The Meaning of the modes in Astrology

by Hank Friedman

When I started out studying Western astrology in 1974, I was completely fascinated with the signs of the Zodiac, and especially all of their attributes. The four elements, the modes, the scope, the planetary rulerships, and the significations all enchanted me.

And ever since then I've felt that it is so important for students of astrology to master each of the qualities of the signs in order to fully understand their workings.

That has motivated me to write this article.

Among the attributes of the signs of the Zodiac are the three modes: Cardinal, Fixed, and Mutable. These modes characterize one of the major ways that each sign expresses itself. How each acts.

Cardinality means starting actions and interactions. Fixity means inertia, both keeping things the way they are and persevering at tasks. And Mutability means combining disparate views, looking in many directions, and adapting to situations.

How to determine if a person has a primary mode

To begin with, I need to mention that I use the modes primarily in Western Astrology. While Vedic astrology does employ the modes*, I have found them to have more relevance to the Tropical Zodiac (and Western astrological methods).

The factors in a chart that determine if there is a predominant mode in a person's chart:

1. If the mode of the Ascendant, Sun, and Moon are all the same.

2. If the mode of the main focal planets are the same.

Planets become focal (which means of major influence in the chart) if they are conjunct, opposed, or square to the Ascendant within 5 degrees, at the handle of a bucket chart (i.e. have no planets on two sides of them), or are alone in half of the sky.

3. A predominance (4 or more) planets in one mode.

The Cardinal Individual

A person with a Cardinal signature will usually be outspoken, very active and busy, try to motivate others, and initiate a lot of activities and projects (including connecting to people).

They can even become hyperactive and too busy doing things to take the time to relax and look inside.

Yo Yo Ma is an excellent example of a Cardinal person, with Sun, Moon, Ascendant, M.C., Mercury, Venus, and Neptune in Cardinal signs.

According to the AstroDatabank website, "Yo-Yo Ma continually searches for new ways to communicate with his audiences, and in his quest for stimulating new sounds."

I remember watching with awe his Silk Road Project film, where he brought together musicians of many different cultures and they all performed together.

His phenomenal initiative began at age 4, and he continues to pioneer new ideas and awarenesses about the power of music to communicate to the world.

The Fixed Individual

A person with a Fixed signature will be quite steady, receptive and/or dominant, careful to complete what they start (often before taking on the next project), thorough, steadfast (sometimes to the point of being intractable), and determined.

Fixed people often dislike disruptions, and can resist and avoid change.

George Lucas, the filmmaker and director, has Sun, Moon, Ascendant, Mercury, Venus, Jupiter, and Pluto in Fixed signs.

Like many Fixed people, he doesn't like the spotlight, works long and hard behind the scenes, doesn't even like directing, and has a retiring personality and a very retentive memory.

The Mutable Individual

A person with a Mutable signature often has a lot of thoughts and ideas; is quicker to adapt than most of their peers; likes to improvise, juggle tasks, and dabble in many things; and can be quite inventive, clever, alert, and flexible.

Mutable people can also be nervous, fidgety, restless, distractible, and changeable.

Paul McCartney is the quintessential Mutable examplar, with Sun, Ascendant, M.C., the Moons Nodes, Mercury, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune in Mutable signs.

His music is incredibly varied, articulate, experimental, eclectic (a great mutable word), and unpredictable. He was inspired, at different times, by classical music, African music, and electronica.

Some of his songs even have radical changes within them, unlike any other rock at the time.

And like a true Mutable, he recently said "Do you know anyone who doesn't have insecurities?"

Table of Attributes of the modes
Mode   Cardinal Fixed Mutable
Primary quality Initiative Perseverance Synthesis
Body system Muscles Viscera Nerves
Body type Mesomorph Endomorph Ectomorph
Actions to pioneer to complete to teach
lead follow go between
create consolidate diversify
Shadows intrusive resisting distracted
self-absorbed willful anxious
arrogant passive unreliable
not coordinating passive aggressive restless
Primary planets Mars Sun Mercury
Secondary planets Venus, Moon, Saturn Venus, Mars, Saturn Jupiter

Planets in the modes

The Sun has a lot of leadership in Cardinal signs, determination in Fixed signs, and adaptability in Mutable signs.

The Moon keeps very busy when in Cardinal signs, is stabilized in Fixed signs, and becomes very changeable in Mutable signs.

