No doubt most people, whether they believe in astrology or not, have heard that "this is the dawning of the Age of Aquar-ius." It is the most famous astrological prophecy. It is, at least, as good a name as any for the "New Age" we are predicting-but what exactly is the "Age of Aquarius"?
It means, say astrologers, that the next 2,100 years or so will have Aquarian characteristics. Aquarius is the sign of humanity (sometimes Aquarius is known as "The Water Bearer"; other times as simply "The Man" who holds an urn of water). Therefore, brother and sisterhood will spread across the planet, and humanitarian ideals will take hold. Democracy and respect for human rights will expand. Aquarius is the sign of groups and associations too, so corporations, nations, and international organizations will continue to become more powerful. Aquarius represents innovation, a perfect fit for our high-tech revolution. Most of all, Aquarius stands for knowledge, so New Age religions will be based on what people can know and experience for themselves, largely superseding the dogmatic and authoritarian religions of the preceding Age of Pisces, the sign of belief. Among the major religions of this era is Christianity, which was born about 2,000 years ago when the Age of Pisces began, and whose symbol was the fish. Aquarius, on the other hand, represents not only the "magic" of technology, but the "magick" that alchemists, gnostics, mages, druids, shamans, witches, and holy healers have practiced throughout the ages. It is the power to transform and transmute reality in accordance with the will. Aquarius is the sign of mind power.
The New Age sounds good. It is a wonderful myth to guide us toward the great renewal of humanity soon to come; a reason to be optimistic despite all of today's gloom and doom. However, most people don't even know why astrologers say that "this is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius." What is their basis for saying this? THE PRECESSION CYCLE The twelve Ages, of which the Aquarian is one, are twelve divisions of a 25,000-year-long motion of our Earth called the precession of the equinoxes. It is only one of three basic Earth cycles-the three most important in astrology. The first cycle is the year, in which the Sun appears to move through a belt of constellations called the zodiac. Aquarius is one of these constellations. The second cycle is the day, caused by the Earth turning on its axis every twenty-four hours, making the Sun appear to rise and set. The Earth also gradually wobbles backwards as its turns, as if it were a spinning top. This is the third Earth cycle. The "great wobble" causes the north pole to point to different stars at different times. By the year 2100, it will point exactly at Polaris, the star which we know today as "the north star." About 13,000 years ago, it pointed toward Vega, the brightest star in today's summer skies. It takes an average of 25,694.8 years for the Earth to complete one "wobble," so about 26,000 years from today, the north pole will again point to Polaris.
The seasons happen because the Earth's axis is tilted by about twenty-three degrees. During the summer (in the northern hemisphere) the pole is tilted toward the Sun, so the days are longer. During the winter it tilts away from the Sun, so the days are shorter. When the pole is exactly halfway between, so that the Earth's orbit is aligned with the Equator, the days and nights are equal. This is called the equinox. The apparent location of the Sun at the equinox also gradually shifts backwards along the ecliptic (the path of Earth's orbit) as the north pole wobbles. 2,100 years ago, when the zodiac of constellations was named, the Sun entered the constellation Aries at the beginning of spring. By now, the zodiac has shifted one-twelfth of the way backwards (almost thirty degrees), so today spring begins when the Sun is in the constellation Pisces.
It is a curious irony that the reason most often cited by skeptics that astrology is "false" is also the basis for the most famous prophecy ever made by astrologers. Many skeptics (though not all) claim that astrologers don't even know that the constellations have shifted, and are therefore using a zodiac that is off by thirty degrees! After all, they say, astrologers still maintain that the Sun enters the sign Aries at the beginning of spring! Yet astrologers also say that we are in the beginnings of the "Age of Aquarius." Why? Because the Sun's position at the Vernal Equinox will soon move from the constellation Pisces into Aquarius. If astrologers didn't know about this backward shift, why would they use it to make their most famous prediction?
What many skeptics (and even some astrologers) don't understand is that astrology really has little to do with stars, and that the zodiac is not a belt of constellations at all. As we've seen, astrology is a study of cycles and their relationship to our lives. The 360-degree circle of the zodiac is the path of the Earth as it travels around the Sun, and it is divided into twelve signs of thirty degrees each. The signs have the same names as the constellations, but they are not the same. The signs get their meaning from their place on the yearly cycle of the Earth, not from the shape of the stars in each of those twelve sectors.
