It’s Elementary

Maritha Pottenger

We welcome suggestions from our readers about columns you would like to see appearing in The Mutable Dilemma. This particular article is in response to a suggestion from Paul Craven of Houston, Texas. Paul asked us to compare and contrast the three letters of the astrological alphabet in each of the element groups.


The three fire letters of the astrological alphabet share a theme of excitement, movement, extraversion and action. All point to a sense of life, vitality, energy and enthusiasm. All three are concerned with the present and/or the future, with little concern for the past. All three are associated with confidence and faith. An excess of fire can denote the individual who feels, “I know what I want and the world ought to give it to me.” Several guru types, for example, who believe they have the final truth, have grand trines involving fire planets (or houses and signs). A strong focus on fire can point to the “excitement addict”—the person who goes through life seeking an adrenalin rush, searching for thrills. A dearth of fire may imply below-average courage, energy, confidence or risk-taking potentials. (Remember, strong aspects involving the fire planets, especially to one another, are most important; fire houses are secondary and fire signs are last in significance.) Fire is a key to physical energy and vitality as well as general confidence and joie de vivre. The natural harmony aspects (trines) between the three fire letters reinforce these common themes.

LETTER ONE (Mars, First House, Aries) is the most spontaneous and impulsive. The focus is very much present-oriented: “I want to do my thing RIGHT NOW—whatever it is.” Letter 1 deals with the issue of personal power, self-will and self-confidence. The energy and vitality of Letter 1 are directed toward self-expression, especially physical action which enhances a sense of being oneself. When this side of the personality is developed in a healthy fashion, the individual has a firm sense of identity (WHO “I” am), is in touch with immediate wants and is able to assertively go after what s/he wants in life. The focus is on the self and there can be strong loner tendencies. If overdone, the self-centeredness can be extreme and the assertion can slip into aggression or violence. Pure Letter 1 taps into the archetypes of the warrior, the solitary explorer, the pioneer and the self-sufficient individualist.

If Letter 1 issues are a problem, the individual may feel unsure about who s/he is; identity may be unclear. Certain mixtures (e.g., 1/6 and 1/10) are prone to self-criticism and may be too hard on themselves. Letter 1 signifies the inner core, the sense of “I am” and “I have a right to be.” If it is underdeveloped (or overwhelmed by other sides of the nature), the individual may be afraid to simply be who s/he is. Some people may feel they can only DO (perform)—especially likely with strong focus on 6 or 10. Some feel they need to PLEASE others (often an issue with strong 7 or 8). Some feel they need assistance from others; they cannot simply BE (possible with any water focus—4, 8 or 12), etc.

The major issues revolve around assertion, self-expression, identity, anger, and acting on one’s right to be and do one’s own thing.

LETTER FIVE (Sun, Fifth House, Leo) is the most other-oriented of the fire letters. The energy of Letter 5 is directed toward gaining love, approval, recognition, admiration, applause or greater gain of some sort. Letter 1 will pioneer simply because it hates repetition and wants a new experience; Letter 9 will pioneer because it seeks further answers, enlightenment and understanding or anything which has been set up as an Absolute. Letter 5 will pioneer in the hopes that someone will admire the risks being taken, applaud the discoveries or recognize the courage being expressed, as well as to build a sense of self-esteem.

Although all of fire can be impulsive, Letter 5 is usually aware of the future as it seeks a positive response. There is a strong streak of self-consciousness within Letter Five. People with an emphasis on Letter 5 generally feel AS IF they are onstage—whether or not it is literally true. They will act in terms of what they think will bring love, admiration, fame or other positive strokes from the world. And, they may avoid acting if they fear the result will be ridicule or criticism. Unless they have developed exceptional self-esteem, people with a 5 focus HATE to be laughed at. People with a focus on 9 will laugh along with any joke, even on themselves if they have a basic faith and trust in life, and individuals with a strong Letter 1 focus do not really care what other people think. They come from their own center (in positive and/or negative ways) and may not be vulnerable to the opinions or reactions or other people.

