The 3 modalities in astrology
One way the 12 zodiac signs are classified is by modality or 'mode' for short. There are three modes in astrology splitting the 12 signs into four groups. (In traditional astrology, these groups were referred to as quadruplicities).
The astrological modes are a way for us to understand how the zodiac signs interact with the outside world.
All of the planets in your birth chart are in different zodiac signs, but understanding the mode of your sign, A.K.A. your sun sign will tell you a lot about your personality. The three modes in astrology are known as cardinal, fixed, and mutable. Each zodiac sign falls into one of these three categories.
We can learn about the traits of these zodiac modes by understanding the nature of the changing seasons.
The Seasons & The 3 Modalities of the Zodiac
Most astrology practiced in the northern hemisphere is known as 'Tropical Western' astrology. In this type of astrology, the seasons play a big role in our understanding of the qualities of the signs. We learn a lot about the modalities in astrology by observing the natural shifts in weather at the beginning, middle, and end of the seasons.
The 4 Cardinal Signs of the Zodiac: Aries, Cancer, Libra, Capricorn
These signs are associated with major beginnings. Each of these zodiacal seasons commences at the time of the equinoxes and solstices. Aries season begins at the spring equinox, Cancer season with the summer solstice, Libra season with the fall equinox, and Capricorn with the winter solstice. The sun reaches a pivotal point in its yearly cycle during these periods and we feel the shift in energy and weather as a new season begins.
Cardinal signs typically enjoy and are motivated to start new projects. They can develop great leadership skills and are masters at getting groups of people together to make things happen. They are prone to take action instantly when their gut tells them to, and sometimes this is without much planning.
Cardinal signs know that it just takes initiating the right conversation with the right person to get their plan in motion. Although these signs might love to start new things, they may also stop suddenly when the excitement dwindles. This reflects the nature of the sun as it journeys through the sky during the beginning of a season.
At the spring equinox, we expect the days to begin to grow longer. At the summer solstice, the sun reaches its highest point in the sky, then it stops and changes directions as it begins to come down. The fall equinox marks the point when the days begin to grow shorter and at the winter solstice, the sun reaches its lowest point in the sky before beginning to rise again.
If you are born under a cardinal sign, you may be prone to rapid starts and abrupt endings. Never returning to that original project or maybe deciding to change directions altogether. (Did you ever get back around to those cabinets or did you just buy all those materials and leave them sitting in your garage? Or maybe you're on your 3rd or 4th business enterprise.)
I'm not calling anyone out here, I've got a lot of cardinal energy myself.. but starting new things DOESN'T mean you're great at finishing them. Don't worry though, that's where the next group of signs comes in.
But for the cardinal signs, I've nicknamed you - The Movers & Shakers.
The 4 Fixed Signs of the Zodiac: Taurus, Leo, Scorpio, Aquarius
About a month after a new season begins, we typically experience stabilization in the weather patterns.
After the initial increases or decreases in temperature or change from sunshine to rain, we have a period where mother nature becomes a little more predictable. She settles into her new climate where she stays for about a month.
Enter, the fixed signs.
The signs of this zodiac modality have a knack for sustaining and maintaining. The quality of fixity is no joke. These signs persevere and stick with something until the job is done.
This fixity might extend to their mindset as well. I wouldn't expect to change their mind about something over dinner (orrrr maybe not ever).
They can be unwavering in their beliefs and goals, and it might take some serious convincing to get them on your team for a work or business endeavor, but once they're on your side, their dependability shines through.
A regular and established routine that is done for a long time? You're speaking their language. Ever hear the term 'set in stone' or 'consistency is key' or how about 'slow and steady wins the race?' I'm pretty convinced that these were coined by fixed signs.
Their decisiveness and sheer willpower are pretty unmatched. It's not about speed. We're playing the long game here. But these signs can tend to get a little set in their ways and might get REAL antsy at the idea of change. They typically prefer to do a lot of planning before taking action on something. Needless to say, they don't appreciate someone trying to deviate from the game plan.
Hopefully, they've got one of the next signs in the lineup on their team to calm them down when the unpredictable happens.
I'm calling the fixed signs - The Steady-Eddies.
The 4 Mutable Signs of the Zodiac: Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius, Pisces
After the core part of the season is over, the natural shifting of mother nature continues. We start to experience some weather changes, but it doesn't feel completely like the next season yet.
You know, like when winter is coming to an end, it starts to get warmer, maybe some plants or flowers are blooming and there's more sunshine? But, it's not quite spring yet. It's like the weather is trying to make up its mind.
Enter, the mutable signs.
Mutability makes you likely to adapt well to changing situations. These signs were born during a time when the weather was on its way to the next part of its cycle.
The mutable signs tend to thrive on change and might feel stuck in a rut after a long period without any. Deviating from the plans is just part of the game. When plan A doesn't work out, count on them to come up with plans B, C, and D. (If plan A was their idea, it probably had room for alterations anyway.)
This versatility can be great when there is a need to course-correct or multitask. You know that friend you have that does a bunch of things at once and doesn't usually finish them in the order they started? They probably get all the things done but in their own time.
This restless nature can apply to physical movement too. They would probably enjoy a job where there is constant movement and they always have something to do.
Mutability can have its negatives though if you're standing around a construction blueprint making changes over and over again without ever getting started on the building.
Just as fixity can apply to mindset, so too can mutability. These signs prefer to keep their opinions and beliefs open to new incoming information. This makes them easy to converse with and great at communicating with different types and groups of people, but they may get a reputation for being inconsistent or 'wishy-washy'.
Nevertheless, this group is adept at going with the flow. Let's call them - the adapters.
What Your Astrological Mode Says About You
Knowing the modality of your sun sign can help you understand yourself and the people around you. It's inspiring to know these positive qualities. Maybe everyone around you always compliments you on your ability to take ACTION (cardinal), your TENACITY in finishing projects when others have lost steam (fixed), or your mastery at coming up with solutions to unforeseeable problems and staying CALM with life's ebbs and flows (mutable).
It's also great to be conscious of some of our less redeeming qualities. Maybe you're a cardinal sign that sometimes struggles to finish the things that you start or takes the lead without asking others. Maybe you're a fixed sign that can be resistant to a change in plans or routine and reluctant to try something new. Or maybe you're a mutable sign that can't sit still and changes the plan so often that the others around you are getting whiplash.
And if you happen to be in charge of a team of people OR just around other human beings at all, knowing someone's modality can help you understand their personality and workflow a little better.
Your Birth Chart as a Whole
So what if you're thinking: BUT WAIT Destiny (that's my name by the way). I'm a cardinal sign, but I feel more fixed in nature or I definitely have mutable qualities.
Well, that's why it's important to look at the birth chart as a whole. The sun sign mode gives us a great starting point, but it's just that - a starting point.
We always have to consider the other factors in a chart. Maybe you're a fixed sign with five other planets in mutable signs! (And if that sentence confuses you, you might want to take a look at this post on the components of a birth chart.)
And if you've never seen your birth chart, here's a great site to do that!