We are not in the Age of Aquarius
Are we really in the Age of Aquarius? People in the new age community often say we are. The particular system of ages behind these claims defines them according to either the zodiacal constellation or the sidereal zodiac sign through which the point of the vernal equinox passes (more on this below). In this sense the ages proceed backwards through the zodiac by way of precession, at the approximate rate of a degree every 72 years, or a sign about every 2,160 years. However, by any calculation we’re only about 80-85% of the way through the Age of Pisces, with hundreds of years to go before we reach the Age of Aquarius. Still, there are many traditional astrological time lord techniques which show us moving into ages of air in other ways. These often overlooked methods of dividing time provide some fascinating insight into broad changes in society to the present day and beyond.
To figure out if we are in the Age of Aquarius, we must understand that there are three different zodiacs. First, there are the twelve zodiacal constellations of stars which lie on the ecliptic (apparent path of the Sun). These vary in size (and age of origin) and lack clearly demarcated boundaries. Secondly, there is the sidereal zodiac, which is a division of the ecliptic (apparent path of the Sun) into twelve equal 30 degree segments, called signs. Each sign in the sidereal zodiac roughly overlays its corresponding constellation, and the zodiac is fixed in position to some star (such as Spica marking the start of Libra; disagreement regarding which star is the best reference has led to a variety of minor variations in terms of where to start the sidereal zodiac). Thirdly, there is the tropical zodiac, which is another regular division of the ecliptic into twelve equal 30 degree signs, but is fixed to the Sun-Earth cycle, rather than the stars. The tropical zodiac has its origins with the sidereal zodiac, as the two were quite closely aligned two thousand years ago during the rise of horoscopic astrology, but the tropical zodiac is fixed to the Sun-Earth or “seasonal”/”light” relationship, such that 0 Aries (the beginning of the zodiac) is the Northern Hemisphere’s vernal equinox. The vernal equinox is the point where the Sun (from the perspective of the Earth) crosses the Earth’s horizon northward (i.e. the northern hemispher of the Earth starts to become tilted more toward the Sun than the Southern; transitioning the north into spring). The “equi” in equinox stands for equal measures of daylight and darkness (day and night are the same length of time on these days). The spring equinox is the point at which the daylight will start to overtake the darkness.
Precession and Current Location of the Vernal Equinox
Due to the Earth’s “wobble”, a phenomena called precession of the equinoxes, the vernal equinox (and thus the tropical zodiac) slowly shifts backwards relative to the constellations (and thus backwards relative to the sidereal zodiac as well).
The measurement of how far the tropical zodiac has moved backwards relative to the sidereal zodiac is called ayanamsa. It is used in India to quickly calculate a start point for the sidereal zodiac in Indian astrological work. According to the wikipedia article on ayanamsa and current tables of ayanamsas, it is typically assumed to be close to 24 degrees (usually just under 24 degrees). This would mean we are almost 24 degrees through the 30 degree Age of Pisces, with 6 degrees more to go before the vernal equinox enters Aquarius. That implies we are only about 80% of the way there! Currently, the vernal equinox is at about 6 degrees Pisces of the sidereal zodiac, giving over 400 years before the start of the Aquarius period.
Similarly, there is at least a few hundred years before the vernal equinox could be said to be within a reasonable boundary of the actual constellation Aquarius. This site (click link) provides more information on its current position relative to the constellations.
Still, some modern astrologers believe that we must be transitioning into a new age because of the vast changes brought about technology and globalization in the current era. To them, these changes reflect Aquarius as an air sign, as air signs are more associated with mental phenomena and information. Also, the modern astrological rulership assigned to Aquarius is that of Uranus, which is a planet modern astrologers associate with electricity, originality/invention, and perturbation.