There is an expansive element in both 5 and 9 which is not true in 1. Letter 9 wants to reach out further in the world, especially mentally, and Letter 5 wants to do more, create more than has existed in the past—and gain appreciation for it. With an emphasis on Letter 5, either lovers, children or onstage activities are vitally important in the life. Letter 1 is perfectly content to be “an island”—not needing (or wanting) anyone else. Letter 9 is happy exploring the world for answers, but Letter 5 must have other people—to love and be loved by, or to admire and applaud one’s creative, expansive activities. Self-esteem and a healthy sense of pride in oneself are central issues with Letter 5. The individual needs to “shine” in life, to feel “special” in some sense—to be a star in some arena. If this side of the psyche is overdeveloped, the individual may resist ever getting off the stage, may be arrogant or overly susceptible to flattery. If underdeveloped or blocked through criticism (e.g., 5/6 and/or 5/10 with 6 or 10 carried too far), the person may be afraid to risk, sure of failure, inclined to block his/her own most creative aspects.

Letter 5 points to one’s sense of self-worth, healthy pride in one’s own creativity and ability to love and be loved.

LETTER NINE (Jupiter, Ninth House, Sagittarius) has the broadest perspective of all the fire letters. Like Letter 5, it is expansive and has a future orientation. But the outreach of Letter 9 is toward something MORE in life. This could be more knowledge, more travel, more enlightenment, more understanding, more parties, more money, etc. The quest is for the ultimate. Whatever is defined as infinitely good, whatever is given the greatest value will be sought (often to excess). There seems to be a profligate, limitless sense to Letter 9 that can easily overdo (“If this is good, more is better”). Whatever is mixed with Letter 9 in the horoscope can easily be turned into “god” and given ultimate meaning and importance in the person’s life. Making any fragment of life into an Absolute is a form of idolatry. If the “god” is insufficient, we may have to lose it in order to find it is not truly infinite.

The restlessness of Letter 9 is a seeking, searching quest. Whether the desire for MORE is channeled into material gain, spiritual studies, numerous degrees, globetrotting, or other paths, the desire is to be uplifted and inspired by life. Excitement is gained through expansion and aspirations. Going further than one has gone before gets the blood moving and creates excitement.

Faith is a central issue with fire. People need two kinds of faith: enough faith (confidence) in themselves that they are willing to risk, to try to achieve their goals, and some faith in Power beyond their own which can be trusted after they have done their best with their own strength. Here is where Letters 1, 5 and 9 can easily support one another. If we know who we are (firm sense of identity with Letter 1) and have a healthy self-esteem (Letter 5), we are willing to go to the ends of the earth in seeking our long-range goals (Letter 9) and searching for Truth (Letter 9). However, if our sense of self (Letter 1) or our pride in the self (Letter 5) is disturbed, faith may be misplaced in other areas of life. We may look to a partner to provide ultimate meaning (one option with 7/9 or 8/9). We may continue to have ultimate trust in our parents (4/9, 9/10) or feel horribly disappointed and disillusioned that they are NOT godlike. We may turn money or pleasure into “god” (one possibility with 2/9, our pleasures, or with 8/9 which brings in the resources of others). We may idealize and idolize the mind (Letters 3, 6 or 11 mixed with 9). If we seek the infinite in a part of life that is limited or only human, we will eventually be disappointed and let down. However, an excessive faith is just as dangerous. People with an overdevelopment of Letter 9 may trust TOO much. These can be the archetypal “wheeler-dealer” who goes for increasingly grand schemes, convinced that “everything is going to be wonderful.” We can see the compulsive gambler, who just KNOWS “it’s a SURE thing.” Confidence, optimism, trust and faith can be overdone. But, of course, if this side of life is underdeveloped, the individual can be highly anxious, insecure and afraid to go outside narrow little ruts. The perspective can be narrow and the risk-taking potential may be very low. Letter 9 is that “pull from above.” We all need aspirations, goals, something to reach for—but we need to be able to enjoy the quest (not demand we get EVERYTHING we aim for) and to know that SOME of our goals are achievable (lest we simply give up hope).






