Mercury expresses itself impulsively and at times bluntly in Cardinal signs, is often either quieter or more long-winded in Fixed signs, and is very voluble and curious in the Mutable signs (except Pisces which can be quiet in some charts).

Venus takes on the role of caretaker and mediator in Cardinal signs, is quite sensual in Fixed signs, and very accommodating in Mutable signs.

Mars is very active and even dominant in Cardinal signs, has great stamina in Fixed signs, and scatters its energies in thinking and imagining in Mutable signs.

Jupiter plays the hero in Cardinal signs, is a very steady presence for others in Fixed signs, and gives itself away in Mutable signs.

Saturn is commanding in Cardinal signs, resolute in Fixed signs, and insecure and worrying in Mutable signs.

Uranus in Cardinal signs is very independent, in Fixed signs is either muted (Taurus) or intensified and radical (especially Leo), and becomes very cerebral and innovative in Mutable signs.

Neptune has an active imagination in Cardinal, is deeper and steadier in Fixed signs, and becomes even more porous and ungrounded in Mutable signs.

Pluto can have a powerful intensity in Cardinal signs, be an irresistible force or an immovable object in Fixed signs, and a deep thinker in Mutable signs.

Signs in the modes

Aries -- Cardinal:

Aries is the most conspicuous sign of the Zodiac because it is both Cardinal and Fire. Aries rising people express themselves without any filtering, spontaneously and directly. They often also initiate action without forethought. Planets in Aries can manifest their attributes in very visible ways. Fiery planets like the Sun, Mars, and Jupiter share their thoughts and feelings very freely, as does chameleon Mercury and the emotional planets Venus and the Moon. Saturn has the most problems with Aries because it wants to be in control and deliberate and finds the role of Aries challenging.

Taurus -- Fixed:

Taurus is the most solid sign and as such is good for variable planets like the Moon, Mercury, and Neptune, it's squelching for Uranus, and too much of a good thing for Saturn, potentially creating rigidity and a closed mind.

Gemini-- Mutable:

Gemini is one of the two most mutable signs (with Pisces). It can amplify the overthinking tendencies of Mercury, Saturn, the Sun, Jupiter, Mars and the Moon, and create preoccupations and disconnections.

Cancer -- Cardinal:

Cancer initiates differently than the other Cardinal signs because it is a water sign. It can impel people to (sometimes intrusively) try to get closer to others, mothering, touching, broaching intimacy, holding (the claws of the crab) and rescuing. It can also move away from others and brood or withdraw.

Leo -- Fixed:

Leo manifests its fixity very differently depending upon many factors including chart placement, gender, and upbringing. When healthy, it is steadily warm, generous, open, kind, and loyal. When unhealthy, its fixity results in dominance, willfulness, attention grabbing, and anger.

Virgo -- Mutable:

Virgo is the most stable of the Mutable signs, and focuses the mind, tinkers and improves. At its best, it serves selflessly , and at its worst, it worries, criticizes, overanalyzes, and frets.

Libra -- Cardinal:

As a Cardinal sign, Libra introduces people to one another, champions social gatherings, and starts abstract and esthetic conversations. It also can play the "distance dance," i.e. flirting lightly but pulling back at the first sign of too close an approach by others.

Scorpio -- Fixed:

As the most intense water sign because of its fixity, Scorpio can be incredibly deep, devoted, and psychic, but when injured can be powerfully reactive and lost in unyielding emotional states.

Sagittarius -- Mutable:

Sagittarius has many different ways of expressing its mutability including wild fire (unbridled adventurousness), the preacher and teacher (complete, at times, with condescension), the pioneer (the thirst for new horizons), and the traveler.

Capricorn -- Cardinal:

The cardinality of Capricorn can manifest as organizing, controlling, structuring, managing, and enforcing (rules). Capricorn is the most deliberate of the Cardinal signs.

Aquarius -- Fixed:

The most stable of the air signs (because of its fixity) can indicate steadiness, objectivity, unbiased rationality, and neutrality; or rigidity, detachment to the point of dissociation, and an inability to commit.

Pisces -- Mutable:

Perhaps the ultimate chameleon, mutable Pisces can conform to the needs of the situation without thinking, for better or worse. Incredibly emotionally permeable, vulnerable, caring, and capable of being imaginative to the point of brilliance or delusion and ungroundedness.


I hope that this examination of the modes inspires you, my readers, to explore their presence in every chart that you look at.

* In Vedic astrology, Cardinal signs love to travel the most, and Fixed Signs the least.

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