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A Guide to the Fire Signs: Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius

Photo-Illustration: by Preeti Kinha; Photos: Getty Images

Western astrology divides the zodiac by four elements: air, fire, water, and earth. One of the easiest parts about describing fire signs is that we’ve never really given up on fire metaphors in modern culture. We still call people “fiery,” both as a compliment and an insult. The consequences of fire — a substance that can giveth life and taketh away — are obvious and overt. Fire can heat your home and completely destroy it, create light in the dark and totally raze a city. Fire signs tend to be obvious and overt in human beings, too. Everything tracks.

The link between fire and the act of creation leads spiritual traditions to treat it as a passionate, maverick element. In ancient Chinese tradition, fire is a yang force called huo that symbolizes enthusiasm and strength alongside impatience and aggression. In tarot, fire becomes the suit of wands, the slice of the Minor Arcana most concerned with action and invention. Rituals around fire exist in almost every major religion and New Age ceremony, from lighting candles to cremating remains. It’s powerful stuff.

So in that interest of simplicity, I’ll be explaining each of the three fire signs — Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius — as loud, literal fire metaphors.

ARIES is a cardinal, initiating fire. The start of Aries season marks the beginning of spring, and the vernal equinox marks the start of cosmic New Year. Aries sits at the very beginning of the astrological cycle, which ends on reincarnating, mutable water sign Pisces. Aries is the most baby of baby signs.

Once, I spent the afternoon of a bat mitzvah lighting Kleenex on fire in the sinks of a bathroom with a few of my friends, including the birthday girl. There were matches sitting alongside after-dinner mints somewhere in the venue, and once we learned how to strike them — a brand-new skill that I’m sure our parents adored — we couldn’t stop lighting shit on fire to see what would happen. Striking the matches was ineffably exciting, even if we didn’t know what we were doing, or understand the ramifications of possibly burning down a hundred-person family celebration as they stumbled through the “Cha Cha Slide.”

This is Aries energy. Flicking lighters to watch them burn, setting matches to see what happens. There is an eagerness at discovery, an impulsivity that lends itself to doing things right now, and an ignorance of long-term consequences that is both brilliantly youthful and completely irresponsible. Aries is a brash, irascible placement, trigger-happy in the best and worst of ways. Aries is utterly new; new like, You must be new here, and new like a fresh wrestler jumping into the ring to relieve their exhausted partner in a tag-team match. Aries is a starter, but not necessarily a finisher. The impulsive energy of Aries might drive conflict, but it also isn’t too stubborn to learn a lesson.

Aries is ruled by Mars, the god of war. Warriors are often young and reckless, ignorant to the dark horrors of ongoing conflict, but eager to prove their mettle. It’s an energy that resists reality checks but propels action. When we say fiery — a fiery personality, a fiery temperament — we are usually referring to an Aries energy: base, loud, and unashamed.

Some famous, high-intensity Aries suns include Vincent van Gogh, Billie Holiday, Charlie Chaplin, Elton John, Mariah Carey, Lady Gaga, Lil Nas X, and Harry Houdini. Despite the flaws these celebrities might exhibit, and their inherent irresponsibility, we admire their courage in doing things first, and their bravery in believing they’re the best in a world that discourages ambitious childhood hopes and dreams.

LEO is a fixed, stabilizing fire. Leo didn’t just discover fire — it knows fire, okay? It gets it. Leo is very, very aware of its own magnificence and its power to create or destroy. Leo is a decadent fireplace in a luxurious mansion, ready to be shown off in a shiny Architectural Digest spread. Leo wants you to admire its natural grandeur. This hearth may be ostentatious, but it’s also warm and safe. After a long day, Leo’s fire can be relied upon for consistent comfort. It’s loyal and constant. Beneath the gilded mantel are brick and mortar. Leo isn’t going anywhere.

As a fixed sign, Leo is reluctant to alter its ways and take advice. Even when change is absolutely necessary, it can be challenging for it to make material adjustments, especially if it wasn’t its idea. Even if its entire estate bursts into flames, Leo will stay standing, a chimney barely hanging onto the skeleton of a house, as if to prove a point. Fire is a challenging element to contain, and Leo smolders, desperate to retain a selfish illusion of control.

Leo is ruled by the sun, and since the sun in astrology represents our ego, Leo is naturally egocentric. Leo is always the lead character in its own movie. This is an obnoxious quality, but it also leads to drama and splendor, life lived with deliberately provocative intentions. Plus, movies don’t exist without directors, costumers, and crafts tables. Leo is very aware that it takes a village to make its world go round, and it’s eager to share in their rewards, even if it refuses to cede top billing.

Famous Leo suns include Madonna, Amelia Earhart, Mata Hari, Neil Armstrong, Louis Armstrong, Whitney Houston, Joe Rogan, and Alfred Hitchcock. These individuals are all overly self-aware stars of their own shows … But what glamorous, entertaining, and especial shows they are!

SAGITTARIUS is a mutable, evolving fire. If Aries is the first strike of a flame, and Leo is a regal hearth, Sagittarius is a bonfire. But it’s not a soft-focus, intimate gathering in an adult-contemporary music video, with cozy fleece blankets, mugs of warm cider, and sweet nothings. Sagittarius is a massive Rumspringa rager behind a barn in the Midwest, or a woozy party thrown on a vacant strip of beach at night in the middle of winter. Everyone is invited, and everyone invites everyone else. There are your friends from kindergarten, your bosses from your boring retail job, and irresponsible parents letting their children run amok unattended. “It’s cool, man,” says Sagittarius, sharing a spliff with your stepfather. “Don’t worry about it.”

Everyone contributes something different to this blazing pit — logs, driftwood, crushed magazine pages, toxic legs of laminated Ikea furniture … “Be cool, man,” says Sagittarius. “It’s all good.”

Sagittarius is the biggest people person on the zodiac. It has no problem hosting a party or sharing its sparks. It is not possessive over who controls its ever-changing flames. All are welcome — all ideas, walks of life, adventures, and inclinations, no matter how unusual or awkward. There is a spirit of generosity here, but also one of detachment — when the bonfire inevitably careens out of hand, Sagittarius struggles to bear the weight of responsibility. It’s a little too comfortable with discomfort: Its ease at existing in extraordinary circumstances means it can struggle to read the room, and its willingness to dip means that whoever’s left behind has to mop up the mess.

Sagittarius is ruled by Jupiter, the patron planet of expansion, and Sagittarius is always looking for new travels, languages, and ideas. This spirit of never-ending growth can lead to trouble if left unchecked, but few signs display such a total lack of inhibition. We owe much to its willingness to take on fresh endeavors without selfishness or greed.

Renowned Sagittarian suns include Jimi Hendrix, Billie Eilish, Bruce Lee, Nero, Jane Fonda, Ozzy Osbourne, and Miley Cyrus. These fire signs can’t be tamed, often against their own best interests. At the same time, though, they became conduits for human connection and generosity, making room for everyone.

In addition to being divided into elements, the zodiac signs are also divided into three different modalities: cardinal, mutable, and fixed. The cardinal signs — Aries, Cancer, Libra, and Capricorn — fall at the beginning of each season. The fixed signs — Taurus, Leo, Scorpio, and Aquarius — fall in the middle of their seasons, and mutable signs — Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius, and Pisces — bring their seasons to a close.
A Guide to the Fire Signs: Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius