by Briana Saussy
We depart from the mythic creatures we worked with in both Sagittarius and Capricorn as we turn our attention to Aquarius and discover perhaps the most mysterious creature of them all: humans.
Like its predecessor Capricorn, Aquarius is one of the oldest constellations found in Sumerian myth, Babylonian codex, Vedic Astrological tradition, and Chinese star lore. In ancient Sumer and Babylon the star cluster was associated with the great God Ea himself and the annual flooding of the Nile, and the emblematic depictions of the constellations could be elaborate, including a man bearing a cup with water flowing all around.
As we move forward into time and into Ancient Greece we see that the emblems associated with Aquarius become simplified – most often just the depiction of a cup or the depiction of a man with a cup – and the story behind the stars became more layered and nuanced. For the story of Aquarius is one version of the story of the Flood, which is an integral part of ancient myth in many parts of the world.
The Greek version stars the son of Prometheus, Prometheus being literally “forethought” and best known as the Titan who, after seeing that the Gods had given all of creation special gifts except for humans, decided to steal fire from the heavens (star fire?) and teach people how to work with fire as a tool. Prometheus’ famous punishment was to be chained to the side of a mountain where a vulture would swoop down and peck out his liver. Well, somewhere in all of that he had a son named Deucalion and just as Prometheus’ name is forever associated with the element of fire, Deucalion’s is associated with the element of water, and later air.
It all began with a sacrifice that went wrong. In some stories it is a king in Athens who pours a libation of water instead of wine, angering the Gods. In the older stories it is something more violent and bloody, the sacrifice of a young boy to Zeus, that was taken as deeply offensive, heretical, and impure.
Here we see one of strongest traits of Aquarius come to the foreground – for this is the sign that is often seen as the cosmic rebel, refusing to go along with “the way it has always been done” and instead looking with fresh eyes at whether an action still makes sense or is relevant (or was ever appropriate). Aquarius is the sign least interested in tradition and there is goodness in that attitude because certain traditions (like human sacrifice, slavery, and child brides to name a few) must be called for what they are – wrong and unjust – and stamped out firmly and completely.
So, a young boy was killed for no good reason and the Gods became enraged. What I hear below and beneath the surface of the story is the grief; that the heavens wept at the loss and waste of innocent life, and so they cried, and they cried, and they cried. And the waters came rushing down covering the land over and the rivers began to swell up and out and overrun their banks, and the oceans began to grow greater and higher and vaster than ever before.
That a flood is a cosmic cleansing is pretty obvious. Waters can ravage and level land as surely as fire can, although in its wake, after the mud has dried and the sun has pierced through once more, great waters also prepare the land for new life. It is this way for us too, especially when we are guided by Aquarius. For this sign understands that when there are traditions and ways of doing things that are not only not relevant but positively harmful to self and to others there must be atonement, there must be cleansing and purification so that the harm and violence done can be washed away and out to sea. This is blessing work but also work that leaves us with the need to start again, find a new way, build something else.
And this is where Aquarius shines. For this is the part of the sky that inspires us with innovation and inventiveness; the place that encourages us to look forward into what is possible and not back into what has been. The water that overflows from Aquarius’ cup covers over the land and removes what needs to be removed, but then the real work of humans’ deep and brilliant minds is allowed to take center stage as we ask the question: what can be created right here and right now?
In the tale, the creator is Deucalion, Prometheus’ son who first figures out how to survive the Flood by building a boat large enough and sea-worthy enough for himself and his beloved wife. Once the waters have done their cleansing, deepening, work they recede and Deucalion is left as the only man/Titan standing alongside his love. They become the founders of a new city where new temples, new governance structures, and new traditions take place.
Again, the parallels with the astrological qualities of Aquarius are profound. Lovers of what is new and what is possible, Aquarius is also a very political sign – concerned with the community at large, the polis as it was understood in ancient Greece – meaning the entire city. This is also the place where we see the Air element show up in Aquarius, for despite all the water imagery, Aquarius is an Air sign and Air signs are all concerned with the bonds of civilization, social contracts, and the most just way to live life. In our day and age of virtual communities Aquarius often makes itself at home on the web and thrives in any environment where new and more just forms of connection and representation are under consideration.
