Water and Fire by Darby Costello – A Book Review (Sort of)

© May  2010 by Fabienne Lopez

When I first started studying Astrology one of the first things I encountered was the 4 elemental signs: Fire, Water, Earth and Air.

Here’s a brief explanation of how the elements relate to different functions in our personalities and temperaments: Fire is linked to action; Earth to common sense; Air to the thinking function and Water to feelings. That was all I was exposed to. Maybe every now and then some article would list a few keywords but had no in depth explanations.

An exception was Stephen Arroyo’s Astrology, Psychology, and the Four Elements: An Energy Approach to Astrology & Its Use in the Counseling Arts. Arroyo’s book is a must read for every student of astrology. I learned a lot from his book, but the book left me unsatisfied. Arroyo only goes into  lengthy explanations with the traditional pairings of the elements: Fire to Air, and Water to Earth.

Only two measly paragraphs were dedicated to the less common pairings such as Fire with Water, and Earth with Air. The paragraphs contained useful details but did not elaborate on the challenges and strengths of these more unusual combination.

Being graced myself with on one of those oddities (water and fire), I was looking for more information to better handle the sometimes disruptive energy pattern of this combination. As I joke sometimes, water and fire combined are either too much fog and you do not where you are going, or they’re a powerful steam engine that can move things.

Then I came across Darby Costello’s 2 volumes series  Water and Fire and Earth and Air where she studies the 4 elements in depth.

Just the title, Water and Fire, got my attention. Not the usual division of the elements. Maybe I would have some answers to my conundrum. And the book did not disappoint me.

The book review from Mary Plumb gives an excellent outline of the book: “In a very poetic and imaginative language, Darby Costello examines the element of water first through its expressions in myth, alchemy, philosophy and psychology, and then through the water signs and water houses in the horoscope. Each planet in a water house is described in terms of its meaning and expression; the three water signs on the Ascendant are examined; and planets transiting through the water houses complete a detailed analysis of all the permutations of water in the birth chart. Part Two takes the reader into the chaotic, inspirational realm of fire, beginning with the ways in which fire is symbolized in myth and philosophy, and then examining Mars, the Sun and Jupiter as planetary rulers of the fire signs. Each fire sign is then explored in detail, with an analysis of planets placed in fire signs and fire houses, the nature of a fire sign on the Ascendant, and the meaning of the outer planets in fire signs in relation to the generation group to which the individual belongs.”

But that’s not what sold me on the book. Yes, the book is quite thorough in its analysis of the water and fire elements. Yes, there is a lot of information to digest and yes, I learned a lot.  But the absolute value of this book for me was the shift in perspective on how I consider the elements.

Traditionally, the 4 elements are displayed as follows:

Fire (action): Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius

Earth (common sense): Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn

Air (thinking): Gemini, Libra, Aquarius

Water (feeling): Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces

You don’t get a lot of information when it is presented this way. In the book she says that her first thought was the traditional view of the elements, “Fire, Earth, Air and Water.” But then, during a meditation she came across a diagram that showed a new way of looking at the elements:

Fire: Aries, Leo and Sagittarius  

Ruler: Mars, Sun and Jupiter

Earth: Taurus, Virgo and Capricorn

Ruler: Venus, Mercury and Saturn

Air: Gemini, Libra and Aquarius

Ruler: Mercury, Venus and Saturn

Water: Cancer, Scorpio and Pisces

Ruler: Moon, Mars and Jupiter

And that’s where I think Darby Costello’s book is brilliant. By using the old rulership (i.e., excluding the outer planets – Pluto, Neptune and Uranus), the author immediately alerts us that both water and fire share Mars and Jupiter as rulers. It also shows us that water and fire share more commonality that the more traditional views of the 4 elements have pointed out. With that table we can acknowledge as Darby Costello does that “the heart of fire is the Sun and the soul of water is the Moon. This attunes us to fire and water as expressions of the realms that we call spirit and soul. These realms are constellated most directly though our faculties of imagination and reflection.” (Water and Fire; page 15, ¶1, l:4-7) 