The signs are the most accepted way of interpreting the meaning of the yearly cycle. Every cycle must have a beginning point, and for the zodiac, this is the Vernal Equinox-the start of spring in the northern hemisphere. It is the moment each year (around March 21) when the Sun enters Aries, the first sign of the zodiac. Most astrologers today use the zodiac of signs. They are called tropical astrologers (of which this author is one). Astronomers also use the zodiac of signs, not constellations, to locate stars on the "celestial sphere." Some astrologers continue to use the zodiac of constellations, although in fact they place little or no emphasis on them; they are called sidereal astrologers.
Yes-but wait a minute-something doesn't quite fit here. If most astrologers don't assign meanings to stars or constellations, why do they say the Aquarian Age is dawning just because the Vernal Equinox will soon occur in the constellation Aquarius? This can't be right. If constellations are just distant stars arbitrarily grouped together and given meanings by humans, if they are just a convenient way to locate stars, like street names on a map, then why should the constellation Aquarius have any influence when it's lined up with the Sun at Vernal Equinox time?
Knowing these facts, some astrologers today debunk the Age of Aquarius as just an enchanting fiction. I don't think it can be dismissed so easily, because the precession of the equinoxes and the polar wobble are based on an actual motion of the Earth. This cycle is just as real as the year itself is. Such a long cycle could help us a great deal in interpreting human history from the long view, so the study of cycles can and should include a study of the whole cycle of astrological "ages." As we've said, all cycles must have a beginning, and the trouble with the precession cycle is that nobody is sure just where it begins. If we rule out constellations as questionable reference points, what do we use?
In a later chapter (Cultural Shifts, Chapter 7) I will show that the "ages" have tremendous significance, particularly for the history of religion. For now, let's review some general evidence showing how past ages have corresponded to the precession cycle as astrologers describe it. In doing this, I refer to an idea put forward by philosopher-astrologer Dane Rudhyar. He points out that each Age can be divided in two parts; the first half will have the traits of the constellation at the Vernal Equinox, but the second half will have the sub-traits of the opposite constellation at the Autumn Equinox. These traits are at their peak about halfway through each sub-age. Here is how the cycle has shaped up throughout recorded history, using approximate dates:
This evidence is impressive, and other researchers have amassed even more facts. No doubt there are many things in history that don't fit the Age in which they occurred; for example, the Lion symbols in the sculptures of Mycenae and Assyria were made during the Age of Aries, not Leo-but generally, the sign of each Age and sub-age fits each period better than any other sign does.
Humanity has probably known of the precession cycle for millennia, but now we have access to other long cycles which have been unknown until our own century. They last long enough to be significant, yet are short enough to give us many more examples to study than the 2,000-year-long "ages" give us. Furthermore, many of us have had personal experience with them recently.
SOMETHING IN THE AIR- AND THE SKY!
Not so long ago, at least by cosmic reckoning, I was a young high school student growing up (I think!) in San Jose, California. It was not an entirely pleasant childhood, but I found refuge by studying science and other things. At that time, I believed science could explain everything, much as my parents did, but I could feel something mysterious happening around me. Suddenly I became intensely curious about life, and questions filled my adventurous young mind. What is the nature of mathematics? Why is music beautiful? Is there more to life than conventional paths? Then, in the early summer of 1966, I was overwhelmed with the beauty of things I had always seen and taken for granted before. I felt at one with the sky, and there seemed to be something magical and electric "in the air." The world seemed vibrantly alive, and love flooded through me. It came to me that somehow love was the answer to my questions. This, my "spiritual awakening," led me to radically change my attitudes toward science and religion. It started me on a philosophical quest that took me through Eastern and Western thought and, by the spring of 1968, to astrology.
I continued to wonder what this magical feeling was and where it came from. Surely, part of it was simply the feeling that exciting things were happening in the world. Only weeks and months after my own personal "awakening," I saw signs of a revolution exploding around me that had started a few months before in my own city, and in San Francisco, just fifty miles away. It was the youthful cultural explosion of the sixties, powered by the very same spirit that was simultaneously stirring inside me. By year's end, the Haight-Ashbury hippie scene was well established, and from there a whole counter-culture spread across the planet. At the same time the peace movement blossomed.
