Posted by: Donna Cunningham | June 20, 2009

Four Kinds of Smart—Air, Earth, Fire, and Water

©2009 by Donna Cunningham

  Note this is an excerpt from Donna Cunningham’s ebook, Aspects between the Outer Planets: The Outer Planets and Inner Life, volume 3, available at:

We tend to rank intelligence along the lines of air sign qualities—the ability to verbalize complex ideas, perhaps even to put them down on paper, and to communicate our thoughts coherently. That, however, is intellect, and over time, I have come to appreciate that each element has its own type of genius. Common sense, for instance, is more of an earth sign quality, and can help the possessor be more effective in the world than the brilliant people who build their castles in air.

An ­Earth-smart individual would have strong Earth accents in the horoscope because of important placements like the Sun, Moon, Ascendant or several planets in Taurus, Virgo, or Capricorn. Since we are considering mental abilities, we might want to look at Mercury and its aspects. An Air-smart person would have much emphasis in the air signs Gemini, Libra, and Aquarius, but not much going on in Earth.

I spent my first several years in astrology in total awe of peers born in the early 1940s who had the grand air trine with Uranus in Gemini, Neptune in Libra, and personal planets in Aquarius. They were just so brilliant, so creative, so innovative, so politically sophisticated, so iconoclastic, and so cerebral—and despite my master’s degree, I couldn’t understand half of what they said.qmarkmanairsmart-a2d

After years of observing the denizens of this grand air trine from afar—oh, so reverently—I found that far too many of them did little with all their brilliant ideas and all that youthful potential.

Decades later, fascinating as they can be, many of those grand air trines are still spinning castles in the air and enjoying rambling philosophical discussions that lead nowhere in particular—although now the exchanges may be via email or instant messaging. On the whole, they are happy that way, and when they reach that great Chat Room in the Sky and don’t have to contend with aging bodies or keeping a roof over their heads, well, then they’ll be in heaven.

Over time, I came to appreciate the difference between “air smart” and “earth smart.”  An air smart individual may have a million bright ideas in the course of a lifetime and yet lack the skill or the motivation to put many of them into practice. An earth smart individual—like those born with the grand trine of Uranus in Taurus, Neptune in Virgo, and personal planets in Capricorn—may have only one or two bright ideas in the course of a lifetime. In fact, the bright idea might not even have been their own but someone else’s. Maybe some air smart genius tossed it out casually as a theory or a possibility, and the earth smart genius chewed it over and saw how to bring it to fruition. Yet, the earth smart may develop the practical applications of that idea thoroughly enough to earn a comfortable living.

There’s nothing wrong with air smart, you understand. Developing and sharing the abstract side of the intellect is a legitimate life purpose, and I hope that we all have the luxury of many lifetimes to spend that way.  It’s just a tad unfortunate that our materialistic society doesn’t often validate and sustain these pursuits in the manner to which we’d like to become accustomed. As a collective, we do need both air and earth, in that the air type uplifts, inspires, and challenges us with a view of the greater scheme of things, while the earth type sustains us on a more material level

qmarkmanwatersmart-a2dWhat about the genius of the other elements? Myself, I am intelligent enough but am neither impressively air smart nor—alas—earth smart to any useful degree, though I may be in the 80th percentile of water smart. A water smart person is deeply intuitive and keenly perceptive about emotions and what lies beneath the surface, over time gaining wisdom that can be used to heal and teach others about these matters.

One of my personal heroes, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, led the way for the world to understand and deal with the needs of the dying. She had the Sun, Moon, Pluto and the North Node in Cancer, plus the Ascendant and Uranus in Pisces.

Are you wondering about fire smart individuals? These are people with a genius for enrolling others in their enthusiasms, becoming inspiring leaders who know how to make things happen. They’re the ones who light the Olympic torch for all of us, the ones with fire in the belly that can’t wait around for the rest of us laggards to get off our duff and do something about the state of our world.  qmarkfiresmart-a2dSearching in AstroDataBank for examples, I did find that many of them had enjoyed their ten minutes of fame—or more aptly, their ten minutes of flame—and were gone from the headlines.

That’s fire for you—the breathtaking burst of a firework display, the warm pleasure of a campfire, or the sun you bask in that one perfect day at the beach. Still, without the uplift the fire signs bring us, our souls would be mildewed with cold and damp, so let’s celebrate their genius in bringing that abundant heat and light to us!

 Note this is an excerpt from Donna Cunningham’s ebook, Aspects between the Outer Planets: The Outer Planets and Inner Life, volume 3, available at:


  1. Wow…this is food for thought. My youngest son is a double Taurus with lots of fire signs too. and my first son is a Virgo with a grand water trine. Son # 1 follows in my Art shoes and is successful selling his work. Son # 2 is at genius level in science. He has all the ideas you describe for air signs. hes in his 3rd year of college and I hope he makes use of his understandings. At 6 years old he made a demonstration on how air lifts planes off the ground.
    I am Fire and Air and always thought of Air as soul or buddhic plane, the intuitive knowing.
    I see Fire as Mind and Earth as knowing how substance interplays. Water emotes, feels. I learned this with son# 1…it wasn’t what I said but how I said it that was effective with him.

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