by Sara Magnuson
Joy to the world
All the boys and girls,
Joy to the fishes in the deep blue sea
Joy to you and me
~ chorus from Joy to the World by Three Dog Night
Joy to the Fishes, indeed, for it is in the otherworld of the oceans that life on our planet came to exist. In the evolution of creatures it is the Fish that links us to primordial times, like the cord that ties together the two Fishes of Pisces. It is also fitting that the Fishes represent the end of the zodiacal wheel and where it connects back to the beginning – a never-ending loop, always in the present and always connected to the archetypal legacies of the heavens.
When we consider creatures that have been around, in some form, as long as the Fishes, we must also think of the Birds. Birds can fly through the air and navigate space in a way that we are not built to understand. Like Birds, Fish “fly” through the water, also living in a realm that we are not built to understand.
Acknowledge the world of a Fish for a moment – living in this liquid space, feeling the changes in pressure as it swims toward the surface or dives deep, sensing the currents like wind. It takes a completely different, very specialized kind of body to exist in this watery world.
The word “fish” is a very broad term, so what exactly are we talking about here. Fish are technically defined as “gill-bearing aquatic creatures with a skull and primary nerve cord that lack limbs with digits.” They are cold blooded Animals, meaning their body temperature is regulated by outside sources and very little internal heat is generated. They have a four-chambered heart (like humans) that pumps blood in a single loop through the body (unlike humans). Fish are found in all aquatic environments – salt water, fresh water, brackish, etc.
Just as Birds are designed with wings and feathers to be aerodynamic, Fish are covered with scales to allow for hydrodynamic movement. Other creatures also have scales, like Snakes, but Reptile scales are born from the surface of the skin, the epidermis, and Fish scales come from the dermis layer, much deeper within. You can think of a Fish’s scales as you would the development of your hair and teeth. For the Fish, scales provide protection for their physical body, as well as facilitating smooth movement in the water. Fish’s fins (i.e. their “limbs”) function much in the same way as a Bird’s wings, allowing it to propel and direct its movement. The scales of Fish’s body ask us to consider our own forms of emotional and spiritual protection, and to examine how deeply they are rooted.
An amazing aspect of Fish is its ability to breathe oxygen under water. Yes, Fish breathe oxygen, like humans, they just get it in a different way. The gills of Fish are made up of filaments and capillaries that create a huge surface area to extract oxygen from the water molecules. The act of swimming, moving through the space, forces water through their gills and keeps the process going. Fish can also “flap” their fins to push water across their gills while remaining still, a kind of hovering, which brings us to how Fish sleep. They don’t have eyelids so it appears that Fish is always awake, always moving, however we know that this is not true. Through observation, we know that Fish do take time to rest and enter into a form of stasis. How long and how often depends on the particular Fish. Keeping the water moving across their gills is an involuntary act; like our own heartbeat, they don’t have to remember to do it. In this way, Fish asks us to consider our unconscious behaviors and habits. Fish is there to guide us through times of internal exploration and reminds us of the importance of self-care and rest, no matter how it may appear to others.
Most Fish exhibit male or female reproductive characteristics, although there are exceptions, but their courting rituals are not quite the same as other Animals; in fact, the sexual life of a Fish is not particularly exciting. They typically reproduce when the female releases eggs and the male releases sperm into the water and hope they mix. Any courting, by male or female, is displayed for the purpose of drawing the potential mate near the area of the water they deposited their respective sex cells and pray that the other wants to deposit their own. The (hopefully) fertilized eggs are left to their own devices to develop, be born, and fend for themselves. Fish are not nurturing parents; they don’t stay around waiting for the babies to hatch and generally cannot identify their own offspring. This sexual and parental behavior, or lack thereof, speaks to the tendency of Fish to seem detached, far-away, or spacey. As we will see, Fish are not prone to forming individual attachments, but rather function at the extremes – in large groups or as solitary creatures.