When faced with the task of repopulating the Earth, Deucalion and his wife were told to take the bones of their mother and throw them behind their backs. They used their mental gifts to unravel the mystery and understood that “bones of your mother” does not refer to the bones of your literal mother, but rather to the great rocks, the “bones” of THE mother – Gaia, the Earth. So they took rocks and threw them behind their shoulders and children sprung up in their wake.
This too speaks to the qualities inherent in Aquarius – the love of a good riddle or puzzle, a mental brilliance that is able to see past the surface right into the essence of things, and a way of living life that is fertile and procreative, but not in a conventional manner.
Often it is said that what separates humans from other creatures, what makes us so different is our intellect. But for the ancients and our own ancestors that was not quite the right understanding. Rather, the gift that we carried is the ability for intellect to join forces with what we feel deeply, and what animates us and stirs us into action – it is that we are capable of right relationship between all of these parts that is truly remarkable. The same is true for Aquarius.
Sometimes the sign is characterized as “too mental,” too “in the head,” but the truth is that Aquarius’ nature is born not fully sprung like Athena, but from a great well of emotion, of grief so deep that the waters themselves spilled out and over. Mental agility and creative thinking are called up not in contrast to but from the depths of those deep feelings and work in service of creating the new possibilities that those passions inspire. And this, I think, is what it means to truly bear water. For it is not about offering a cup full of water to this or that person – Aquarius is not the cup bearer, but rather the one who will bear up under the onslaught, and survive it so that there might be a new day.
by Sara Magnuson
Several astrological signs are represented by humans and in the context of this series we must take the perspective of ourselves as fellow animals. We are indeed of the Kingdom Animalia, right along with every other living creature. Thus the sign of Aquarius asks us to consider certain aspects of our human-animal nature.
We have learned that Aquarius represents the Water-Bearer in many ways historically, but when we consider Aquarius as Animal, we must begin with our (humans) extraordinary relationship with the elements of air and water.
The most important factor that makes our planet Earth unique is the presence of the elements of water and air. Water is a main ingredient in forming a living organism and we all remember from school that our own bodies are made up of 60-70% water. Air is also required for life and even creatures that live under water need air, for water cannot be created without oxygen.
There is a mystery to water, metaphorically and scientifically. Water is obviously a necessary element to support life, yet we are constantly struggling with droughts and shortages. With all of our technological advances why can’t we just create water in a lab? Turns out, creating the molecules that make up water (H2O) is extremely volatile and dangerous! To briefly help us understand, here’s a simple explanation of the process…
“Water is made of two hydrogen atoms attached to an oxygen atom. This seems like pretty basic chemistry, so why don’t we just smash them together and solve the world’s water ills? Theoretically, this is possible, but it would be an extremely dangerous process, too.
To create water, oxygen and hydrogen atoms must be present. Mixing them together doesn’t help; you’re still left with just separate hydrogen and oxygen atoms. The orbits of each atom’s electrons must become linked, and to do that we must have a sudden burst of energy to get these shy things to hook up.
Since hydrogen is extremely flammable and oxygen supports combustion, it wouldn’t take much to create this force. Pretty much all we need is a spark — not even a flame — and boom! We’ve got water. The hydrogen and oxygen atoms’ electrons’ orbits have been conjoined.
But we also have an explosion and — if our experiment was big enough, a deadly one.”
By Josh Clark
So you see, water is a precious thing. The chemical reaction required to bond the atoms together is too dangerous to be reproduced in a lab. It’s not even totally verified how water came to exist on our planet and there are really only theories as to how it formed eons ago. A scientific mystery.
The fact that it takes such precise circumstances for water to form, for those atoms to bond together, speaks to Aquarius’ tendency to be concerned with community – the bonds that hold us together as fellow human animals, the link between the air of our intellect and the watery depths of our souls. And remember, these bonds don’t just form willy-nilly! Those atoms, just like Aquarius, are very selective about when and how they will join together. Once the bond has formed, though, the possibilities for movement and growth are endless.
