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The Qualities

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Ptolemy and his world View
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What are the Qualities?:

Like the Elements, this is a grouping of signs, but this time it is quadruplicities, or groups of four. Each of the four groupings has a distinct "quality" and they are known as Cardinal, Fixed and Mutable. The quality groupings each have a unique way of engaging with the world.

When were the signs first put into these groups?:

The qualities are found in the writings of Ptolemy, and seem to have come out of early Greece.

What is the relationship to the Elements?:

Each grouping by quality has one of the four elements. So that means that for each element, there is a Cardinal, Fixed and Mutable sign within that group, too. Cardinal Fire behaves in a different way than Fixed or Mutable fire, and this adds nuance to understanding a particular sign.

What do the qualities have to do with the seasons?:

Each quality is linked to a particular point in the season. The cardinal signs initiate the season, fixed signs hold it in continuation, and the mutable signs wrap things up, and prepare for the seasonal change ahead.

What are the Cardinal signs?:

Aries, Cancer, Libra and Capricorn

What are the Fixed signs?:

Leo, Scorpio, Aquarius and Taurus

What are the Mutable signs?:

Sagittarius, Pisces, Gemini and Virgo

How are the qualities used to understand a sign?:

Once you get a grasp of the elements, and can observe them firsthand in people you know, the quality offers more shades of difference. You can refer to a natal planet being in the quality and element, such as Fixed Air or Mutable Water. Once you get a sense of how these qualities behave, merge that with what you know about the element, along with the essence of the sign. It's part of the synthesis that is vital to understanding astrology.

Cardinal, Fixed and Mutable:

The Cardinal signs are like the oldest in the family, and full of the self-initatory spirit. They assert their particular style of leadership through their element. By element, they are Aries (fire), Cancer (water), Libra (air) and Capricorn (earth.)

The Fixed signs dig in, and are able to hold steady in their goals to achieve something solid. It's hard for them to change, which gives them a reputation for being stubborn. But they are respected for their self-containment and sense of purpose. By element, they are Leo (fire), Scorpio (water), Aquarius (air) and Taurus (earth).

The Mutable signs are flexible, adaptable and restless for movement, change. They are able to see life from many perspectives, making them great communicators. They represent the break-down before the next season begins, so there's a touch of chaos to their natures. By element, they are Sagittarius (fire), Pisces (water), Gemini (air) and Virgo (earth).

When learning about astrology, try noting the difference between the qualities by observing two people with planets in the same element. For example, you might have two earth sign friends, giving you a great chance to note the different "quality" between a Capricorn and a Virgo. It takes time to note these subtleties, especially since we are usually a complex mix of many signs.

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