|Lesson Nine: The Fire and Earth Signs|
I want to look at the fire and earth signs together because, as opposite elements, they both challenge and complement each other. It makes it easier to grasp the meaning of an element if we compare it to what it is not. Fire is positive and masculine, earth is negative and feminine. Using Wilber's quadrant model, these two elements share the same personal, individual orientation to the world. For fire, this orientation is subjective. An example of this would be a religious experience or personal conviction, which is absolutely real to the individual but which cannot be, and does not need to be proved, explained or justified to anyone else, since it is true for the individual. For the earth signs, the truth is objective, but just as personal, arising from earth's own experience, via the five senses, of the outside world. For example, if earth doesn't like the smell, taste or colour of something, then that is that. Nobody can argue otherwise. If we can really understand how each element experiences and interprets the world, then we can appreciate that each element has its place as part of a greater whole.
Fire is, of course, hot, but it is also magnetic - it pulls us in. If you have ever stood watching a bonfire or sat around an open fire, I am sure you will have experienced this fascination. As we watch the flames, they pull us into a trancelike state which leads us away from the 'real world' and into our imagination. It is in our imagination that the visions, myths and fantasies of fire are most at home. Our imagination leads us into a world where everything is exaggerated, colourful, larger than life and full of exciting potential. It is from the imagination that fire signs draw their contagious warmth and enthusiasm, fired by a unique and personal connection to a grand vision, a quest, a big picture which sets the stage for their own lives.
The fire signs have an enthusiastic, spontaneous child-like quality. Fire is exaggerated, larger than life, and fire signs need to - and must, if they are to be true to themselves - live right at the centre of their own individual dramas and mythic dreams. Fire signs have an innate sense of their own unique specialness, which explains why they have a tremendous faith in themselves and why they will take the kind of risks that other elements shrink from since they believe intrinsically that they will be lucky, or 'specially favoured' in some way. 'Objective truths', such as the statistical odds against winning the lottery, for example, are meaningless to fire signs and often a cause of incomprehension, frustration and impatience. Even when things don't turn out as planned, even when they crash and burn, fire signs normally have the faith to pick themselves up and carry on. For the element of fire, relationships are about the excitement and fascination of the chase, the as yet unconsummated desire for an object - be it another person or an ideal. Fire cannot and will not be contained or restricted - it is not concerned with commitment and stability. This explains why so many people get burned when they 'play with fire'.
In alchemical imagery the element of fire is represented by the salamander, which was believed to endure the heat of the flames because of the coolness of its body. This salamander is from Michael Maier's Atalanta fugiens (1618).
The other interesting thing about the elements is that, in a very concrete way, we use up our main element quickly and need to replenish it constantly in order to keep our energy levels up. This is why, on a very basic level, people with an emphasis on fire in their charts really need plenty of sunshine, since the sun, which is the physical manifestation of fire in our solar system, actually restores their energy levels and their vitality. Fire signs also need to replenish and restore themselves through physical exercise, travel and adventure, or by going to the theatre, a rock concert or to the opera - since they need plenty of drama and fantasy. These experiences will not only restore their energy levels but also their basic optimism in life. When fire gets what it needs, its warm spontaneity and instinctive generosity is enormously healing for others, although fire signs themselves are often unaware of this fact, since it is simply a by-product of their natural vitality. On the other hand, if you don't have much fire then you might find that fire people drain your energy because they are simply 'too much' to be around. Your job will be to learn how to play, how to have fun, which is not an easy thing to do if it doesn't come naturally.
Audience: This is all very well, but it is not the real world, is it?
Clare: Well, that depends where you are coming from. For fire, this is in fact the real world, but your comment is a good illustration of the fact that each element evokes its opposite. Is there anyone else who is feeling that all this enthusiasm and faith needs to be contained or disciplined?
Audience: It sounds to me as if the fire signs are rather selfish and insensitive.
Clare: Well, from the point of view of the earth element you are right. If we keep strictly to the basic meaning of fire and earth, what does earth do to fire?
Audience: Puts it out. Smothers it, suffocates it.
Clare: Exactly. And yet the paradox is that fire cannot burn unless it is consuming some kind of matter, such as coal or wood, both of which belong to the earth element. This explains both the repulsion and attraction that exists between fire and earth. They are opposites but they need each other. We can understand why earth resists and seeks to control fire, which threatens to consume it - burn it up. On the other hand, earth needs fire, which is the life force itself. I believe that there is a species of eucalyptus tree in Australia which needs intense heat - a forest fire - before it can burst forth into life and new growth again. Another example is the mythic bird, the phoenix, which, in order to be reborn, needs to enter into the fire on a regular basis and be totally consumed, or purified, by the fire.