Water is also one of the most unfamiliar, unrelatable realms to us humans who live on land. To live in the water takes a completely different kind of body than the ones we have. We may find ways to explore and learn about our oceans, rivers, lakes, swamps, etc., but we will never truly know what it is to live beneath that glassy barrier.
It is in this way that water is most often associated with our emotions, an aspect that is frequently called “uniquely human,” though I would argue otherwise. Water is associated with emotions because they are the deepest parts of us, the parts beneath the surface that only you will ever truly know. Water is such an integral part of us that sometimes we exhibit our own human emotions by excreting salt water from our eyes. When our feelings overwhelm us and the air of our mind becomes heavy like a rain cloud, it is water that seeps out.
It is the inherent nature of water and air to move toward balance. Areas of high and low pressure air are constantly drawn to each other in a dance of harmony. Water will continue to flow until an equilibrium is reached. If you find a pool of water on the ground and are able to break the surrounding edge, it will move toward the opening, seeking level ground as if it has always been waiting for the opportunity move forward. And everywhere that water travels, it leaves in its wake the possibility of new life.
As we reflect on the stories of tears and Floods, we see that water shows us direction. Water can be free-flowing and rushing and forceful, but water can also be subtle and controlled. Air is the element that cannot be seen and the stories of personal relationships speak to the work of building community that takes place behind the scenes and under the surface. Aquarius reminds us that while our thoughts and emotions may feel overwhelming, like a Great Flood, their turbulent nature can be redirected in a purposeful way that promotes the best possible environment for growth and new beginnings.
- You are ready to shed the past way of doing/being/thinking.
- You want to call in a new reality, new possibility, new potential.
- You need to rebel, rock the boat, or stir up waters that have grown too stagnant.
- You desire to foster and support your mental agility, wit, and inner brilliance.
- You want to learn more about/work with advanced technologies of all kinds.
- You’d like to support a new creation or invention.
- You want to strengthen group dynamics, form a group for a specific purpose, and/or honor your community.
- You are launching any kind of web or social media presence or generally working with computers and the web.
- You need to color outside of the lines.
- You are ready for a paradigm shift.
- You desire to focus on the future and what is to come.
- You want to marry intellect with deep emotions for a fuller experience.
- Stubbornness – Aquarius is an aerial sign and air is the element of flexibility but it is also a fixed sign meaning that it can get into its sense of what is right and what is wrong and become very unmovable.
- Being too scattered – Aquarius has an incredible mind but does not always possess the follow through to see its brilliant thoughts implemented into practical actions.
- Apparent aloofness – I say apparent because Aquarius is not really aloof but their objectivity can sometimes make them seem that way.
- Complete detachment from the past – while the past carries much with it that does need to be shed, the past also carries important lessons. Aquarius should take care not to throw the baby of the past out with the bathwater.
- Overly political – Aquarius is the sign and area of the chart where we are most likely to ignore or break an important relationship in the name of political differences or let a single cause take over the whole of our lives.
- What parts of my past would I like to move beyond?
- What new story and future potential do I want to step into?
- What am I ready to invent?
- What role(s) do I want to take on within my communities?
- What is my relationship to technology and progress?
- What political cause do I feel most strong about and what practical actions can I take to support it?
- What inner brilliance is waiting to be unleashed?
- Where do I need to rebel and buck the trends?
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 dusk and quiet and still and peaceful. 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 short pier connecting the shore to the water and a small boat is tied at the end. Make your way to the edge of the lake and down the pier. You feel safe and peaceful here as you climb into the boat and remove its tether.
As soon as you are free from the pier a gentle breeze moves across your face and begins to carry you toward the center of the lake. You do not need to paddle and you trust that the spirit of the wind is taking you where you need to go. As you move across the lake you feel cradled in this boat, skimming slowly along the the mirrored surface, caressed by the delicate breeze. Allow the currents of the air and water to guide you in this vessel.
Your boat begins to slow as the winds recede and you are at the center of the lake. Close your eyes and sit for a few moments. Feel the subtle movements of the boat like a favorite rocking chair and the stillness of the air on your skin. Allow the rhythms of your body to fall in sync with the boat, the water, and the air.
