The Three Modes or Qualities: Cardinal, Fixed, and Mutable signs

Cardinal signs

Aries, Libra, Cancer, Capricorn
Outwardly directed energy

Fixed signs

Taurus, Leo, Scorpio, Aquarius
Concentrated energy

Mutable signs

Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius, Pisces
Circulating energy

The cardinal fixed mutable signs do not have the broad recognition that the earth, air, fire, and water signs do. But they are just as important.

Cardinal, fixed, and mutable are three modes or qualities of expression. When you view them on the horoscope wheel, the signs of each quality appear in cross-shaped groupings.

What are Cardinal Signs?

cardinal signs
the cardinal cross - aries, cancer, libra, capricorn

The Cardinal signs are Aries, Cancer, Libra, and Capricorn.

Cardinal signs are initiators. They are energetic, dynamic, proactive, and unafraid to try new things. A preponderance of cardinal signs in a chart indicates a person who is always in “go” mode. But they don’t always take the rest they need. This can cost them in the long run.

The word Cardinal means “first.” The Sun’s entry into each cardinal sign takes place at the equinoxes and solstices. The first month of any season brings the “starting” vibe of the cardinal signs.

The first day the Sun is in Aries is the first day of Spring (in the Northern hemisphere). The sign Cancer is the beginning of Summer. The first day in Libra marks the beginning of Fall. The Capricorn ingress hails the arrival of winter.

  • Aries is the cardinal fire sign: an idealistic straight shooter who moves fast and likes to be first.
  • Cancer is the cardinal water sign. Cancer represents Motherhood, the drive to feed, nurture, and care for others.
  • Libra is the cardinal air sign. Libra represents one-on-one relationships, the basis of communication and relating.
  • Capricorn is the cardinal Earth sign— ambitious, driven to achieve and gain status.

What are Fixed Signs?

fixed signs
the fixed cross - taurus, leo, scorpio, aquarius

The Fixed signs are Taurus, Leo, Scorpio, and Aquarius.

Signs on the fixed cross are persistent, stable, and resistant to change. The fixed quality is strong and relentless. It is a blessing at times— fixed signs are reliable and determined. They do not give up easily. But the unwillingness to change can also mean missing out on opportunities and getting stuck in ruts.

The fixed signs represent the second month of each season. The season is well underway by the time the Sun reaches a fixed sign. The season has really “set in.” 

  • Taurus is the fixed earth sign: stubborn, inflexible, and reliable.
  • Leo, the fixed Fire sign, is fixed in its idealism and creativity. Loyal, proud, and steadfast.
  • Scorpio, the fixed water sign: powerful and determined, jealous and controlling. Scorpio is unstoppable when they really want something.
  • Aquarius is the fixed air sign. Aquarius has fixed ideas and fixed opinions. It can be hard for them to take direction from others– because they already know everything.

What are Mutable Signs?

mutable signs
the mutable cross - gemini, virgo, sagittarius, pisces

The Mutable signs are Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius, and Pisces.

Each sign on the mutable cross has a flexible, changeable, adaptable, and suggestible nature. The mutable quality goes with the flow better than other signs. 

The mutable signs are good with relationships and the details of day-to-day life. Mutable signs are very good at multitasking (doing many things at once). But they also tend to struggle with distractions. They may scatter their energies. They may lack the focus to move decisively toward a goal. When a chart has a preponderance of mutable signs, the person tends to have excess nervous energy. This nervous energy makes it difficult for the person to settle down.

The Sun’s passage through a mutable sign represents the final month of any season. Late summer, for example, when the leaves begin to fall, and the weather becomes more changeable as we begin to slide into the next season. Mutable signs pick up the quality of these seasons of change.

  • Gemini, the mutable air sign. Their mental flexibility that gives them intelligence and the ability to grasp new ideas and handle a lot of information.
  • Virgo, the mutable earth sign. Virgo is the ultimate multitasker. Virgos are helpful, versatile, and attentive to the details.
  • Sagittarius, the mutable fire sign. Sagittarius has a talent for seeing the “big picture” in any situation. Good with philosophy, good at inspiring others.
  • Pisces, the mutable water sign. Pisces is flexible on the emotional level. Their impressionability makes them so sensitive that they often feel other people’s feelings.

Putting it to the test

Count up the total number of planets in each mode in your chart. Give an extra count to the Sun, Moon, and Ascendant. Some charts have the planets balanced among each of the three modes. More often, a chart is heavy in one mode or the other.

Count up the number of planets in each mode in your chart. How do your totals describe you as a person?



Leave a Comment


  • Jacqueline Bresee
    2019-07-02 07:03:00
    Thank you. I did not realize you replied until now as I got no email notice of it. I was not at all worried about lacking a mode, but was curious as to whether it might have meant balance or a lack of focus. It made sense to me that it could mean either, but then come to think of it, there is positive and negative in everything and all is dependent upon how we use the tools given o us.
  • Molly Gauthier
    2019-05-30 09:46:14
    If you don't have a preponderance or lack of any mode in particular, don't worry about it, Jacqueline. It is what it is. Just move on to something else. Keep reading your chart until you find the juicy parts!
  • Jacqueline Bresee
    2019-05-29 10:01:07
    I have the three modes evenly distributed in my chart, but I cannot find the meaning of it anywhere? Can you tell me?
  • Carmen
    2019-04-09 10:59:45
    I turn out to be mutable - flexible, changeable, easy going. I can lead or follow.
  • Denise Sacks
    2019-04-09 10:37:20
    Thanks for this!