Many others testified to the strange feeling that "something was in the air" in the 1960s, including musicians such as Bob dylan and "Thunderclap Newman." The counter-culture was clearly not a deliberately planned phenomena. It was a spontaneous mass awakening whose origin was mysterious, and no one has ever really explained why it happened. What is even more remarkable is how many people of all ages had mystical experiences at the same time, and even in the same month, as I did, while others went through important personal life changes. You might know such people; or you might look back at your own life and notice what inspirations or drastic changes came to you in about 1966. Our whole culture was exploding and changing. Clearly, it was a time of spiritual awakenings that touched people everywhere.
After I began studying astrology and learned the meanings of the signs and the planets, I was able to predict what my own horoscope would be like. Very intrigued, soon I also began to wonder what rare and remarkable event might be going on out among the planets that would explain the explosive changes going on in the 1960s. I learned that in astrology the planets Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto stand for radical changes in consciousness and society-in fact, for everything strange, marvelous, eccentric, advanced, visionary, deviant, mysterious, occult, and out of the ordinary. I thought two or more of them must surely be forming what we call a conjunction, the most important planetary event (in which two planets line up exactly with the Earth). When I checked an ephemeris to verify my theory, I could not believe my eyes. Uranus and Pluto were in a conjunction. Then came an even more stunning discovery. I learned that the exact date of this Uranus-Pluto line-up was in late June 1966-the exact time of my own personal awakening, and that of so many others! Perhaps it was Uranus and Pluto we were resonating to-maybe it was the "electric" rays from Uranus that were "in the air."
THE KEYS TO OUR DESTINY
As the years passed, the revolutionary energy of the '60s waned. Some of the ideals of the "love generation" were discredited, and many of its dreams were literally shot down, but profound changes had taken place within society, and the goals were still important to many people. It seemed like just the beginning. So I wondered, did the conjunction of Uranus with Pluto mark the start of a whole cycle of revolutionary change, or were the movements of the sixties just passing fads? I thought history could answer this by showing whether revolutionary movements coincided with Uranus-Pluto conjunctions in the past. So I checked what happened during the dates of previous conjunctions, and I found convincing evidence that they do-as we'll see in a later chapter.
Meanwhile, I discovered that an even more rare and powerful conjunction had also occurred a relatively short time ago, at the turn of the Twentieth Century. This one involved Neptune and Pluto. If Uranus and Pluto together corresponded to the amazing, seemingly unexplainable events I witnessed in the '60s, surely this even rarer alignment should have coincided with even more remarkable events. And so it was. I found that this conjunction marked the end of one age of civilization and the start of another, and that previous such conjunctions had done so throughout history. The Neptune-Pluto conjunction further confirmed that a "New Age" was dawning in our time-the eve of a New Millennium.
The three outer planets, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto, emerged as the key to human destiny. What makes these planets and their cycles so interesting to study is the simple and profound fact that today is the first time we can study them. We are exploring virgin territory, because they have only been discovered in recent times. Invisible to the naked eye, they remained unknown until we gained the technical ability to explore the heavens. Unlike revelations based on 2,000-year-old texts, the cycles of Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto give us today's prophetic insights. Astrologers call them "the modern planets." They are a modern-day transcendental trinity. This is confirmed by the fact that the length of their orbits are in a three-fold relationship. Uranus revolves around the Sun once every eighty-four years, while Neptune takes about twice as long at 165 years, and Pluto takes three times as long at 248 years. It is the only such pattern in the solar system.
As the first generations to know these planets, we are the first to be able to truly chart the destiny of humanity. We have a further advantage today, for not only is a full study of astrology new, so is history itself. Before the Eighteenth Century, when Uranus was discovered, people believed that life never changes. The world was viewed as static, or as repeating in endless cycles. History consisted of the myths and legends of the culture into which you were born. No one thought of checking one's facts with historical research, and rarely was anyone concerned with cultures far away or long since vanished. Not until the late Eighteenth Century did a "romantic" interest in the distant past lead to a study of history as we know it. History became the vital chronicle of human progress and evolution. Thus, both history and the key to its interpretation became available to us in the late Eighteenth Century-the very time when Uranus, the first of the outer planets, was discovered.
