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Ken Ward's Astrology Pages

The Triplicities as Metaphors

A triplicity is a group of three signs, each based on the same element. For instance, the fire quadruplicity is the three signs: Aries, Leo and Sagittarius.

On this page:

  1. Fire
  2. Earth
  3. Air
  4. Water
  5. Ether
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Fire fire

Fire tends to go upwards, and can raise things into the clouds and beyond. The sun and the stars are fire – high in the sky! Fire cannot truly be confined, although it can be controlled. Even so, it eventually escapes into the sky. Not surprisingly, fire is associated with spirit, high ideals. Fire ideas can be very distant from the ideas of this Earth. While fire consumes, it also creates new life (forest fires remove the old and enable the new - some plants even wait for the fire to release their seeds!). Of all the elements, fire captures our attention the most. Archetypal fire goes high above the earth, is consuming, clinging and captivating and creates the new and removes the old.

Fire is raw energy.

The fire signs (triplicity) are Aries, Leo and Sagittarius.

Fiery people have high spirits, great self-confidence, enthusiasm, and direct honesty and openness. They project a radiant, vitalising energy that glows warmly. They need a good deal of freedom to express themselves so they can insist on their own point of view. They are consumed - even entranced - by whatever they do. They are motivated by excitement, insight and intuition. That is, they get an idea which captivates them. They do not consider rational or logical thinking or practical feasibility, because the idea comes to them fully formed and full of power. While the idea may grow over a period of time, it does not grow logically but grows intuitively. For this reason, sometimes fiery people do not know why they must do what they must do!

Fire appears as if from nowhere, it grabs everyone's attention, and forces its way through almost everything, consuming the air, evaporating the water and chars the earth. Even the rocks are scorched or even melted (larva).

Not surprisingly, fire people are assertive, individualistic, active, self-expressive and freedom loving. Fire sign energies can stimulate others, but they can also overpower and exhaust them. Good natured and fun-loving, they may have many friends. They are generous with their time, energy, and resources. They value having a good time above material possessions. They are generous but can be egoistic. Fiery people may believe so strongly in their own powers and abilities that they fail to notice the powers and abilities of others. This may mean that they do not give others the credit they deserve, or it may be that they underestimate their opponents. They believe that "If you want a job done well, then do it yourself". However, they belong to a group that is the most daring and capable inspiring natural leaders. They lead from the front. In war or business, they are out in the front leading the way. They are independent and individualistic leaders, rarely consulting others before they act. In fact, they may not even think things through to themselves, because their mode of thought is intuitive – the decision comes fully formed, so they may not know why it arose. They are always "on stage" and need to be recognised and admired for their attainment and accomplishments. They consider being appreciated more important than being rich. Nothing hurts them more than being ignored. The fire sign sense of honesty is straightforward and often child-like. They believe everyone is like themselves an open book. This may lead them to be gullible and naïve, or to others exploiting their openness.

Earth earth

The earth triplicity is Taurus, Virgo and Capricorn.

Of all the elements, the earth element is the most easy to confine and capture, to hold in the hand. It is rigid, fixed and stable. Anything that is attainable is "down to earth" and not "airy fairy", or "high in the sky". Archetypal earth is real, heavy, and the basis of all achievement. It is the foundation of all that is. Like the real earth, it is fixed, stable, organised and (sometimes) predictable. It is limited and disciplined.

Of all the elements, it is the earth that can be possessed and owned. (No one claims to own the sea, the air or fire!) It provides a solid basis for our existence (dependable and stable), yet it can rise only so far. And the higher it rises (a bolder on a mountain), the farther it has to fall, making it unstable and less reliable, so earth people are cautious about extending too far. Unlike the other elements, it cannot easily rise and almost never disappears. Fire goes out, water trickles away, and air just disappears. If earth turns to dust, however, it can rise as high as fire, even travelling to other planets. But to do so, if must forgo its limitations (having a visible shape and organisation) and let go of its fixed nature.

Earthy people are, therefore, cautious, premeditative, conventional, possessive, practical and dependable. They live by a practical, common-sense code and seek physical wellbeing rather than spiritual enlightenment, or to rise high. The expression "down to earth" sums them up. They are responsible, methodical, and concerned with detail. Children of the earth element are therefore well suited to life on this planet. They are realistic, builders and hard workers. They are pragmatic, materialistic and reductionist - they reduce everything to what is practical, useful and observable. They particularly value skills and abilities. Earth types are successful business people in the sense that they can stably manage things. While the fiery type is an innovator, the earth type is cautious and practical, being more interested in established business activities than new innovative ones. Imagination to an earth type is of realistic representations of the five senses (or a few of them). They think about what is, rather than what might be. In a way, they lack imagination. They can be too fixed to rules, regulations and procedures.