Living in the otherworldly realm of water gives Fish some unique sensory abilities. They generally have a good sense of vision and smell, but they don’t hear like other creatures. Rather than hearing in the traditional sense, Fish have a sensory structure connected to their skin, called the lateral line, that works in a similar manner as the inner ear of humans. The lateral line provides spatial awareness and orientation and allows them to detect vibrations in the movement and currents of the water. The function of the lateral line directs their feeding and hunting practices, and affects social behaviors. In order to swim, Fish also possess specialized sensory organs that regulate buoyancy and detect water pressure. There are tens of thousands of different types of Fish, so it’s no surprise that some have developed other unique senses that serve their specific lifestyle, such as the detection of electrical impulses and different types of light. Awareness of how Fish senses the world teaches us about finding and accepting our own unique way of understanding and interpreting our environment. Fish asks us to be open, receptive, and non-judgmental of our individuality.
The behaviors of Fish are extremely diverse. Similar to variations in our own personalities, some Fish are aggressive and some are passive, some are loners and some must live in groups, some are predators and some are prey, some are highly intelligent and some are dumb as rocks. Two social behaviors that almost all Fish participate in at some point in their life cycle are the acts of shoaling and schooling. Sometimes Fish will swim together in a loose grouping, where they are acting fairly independently of each other but are close enough to stay connected, called shoaling. Schooling is when a group of Fish swim together in the same direction and in a coordinated way. Both of these behaviors provide protection from predators, better luck finding food and a mate, and help them save energy while swimming together (much like Birds flying in formation to utilize air currents most effectively). The act of schooling is a mysterious sight to observe, as it requires a highly coordinated effort of synchronized movements between individuals that are not vocalizing to each other. This aspect of Fish asks us to consider how we are or are not connected to others; how we are or are not utilizing and participating in community; where and when nurturing our connectedness serves our greater desires.
Most all Fish partake in some form of migration, whether near or far, for the purpose of reproduction, spawning, or finding food. Some Fish make small migrations daily and some cover vast expanses on an annual basis. The interesting thing about Fish migration is that, like Birds, they use the earth’s magnetic field to navigate. This process is still not very well understood, but we know that they are connected to the earth even if they never touch the ground.
The Fishes of Pisces live in an unknowable world, sensitive to things many of us cannot fathom. These places of depth and mystery are where Pisces thrives. The Fishes of Pisces, and the cord that connects them, show us where the pull of our uniqueness meets the collective consciousness; how we can explore our internal landscape beneath the surface while not getting lost at sea; and help us discern when we need the support of community and when we need solitude to function at our best.
by Briana Saussy
As we turn our attention to Pisces it is a given that we will work closely with the element of Water and the fish nature of the final sign in the zodiac. However, there is more to Pisces than watery depths. In Babylon part of the constellation was called the Lady of Heaven, one of many epithets for Ishtar who brought the gifts of culture including ritual, magic, agriculture, and writing to her people. This early understanding of Pisces is relevant because the sign’s association with the Lady of Heaven underscores its relationship to synthesis. The way that C.G. Jung spoke about Pisces is that, as the 12th sign of the zodiac, it has received the lessons and gifts of all of the other signs. Wherever Pisces occurs in your chart is most likely an area where you are able to make deep and vast connections – often between things that at first glance might seem entirely disconnected.
Moving from Babylon we enter into the star stories of Ancient Greece where the constellation of Pisces was understood to be Aphrodite and Eros escaping from the monster Typhon (whom we encountered in Capricorn). To recap: Typhon is described in ancient sources as having the body of a man but having hundreds of snakes emerging from his head and in some cases his thighs and/or feet as well. The snakes were all poisonous vipers, of course, who not only could kill by striking but actually spit their venom out onto their victims. Typhon was said to be able to breathe fire and also possess wings that allowed for flight. He was incredibly strong and powerful and had God-like powers over various elements.
Whereas in the tale of Capricorn the drama around Typhon involves transformation and struggle, in the tale of Pisces the drama involves connection and escape. Here we have a powerful and primal source that seeks to vanquish both Love and Desire. In order to escape and not be devoured, Love and Desire must both go under the waves, under the waters, and into the depths.