Risks: Physical

Risks: Emotional

Risks: Spiritual/Mental

“I have a right to be me.”

“I am worthy of love.”

“Going further inspires me.”


Earth shares a focus on the physical world, on tangible, measurable aspects of our existence. There is a desire for results, for dealing with THINGS. Practicality is high and being sensible comes naturally. Solid, grounded, reasonable and realistic, people with an earth focus need results. They want to act on the world, to manipulate it and leave a mark.

LETTER TWO (Venus, Second House, Taurus) is the most different from the other two earth letters. Letter 2 is focused on physical pleasure. The desire is to enjoy the sensual world—whether through eating, drinking, smoking, making love, massage, creating beauty, making money, spending money, collecting things etc. Naturally sensual, the issue is enjoyment. Pure Letter 2 can be quite passive, even lazy. Comfort and ease are sought. If a rut is carpeted, someone with a Letter 2 focus may occupy it for quite a while. Hedonism can appeal and materialism could be overdone.

Life’s simple pleasures are sought and the appreciation of beauty, especially in tangible form can be quite marked.

LETTER SIX (Mercury, Ceres, Vesta, Sixth House, Virgo) is similar to Letter 10 in that both share a focus on work and competence. Both indicate realism and a desire for results. However, the focus is more specific with Letter 6 and more broad with Letter 10. Letter 6 is more concerned with day-to-day functioning and essential little details to organize a project. Letter 10 is more concerned with the overall structure and organization. Letter 10 is associated with rules and roles and the limits of society. Letter 6 is more concerned with particular problems and the demands of the working environment and colleagues. Both Letters 6 and 10 can be flaw-finding and critical. But the judgmentalism of Letter 10 is wider and more general; Letter 6 tends to be more specific and narrow in its focus. When a problem arises at work, for example, a Letter 10 approach might note that “the division of labor at this office is inequitable and needs to be revised,” while Letter 6 might point out that “When Sally is too busy to process the mail in the morning, the whole office is slowed down.”

When expressed to excess, both 6 and 10 can point to individuals who are workaholics and/or indispensable to their companies. However, the reigning need for Letter 6 is efficient functioning. People with a strong focus on Letter 6 need to feel USEFUL and PRODUCTIVE. They gain satisfaction through a sense of having done a GOOD JOB. That rewards them as much as pay, attention, etc. The good craftsperson ethic appeals. By contrast, Letter 10 seeks work because there is a strong sense of responsibility. There is often a sense of “I HAVE to do this.” The work may even be experienced as a burden, but one the individual feels constrained to shoulder. (If this is the case, a likely result is back problems—the person carrying the world “on the back.”)

A unique aspect to Letter 6 is the focus on health. Efficient functioning carries over to the physical body (as well as one’s work or tasks). Health and job are strongly related and people who DETEST their work may unconsciously get sick (or have an accident) to get out of that job they cannot stand. Workaholics can get ill because that is a path their bodies can use to get a “vacation.” People who feel inadequate and incompetent can use sickness as an unconscious escape from feelings guilty (“I’m too sick to work.”) Letter 6 is satisfied by having arenas in life where one can express competence, utilize skills and handle details effectively.

LETTER TEN (Saturn, Tenth House, Capricorn) shares a focus on working and facing reality with Letter 6, but is transpersonal where Letter 6 is more interpersonal. Where both 2 and 6 are strongly present-oriented, Letter 10 also has an awareness of the past. Letter 10 is very aware of consequences and cause-and-effect. Trial-and-error learning is natural here. The school of experience is a common one. Letter 10 is also a key to an awareness of limits. Part of the essence of Letter 10 is figuring out the “rules of the game” (of life). Some individuals overdo those rules and see more restrictions than are actually present. Such people may become afraid to try, fearing they will just be blocked or fail anyway. A realistic perception of the structure allows the individual to do what is possible and not attempt the impossible (or give up too soon when achievement can be made).

