It's safe to say that Scorpio is one of the most misunderstood zodiac signs. Known for their intensity and fearlessness, Scorpios are often reduced to power-hungry, brooding troublemakers with a particular passion for sex. Scorpio, a water sign, is also frequently confused as a fire sign — something that adds to our cultural misunderstanding of this zodiac outcast. In an effort to gain a better understanding of the Scorpio spirit, POPSUGAR spoke to Claire Comstock-Gay, astrologer and author of Madame Clairevoyant's Guide to the Stars.
"This is actually something that drives me so crazy in astrology," Comstock-Gay said when asked about the Scorpio fire-sign mixup. "I think it's partly a misunderstanding of what Scorpio is all about and partly a misunderstanding of the fire signs themselves," she explained.
What Is Scorpio's Reputation?
Comstock-Gay refers to Scorpios as "the punk" of the zodiac in her book and explains that when we think of this sign, we often think of words like "probing," "provocative," "dark," and "magnetic." She says that "Scorpios often appear quiet, private, and self-contained; not because they're timid or demure, but because they are observing, scheming, pulling strings from the shadows."
For some reason, Scorpios have developed a particularly bad reputation, despite the fact that each sign has a "shadow side," or traits that characterize their darker qualities. "On the positive side, Scorpio can be really driven, passionate, and insightful," Comstock-Gay said. "On the shadow side, you'll sometimes see characteristics like manipulativeness or a tendency to be controlling." When thinking about astrological signs, we tend to disproportionately think about Scorpio's shadow side and shy away from the benefits of their core traits.
Scorpios have a depth and intensity that make them extremely discerning, another trait that can feel unsettling. "Good luck trying to lie to a Scorpio, or to present yourself as something you're not; they are one of the zodiac's most perceptive signs, and they'll see right through you," Comstock-Gay said. "All of this dark intensity can be really seductive, and Scorpio is pretty strongly associated with sex, particularly sex that's extra passionate or kinky or intense."
Why Isn't Scorpio a Fire Sign?
From their passion to their depth to their transgressive behavior, Scorpios are often automatically filed under the fire-sign label, though they are, in fact, water signs. "I think in our language, there's the tendency to associate everything that's a little bit scary to the fire signs and to associate water with weakness. Think of expressions like 'watered down,' for instance," Comstock-Gay said. "Really, though, fire can be warming and illuminating! Water can be dark and mysterious and cause just as much destruction as fire."
In actuality, Scorpio is ruled by Pluto, the planet associated with destruction and transformation, revealing this water sign's ability to shake things up and create something better in its place. In tarot, the card "Death" is associated with Scorpio and signifies change, endings, and new beginnings — but is also mistakenly the most feared card in the deck. Though our simplistic reading of Scorpios may seem scary, this sign teaches us that it's always important to look below the surface. Scorpio passion, insight, and intensity ask us to push ourselves to dig deeper and inspire transformation and growth.
What's the Difference Between Fire and Water Signs?
Confusing Scorpios for fire signs indicates a misunderstanding of the sign itself, and it also indicates a misunderstanding of the elements. Comstock-Gay reminded us that the different elements in astrology — earth, air, fire, and water — can be thought of intuitively. "In the simplest possible terms: fire signs experience the world most naturally through action, earth signs through physical reality, air signs through thought, and water signs through emotion," she explained.
Like Scorpios, fire signs can be known for their passion and creation, but they approach these things through action, versus the water sign through emotion. "When I say that water signs experience the world through emotion, what I mean is that they're likely to be picking up on emotional cues, to be conscious that people have complicated inner lives, to be attentive to their own feelings," Comstock-Gay said. "When you think about lakes or oceans, most of the action happens beneath the surface — this is often true of water signs, and very much true of Scorpio."
The other two water signs, Pisces and Cancer, are both known for their creativity and, well, their propensity to curl into a ball and cry. But Comstock-Gay said tears shouldn't be the only indication of a water sign. "Being attuned to emotions doesn't necessarily mean that water signs are super-emotional crybabies," she said. "It can simply mean that they're experts at noticing what goes unsaid. It can definitely be a little scary and vulnerable to be perceived so clearly by a Scorpio, but it's a water sign, not a fire sign, kind of scariness."
Ultimately, Scorpios get an unfair reading in popular culture, and our confusion about which element they are epitomizes our misunderstanding. Our thinking of Scorpios as fire signs, Comstock-Gay said, "gets in the way of actually understanding what Scorpio is about and what fire and water signs are — and by extension, gets in the way of using astrology to actually understand ourselves and each other."