Signs of Change, the Cardinal Signs


Western Astrology is based as much upon the seasons as it is upon the movement of the celestial bodies. This is because the zodiac that is used in most Western astrology is the tropical zodiac. The tropical zodiac is not based on the actual constellations along the ecliptic but upon the four seasonal turning points, which are the two equinoxes and the two solstices.

Spring DaffodilsThe equinoxes are the two times during the year in which the length of day and night are equal. The Spring Equinox is when daytime becomes longer than nighttime, and this is the beginning of the astrological new year. The sign of Aries begins at the position of the Sun at the Spring Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere.* The Fall Equinox is when nighttime becomes longer than daytime, and in the Northern Hemisphere,* is where the sign of Libra begins.

The solstices are the times of the greatest extremes of the length of day and night. The Summer Solstice is the longest day, and in the Northern Hemisphere,* is where the sign of Cancer begins. The Winter Solstice is the longest night, and in the Northern Hemisphere,* is where the sign of Capricorn begins.

The signs at the equinox and the signs at the solstices are collectively known as the cardinal signs because these also directly correspond with the four cardinal points. The Spring Equinox corresponds with the East, the Summer Solstice corresponds with the South, the Fall Equinox corresponds with the West, and the Winter Solstice corresponds with the North.

In earlier times, the cardinal signs have been called the “moveable” signs. In Japanese, these signs are known as 活動宮, katsudou kyuu, action signs. As these names suggest, the cardinal signs, Aries, Cancer, Libra, and Capricorn, are the movers and shakers of the zodiac. People who have a predominance of Cardinal signs in their chart tend to be active, busy people who are “self-starters” and like to initiate projects and change. They often find themselves in leadership positions, and they enjoy being in control.

People who lack cardinal signs have difficulty with initiative and with starting projects. They often need an outside force to get them moving; however, once they are in motion, they tend to stay in motion, unless something causes them to stop.

Now that we have talked about the four cardinal signs as a group, let us look at them individually.

Aries the Ram

牡羊座 (Ohitsuji Za)

Cardinal Fire


Human Archetype:

The Warrior



Planets Dignified in Aries:

Mars, Ruler; Sun, Exalted and Day Triplicity Ruler**; Jupiter, Night Triplicity Ruler; Saturn, Participating Triplicity Ruler

Planets Debilitated in Aries:

Venus, Detriment; Saturn, Fall***

Part of Body:


General Characteristics:

Aries is a bold and courageous sign. Aries likes to be at the forefront of change and does not flinch in the face of danger. Aries welcomes any challenge and is known to “rush in where angels fear to tread.” Aries has no patience for fear or for apparent weakness or cowardice. At best, Aries is a fearless hero and protector; at worst, Aries is a controlling and violent bully.

Cancer the Crab

蟹座 (Kani Za)

Cardinal Water


Human Archetype:

The Mother



Planets Dignified in Cancer:

Moon, Ruler and Participating Triplicity Ruler; Jupiter, Exalted; Venus, Day Triplicity Ruler; Mars, Night Triplicity Ruler

Planets Debilitated in Cancer:

Saturn, Detriment; Mars, Fall***

Parts of Body:

Breasts and stomach

General Characteristics:

On the surface, Cancer may seem shy and retiring, but this appearance is somewhat misleading. Cancer is a nurturer and protector, and just as there is nothing fiercer than a mother protecting her young, Cancer can be quite courageous when defending anyone or anything in her care. She actively nurtures and grooms her charges, whoever they may be. At best, Cancer is a devoted and selfless caregiver; at worse, Cancer is clingy and smothering, and she can become mean and cruel.

Libra the Scales

天秤座 (Tenbin Za)

Cardinal Air


Human Archetype:

The Peacemaker



Planets Dignified in Libra:

Venus, Ruler; Saturn, Exalted and Day Triplicity Ruler; Mercury, Night Triplicity Ruler; Jupiter, Participating Triplicity Ruler

Planets Debilitated in Libra:

Mars, Detriment; Sun, Fall

Parts of Body:

Lower back and kidneys

General Characteristics:

Libra is the sign of balance and harmony. Like all Air signs, Libra enjoys being with many different people from all walks of life; however, Libra is the only sign that would expect them all to get along. Libra can sometimes be seen as indecisive and weak-willed, but that is a bit of an illusion. Libra is just as much an agent of energy and change as any other Cardinal sign; she takes charge in a polite and indirect manner. At best, Libra is a charming diplomat, hostess, and keeper of the peace; at worst, Libra is manipulative and controlling in a passive-aggressive manner.

Capricorn the Sea-Goat

山羊座 (Yagi Za)

Cardinal Earth


Human Archetype:

The Manager



Planets Dignified in Capricorn:

Saturn, Ruler; Mars, Exalted and Participating Triplicity Ruler; Venus, Day Triplicity Ruler; Moon, Night Triplicity Ruler

Planets Debilitated in Capricorn:

Moon, Detriment***; Jupiter, Fall

Parts of Body:

Knees, bones, and teeth

General Characteristics:

Capricorn is a practical and responsible manager. She is strict and orderly and likes to be in charge. No matter how much or little responsibility she has, anything in her care will be governed well and efficiently. Although she often desires to climb in rank and social status, she believes in hierarchies and social order and will rise by conventional means. At best Capricorn is an efficient and highly competent supervisor; at worst, Capricorn is miserly and mean and can become cold and cruel.


*In the Southern Hemisphere, the correspondences between the seasons and the signs are reversed. Libra is at the beginning of Spring, Capricorn is at the beginning of Summer, Aries is at the beginning of Fall, and Cancer is at the beginning of Winter.

**There are several different versions of Triplicity Rulers. I use the Dorothean Triplicity Rulers.

***Sometimes planets are both dignified and debilitated in the same sign. There do exist quantitative methods of analyzing dignity and debility in which they cancel each other out; however, I prefer a more qualitative approach that considers both.

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