This is exactly what Pisces does as well. Those born under this sign or those who have this sign prominently placed in their charts often choose to escape into the watery depths themselves. The depths may be the music that Pisces plays, the art Pisces makes, or the dreams that often feel more real than waking life to Pisces.
Like the preceding sign, Aquarius, Pisces can sometimes appear aloof or uninterested in what is “actually happening” but unlike Aquarius, Pisces does not appear this way because it is preoccupied with mental brilliance and what is possible; rather Pisces feels deeply and instinctively knows that in order for the forces of Love and Desire to live in the world and remain intact, submergence and escape from the world is sometimes necessary. With Pisces there is both a deepening and softening of the qualities of Love and Desire, just as Aphrodite and her child Eros dived down into the waves so must we.
The presence of Aphrodite and Eros also clues us into some of the natural powers of Pisces – this sign influences our ability to be in harmony with ourselves and with others, to acknowledge and affirm our true desires, and to bring beauty into the world in every way possible. Escapism is an attribute that Pisces is often accused of engaging in and this is where the cord or lasso that binds Aphrodite and Eros together becomes so essential to the story.
In a practical manner the cord connects both figures to each other so that they are not lost to one another. Love that lacks Desire is cold and empty while Desire without Love has no solid root stock from which to grow. Eros is of course the child of Aphrodite so this also speaks to our connection to our legacy…when we go into the depths to do our work, to heal from whatever needs to be healed, to find more beauty and bring it up and into the world, we would do well to remember that we do this as a part of the legacy that we leave in the world rather than at the expense of it. The cord of connection also does not allow either figure to fully escape, fully be pulled down to the bottom of the sea; instead its presence reminds both that they will and must emerge once more – hopefully far away from the force of destruction that threatens them.
Magically speaking cords and lassos are worked with to connect and to bind; specifically the work of binding an individual to the things, people, and values that matter most to them. This ability to fix ourselves to what matters most is one of the challenges we find in the sign of Pisces, but also the single act that best prevents us from becoming lost in our own oceanic depths. Pisces is often spoken of as the sign that feels more and more deeply than any other (Virgo and Scorpio beg to differ on that, though). The ocean is a frequently called upon metaphor to convey the literal depth of feeling that this sign experiences. But one of the teachings of Pisces is that just because you feel something strongly, that does not make it necessarily true – knowing what really does matter most is the support that allows Pisces to emerge once more.
There is one more story associated with this constellation, my favorite kind, a fairy tale, and it speaks to one of strongest impulses we find in the Fish. In my research I saw that this story is attributed to Germanic origin, but I have encountered versions from Mexico, India, Italy, Greece, Eastern Europe, various locales around the Arctic circle, Japan, and China – basically anywhere you have a fishing economy you will have a version of this tale. It goes like this:
Once upon a time there was a very poor fisherman who lived in a metal tub with his wife, for they were so poor that they did not even have money for a meager cottage. The fisherman was a kind and good man and his wife was always yelling at him and haranguing him. He did his best to make her happy while acknowledging that no matter what he did she would never be fully satisfied.
Now it happened that one day the fisherman went out onto the water and caught a large, beautiful fish. Imagine his surprise when he hauled the fish onto the deck of his little boat and the fish cried out in pain, “Oh, oh, oh, the hook it hurts me so!” The fisherman was appalled and immediately removed the hook from the fish and set it free back into the water. The fish then turned around and said to the fisherman, “You are a good and kind man to release me so and not eat me. In return for your mercy I shall grant you a wish, any wish you want, what shall it be?”
The fisherman shook his head smiling and assured the fish that this was not necessary – he was happy to let the fish live its life in peace and was only sorry for any pain he may have caused it. The fish was even more delighted with this second selfless act and so told the fisherman that should he ever change his mind he could come back to the lake and call for the fish and the fish would come back and grant a wish.