Open your eyes and look over the edge of the boat at the surface of the water. It is perfectly smooth and you see your reflection crystal clear. Take a moment to stare into this watery mirror, looking yourself in the eyes. Acknowledge the miracle of your own life and ask your reflection what you need to let go of, what needs to change. As you ask this question, a gentle wind ripples across the water, distorting your reflection, turning the mirrored surface into a window through which you can see the parts of your past that no longer serve you. Observe this with no judgment. Like the gentle rocking of the boat, be gentle with yourself. Observe what you see and trust the truth of the water.
The water’s surface calms and returns to its perfectly smooth state. Look at your reflection again, now with the knowledge of what can be released. Acknowledge the miracle of your own life and ask your reflection to show your future self, the possibilities that will be open to you once you release the past. As you ask this question, a gentle wind ripples across the water, distorting your reflection, turning the mirrored surface into a window through which you can see all the potential available to you. Observe this with no judgment. Like the gentle rocking of the boat, be gentle with yourself. Observe what you see and trust the truth of the water.
The water’s surface calms and returns to its perfectly smooth state. Look at your reflection again and consider what the water has shown you – what it can take away, where it can carry you, and your ability to call on its life-giving properties to create the future you desire.
Sit for a few moments and feel the subtle movements of the boat like a favorite rocking chair. Feel the air on your skin as a gentle breeze picks up again, slowly carrying your boat back toward the pier. You do not need to paddle and you trust the spirit of the wind. As you move across the lake you feel cradled in this boat, skimming slowly along the the mirrored surface, caressed by the delicate breeze. Allow the currents of the air and water to guide you back to shore.
Once you have reached the pier, step out of the boat and give yourself a moment to stand on the pier, looking out across the elegant, mysterious lake. Express your gratitude for the insights you’ve been given.
When you are ready, begin walking back on the sun-dappled path through the beautiful wood. It is dusk and 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.
Altar and Ritual:
Our ritual for Aquarius is going to be a bathing ritual in honor of all of that is water.
You will need:
1 cup kosher salt
1 pinch of dried peppermint
1 pinch of dried lemongrass
1 pinch baking soda
3 whole black peppercorns
An incense that you love
Washed and clean clothes (they don’t have to be new but they need to have been freshly washed)
Something from your past you would like to shed.
A future possibility you want to step into.
Combine the salt, herbs, baking soda, and peppercorns together. As you mix the ingredients focus and pray over what you are ready to let go of and what you are ready to step into moving forward. You may want to write both of these down in petition form.
Run your bath and add the ingredients to the bathtub. You may add the ingredients loosely but do be aware that clean up might require more of you if you choose that route. You may also place the ingredients in a muslin bag and add that to the bathtub. If you only have a shower place the ingredients in a muslin bag and hang it on your shower nozzle so that the spray goes through the bag and then onto your body.
Set yourself up so that after your bath you have your incense ready to burn and you will be able to step through the smoke and then access your clean clothes.
Take your bath, allow yourself to focus on what you are ready to leave behind. See, sense, touch, know, hear, and feel yourself dropping it into the water. Every time you run water over your body see, sense, touch, know, hear, and feel how more of the old story is being dissolved, released, and shed.
When you are ready stand up and drain the bath. Affirm and acknowledge that as the water circles down the drain all that you have released is going into the deep earth where it can be transformed into something good and useful once more.
Standing naked, do not dry yourself off with a towel but let yourself air dry. Light the incense and when you are ready to step out of your past and into your future, walk through the sacred smoke.
Your clean clothes should be waiting on the other side, put them on and as you do so affirm and acknowledge that you are now fully inhabiting your new story, new possibility, you are calling in your future.
Say any words of thanksgivings and leave any offerings you like as a final act to this rite.
About the authors:
“Aquarius, Piscis Australis & Ballon Aerostatique,” plate 26 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.
Credner, Till. Photography of the constellation Aquarius, the water bearer. 17 July 2004.
Teenck, Till F. Photograph of relief of Deucalion and Pyrrha in the Parc del Laberint d’Horta in Barcelona, Catalonia (Spain). 1 April 2008.
Photograph of water droplet, via Wikimedia Commons