What Are the Cardinal Signs in Astrology?

By: Dominique Michelle Astorino  | 
zodiac signs
The cardinal signs are Aries, Cancer, Libra and Capricorn. Here's what it means if you're a cardinal. PeachShutterStock/Shutterstock

In the world of astrology, life is sliced into segments that are ruled by planets, constellations and energies qualities life. It's so much more than the single zodiac sign that corresponds with your birthday. Within your birth chart, you'll of course find your sun sign, but is it cardinal, fixed or mutable? If those words are foreign to you, fear not — we're about to break down the modalities.

And if your sun, rising or moon happens to be Aries, Cancer, Libra or Capricorn, you've got cardinal sign energy, or could identify as a "cardinal person."


The Three Modalities in Astrology

The three modalities of the zodiac are cardinal, fixed and mutable. Peter Hermes Furian/Shutterstock

In astrology, the 12 zodiac signs are divided up based on their energy and qualities, in categories called modalities and elements. Most people are familiar with the four elements: fire, earth, air and water.

But most know less known about the modalities, which represent "a particular mode in which something exists, or is experienced or expressed," says master astrologer Shannon Aganza, creator of MoonGathering astrology school. Whereas the elements could indicate a set nature, modalities are about moving through life, "modalities indicate the natural laws of physics ... how energy moves," she says.


The three modalities are cardinal, fixed and mutable and each of those categories contains one of each different element. So cardinal contains a fire, earth, air and water zodiac sign.

Conversely, there are three zodiac signs for each element. Each sign (of those three) is assigned a different modality. For example, the earth element has a mutable sign, fixed sign and cardinal sign.

So, each zodiac sign is marked by both a modality and an element (for example, Virgo is mutable earth, Leo is fixed fire). Just as zodiac signs within the same element will find commonalities, signs in the same modality also find common ground.

The mutable signs comprise Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius and Pisces. The fixed signs comprise Taurus, Leo, Scorpio and Aquarius.

Let's get to know the four zodiac signs in the cardinal category.


Cardinal Signs: Aries, Cancer, Libra and Capricorn

The four cardinal signs are Aries, Cancer, Libra and Capricorn. They mark the beginning of each new season (the spring and fall equinoxes, and summer and winter solstices).

Cardinal Sign Traits

What makes a zodiac sign cardinal in nature? Launching, generating energy ... the spark that starts the fires.


"Cardinal is beginning, active energy," says Aganza. "Think: get things moving, creating a reality, making changes with a purpose."

Cardinal signs are here on this planet, in this life, to make things happen. "Cardinal signs begin and initiate a direction of motion," says Aganza. "Fixed signs stabilize and mutable zodiac signs receive."

Cardinal signs differ from fixed signs and mutable signs in that they "need to be free to start new projects and to create," she adds. "But don't expect follow through." Cardinal energy can be strong and forceful like a fixed sign, and quick like a mutable sign, but with an "energy that supports new direction."

Ahead, we'll take a deeper dive into each of the cardinal signs.


Aries (March 20-April 21)

Aries is the sign that is all about energy. Masterlevsha/Shutterstock

As the first sign in the zodiac, Aries marks the start of all four seasons on the astrological calendar and kicks off springtime in the Northern Hemisphere. Perhaps the most cardinal of the cardinal signs, Aries energy is strong. With the ruling planet Mars indicating action and drive, this is a hot, competitive zodiac sign. Cardinal energy is heightened in the sign of the ram.

Spring is the season of self in astrology, as Aries rules the head and physical body, and is the natural ruler of the first house of self. Starting a self development initiative or a physical fitness routine during this month is ideal cosmic timing.


"Aries is the sign of self-assertion and initiatory, pioneering action," says Aganza. "Adventure, independence and friction that sparks ignition are all qualities of the ram. This sign is all about energy and the fires of change but be careful not to burn out. Aries can burn hot enough to burn metal, and can become impatient and aggressive."

Cancer (June 21-July 22)

Cancer sign
Cancers have a reputation for being moody, but also nurturing. Masterlevsha/Shutterstock

Cancer is the cardinal water sign that kicks off the summer in the Northern Hemisphere.

Like the other cardinal signs, Cancer has initiating spirit, but as a water sign, this is more emotionally motivated. In general, water signs — like Pisces and Scorpio — tend to be sensitive and emotionally deep.


Cancer's ruling planet is not technically a planet, but a "luminary" in astrology terms: the moon. This is where Cancer can get its reputation for moodiness. The zodiac crab is subject to the ever-changing tides ruled by the moon.

The crab naturally rules the fourth house of home, so initiating a home search, moving into a new place or starting a home-oriented project in Cancer season is always a smart move.

As the "mother" of the zodiac, Cancers are nurturing for the self and others, protective, sympathetic, affectionate and comforting. They love to nourish with comfort food, Aganza explains. "This sign creates comfort and emotional warmth — as the first water element, this is the well that feeds the town."


Libra (Sept. 23-Oct. 22)

Libras crave social connections and partnership. Masterlevsha/Shutterstock

Our cardinal air sign, Libra begins fall (the first day of this starry season marks the fall equinox).

As an air sign, Libras love to socialize and as a cardinal sign, it wants to get the party started. Air signs in general are rather social, but Libra in particular craves social connection and partnership. This is, in part, due to its ruling planet Venus.


Libras also want to find a partner. Opposite the zodiac wheel from Aries (the self), Libra is about the other, naturally ruling the seventh house of one-to-one partnerships. This also makes Libra's four-week reign an excellent time to initiate a new relationship or start a marriage.

"This sign is motivated to bring everything into harmony and balance," says Aganza. "Pleasure-loving, connection-seeking and justice-oriented. If the scales are in balance, there is beauty, aesthetics and fairness." La vie est belle in Libra's world.

When out of balance, this sign "craves approval and validation from others," and can get stuck in indecision (weighing options) as well as people-pleasing or debating for the sake of debate.

But above all, this initiating air sign understands "exactly what's needed to bring a space or relationship into balance," she says./\r\n/


Capricorn (Dec. 20-Jan. 19)

Capricorns are down-to-earth, practical and responsible. Masterlevsha/Shutterstock

The final seasonal cycle takes place with the advent of winter in Capricorn season, our last cardinal sign. As one of the earth signs, it is practical, methodical and down-to-earth.

Opposite Cancer on the zodiac wheel (which rules over the home and personal life), Capricorn is focused on career and public persona, as the natural ruler of the 10th house. As such, Capricorn season is an excellent time to start your own business, or initiate a major career move.


The sea goat's ruling planet is Saturn, but unlike fellow Saturn-ruled sign Aquarius (fixed air), who is a bit more visionary, Capricorns tend to adhere to more traditional structures; it's a rule-following sign (as Aganza puts it, this is one of the signs that "follows rules for sake of rules").

If this is one of the dominant signs in your chart, you may be drawn to (or exhibit) "structure, organization, discipline, ambition and concentration," says Aganza. "Capricorn has the best work ethic, and will do the work no one else will do, simply because it needs to be done."

Because Capricorn carries so much responsibility on its shoulders, it can veer toward "pessimism, fear, rigidity, judgement and being hard on themselves," she says. "Try not to get stuck in the past or become too cynical and skeptical. You don't need to measure yourself against 'socially accepted' benchmarks."