology

Aries, Cancer, Libra, and Capricorn

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The cardinal signs—Aries (fire), Cancer (water), Libra (air), and Capricorn (earth)—have initiatory force, and start each of the four solar seasons. They lead naturally and tend to lean into life, always pushing for new experiences.

There's one in each element, beginning with fiery Aries in spring, and ending with earthy Capricorn in winter. What follows is the rhythm of the season, since after initiation comes the flowering (fixed signs), and then disseminating (mutable signs).

Cardinal signs have a strong will for setting things in motion. In the natural chart, each quadrant is kicked off with a cardinal sign, starting with Aries at the Ascendant.

Cancer is the emotional wellspring and home base of the natural chart. Libra is the first sign above the horizon, at the Descendent, where we first meet the other. Capricorn is at the peak, representing personal high points of achievement.

Why Are These Signs Grouped Together?

The twelve signs of the zodiac are grouped into three quadruplicities known as qualities based on how each sign behaves. Each element belongs to one of the "qualities," which are also known as modalities or modes. The three qualities are cardinal, fixed, and mutable.

Cardinal is the beginning, with the fixed signs fleshing things out and the mutable signs dissipating. Each cardinal sign is a starter in a trio, and this is one way to understand the zodiac as well as the seasons.

Where Does the Name Cardinal Come From?

The word "cardinal" comes from the Latin cardinalis, which means "principal" or "pivotal." The role of cardinal signs is to push forward, be first, and initiate.

What Do Cardinal Signs Have in Common?

Cardinal signs are the instigators, ready to forge ahead with plans and attract those who can support their efforts. Cardinal signs are leaders and tend to be outgoing because they're engaged with the world in a dynamic way. They're restless to start new projects and happiest when they're running the show.

How Do the Signs Differ by Element?

Each sign projects the self onto the world in a different way, depending on which of the four elements it's associated with.

Cardinal fire (Aries) is a catalyst, a firebrand that inspires others by being totally committed to his/her own vision. Cardinal fire is a raw force, and it's sometimes so powerful it leads to blowback.

Cardinal water (Cancer) leads by the heart, and casts a palpable emotional force that pushes into new territory. Cardinal water uses the force of feelings to envelope and sometimes manipulate others.

Cardinal air (Libra) initiates through new ideas, and by being a balancing force among people. Cardinal air is forceful with creativity, sometimes using ideas as a weapon, with the sword being its totem.

Cardinal earth (Capricorn) has a formidable, grounded presence and a natural authority from being master of the physical plane. Cardinal earth is a force of substantial achievement, and is willing to work toward longterm goals.

Which Season Is Associated With Each Cardinal Sign?

The cardinal signs are positioned at the start of each season. This gives someone with a cardinal sun sign, for example, the force of the beginning, before energy has begun to dissipate.

By season, the cardinal signs are Aries (spring), Cancer (summer), Libra (fall) and Capricorn (winter.) Aries begins the spring equinox (around March 21). Cancer begins the summer solstice (around June 21). Libra begins the fall (autumn) equinox (around September 21). Capricorn begins the winter solstice (around December 21).