Limits and consequences are both internal and external. When outside, they are enforced and/or punished by authority figures or by “natural laws” like gravity and the body’s need for appropriate food and sleep. Inner limits are enforced by and punished by one’s conscience.

Power is also an important issue with Letter 10. Letter 6 shows the capacity for humble service; doing the job well is sufficient satisfaction. Individuals with Letter 6 emphasized may be quite happy to work with little recognition or control over others, as long as they can be effective in their output. By contrast, control and power are focuses with Letter 10. The individual often begins life with a sense of EXTERNAL power. Originally, the power of the world is represented by the “reality” parent (the rule-maker or authority figure). However, people who continue to see control and power as only existing OUTSIDE themselves continue to attract others who are dominating, controlling, harsh, punitive, etc. One goal of maturity is gaining a firm sense of one’s own power, especially in terms of a career, or “calling” in life. Letter 10 feels competence through DOING and often does not believe in itself—until proven in actual accomplishments. If still insecure, power over others may be sought in order to protect the self. (“If I am running the show, I can keep people from hurting me.”) Power may also be experienced as a burden: “I’m responsible, therefore I have to take charge.” Dealing with executive issues is another area which necessitates a clear analysis of rules, roles and realistic limitations. People who overdo the need to control (others or themselves) will eventually hit the wall of cosmic limits or self-imposed constraints. People who use their supervisory side with good sense will be highly capable and productive—neither trying too much nor giving up too soon.

Letter 10 deals with issues of achievement, responsibility, guilt, inner and outer limits, and realistic assessment of the physical world and its rules.










“I enjoy the physical world.”

“I work productively.”

“I realistically assess limits.”

Security through: sensual indulgences

Security through: doing a good job

Security through: control





Efficiency Expert






Air is the element of detachment and separation. It indicates objectivity, the ability to step back and examine the situation from a spectator viewpoint. Air is also a key to mental capacities, the abstract, theoretical (not practical) mind. Air can signify lightness and the ability to be casual. Air is rational and logical, not emotional. Air thrives on communication and interaction with people who are equal, with peer relationships. Ideas, discussions, interchanges and social involvements are essential.

LETTER THREE (Mercury, Third House, Gemini) is the most indiscriminate of the air letters. The mind signified is like a young child—curious about everything and eager to talk about, learn about, explore the next interest, but focused especially on the immediate vicinity or near-at-hand in contrast to letter 11. Scattering can be a problem because anything and everything may be worth investigating, so focus on one particular subject often does not last long. The most casual and flippant of the three air letters, Letter 3 finds it QUITE easy to shrug the shoulders, shine it on or laugh it off. Like a butterfly, there is always a new flower to check out; why waste time bemoaning the old? Although talking may be preferred to listening and also to writing, the need to share ideas and to communicate is usually strong. Often informal learning (through discussions, listening to others, batting ideas back and forth) is an important source of knowledge. The individual may even be a skilled trivia-collector.

Issues revolve around communication, curiosity, detachment, lightness, siblings, and multiple sources of information.

LETTER SEVEN (Venus, Juno, Pallas, Seventh House, Libra) points to a focus on interactions with others. The seeking of understanding and the communication focus of air is channeled into more lasting, adult, peer relationships. People are seen as the natural source of pleasure and interactions are consequently pursued. One-to-one encounters are an essential form of learning, although these can be cooperative OR competitive. Letter 7 includes open warfare, lawsuits and adversary relationships as well as marriage, living-together and traditionally “harmonious” interactions. For many people, allies turn into enemies and vice versa as the self/other balance is addressed. A letter 7 focus is normal in counselors and consultants, people who help others to work out a more harmonious and balanced life. Personnel work, arbitration, etc. are common. Communication tends to be pursued within the context of a relationship. The goal is not knowledge for its own sake, as with Letter 3, but knowledge which will clarify one’s own position, the position of the other party, the relationship itself or relationships in general. A sense of balance and fair play tends to be strong. This can be channeled into a pursuit of justice (through law, politics, etc.), competitive interactions, “get back” activities or artistic/aesthetic outlets. With the detached perspective of air (“space between”), there is often attraction to and/or talent in the visual arts, especially painting, sketching, architecture, photography, interior decorating, design and similar fields.