URANUS, THE MAVERICK (1781)
For historians, this moment represents the beginning of the modern age. Radical, sweeping changes have totally transformed the world since Uranus was first seen in 1781. All the ancient ways have been upset, and the pace of events has accelerated. Powerful new potentials have opened to us. We have taken a gigantic, terrifying, and irreversible leap into the future, and have begun to expand our consciousness. For astrologers, the discovery of Uranus in 1781 represents the start of this dramatic shift of awareness. Each new planet discovered represents further stages in our expansion of consciousness and human potential, for although the transcendental trinity has always influenced human history, until modern times it had only done so on an unconscious level for most people. Now their true significance is being fully revealed to all of us.
Revolutionary developments opened this age of expansion in the late Eighteenth Century. At the very time Uranus was discovered, the United States had just won its independence, and the sparks from that upheaval soon lit the fuse of a much larger one in France. The French Revolution of 1789 kindled the light of liberty and the flames of ferment over the whole world. Meanwhile, a quieter but even more drastic political and social transformation was reverberating through Britain. The industrial revolution also took off in the 1780s, mobilizing human and technical resources as never before. These two dramatic, explosive events that irreversibly changed our planet happened at practically the same moment that the astronomer Herschel discovered the new planet.
The Uranian wave was felt everywhere, and in many ways. In Germany, the revolution occurred in the realm of philosophy when Immanuel Kant published The Critique of Pure Reason in 1781 (exact year of Uranus' discovery), brilliantly demonstrating how knowledge depends on our own categories of thought. It was a declaration of independence for the mind. German and British painters and writers unleashed an ecstasy of self-discovery called "the romantic movement," and asserted the creative freedom of the artist. For the French painter J. L. David, art became a means to arouse the people to revolt ("Oath of the Horatii," 1784). Our understanding of the infinite dimensions of the universe began to open up. Light was discovered beyond the normal visible spectrum to include ultraviolet and infrared. Discoveries in the field of electricity in the 1780s and '90s eventually turned our knowledge of the physical world upside down.
It was clear from the start what Uranus would stand for in astrology. Its discovery in 1781 represents the end of the reign of Chronos (Saturn) in the life of humanity. It is the critical break from the past into the modern age of "progress." Its role is to free us from all conventional authorities and to drastically reform society along lines of truth and justice. It stands for our new awareness of individual freedom and liberty, and for "declarations of independence." Depending on other factors in force at the time, it can bring quick, beneficial reforms or violent, disruptive, destructive events. It is also associated with science and "enlightenment," and seeks to base authority on knowledge which we discover for ourselves. The planet of genius, Uranus constantly challenges us to look at things in a new way. It is sudden revelations and awakenings, and is the ruling planet of magicians, alchemists, and astrologers. The cosmic lightning bolt among the planets, its effects are always very striking, abrupt, and powerfully felt. It signifies charismatic leaders with enormous power; it stands for the modern dictator as much as the modern liberator. It is eccentric and unconventional, shocking, surprising, unusual, radical, outcast, and different from the norm. It represents all the inventions of the modern age and the skill to create and use them. It rules capitalism, "progress," and utopian expectations, and is one of the symbols of the "New Age." It is linked to Aquarius and the 11th House of the horoscope. Uranus represents the inner light-the creator from the invisible realms.
NEPTUNE, THE MYSTIC (1846)
Astronomers soon realized that the new planet didn't behave as they expected (typical of Uranus, after all). Another planet was suspected farther out that would explain the strange perturbations in Uranus' orbit. By 1846, astronomers found it where LeVerrier and Adams predicted it would be. This new planet would turn out to be even more valuable in understanding human destiny than Uranus. It was named Neptune after the ancient god of the oceans, and its discovery coincided with the next expansion in modern consciousness.
