The Three Modalities

Each one of the twelve zodiac signs belongs to one of the four elements and to one of the three modalities: Cardinal, Fixed and Mutable.

Each sign is a unique combination of an element and a modality. For example, Gemini is the only air sign that is mutable. Libra, the second air sign, is cardinal. Aquarius, the third air sign is fixed.

Elements explains the essential qualities of the signs. Modalities explain the purpose to which these qualities are harnessed:

  • Cardinal signs are initiators
  • Fixed signs are preservers
  • Mutable signs are changers

For example, Aries is a cardinal sign. It uses its fire qualities, such as vitality and charisma, to initiate new projects. Leo is a fixed sign. It uses its vitality and charisma to maintain the established structure of things. Sagittarius is a mutable sign. It uses its vitality and charisma to change the world.  

I see the modalities as a reflection of the Hindu Trimurti, three-gods-principle. Brahma, the god of creation, is related to the cardinal modality; Vishnu, the god of perseveration, is related to the fixed modality; and Shiva, the god of destruction or transformation, is related to the mutable modality.

Modality Characteristics
Cardinal Signs
Aries, Cancer, Libra, Capricorn
Essence: Initiate, create
Leaders, strong, authority figures, ambitious, opportunists, demanding.
Fixed Signs
Taurus, Leo, Scorpio, Aquarius
Essence: Preserve, maintain
Determined, focused, consistent, persistent, experts, strong energy, stubborn.
Mutable Signs
Gemini, Virgo, Pisces, Sagittarius
Essence: Change, adjust
Flexible, adaptable, multitasking, variable, diverse, flaky, easily influenced.