LETTER ELEVEN (Uranus, Eleventh House, Aquarius) is the most aloof of the air letters. Concerned with wide-scale issues, there is often a transpersonal flavor to the communications pursued by people with a focus on Letter 11. The state of the world IS a concern. Tolerance, brotherhood, sisterhood and the essential equality of all humans (or all sentient beings or other inclusive groupings) may be stressed. A humanitarian perspective is often present. However, the ability to accept anyone and anything is often on the intellectual level only, and people with a strong emphasis of Letter 11 may avoid emotional entanglements like the plague. Logic and rationality are given precedence over feelings, which are so often “messy.” (Mr. Spock undoubtedly has a Letter 11 focus.) The orientation is toward the future. Such people may be drawn to new technology (e.g., computers, lasers), new-age ideas, or anything on the cutting age of change. The new will usually win out over the old, if a Letter 11 individual is making the choice. Experimentation, uniqueness and individuality tend to be marked.

A primary keynote for Letter 11 is the urge to transcend all limits. When positively developed, the person wants everyone to have the same freedom s/he is claiming personally. When less evolved, Letter 11 individuals may be as focused on personal freedom as Letter l, sometimes denying the rights of others in order to preserve their own freedom from limits. But when we have learned the lesson of Letter 10 and developed the inner conscience, we reject the old in order to build something better; we manifest the rebellion of Letter 11 for the good of humanity.







People: Siblings & Near at Hand

People: Partners & Competitors

People: Friends & Humanity

“I am curious about everything.”

“I seek to understand people.”

“I pursue knowledge beyond traditional sources.”

Casually Friendly

Emotionally Involved

Aloofly Tolerant




Curious Cat

Other Half






Water indicates our inner emotions, feelings we tend to keep inside—either for self-protection or to preserve the feelings of other people. Water also points to the unconscious aspect of the mind, to the segment of our being which runs the “automatic functioning” of our bodies and psyches. This includes physical functions such as the beating of our hearts and psychological habit patterns. Memory is stored in the unconscious. Psychic potentials (knowledge beyond the physical senses which comes through connection to Ultimate Understanding) are also a part of water. As the universal solvent, water points to an inner urge to unite and merge. This can be a personal merging with other people, with a Higher Power, a cause or something else in life. Water reminds us of our connection to the entire universe.

LETTER FOUR (Moon, Fourth House, Cancer) represents the urge for a nest and a close, emotional connection to other people which involves a caretaking instinct. It can be played out from the role of the “mother” or nurturing figure, or from the role of the “child” or the individual being nurtured. This yearning for an emotional support system also tends to incorporate a sense of home—whether that is connected to an actual physical domicile (commonly) or to the homeland (patriotism), an extended family group, friends turned into family (one potential, e.g., with a combinations of Letters 4 and 11), etc. Emotional security is a central issue with Letter 4 and that security ultimately rests on one’s own, inner psychological foundation. The unconscious sense of self is likeliest to be healthy when the early nurturing experience was mostly affirming and positive. People with early nurturing experiences which were mostly negative may have to have support (e.g., therapy, a very loving family, etc.) to develop a firmer sense of inner, emotional strength and trust.

Issues revolve around the handling of nurturance, dependency, trust versus mistrust, home, family, children and the sense of a firm emotional foundation from which to meet the world.

