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Qualities (Quadruplicities)(religion, spiritualism, and occult)
The primary categories by which the signs are classified are the four elements—earth, air, fire, and water—and the three qualities—cardinal, mutable, and fixed. Each of the 12 signs of the zodiac is a unique combination of an element and a quality (e.g., Aries is a cardinal fire sign, Taurus is fixed earth, Gemini is mutable air, and so forth). The elemental nature of a sign is said to refer to its basic temperament, whereas its quality refers to its mode of expression.
Cardinal signs are said to be outgoing signs that initiate new activities; fixed signs, by way of contrast, persist with their established activities; mutable signs adapt to changing circumstances. Some modern astrologers use an analogy to certain notions in physics to contrast the nature of the three qualities: cardinal signs are said to represent centrifugal force, fixed signs centripetal force, and mutable signs wave (back and forth) motion.
Although the qualities are on par with the elements as categories for classifying the zodiac, they tend to be treated less fully in most astrological textbooks, partly because the symbols for the elements are more concrete and thus more intuitively obvious, but also because the traits said to characterize each of the qualities do not seem to apply (or, at least, do not seem to apply fully) to certain signs. Thus, for example, individuals born under the cardinal sign Cancer do not typically tend to be outgoing people who initiate new activities (a cardinal trait); rather, Cancers tend to adapt (a mutable trait) or to resist (a fixed trait) changing circumstances. Capricorn, another cardinal sign, is good at initiating new business activities but is also one of the more stubborn signs (a fixed trait).
Although the confusion introduced by these exceptions might lead one to abandon this system of classification altogether, there are certain other sign characteristics that the qualities explain quite well. Fixed signs, for example, are said to manifest the characteristic of stubbornness, and when the fixed quadruplicity is examined, this characterization—with predictable variations introduced by the different elements—works out quite well: Although all the fixed signs are stubborn, Taurus is most stubborn about practical matters (earth), Leo is most stubborn about certain ways of doing things (fire), Scorpio is most stubborn about feelings (water), and Aquarius is most stubborn about ideals (air). Thus, the usefulness of the qualities when they are truly applicable (which is the majority of the time) counterbalances the confusion introduced by a few exceptions.
The same classification can be found in Vedic astrology—Chara (moveable or cardinal), Dwi-Swabhava (dual or mutable), and Sthira (fixed). The three Vedic qualities, which are associated with the same signs as their Western parallels, have similar connotations.