A good way to understand the difference between cardinal, fixed, and mutable energies is to think of them as equating with three different aspect of fictional literature: cardinal in this context would be the plot of a narrative, that is the action – what happens. Fixed would be the ideas and concepts that the work is expressing, in other words, the theme(s), whereas mutable signifies the characters.
Some works of fiction function more on plot and action – such as James Patterson books. Adventure stories carry a cardinal vibe. Now this may sound strange at first, but most horror novels carry the energy of the fixed signs, because fixed signifies moral issues – the question of good and evil, right and wrong, and most works of horror fiction are about this moral question, and the attempt to overcome evil. I’m thinking here more of the old style horror novels like “Dracula” and not the gratuitous violence/extreme grotesquery type.
Some books focus mainly on characters, and the more unique and vivid those characters are, the more they are like the mutable signs. I’m thinking here of romance novels, for certainly the plots are baed on formulas – mainly based on misunderstanding that get cleared up, and there is no real message. The focus is usually on the characters and their unique traits.
The way to tell whether an astrological chart is dominated more by cardinal, fixed, or mutable energies is to consider the oppositions. If there is a single opposition in the chart, then one has only to look at the signs in which the planets in opposition are in to tell whether its cardinal, fixed or mutable. Of course sometimes one can have an opposition where the planets are near the beginning or end of the sign and so even though the planets are in opposition the signs are not. For instance, Mars in 28 degrees Gemini opposition Venus in 2 degrees Capricorn. In this case the opposition cannot be used to tell whether the chart as a whole is primarily cardinal, fixed or mutable.
Sometimes the chart has more than one opposition, and if these oppositions are not both cardinal, fixed or mutable but different in modality from each other then oddly enough THE DOMINATING MODALITY WILL BE THE MISSING ONE. For instance, an opposition of planet in cardinal signs and an opposition of planet in fixed signs in the same chart will mean that the mutable modality predominates in a person’s character. This happens because the conflict between the cardinal and fixed is most easily resolved through the missing term.
If there are no oppositions then one may count up the number of planets in cardinal signs, fixed signs, and mutable signs, and see which has the most. Sometimes one sees a chart that has oppositions in cardinal signs and fixed signs and mutable signs. This signifies a person who can see things from many different directions, but who may have a hard time figuring out how to enter into experience and/or what to do exactly, because the consciousness tends to jump around a lot and want to change their approach to situations.
Also, if one has no planets in one of these modalities it is quite significant. No planet in cardinal means th individual is unruffled by what happens, can kind of overlook events, easily get beyond them. No planets in fixed means that the person is freed from moral conflicts and doesn’t worry much about having to justify themselves. As you may imagine, this can be a very good thing, or a dangerous thing if the person chooses to use it in a pathological way.
No planets in mutable signs mean that the person can overlook people as individuals, is freed from issues of character. I did the chart of a woman who worked for a large wine company. She said very many people had quit working there because they couldn’t stand the boss. I said, “how can you stay there?” She said, “I just ignore his visciousness and lying and his other bad qualities and carry on with my job.” She had not a single planet in mutable signs.
Although a lack of something in a chart – a lack of cardinal planets, mutable ones, fixed ones, a lack of water, fire, earth, or air planets, a lack of squares or other aspects, etc. can show a deficiency, the lack can also create a special power, and/or function as a freeing influence.
Marc Jones gave the three concepts “situations” (cardinal) “ideas” (fixed) and “people” (mutable) to help to explain these different modalities. The cardinal likes to be in the thick of things, where the action is, and to be confronted with challenges. The fixed operates at the greatest remove from experience, for its focus is on the future, where things are headed, and why. These are the most difficult to understand, for their motives tend to be the most complicated of the three. They are also the best at holding fast under pressure.
The mutable type is the friendliest of the three, and the most compromising. They excel when they are with people they like and can relate to. They are supportive in nature and are the ones of the three most likely to get walked on and taken for granted.