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Water Bearer Dreaming

Melanie Reinhart explores the symbolism of the sign of Aquarius

Since the 1960s and the musical Hair, everyone knows that 'This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius', but perhaps not everyone knows that this refers to a shift in an astrological cycle called the Great Year, which lasts 25,800 years and which comprises 12 periods averaging 2150 years each, corresponding to the 12 zodiacal constellations.1

Cosmic scene change

From this perspective, then, a 'New Age' is nothing special, as there is a change of cosmic scenery every 2000 years or so! These 12 'ages' are said to thematically portray and focalize the transpersonal energies entering from sources greater than our Solar System, which in turn will translate themselves into the major evolving social and cultural structures on the planet. In this view, no one age is any better than any other per se, except that the outgoing cycle will have become degenerate and toxic, decaying like leaves in a compost heap which in turn can nourish new growth. Although there is controversy about exactly when the Age of Aquarius really starts, we can safely say that this period of history is a transition.2 In this time of threshold crossing, then, we need discrimination, courage and determination, as we inhabit a liminal zone where the old dies away and the seeds of the new must be nourished. This article addresses some of these Aquarian themes in the manner of a 'dreaming' a term associated with the art of the indigenous people of Australia, which often portrays a condition of reverie, or absorption within the subtle form of some aspect of creation, a communion with its essence, soul or daimon.

Sun in Aquarius

From January 20th until February 18th, the Sun will travel through the zodiac sign of Aquarius, as it does every year at approximately these dates. During this time the Aquarian energy becomes intensified, and energies of change are catalysed in an immediate and accelerated manner. The commitment to creative change and bringing new ideas into manifestation is very much part of the Aquarian manifesto, currently highlighted by the presence of two outer planets in Aquarius, namely Neptune and Uranus. This time is auspicious for realigning ourselves inwardly and contemplating what changes need to happen in our lives. How may we better pour the waters of our compassion, concern and care? How can we link together with others to augment the strength of our hopes, wishes and ideals? For the theme of group energy and awareness of the larger concerns of humanity is very prominent in this sign, as is the desire to be of service. The art of receiving the nourishing waters of spirit into the cup of one's own aspirations highlights the need for contemplative pursuits rather than over-activity.

Saturn and beyond...

Saturn is the Lord of Boundaries, limits, time, form and structure, and is the last planet visible with the naked eye. The so-called 'outer planets' which orbit further away from the Sun than Saturn were all discovered with maths and technology, and symbolize the invisible currents of change which ripple through time, bringing destruction and chaos in the process of birthing new forms. Until 1781, when the planet Uranus was discovered, Saturn was said to be the ruling planet of the sign of Aquarius. Its rings were said to symbolize the 'Ring Pass Not', the edge of the known, and the boundaries of the physical Solar System. The English astronomer Sir William Herschel is credited with the discovery of the planet Uranus, which in turn was made possible by the invention of the telescope. So the discovery of this planet has coincided with the technological revolution, whose consequences are with us so powerfully today.

The Water Bearer

The sign of Aquarius has for its symbol the Water Bearer, often depicted as a woman pouring water downwards from an urn carried on her shoulder. This image of compassion, strength, delicacy and abundance would seem to be a far cry from what we see actually happening on the planet. Uranus, its ruler, is the planet of disruption, change and revolution, where the old is overturned and the new ideas push for expression. As this process proceeds, there is an inevitable fragmentation, dissociation and alienation. In an intense sequence of changes, it is easy to feel like a stranger in a strange land, a ghost wandering in the ruins of our own previous life structures which just a short while ago were meaningful and present like ripe fruit. This is the literal condition of millions of people on the planet today, for one reason or another.

All change please

On a personal level, without the healing waters of compassionate understanding, we rather tend to deny feeling, split off from the pain of change, and project onto others the source of our discomfort. How to make major change without blaming someone somewhere for 'things going wrong' is perhaps the noble Aquarian art we are trying to learn, and through which we may find the rejuvenation and clarity of a higher perspective. In the travail of our conflicts, if we can recognize it is indeed Spirit pressing against the window pane of our brittle personality, or outmoded alliances, a leap of understanding is possible. This is the tension and pressure within the sign of Aquarius, where the old and new jostle for supremacy, as the incoming Age is midwifed into birth. We tend to forget that when old structures are dying, our attachment to them is revealed, and we suffer loss. Change that looks good on the drawing board can be very painful to actualize. This is a classic Aquarian dilemma: to have great innovative ideas and be unrealistic about the process it takes to get there!

Old ideas, new ideas

Aquarius is a sign linked with the element of air, in the so-called 'fixed' modality. This speaks of both the need to allow our own fixed ideas to be broken down and to dissolve, and also of the work of building new subtle structures of thought which will form the invisible foundation of the future we create. This might sound easy, but it is not, because we all tend to be very identified with the thoughts we think. To get out of the way in order to allow a genuine shift of perspective means we need somewhere else to go than living 'in our head'! 'Opening the mind' does not mean taking on yet more thoughts, but rather accessing the empty space which reveals itself when we allow the density of our thoughts to be dispersed through a loving contemplative vibration.

The truly new cannot enter where there is no space. Some of the incoming Aquarian patterns revolve around the need to align group energy with a spiritual perspective. There is currently a shift in consciousness occurring, like re-tuning the radio to pick up another frequency and listen to another station. What begins as an interesting idea gradually changes into a real reference point, and will eventually express itself in form. We are collectively at that stage where change is precipitating into form, and some of the outbreaks of chaos and destruction occurring may be seen in this light.