Now that I could totally understand and relate to. Imagination, I had plenty of that; ditto for reflection. Seeing how the old rulership system tied those disparate elements together, I could start using them in a constructive way. I really did appreciate the shift in perspective that the book gave me, this shift being something my life coaching training has always valued as a method to get out of your rut and get you to start moving. Now I felt I had a way to constructively use those two energies. Personally, I believe the combination of Fire and Water provides  me with the ability to moderate my fire enthusiasm with  the water sensitivity and the capacity to express my feelings in a direct (fire) and tactful (water) way. In her book, Darby Costello speaks about fire and water healers.  In my case, I can totally relate to the Pisces side of the Water healer as somebody who accepts  other’s weaknesses completely  while at the same time using my Aries healer side to  galvanize others into action. I have noticed the expression of this two diverse energies more acutely in my practice. My astrology skills gives me skills to to understand human nature while my life coaching training allows me to use tools that will help my clients move forward with their lives.

My chart is  mostly water and fire. Completely useless, I thought. Except for loving, tending, caring, inspiring, feeling anf being alive. Not a bad combination after all.

Photos Credits: Flickr Creative Commons

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About Fabienne Lopez

Astrologer, Blogger, Life-Coach. My mission is to help you discover, develop and nurture your creativity no matter what transit you are going through.
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9 Responses to Water and Fire by Darby Costello – A Book Review (Sort of)

  1. msfullroller says:

    Going by the listing you have ignoring the outer planets and ascendant, I have 3 planets in Fire, 2 in Water and 2 in Air. Under the Astro.com basic natal chart which includes of course the outer planets, Chiron, NN, AC and MC, I have 3 points in Fire still,
    3 points in Air, 4 points in Earth (Uranus & Pluto both conjunct the AC, & NN) and 4 points in Water. I can see how this book might shed some light as I’ve got a T-square & Grand Square. Would you recommend both books by Costello and Arroyo?

    • Yes I would recommended both books with the caveat that Stephen Arroyo’s book talks mostly about other subjects in astrology. The chapter on the elements is rather slim but really good. Darby Costello with her 2 books – Water and Fire and Earth and Air (future post) gives another way to look at the distribution of the elements based on the traditional rulership. It really shifted my perspectives. But overall there is not much written in terms of the elements specially for people who have unusual combination or lack a specific element. From what you describe you seem to have a fairly balanced distribution of the elements. The books might help you understand how to use creatively all the elements by pairing them according to the traditional rulership explained in Darby’s book or the more prevalent distribution explained in Arroyo’s book. Anyway, good reading in both cases.

  2. Sutekh says:

    Interesting read… I too am fire and water dominant (4 planets in Sagittarius, MC in Leo, 3 planets in scorpio, 1 in cancer.)

    • Fabienne says:

      Hi Sutekh:

      Thanks. A water and fire combination can be a bit steamy and frustrating at times. How do you deal with it? What do you see as the advantages and problems of having this combination of elements as opposed the more traditional ones? Your input would be appreciated.

  3. Celica says:

    I’m trying to buy a copy of “Water and Fire,” but I can only find one copy for an outrageous price of nearly $200. Anyone know where I can purchase a reasonably priced copy?

  4. Celica says:

    Thanks for the tip. I checked, and they only have “Air and Earth” available. Any ideas who else might sell “Water and Fire?”

    • Fabienne Lopez says:


      The book might be out of print or out of stock. I would keep trying AFAN or Astroamerica.com. You could also check Amazon Canada or UK. If all this fails, I generally turn to bookfinder.com It’s a site that lists the availability of thousands of bookstores around the world. They can tell you who has it. Prices varies wildly for the same book, depending from whom you are buying. It’s a matter of keep looking and being patient. It took me a while to find my copy at a reasonable price.

  5. Celica says:

    Thank you very much! On an aside I find your articles very informative and entertaining =)

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