This post explores number symbolism as the factors of twelve and how they are expressed in the Zodiac. Twelve is a very useful number. Twelve signs work well because 12 is divisible in more than one way. In fact, there are three number combinations that produce it: 2 × 6 and 3 × 4 in addition to 1 × 12. One, two, three, four, six and twelve are archetypes in themselves. Understanding how they are used in the Zodiac tells you something about the nature of any given individual sign.
The nature of one
One-ness is the primary unity: the ground of being in which all beings participate. It is wondrous because it is nothing short of everything. Everything participates in One-ness to have any being at all. Quantum physics tells us that everything exists as a cloud of energized particles operating in one enormous field. One-ness is that field and beyond it: it transcends and is imminent within everything that is. Astrology uses twelve signs to symbolize primary facets of One-ness.
The nature of two
Two-ness is about two fundamental complimentary opposite energies contained in the One-ness. It is as a result immediately more complex that One-ness. Twoness has to do with duality: two players are on the board at the same time.
Let us call the two principles of Two-ness Yin and Yang because it seems to be the least culturally loaded way of talking about this duality.
Yin and Yang should not be confused with the polarities of gender, or masculine and feminine, or good and evil. A woman gives birth is the most Yang human activity imaginable even though Yang is sometimes confused by being ascribed only to men. Yang is a pushing-out energy: an exhalation. Yin is a bringing-in energy: an inhalation.
Yang is activity and Yin is receptivity. Some say Yang is active to Yin’s passive but we disagree. Receptivity is not an end-point; it is a process. Yin is making the necessary space for some new thing to emerge or supporting something already in existence. Yin’s activity is less obvious because it more subtle: it is Yin’s nature to be hidden to Yang’s obviousness. To characterize Yin as passive is a mistake and reveals the prejudice to place a higher value on yang values over yin ones. Yin as an active principle is obscured.
An even worse terminology is to call Yang and Yin positive and negative. The verbal baggage of the words corrupt the equanimity of Yang and Yin. Yin suffers from the connotations of the word “negative” where as Yang glories in all the connotations of the word “positive.”
Worst of all is to characterize duality as the battle between good and evil: a war between the sexes. Evil is not being; it is a lack of being where some being should be. A story’s protagonist and antagonist have being but the hero has a special quality of conscience that the villain does not. The difference is what inevitably draws them into conflict. Good and Evil are a duality but it is a different axis than Yin and Yang.
A better way to think about Yin and Yang is in and out just like the breath. For one cycle, both are required. If you can’t do one or the other, you die. Life depends on the rhythmic interplay between Yin and Yang.
The truth is that Yin and Yang are never very far apart because they participate in the same One-ness. For example, despite the cultural gender associations, when it comes to relationships, Yin and Yang roles dance in both partners from moment to moment in the ongoing interchange.
There are, not surprisingly, two ways of seeing Two-ness in the Zodiac. One is to see the two sets of six signs. Aries, Gemini, Leo, Libra, Sagittarius, Aquarius are the yang signs. Taurus, Cancer, Virgo, Scorpio, Capricorn and Pisces are the yin signs. Every yang sign is followed by a yin one. The yang signs are more motivated by liberty and the yin signs are more motivated by security.
The other way the Zodiac can be divided by two is the first six signs versus the last six signs. The first six are more rooted in subjective experience and the second six more rooted in relational experience.
Expressions of three and four
Now to Three-ness and Four-ness. Libraries and libraries of books have been written about the interaction of these two numbers.
Three-ness is about self-expression and creativity. There’s three ways it expresses itself in the Zodiac: the three crosses, the three-fold division of the first third signs, the second third signs and the third third signs, and the fact that there are three signs for each element.
First the Astrology’s three crosses: Cardinal, Fixed, or Mutable. They indicate how energy moves: outward, inward or vibrating.
Classically, the Cardinal signs of Aries, Cancer, Libra or Capricorn begin things: they want to engage the world as soon and as hard as possible. Nike’s “Just do it” tag-line must have been coined by a Cardinal person. The only problem with this cross is that by itself, it may not have the staying power to see things through. Quick to take action does not always lead to follow through. Without them however, there’s no way that the rubber ever meets the road.
The Fixed signs have their energy at the centre in comparison to Cardinal being at the front lines. Their natural reaction is to resist. What they do is based on their principles, which are slow to change. Energies spent must be directed towards a goal. The problem with the fixed energy is inertia. As Newton might put it “a body in motion tends to stay in motion, a body at rest tends to stay at rest.” It can be hard to rev up and rev down. On the other hand, once engaged, they will see things through to the end. Fixed’s inward-orientation expresses itself also as a power to attract and repel. Fixed signs draw others to them and scare others away by their magnetic charisma.
