There are a few different prisms through which you can initiate yourself into zodiacal wisdom. The most obvious option is through the lens of your own birth chart, learning about planets, aspects, and houses based off your own narcissistic explorations. This is a totally valid pathway. I’ve done it. I’ve done it with myself, my crushes, and my celebrity crushes. When I was 10, I was desperate to find ways in which Gerard Way, lead singer of My Chemical Romance, and I could finally make it work. That romantic desperation was one of the touchstones of my present astrological expertise.
But if I could start over, I would begin with the elements, the most basic basics. In Western astrology, the 12 zodiac signs are divided into four different elements: air, water, fire, and earth. Each has its own traits and associations; the three signs an element rules incorporate those properties in different ways.
By understanding the elements, you’ll have a good grasp of every sign. Doing so will put the entire wheel of the zodiac at your fingertips. From there, imagining the planets in every sign becomes (kind of) easy. Even compatibility, which we’ll get to later, becomes simpler. Earth and water get along, fire and air get along, water snuffs fire, air floats above the earth … It’s like a cosmic game of Pokémon or Rock, Paper, Scissors.
The woman who first introduced me to this clever approach was, of course, an air sign. Air signs are intellectual and communicative. They are experts in the ephemeral, the things of this world that lack physical form, and this is especially true of language and information. The air element is our breath, the most necessary and invisible function of our human body. Air doesn’t exist on the Chinese zodiac as a classical element, but instead, it becomes qi, the ultimate force that resides in everything. On a Wiccan altar, the Air signifies the East, and can be represented by everything from a feather to incense; because there is no concrete material form, even in worship, the Air is untouchable and immaterial.
As air is formless, lacking a concrete body, air signs are especially vulnerable to their own personal projections. Air signs are unlimited by space, and can drift everywhere, from places to people; as such, they’re vulnerable to overindulging in absolute fantasy. They love theory over practice, and can get caught in endlessly thinking or talking something out, instead of doing it.
The three air signs are Gemini, Libra, and Aquarius. For now, let’s think of each of them as each representing a different stage of emotional and spiritual growth — of the three, Gemini comes first on the zodiac calendar, and Aquarius comes last, making it the most mature. So we have a baby, naïve variation on air in Gemini; an adolescent who wants to try it all in Libra; and a cranky, old soul in Aquarius.
GEMINI is the twins. I think the areas in which zodiac signs have the worst reputations are really the qualities we tend to resent the most in ourselves, and poor Gemini is a perpetual victim of that unjust slander. In one of my favorite films, Paprika, a supporting character reveals himself as a villain, splitting into twin heads, his seam rupturing with cerulean butterflies. “I never knew this side of you!” shouts the heroine, in utter repulsion. “I have many sides,” replies our doubled antagonist, “and that’s what makes me human!”
All of that nonsense about Geminis being two-faced liars is true, but it’s something that we all do on some level. This is code-switching crystallized. It’s avoiding the discussion of your kinky sex life at the dinner table with your Evangelical grandfather, “turning on” for work, having a “phone voice.” Our identity is ephemeral, in constant flux — Gemini just leans into that inherent duality a little harder and less abashedly than everyone else.
Gemini is a mutable sign, meaning it’s flexible to change, constantly readjusting to new input and output. Gemini is ruled by Mercury, the planet of communication, and Gemini loves gathering and disseminating messages, gossip, and information. Gemini might be different with everyone they meet, but isn’t everybody?
A few famous Gemini Suns (who weren’t former presidents) include Bob Dylan, Marilyn Monroe, Kanye West, Che Guevara, Anne Frank, Josephine Baker, Tupac Shakur, and Angelina Jolie. Not knowing them personally, the most obvious commonalities are the malleability of their identities over time, even in the public consciousness, even in death. Sometimes that duality is terrifying, but more often than not, it’s a beautiful strength and survival skill.
LIBRA is the scales. Wouldn’t perfect balance be nice? Wouldn’t it be bliss to have it all, in theory? It’s an impossible reality, but that doesn’t stop Libra from seeking that ideal. Libra is the sign of adjustment, of making room for the other outside of the self. Libra “holds space” and takes heed of everyone’s needs in addition to their own.
Libra often leans into superficiality, not necessarily out of a lack of depth, but because superficiality is the easiest place for others to meet. The small talk we engage in on elevator rides and supermarket queues is a strength for Libra, who understands that those brief interactions can alter the course of a day, inspiring optimism and a faith in humanity in even the most casual moments. This ability to accommodate others is just as easily Libra’s weakness. Often, their willingness to meet everyone else’s needs to manifest a sense of equilibrium can be self-abnegating. In an effort to escape tension and conflict, Libra can let go of their own wants and desires entirely. However, Libra is right in that, if nobody ever takes an L and allows others to win, nobody would ever really win.
Libra is a cardinal sign, an initiating energy, and it’s ruled by Venus. Again, this Venusian energy can manifest as a shallow obsession with appearances, but it can also embody a deep understanding of the most grand and abstract measures of beauty — rhythm, poetics, and the golden mean. Libra represents an aspirational beauty, or an inspirational splendor. Libra longs for justice, even in the face of the most unfair, compromised systems.
Famous Libra Suns include Kim Kardashian, John Lennon, Bonnie Parker (of Bonnie and Clyde), Serena Williams, Oscar Wilde, Barbara Walters, and Gandhi. No matter how we remember these stars individually, the foundations of their success were built on teamwork and balance. Their triumphs and scandals would be impossible without the collaboration of others. In our self-absorbed internet era, Libran values grow increasingly important to cultivate, regardless of where the sign lands on your chart.
AQUARIUS is the water bearer. This often confuses people, including Aquarians, into believing it’s a water sign. But Aquarius is most definitely an air sign, probably the most ethereal and abstract of the three. If Gemini relates to self-identity and Libra relates to partnership, Aquarius takes a giant leap into outer space, relating to a universal understanding of air values. Aquarius is concerned with the bigger picture, the large-scale concepts that dreams are made of but can seldom be contained in waking reality. For this reason, Aquarians are just as likely to be involved in larger humanitarian missions as they are to ghost from daily interactions. Their preoccupation with theory often stands in the way of their ability to connect with present, pressing needs.
The phrase “Age of Aquarius” dominates New Age literature and features heavily in the musical Hair. This doesn’t mean that the moon is in the seventh house, or that Jupiter aligns with Mars, or that most of the lyrics in “Let the Sunshine In” stand up to scrutiny. But the overall meaning is there, somewhere. In a hypothetical Aquarian Age, everyone would be interconnected to higher-order concepts and dreamscapes. We would all be ready to reconcile ourselves with the universal instead of being bogged down by the petty, mundane bullshit that distracts us from our greater human connection. Only time will tell if we’ve actually arrived at that Aquarian Age, but until then, we can rely on Aquarian humans as conduits for this energy.
Saturn, the planet of order and discipline, rules Aquarius, making this sign a heavy-hitter and a serious thinker. It’s a fixed sign, meaning that it’s hardened against outside influence. Aquarius is unique and special, not because we aren’t all unique or special, but because they are steadfast in protecting that individuality in the face of distraction and change.
Galileo, Rosa Parks, Bob Marley, Yoko Ono, Oprah, and Paris Hilton are a few of the most famous Aquarius Suns. Their names have become synonymous with symbols, movements, and eras rather than pure reflections of their personal identities. Their impact and their celebrity relates to something far bigger than themselves.