Well, the fishermen went home and his wife threw the biggest fit you have ever seen. She screamed and cussed and yelled at the poor man who was such a fool and told him to go back to the water and ask the fish to give them a beautiful home with lots of money and plenty of fine things. The poor man was terribly embarrassed but he did as she asked and the fish emerged from the waters and granted the fisherman’s wish so that when he returned home he returned not to a metal tub but instead to a golden castle.
Thinking that this was the end of it, the fisherman settled down to enjoy life but his wife was not satisfied. She goaded him, nagged at him, and mocked him until he went back to the waters and asked the fish for a second wish. Imagine the fisherman’s surprise when the fish emerged with a few less scales and a small wound that seeped a bit of blood.
Upon inquiring what had harmed the fish, the fisherman learned that this was the cost of granting his wish, the fish had paid for it in literal flesh and blood. But the fish took great pains to assure him that it was fine, only a little wound and one that would heal quickly. Then the fish asked why the fisherman had returned and called for it. The fisherman hemmed and hawed and finally admitted that his wife was not satisfied and would like a second wish; this time she wanted to be Queen in their country. He hated to ask, surely he did not want to harm the fish, and yet if he did not his wife would be ever so angry.
The fish simply said, “It is done, go back to your home.” and then disappeared into the depths. The fishermen did go home and once there discovered that he and his wife were indeed King and Queen of their country.
And so he thought that it would surely end there – what else was there to want? Yet his wife was still not satisfied and crowed out to the heavens that her husband would have no rest or quarter until she was Queen of the UNIVERSE!!! Head hanging down and hat in hand, the fisherman went to the waters once more. He called for the fish and when it emerged he saw it was bleeding heavily from a much larger wound and that it had lost many of its beautiful silver scales.
He relayed his wife’s wish to the fish and the fish sighed in sorrow and then told the fisherman to go home. The fisherman did and upon his arrival found that he and his wife truly were the rulers of the entire universe. As such he was able to see the waters where the fish lived, able to see the blood running like a red river from the fish’s body, able to watch as the last silver scales fell to the bottom of the sea and the fish finally died. And immediately upon its death all of the gold and jewels, the crowns an scepters vanished and all that was left was a poor fisherman, his angry wife, and the metal tub which they called home.
As I said, this fairy tale speaks to several of the deepest aspects of Pisces and they are – a compulsion to redeem and save, a need to please people, and a willingness to sacrifice oneself. We see all three themes at work in the story: the fisherman saves the fish and also seems to want to redeem his wife in some manner, the fisherman is constantly trying to please his wife (and does not see how unworthy she is of such attention), and the fish itself gives up its life to make someone else happy. Pisces can develop a savior complex and must be reminded of the essential roles that self-care and standing up for what they believe in and they think is right, play in their lives.
- You need to be more thoughtful, sensitive, and aware of other people’s feelings.
- You are learning a new form of art such as music, painting, sculpture, dance, drawing or design.
- You wish to learn from the past and put it into proper perspective.
- You need to engage more fully with your dreams and nourish your dream life.
- You want to make connections between various aspects of your life; you are ready to synthesize.
- You are ready to develop your psychic abilities.
- You need to infuse your work with more depth, beauty, and creativity.
- You wish to help.
- You want to cultivate a deeper relationship with beauty.
- You need to come into right relationship with your deep feelings and emotions.
- You wish for deeper connection.
- You are ready to be a force of redemption in the world.
- Addictions of all kinds – Losing oneself in the depths is something to take figuratively and literally with this sign. Pisces and Scorpio are the two zodiac signs most strongly connected to addictions.
- Escapism – Sometimes Pisces forgets to lasso itself to something or someone else and tries to escape the world completely. This can lead to (on the milder side) overlooking important, practical needs and (on the stronger side) moments of “breaking” from reality all together.
- Being too acquiescent – As a mutable sign it is easy for Pisces to say YES! Whatever you want! While that can make the fish popular, as we saw in the story above, it is not always good for the fish – Pisces must learn the art of setting boundaries.