By contrast, the earth signs are rooted in here-and-now tangible reality. They are solid, dependable, practical and reliable, concerned with the material world and with the five senses. Think of earth literally; everything that supports us grows from the earth, all the food we eat comes from the earth. Earth supports life and the earth signs have very strong security needs and tend to be very conservative. They are realistic. They are able to manifest, to make things happen, and have a tremendous capacity for perseverance and endurance. The earth signs come into their own when realism and practical solutions are called for.
The earth signs tend to be comfortable and in touch with the natural world and, unlike the other elements, tend not to repress or undervalue the body's needs for proper nourishment, rest and exercise. Of all the elements, the earth signs are the most sensual and sexual. Earth is in its element here. Many fire signs, on the other hand, have an active dislike of their bodies, which are too confining, too restrictive. Our bodies hold us back, and they need to be fed, clothed and rested.
Audience: So what are the limitations of earth?
Clare: In general terms, the limitations of the earth signs are the same as the strengths of the fire signs. The practical, realistic earth signs can have a marked lack of enthusiasm, hope, faith and optimism, which can result in a kind of cynical disappointment with life, a sense that the world has 'let them down'. There can also be a lack of imagination and an inability to think symbolically. Taken to extremes, the 'concrete thinker' can become evangelical or fundamentalist, which tends to be an expression not of faith but of its lack.
The element of earth is shown in Johann Daniel Mylius' Philosophia reformata (1622) as the primal substance, suckling the baby filius philosophorum, the alchemical gold. On the left is the salamander of the element of fire, and to the right the birds of the element of air. Earth stands with her feet in the element of water.
Equally, the limitations of the fire signs can be described as the strengths of the earth signs. The difficulties, for fire signs, are the thousand obstacles of a practical nature which threaten to spoil and obstruct the fantasy. They can have problems coping with ordinary, everyday matters. The world, with all its boring details, red tape, traffic laws, bills, regulations and other demands, has a tendency to frustrate fire, not to mention other people who point out, practically but not very helpfully, all the very good reasons why something is not possible. Fiery people can feel panicked and really miserable by a tax return and will do anything to escape. In a curious way, a tax return is an affront to fire, which doesn't see the need to justify its existence to anyone or to obey the rules which, after all, only apply to ordinary mortals! Fire signs are not interested in the actual reality of the situation, why is why they cannot necessarily remember where they put their car keys, or tend to leave the house without any money.
The fiery imagination can travel anywhere, without limitation. Fire can imagine being in the Andes climbing mountains, or swimming with dolphins off the coast of New Zealand, or travelling in a spaceship to the outer reaches of the solar system, or on a ten-year retreat in a Japanese Zen monastery, but in order to turn these dreams into reality the practical element of earth is needed. We have to earn enough money in order to be able to afford to turn our dreams into reality, and we have to navigate train and plane timetables, remember to get our visas updated and leave enough time to get to the airport if we are not to miss our plane.
Earth is not the only challenge to fire. The air and water signs can be equally obstructive. Fire's subjective vision and enthusiasm can easily be crushed by air's rational analysis of the actual facts, and water can douse the heat and enthusiasm. Fire signs can be very vulnerable and tend to have a curious lack of stamina. They can easily be overwhelmed by the resistance which the world throws at them, and it is not unusual to meet fire signs who seem to have been 'put out'.
Audience: Isn't that because they are rather selfish and out of control?
Clare: That is exactly the reaction or the judgement which they tend to evoke. There is a tendency to try and restrict all this enthusiasm by putting boundaries around it, and if this happens early in life or too insensitively, then it can have a lasting effect on the life force of the individual or can break their will to the extent that they cease to believe in themselves. In this case, the astrologer has work to do. Unless the natural enthusiasm, optimism and self-belief of the fire element can be rekindled, it may become distorted; violent and destructive, in the case of Aries, demanding and jealous in the case of Leo, or arrogant and patronising in the case of Sagittarius.
Audience: So if this happens, then presumably the fire signs need a new vision and a new quest or adventure?
Clare: Yes, at the end of the day they must believe in themselves and need others to believe in them.
Copyright ©2005 by Clare Martin.
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