The Mutable signs are interacting with the centre and the front edge: this requires great flexibility and a willingness to serve the purpose other than their own. This makes them mediators by nature. They are highly impressionable: the cognitive processes that imagine, name, sort, and evaluate and imagine that produces the magical ability to arrange many pieces together in delightful patterns. The drawback to the Mutable signs is that they can be too amenable to whatever comes along. They get led by anyone Any angle, moral or not, may be the route they follow. They can also be over-analyzing self-doubting thinkers that are afraid to do anything. Their sensitivity has to be protected: at the end of the day, they need ways to shake off all the impressions they have been exposed to. Still, their versatility when put to good use means the power to make sense of what is coming and being able to take the appropriate actions to adjust accordingly.
The second of the three ways of Three-ness’s expression in the Zodiac is the splitting of it into the thirds. The first third (Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer) is oriented primarily to individual expression, the second third (Leo, Virgo, Libra and Scorpio) is oriented to relational expression and the third third (Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius and Pisces) is oriented primarily to social expression.
The third of the three ways Threeness expresses itself in the Zodiac is the fact that there are three signs for each element (one Cardinal, one Fixed and one Mutable). There are of course (3 x 4) four elements.
Four-ness and the four elements
One manifestation of Four-ness is in the make-up of the four seasons. Each season begins with a Cardinal sign during which the new season tries to supplant the old. The Fixed sign that follows is when the nature of the season is more-or-less established. The Mutable sign is when the season starts to give way to the next one. Once again, Four-ness is intrinsically linked with Three-ness. There are three modes as mentioned earlier: Cardinal, Fixed and Mutable but there are four signs for each mode, one of each element.
There are four elements. Four is the number of the struggle of materiality: the four directions, the four winds, and the four arms of the cross.
The elements have their sympathies based on Yin and Yang: Earth and Water are both yin; Fire and Air as they are both yang. Nevertheless they are fundamentally distinct. The elements represent four different perspectives on life and four different ways of interacting with life.
The fire signs
The fire signs (Aries, Leo and Sagittarius) relate to life through personal intuitive myth. Fire may be unconscious of the myths that are guiding it; however, with sufficient reflection, the guiding myths can be discerned. Fire is driven by its visions and impulses to take action. Aspirations and the possibilities of a situation is its domain. Some kind of faith or confidence, recognition by others and the freedom to explore a better future is vital for Fire to be healthy. Fire is yang and its focus is on the future. It represents the principle of Spirit.
The earth signs
The earth Signs (Taurus, Virgo and Capricorn) relate to life through direct sensory experience and a personal body of facts. What an earth person has concretely experienced sticks with him or her and stored away for future practical use. Earth signs are grounded in the reality of down-home “common sense.” Earth seeks the efficient management and control of resources and need physical security for optimum health. Earth is yin and its focus is on the here and now. It represents the principle of Matter.
The air signs
The air signs (Gemini, Libra and Aquarius) relate to life through their frameworks of concepts, ideas and connections. They seek the underlying logic of experience and rational, civilized and communicative ways to interact within it. The domain of air people is where verbal and relational processes it enables take place. Air seeks “objectivity”: the set of ideas everyone can agree on. To be healthy, Air needs the freedom to experience a rational context. Air is yang and its focus is on the theory of the situation. It represents the principle of Mind.
The water signs
The water Signs (Cancer, Scorpio and Pisces) relate to life through situation-specific emotional-feeling (even psychic) responses based on subjectively valued experience. They remember, maybe as far back as the Akashic records. Water sign people seek to experience the breadth of their feelings and to bond deeply with others. Sensitive, they typically have a tough outer shell to protect a typically marshmallow center. Water is yin and its focus is the past. It represents the principle of Soul.
Six-ness and twelve-ness
Six-ness we discussed by implication when above we spoke of Two-ness’s of Yin and Yang. Six-ness is all about service to life. In the Zodiac’s Twelve-ness, duality is overcome when both sides agree to serve this higher principle to become Twelve-ness. The number twelve has long been associated with wholeness such as the 12 tribes of Israel in the Old Testament or the twelve disciples of Jesus. An even more obvious example is that we have 12 months to one year. In astrology, the twelve signs in life
supporting harmony expresses the glory of the one whole-ness, which underpins all.
Understanding an individual sign
An understanding of how these Zodiac factors fit into one sign gives immediate insight into that sign. For example, Virgo is yin, earth, mutable, subjective and interpersonal. Thus, it symbolizes an adaptable (mutable), receptive (yin), socially engaging (interpersonal), self-seeking (subjective) and security-focused (earth) quality. To oversimplify what this looks like as a whole would be a goal deep in Virgo’s heart: life arranged in a delightful order that through its support of self and others generates self-sufficiency ever more efficiently.