- Overly high standards – Pisces has a vision of what can be, and usually the visions is pretty terrific. When the “real world” and people in it fail to live up to that vision it can leave the fish feeling hollowed out and empty, so it is good to remember that reality is not a bad word.
- Self-doubt – One of the old ways to describe the 12th house in the zodiac is the house of self-imprisonment; Pisces finds it easy to believe in almost anything…except themselves.
Sit comfortably and take a deep breath. Close your eyes and listen to your breathing. Make each inhale and each exhale a little fuller and deeper than the last.
Feel your body slowly relaxing; feel each muscle letting go, your head; your chest; your arms and hands; your stomach; your hips, legs and feet; until all you are focused on is your breathing. Slowly in and slowly out.
See that you are walking on a sun-dappled path through a beautiful wood. It is a warm, pleasant afternoon, quiet and still and peaceful. You are carrying a small sack with you but its contents are not of concern. You know that what’s in the sack is important to you and that you must keep it with you. It is not too heavy and not too light and you stroll down the path with ease, breathing deeply. Notice your steps, your heartbeat, and your breath all in rhythm together.
The path begins to open up and you find yourself at the edge of the wood looking toward a smooth, glassy lake. There is a small island out in the center of the lake and you know that is where you must go. Make your way to the edge of the lake and step into the water; feel it gently lapping at your ankles. The water is temperate and calm and clear. Whether you are a good swimmer or not, you feel safe and comfortable moving deeper into the lake. You put the sack around you and begin to swim the short distance to the small island. You swim with the ease of a fish and you effortlessly make your way to the shore of the island.*
You emerge from the lake and walk up to a dry place on the shore of the island. Sit down and observe. Observe the span of lake you just crossed and the forest on the other side. Observe the shore that you’re sitting on and the sights, smells, and sounds of the small island. Observe that you are separated from the mainland, separated from your day-to-day worries and troubles, separated from your aches and pains, separated from the minutia of tasks and chores. Observe that it is quiet and peaceful. Take a moment to let your mind be still.
Now consider the sack you brought with you. Inside is an object that represents the thing you feel most tethered to, whether good or bad. Open the sack and remove the object. Hold it in your hands without judgment. Feel its weight and shape and consider what it represents.
Take a moment to meditate on the purpose of the object. Is it something you want to be tethered to? Is it something you should be tethered to? Is it a representation of the thing that is most important to you? Or is it something you do not want to be tethered to? Is it a representation of something you need to let go of? Is the object necessary in your life? Is it something practical that helps you? Or is it something that is no longer needed?
As you sit with the object and contemplate its purpose and function in your life, look out across the lake. Remember the perspective you have, sitting on this small island, separate from the mainland and all your troubles, pains, and duties; separate from all the influences in your life telling you what to do. Remember that you are here to discern what to do with this object and the decision is yours and your alone.
If you decide that this object represents something you do not want to be tethered to, dig a hole on the shore and bury it, leaving it behind for the island to absorb. If you decide that this object represents something you do want to remain tethered to, return it to the sack. When you feel ready, you step back into the lake and feel it gently lapping at your ankles. The water is temperate and calm and clear. You feel safe and comfortable moving deeper into the water and begin to swim the short distance to return. You swim with the ease of a fish and you effortlessly make your way to the shore of the mainland.*
As you step out of the water onto the land, give yourself a moment to look out across the lake to the the island you came from. Express your gratitude for the ability to move your body through the water and for the clarity that the island provided you.
When you are ready, begin walking back on the sun-dappled path through the beautiful wood. It is a warm, pleasant afternoon, quiet and still and peaceful. Notice your steps, your heartbeat and your breath all in rhythm together. Become aware of your presence in your physical body. Allow your mind to gently return to the present moment where you are sitting comfortably, listening to your breath.
When you feel ready, open your eyes.
*if you have phobias around water or swimming that keep you from visualizing this, imagine that there is a small, safe boat for you to get to and from the island.