Air air

While air is light, it pervades everything on earth. For a long way into the sky. Even in deep caves there is air. It is everywhere!

The air triplicity is Gemini, Libra and Aquarius.

Air rises, but not as much as fire. Like fire, air is difficult to control or to capture. It is (nearly) always free. Yet it links everything to everything else. Air is associated with words and language. Language and words are essentially verbal, and speech requires air. It has a serial quality. You can blow air from one position to another. For example, you can direct the breath to blow away some dust - the air moves from the mouth to the position of the dust. Language requires that words are uttered in a particular sequence, so the basis of logic is within language.

For most of human history, the air was the motive force of transport (sailing ships) and a major source of power (windmills).

Archetypal air is associated with language, logic, communication and transport. It loves freedom, and if captured, it will escape at the first opportunity. (If you capture it in a balloon, it will seep out or burst out whenever it can). Air is also associated with the interrelationships (links) between people and things.

So one keyword is "linking":

  • logic links ideas,
  • language links words,
  • transport links places, and
  • words link to ideas.

In order to link ideas together, we need to use abstraction or generalisation to some degree. So like fire, air can be abstract, although because it is closer to the earth, it is less likely to be "up in the sky" than fire (although it can be "up in the air", and abstract sometimes) Although air is everywhere, it remains air, although it does unite with objects and things in the world, but not as fast as fire. So the archetypal air can be objective and a bit impersonal. It is social because it is everywhere, but the associations are not as deep as those of water, or as lasting as those of earth.

Air people are concerned with thought, ideas and intellect. They are detached and objective. They can be versatile and agile in communications. But they might not accomplish their promises or goals unless they are grounded in earth.  They are the theory people in the "theory versus practice" debate. Nonetheless, while the air people are less practical than those of the earth, they are more practical and objective than the other two signs. However, they can become dreamers, thinking and planning, but not applying. Air people are reflective and think things through logically before they implement their ideas. They can be procrastinators, but they rarely make mistakes through lack of thought. They tend not to be emotional, but they are fair minded and consider other's viewpoints. They are group rather than person oriented. They love humanity, but are not that close to individuals. They have varied interests and could become perpetual students.

Water water

Water, like earth, is heavy, and falls to the earth. It is less easily constrained than earth, but more easily than fire or air. Yet water can rise up into the air (although it often falls again as rain.) Unlike fire and air, it forms a flat surface, therefore, like earth, it has some form. It is therefore less limited than the earth, but more limited than fire and air. While fire cannot be contained, it disappears if you totally enclose it, and air expands to fill any container, water is more limited and keeps it volume, and has a level. While fire cannot destroy the earth, water can. It is the universal solvent that has the potential to make everyone one, without destroying that which it unites. Water can rise high with the help of air, but generally doesn't move upwards. Water is extremely powerful, and will always find its own level. If artificially constrained at a high level, it will eventually break free, but then it will fall. Water is impressionable and reflective. It can go deep. Archetypal water refers to the feelings and the emotions. It refers to the unconscious mind.

Normally water is cold, that is, it absorbs energy. It takes in the energy of others. Water is more sensitive than the other elements in that it can appear naturally in the three forms of matter: solid like the earth; liquid - its normal state - and as vapour – like air. So water can mimic other elements as a solid (earth) and a vapour or gas (air).

Water people are very sensitive to their own feelings and to the feelings of others. They perceive life through their emotions. They are concerned with what feels right, with their hunches or impressions, rather than with what is practical or rational.  They use the emotions, not the intellect, to understand and to value. Water can raise people to the heights of bliss, but can bring them down to the depths of despair.

Water rises into the air and falls as rain, nurturing the land. The earth absorbs it to become fertile. We can go for weeks without food, but only days without water. Living things need water to nurture them. With it they grow and mature. Without it they die.

Water people need close emotional relationships, and rarely have superficial affairs. They can be volatile. They are romantic, sentimental and affectionate. They can be very nurturing and very possessive with their family and spouse. They have fixed opinions. They communicate in non-verbal ways; emotionally, psychically, or through forms as art, dance, music, poetry and photography. Their beliefs are based on feelings rather than on reason, passion or practicality.


Ether refers to the exchange mechanism between the material universe and spirit. The Nodes of the Moon refer to the ether. Ether is not part of the traditional system.

See also the triplicities for more information on the elements.