LETTER EIGHT (Pluto, Eighth House, Scorpio) confronts issues of intimacy, power, possessions and pleasures shared with peer relationships, and with self-control. Mastery is an important issue in the seeking of emotional security. Some individuals will gain a sense of control by trying to overpower others—directly through intimidation or power plays, or indirectly through emotional blackmail or ruling through weakness. Other individuals seek a sense of inner power through controlling and mastering themselves. This can, of course, be overdone to the point of asceticism, withdrawal and a hermit lifestyle. Intimacy—the ability to share deeply with another human being—is an important issue. People who seek to control others cannot allow true intimacy (which includes vulnerability); people who overcontrol themselves also deny intimacy for similar reasons. Power struggles over sensual/sexual issues are not uncommon in relationships as people learn a sense of give-and-take and balance in relationships through testing their strength against one another. Learning to truly share the power, especially over the physical world, is a particularly sensitive issue.

All water symbolizes the unconscious part of the mind, but Letter 8 is the one marking our need to explore those inner depths. It is associated with depth psychology, research, and surgery. Theoretically, we learn to understand ourselves partly through the mirror of a mate, and to master ourselves partly through respect for the rights of the mate. The mirroring mate may be a counselor, a business partner, or an emotional peer.

Like all of water, emotions are often strong and deep. Fixed water is especially intense and long lasting. The fixed quality connotes enduring will, and Letter 8 especially marks the urge to go literally “to the death.” If deeply held negative emotions are not faced and “cleaned out”, repressed anger, guilt, resentment, envy, etc., can wreak havoc on the body and in the life. Learning to forgive and let go is often a major challenge. Again, it is partly interactions with lasting peer relationships which help (or force) us to learn moderation and compromise, to learn “when is enough,” “what is ours and what is not ours,” “how to let go.” The transformative potential of Letter 8 is met when self-mastery is pursued in healthy channels, be it therapy, meditation, hypnosis or other forms of exploring the depths of one’s own psyche and sharing intimately with another person.

LETTER TWELVE (Neptune, Twelfth House, Pisces) points to the quest for infinite love and beauty and oneness with the Whole. Emotional security comes through a deep and abiding sense of faith that includes being connected to or a part of the Absolute. Whereas the faith of Letter 9 is more conscious, intellectual and capable of being expressed through language, seeing life as purposeful and meaningful, the faith of Letter 12 is more unconscious, emotional and experienced. It is an inner feeling of trust in the Universe, a sense that life is ultimately Good and Loving. The merging instincts of water, in Letter 12, can seek to merge through great art, healing activities, helping/assisting endeavors or turning a limited part of life into “God.” (If for example, we turn a partner into “god”—possible with 7/12 or 8/12 as well as 7/9 or 8/9 combinations), we may expect him/her to be our “all in all”—to satisfy our every need, to give us a perfect life.) When we put something or someone which is NOT ultimate up on a pedestal (or try to be ultimately perfect ourselves), we will end up disappointed and disillusioned.

Letter 12 is connected to inspiration. We need sufficient faith to seek love and beauty in life, but not so much trust that we are gullible in our beliefs (accepting the word of any self-appointed guru without testing statements against experience and logic). Too much faith may also lead us to passively wait for the Universe or another party to provide us with heaven on earth. Yet, without some faith in something Higher, an emphasis on Letter 12 can indicate much insecurity, inadequacy, and fear. Many people will retreat to victim roles (chronic fantasy, illness, alcoholism, etc.) rather than deal with an imperfect world which they do not feel adequate to improve. Letter 12 covers the quality of rose-colored glasses. It is important to be able to always find the “silver lining” in life, but also important to not fool oneself about how good life is. We can’t do it all. God won’t do it all. We have to share the effort.










Security from home-food-pets

Security from shared power & pleasures

Security from merging with the Whole





Peers/giving & Receiving



Committed Mate





“I seek roots & a nest”

“I seek self-mastery”

“I seek Oneness”

Copyright © 1986 Los Angeles Community Church of Religious Science, Inc.

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