Altar and Ritual:
Making a Spirit Cord (This is an adaptation of a practice taken from Bri’s course on magic and fairy tales, Spinning Gold).
Ropes, spirit cords, ritual belts and, as they are called in Currendera tradition, lassos, are sacred tools and ritual talismans that assist us as we meditate and engage with the Otherworld in very specific and helpful ways.
For many newcomers to magical work it is an odd idea that something as innocuous as a piece of string, fabric, or leather could have the ability to serve as a physical catalyst for rapid and deep transformation, but it can.
The spirit cord or lasso has the ability to connect past, present, and future and can be worked with in a ceremonial manner not only to connect your past, present, and future, but also to connect you to Ancestors who are no longer among the living, and Descendants (including creative, metaphorical, progeny) that will come into being in the future.
You may also work with your cord to connect to specific places, objects, and people. For instance, try looping one part of your cord around a plant and sitting with the end of the cord in your left hand. Consider the channel you create in that moment and be aware of the information that flows through it.
How to Make Your Spirit Cord
- Acquire three pieces of material. Choose materials that can be braided together such as yarn, rope, or thread. I recommend that you choose the same material for each of the three strands. This cord is something you can wear or wrap around you, so choose something comfortable that will feel good against your skin. You may want to choose one, two or three colors for your cord. (My cord is three different colors, white, black and red. This is entirely up to you.)
In choosing colors, reflect on what different colors mean to you in particular. Red might mean power and protection, blood spilled in creative work? Black might mean to you a power that absorbs negativity. Blues for you might call forth healing waters. Yellows might evoke for you a field of wildflowers and something lighthearted or it might evoke something entirely different.
The point is to open up correspondences that connect with yourself. As you choose your colors, keep in mind the work or purpose of the cord, as we have said above: for daily practice, working with lineage and legacy; to strengthen and restrict, open up the channel to travel more easily between the worlds.
- Cut the cords to the length or height of your body. Give yourself about twelve inches (or about thirty centimeters) of extra material, since the cords will shorten as you braid.
- You now have three lengths of material, and either one, two or three colors. Now you must assign deeper significance to each strand. Here is how you can do that:
Think about your life as a whole and in part, your aspirations, your desires, your frustrations and obstacles. What facets of your life feel separated from one another?
Some common examples of different facets of life that can feel separated or related and joined together: Work life, Spiritual practice, Love life, Creative life, Physical health, Eating food, Family life, Financial life, Self-image
Now choose three life facets for your cord, and assign one for each strand. Take as much time as you need to make your choices.
If this does not feel resonant to you, here are a couple of further options:
Some of us struggle with the separation between who we are inside and the face we show to others. If this describes your experience then dedicate one strand of your cord to your inner voice, one strand to your outer expression, and one strand for the two aspects coming into union with each other.
In other cases we are searching for a through line connecting our experience of past, present, and future. In that case you might dedicate one strand of your cord to the past, one to the present, and one to the future.
- Keeping the three facets you have selected strongly in your mind and inner intention, braid the three strands together. (If you’ve forgotten how to braid, or don’t know how to, no worries. You can find instructions on YouTube for examples of simple braiding tips. I would suggest, however, that you practice first on some other strands before working on your cord. It is important for your own work to cultivate and hold your intention as you braid the cord and obviously this cannot take place if you have one eye on the computer screen.)
- After you finish, bless it with your own words and in your own way, and put it in a safe place for use later.
About the authors:
“Pisces,” plate 27 in Urania’s Mirror, a set of celestial cards accompanied by A familiar treatise on astronomy … by Jehoshaphat Aspin. London. Astronomical chart, 1 print on layered paper board : etching, hand-colored. 1825.
Large fish school. 2011.
Credner, Till. “Photography of the constellation Pisces, the fish” 17 July 2004
“Aphrodite and Eros” National Archaeological Museum of Naples. Fresco, Imperial Roman IV Style. 1st century AD.