However, it was not the customary ancient astrological practice to define the major eras by way of the sign in which the vernal equinox fell. Additionally, it seems a little far-fetched to attribute dramatics shifts in global circumstance to precession into Aquarius when that precession is actually yet to occur for many hundred years. Finally, Aquarius was not ruled by Uranus in ancient astrology, but by the dark and malefic planet Saturn. The sign Aquarius, and that of Capricorn, are ruled by Saturn, planet of darkness, and are opposite the signs of the Lights (the Sun and Moon). Each of the 5 classical planets aside from the Lights, including Saturn, rules two signs, one day home and one night home. Therefore, the system lost its logic and symmetry with the introduction of new rulerships of the signs as new planets were discovered. Uranus is not one of the 7 wandering stars, defined as “planets” within astrological science, as it does not appear like a star in the sky (it’s not visible as such to the naked eye). Uranus as the Greek god of the sky, also known as Father Sky, also seemed to have little to do with electricity, revolution, and some of the other associations given to it by modern astrologers. Father Sky, Uranus, should probably be associated instead with astronomy, astrology, the sky, and the like.
Some Thoughts on the Origins of the New Age
I believe the Age of Aquarius concept should be rejected in so far as being an astrological explanation of current societal changes. The concern with the Age of Aquarius and a “New Age” in general (an influx of “2012” BS being the latest incarnation), has its roots in 19th century, industrial-age, spiritualist movements, like Theosophy. As the world was being radically transformed by industrialism many believed that some similar type of radical transformation of the human spirit was at hand. This transformation was like a hokey non-“religious” counterpart to the rapture, where either everyone, or just a spiritually select few, would be swept up into a natural spiritual evolution.
The naivete of this spiritual triumphalism mirrored the similarly naive scientific and industrial triumphalism of that age. An overly simplistic, misleading, whiggish history was expounded, in which the past was seen as a linear progressive evolution to the enlightened present/future (for more on whig history see this link). This general worldview hangs on in many spiritual, scientific, and technological circles to this day, but is, hopefully, losing credence. Overcoming such distortions is something of a prerequisite to communion with one’s ancestors, as it establishes a respectful openness to the humanity, individuality, and intelligence of those who presided over prior times. History is not one linear progression to greater evolved states, but involves a great deal of forward and backward movement, not to mention give and take where certain forms of knowledge progress and others atrophy. For instance, the first analog computer, the antikythera mechanism, believed to serve astrological purposes, dates to the 2nd or 3rd centuries BCE, but mechanisms of equal complexity were previously unknown to exist in Europe prior to the 14th century. There is an opportunity cost to all broad societal movements toward some set of shared goals.
A Couple Techniques for the Ages
There are a couple ancient mundane astrological techniques, discussed by Persian astrologers like Abu Ma’shar, which I highly regard for major global cultural shifts. The first of these is the dawr, which changes every 360 years. The second is the shift in triplicity of the Great Conjunctions, which varies in length but is about every 240 years.
The dawr has both fixed and relative variants. The dawr consists of 360 year periods ruled by a planet and a sign. The planetary rulers proceed in the so-called Chaldean order (Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Sun, Venus, Mercury, Moon, then Saturn again, Jupiter, etc.). The sign rulers proceed in the zodiacal order (Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, Pisces, Aries, Taurus, etc.). The fixed dawr was believed to be rooted in the calculation of the date of a great flood, typically associated with the flood in the biblical Noah tale.
Here are some of the more contemporary periods of the fixed dawr:
- Saturn-Aquarius: -860 to -500
- Jupiter-Pisces: -500 to -140
- Mars-Aries: -140 to 220
- Sun-Taurus: 220 to 580
- Venus-Gemini: 580 to 940
- Mercury-Cancer: 940 to 1300
- Moon-Leo: 1300 to 1660
- Saturn-Virgo: 1660 to 2020
- Jupiter-Libra: 2020 to 2380
Notice, for instance, that the period from 940 to 1300 coincided with the High Middle Ages in Europe. The High Middle Ages were a period of particularly strong increase in trade, as well as important translation movements. These translation movements re-exposed Europe to Greek thought (and its Perso-Arabic developments), igniting immense scholarly and scientific activity. This fits well with Mercury, lord of commerce, language, and analysis, as period ruler. It was also a time of population booms and rising ethnocentric nationalism, which fit well with the fertile, familial, sign Cancer.
1300 to 1660 coincided with the Renaissance and the Age of Discovery/Exploration. The Moon rules bodies of water and all voyages, making her a very appropriate ruler for this period of immense transfer of human culture by water. There were also major humanist movements at this time, shifting focus somewhat away from the recovery and development of natural science, towards the recovery and development of literature and the arts. This is consistent with the personal and subjective significations of the Moon. The renaissance was also marked by clarity, coupled with a haughty royalty, self-awareness, and self-importance, all consistent with the significations of Leo.