Gaia and the Sky God

The planet Uranus, ruler of the sign of Aquarius, has the name of a Greek god, the primordial demi-urge of Creation, the great Sky God himself, parthenogenically born from the primordial Earth goddess Gaia who later became his wife and consort. The last decades have seen an increase of ecological awareness in Western technological societies, and indeed the now well-known 'Gaia' theory3 tells us that the Earth has its own intelligent homeostatic mechanism which rebalances its eco-system even if the human species does not survive. Interesting, then, that at this dawning of the Age of Aquarius, the power of Gaia, the Earth Being, the Great Mother of Creation is increasingly being recognized. In the myth, Uranus fathered countless children on Gaia, who eventually became tired of producing offpsring who were cast by him into the depths of the Underworld, being imperfect and earthy creatures. With the help of one of their children, namely the Titan Kronos, she castrated Uranus and his genitals were thrown into the sea. Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love, was said to arise from the foam.

This rather bloody tale can be seen as a reflection of what is occurring on the planet today. The Earth is experiencing cataclysms, her peoples likewise, as the ozone hole opens, the polar ice cap melts, and weather patterns change globally. On one level the fathering of numberless children who end up banished into the Underworld is an image of squandering potential, where the offspring of Uranus represent future possibilities or the infinite realm of new ideas. Taken literally, it is a sobering reminder of both the population explosion and the mass extinction of human life that characterizes our times.

Bridging the gap

The gap between the perfect idea, the perfect notion, and the relative imperfection of its manifestation is at issue here. The conflict which developed between Gaia and Uranus represents an archetypal battle between the Heavenly and Earthly perspectives, and it is our task to re-work this, within ourselves, our relationships and society. To paraphrase the famous poem, this means developing the wisdom to know the difference between what is possible and what isn't!

The Magician

The archetype of the Magician resonates with the sign of Aquarius, newly emerging and eager as it currently is, presenting us with child-magician-hero characters like Harry Potter who take the world by storm, and also child technology addicts where the fantasy and idea of action substitute for the real thing in a world of virtuality. Obsessive doing, ordering and perfectionism are what happens when this energy runs amok, or operates in a crude and unrefined way, which will inevitably happen at the beginning of a cycle. However, the Magician is also a very positive figure symbolizing creative manifestation, excellence, efficiency and confidence in managing the material plane and other realms of existence. Leo is the sign opposite Aquarius and within this Leo-Aquarius polarity, we can see the Magician as the power of the individual to assert on behalf of the group, to act as empowered by the group, and also vice versa, where the group's values and codes of ethics protect the rights of the individual. Of course both these expressions have their negative forms, but now is the time to release the old and nourish the new, meaning to put our energy towards what is positive and life-affirming rather than what is anti-life.

Heaven and Earth

In the I Ching, the hexagram called Peace is a harmonious combination of the lines representing Heaven and Earth. Thinking literally of Heaven and Earth, which seem so separate from each other, it quickly becomes apparent that water is the uniting factor. In the cosmologies of many traditions, including Christianity, water is seen as the source of life. Helena Blavatksy, the great 19th Century esotericist wrote of the 'waters of space', basing her statement on ancient traditions of received wisdom, and recent astro-physical discoveries featured in the media have shown us that there are indeed vast watery tracts within what we thought was merely empty space. We also know that water carries patterning on the subtle levels, which can profoundly influence our mental and physical health. In astrological terms, the element of water has to do with feeling. Not the gush of unconscious emotion, but the medium within which relationship is sustained and developed.

The Healing Waters

The feeling quality within the urn of Aquarius has a particular quality of detachment. A contradiction in terms, we might think. But feeling in Aquarius has a transpersonal quality, a subtlety and power which lies in the background, like the invisible waters of deep space. It is truly the 'water within the air' which precipitates as life-giving rain, symbolizing the compassionate perspective which moves us to tears and allows energy to flow where once it was stuck within our rigid structures of opinions or beliefs, which we may not even know we hold until they are challenged.

The truth shall set you free4

Oneness in the eyes of the Divine is a notion that cannot be proved scientifically, and about which the dogmas of institutionalized religions may always disagree, to the extent that their forms are created with the energy of tribalism and protectionism. The mental freedom so highly prized within the sign of Aquarius contains a paradox, because it is not about 'being right'. The need to 'be right' is an all-too-human addiction, a habit which must be kicked if we are to cease shadow-boxing with one another and come into the Light of the Heart.

The Aquarius-Leo polarity

The sign of Leo lies opposite Aquarius, and anatomically is associated with the heart. Leo is a fire sign whose light is found within the heart of the individual becoming the King or Queen of his or her own life, not from an ostentatious ego position, but from a genuine recognition that we are all as sparks of lights from the fire of the Divine. The importance of this sign for our times is underlined by the fact that when the Sun passes through Aquarius, of course the constellation cannot be seen, because the light of the Sun obscures it during daylight hours. When the Sun in Aquarius is deepest under the Earth, around midnight, the constellation of Leo will be visible in the night sky. The task of the King or Queen that we are in our souls is perhaps to drink deeply of these healing waters in order that we may do honour to Life by how we live. ++


  1. This is caused by the wobble of the Earth on its axis. Being not completely spherical, bulging at the equators, it moves like a spinning top, its polar axis describing a small circle which takes the seasonal co-ordinates with it.

  2. This controversy is based on differing measurements of the size of the constellations, which are periodically re-mapped by scientists, most recently in 1923.

  3. See the work of James Lovelock

  4. John 8:32

(Caduceus Issue 50, Winter 2000)

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