1660 to 2020, the age we are currently presiding in, saw the birth of industrialism. It has involved a literal ravishing and transforming of the natural world. It has also involved limitation-based but very materially productive transformations of science and philosophy through the ascendancy of physicalism, materialism, and a more restrictive scientific method. This is the age of Saturn, planet of land, earthly resources, raw materials, tangibility, restriction/rejection, doubt, solitariness, and administration. It is also the age of Virgo, Mercury’s earth-sign home, pertaining very strongly to material science and commerce.
Within the next decade we will begin a new 360 year age which will run from 2020 to 2380. This age will be ruled over by Jupiter, a planet which signifies friendship, tolerance, fellowship, charity, generosity, openness, spiritual expansiveness, and opportunity. The sign of the age is Libra, an air sign, pertaining to ideas, information, and culture. Libra is ruled by Venus, planet of the arts/aesthetics, love, marriage, and beauty. Libra, the sign of the balance or scales, focuses on themes of social relationships, aesthetic science, and fairness/justice. While Virgo is a mutable sign, signifying complexion and mixture, Libra is a cardinal sign, signifying a bolder and more direct change of direction. It will be interesting to see how this shift pans out, going from a physicalist bottom-line materialist intellect to a more information-based or mentalist view of the fundamental strata of reality coupled with a stress on generosity, spirituality, and expansion.
For more on the Dawr, see commentary regarding it in Burnett’s translation of Abu Ma’shar’s seminal text on mundane astrology. It is rare and overpriced at the moment, but may be available at some college libraries in your area.
Triplicity of the Great Conjunctions
As mentioned in my post on Abu Ma’shar’s “Six Elements for Deducing Advanced Knowledge”, the Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, which occurs every 20 years was the cornerstone of predictive techniques in ancient Persian astrology.
This conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn occurs in the signs of the zodiac in a triangular pattern moving backwards. For instance, a conjunction in Aquarius will normally be followed by a conjunction in Libra, and then a conjunction in Gemini, then one in Aquarius, etc. However, the conjunctions are not spaced exactly 120 degrees apart, so they shift triplicity (element) over time. This shift would occur every 240 years if regular, but varies in reality. After the shift occurs there is often one or two conjunctions at the start of the series that revert back to the previous triplicity/element (see Richard Nolle’s 3000-year table of Jupiter-Saturn conjunctions).
Here are a few elemental periods from shifts of the triplicity:
- 1603/04 to 1802: Fire
- 1802 to 1980/81: Earth
- 1980/81 to 2159: Air
- 2159 to 2338: Water
The Fire period occurred during the Age of Enlightenment, a period of heated philosophical activity, elite socially-dominant intellectual circles, and of great political importance. This is consistent with the energetic, truth-seeking, and leading/elite qualities of fire.
The Earth period, which recently ended, provided strong reinforcement for the significations of the dawr of that time (Saturn and Virgo) concerning natural resources and skepticism (Saturn) as well as physicalism (Virgo being an Earth sign, physicalism being the belief that physicality is the most fundamental nature of reality, with everything that exists doing so by virtue of physicality).
Since 1981, and the start of the Air triplicity, we’ve seen quite a cultural shift, one with a strong emphasis on abstract information. The personal computer came to ascendancy in the 1980’s, as well as new increasingly information-based (digital) rather than physical-based media. Some of the most profound changes have occurred in terms of communications technology and the proliferation of information and social culture. Pieces of technology continue to lose mass, go wireless, and depend upon transmission of waves through the air. All of these things are very consistent with a shift to Air, with its significations of abstraction, communication, and social relationships.
As you can see, there are definitely some broad global transitions taking place which are taking us out of the ground and into the sky. The shift of the triplicity from Earth to Air in 1981 has already set off a number of cultural and philosophical changes away from a material standard and toward an information standard. We are likely to see these changes intensify following the shift of the dawr in 2020 and possibly to see a focus on global welfare, as well as a shift in the meaning of “meaning”, toward societal goals of spiritual fulfillment and generosity, but somewhat away from societal goals of material acquisition and rational certainty.