When Neptune was discovered, the common people were sensing their power and identity as never before. The industrial revolution, until now largely limited to a few entrepreneurs and inventors in England, began to expand across the world. People started clustering together in vast urban conglomerations. Stripped from their roots and cut off from their old communities, they began identifying themselves with their nation, ethnic origin, or social class. The ties that bound the old society together began to decay and disintegrate, as famines and revolutions caused millions to migrate across the globe. Meanwhile, society was convulsed with idealistic, utopian movements. Kindness and compassion toward the less fortunate began to flourish on a mass scale for the first time. Dorothea Dix, Florence Nightingale, Clara Barton, and others promoted the new humanitarian ideal. Just two years after Neptune's discovery, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels published The Communist Manifesto, launching a compelling, convulsive new movement toward human equality. Meanwhile, communal experiments spread across America, and the Mormons made their epic journey to Utah. A new religion sprang forth in Persia proclaiming the coming unification of humanity (the Bahai Faith). Interest in spiritualism and metaphysics mushroomed. Transcendentalist writers such as Thoreau, Emerson, and Whitman extolled non-conformity and the oversoul. Gas lighting spread through the cities, and anesthesia was applied to surgery. Ocean-going steamships made global commerce practical for the first time in history.
Neptune's character reflects these dynamic changes of the 1840s and '50s, and incarnates all the great movements of the Nineteenth Century. If Uranus represented freedom for the individual, Neptune stands for equality and the interests of collective society. It represents utopian social movements whose goal is to redistribute the wealth. Neptune symbolizes compassion, kindness, and humanitarian concern. It rules hospitals, asylums, prisons, and big bureaucracies. More than any other planet, its movements represent the destiny and consciousness of humanity as a whole, and the "spirit of the times."
If Uranus is the transcendental mind, Neptune is the transcendental heart. It represents consciousness expanding until it encompasses all humanity and the entire universe. It is the symbol of everything intangible, mystical, imaginative, delicate and subtle, particularly as expressed through the most sensitive kinds of romantic, impressionist and visionary music and art. It is the urge to escape into a blissful state of ecstasy and reverie. It is life unrestricted by ordinary limits and boundaries, the transcending of all barriers, and the return to paradise and the golden age. Since it is so elusive and hard to pin down, Neptune also leads us into confusion, delusion and deception. Its talents are easily adapted by all who are in the business to deceive. It is the desire to escape from responsibility and to artfully and cleverly avoid facing reality. It frequently leads people and their leaders into involved and muddled affairs, and can signal floods, famines and diseases.
Since Neptune's discovery, the worldwide distribution of goods and services has increased remarkably. Neptune stands for all types of liquids, such as the seas, oils, solvents, and alcohol, as well as drugs and funguses. It represents decay and dissolution, but also the boundless, blissful state that results from the erasing of barriers. When fully expressed, Neptune is the beatific vision of universal, divine love and compassion for all beings. It is connected to the sign of Pisces and to the 12th House.
or PL PLUTO, LORD OF THE UNDERWORLD (1930)
One would think that with Neptune we have reached the ultimate; what could be higher than to connect with the infinite and the divine? But there is another planet, the necessary partner, shadow and complement to Neptune. For there is no heaven without hell, and no dissolution, decay, and death without the possibility of rebirth and new life. Astronomers soon found that, like Uranus, Neptune was wandering from its predicted path, so they began looking for "Planet X." This time the search took longer, but finally it was found in 1930 by Clyde Tombaugh. The name Pluto was taken from the initials of Percival Lowell, the man who predicted where the new planet would be found.
When Pluto was discovered, humanity was entering the deepest crisis in its history. The Great Depression was spreading; all the old values and authorities seemed to be crumbling. Hell on Earth loomed as the Nazis took over Europe. Gangsters and syndicates were becoming rampant, and big governments and corporations were taking control. Meanwhile, philosophers and psychologists such as Heidegger, Jung, and Reich were probing the human personality seeking sources of inner power, and physics was unveiling a whole new universe where uncertainty reigned supreme. Soon the atomic bomb confronted us with our own power to destroy all life on the planet.
Pluto, named for the Lord of the Underworld, is the symbol of death, destruction, drastic change, and complete transmutation. It leads us through the valley of the shadow of death and the dark night of the soul. Where Neptune offers forgiveness, compassion, and escape, Pluto ruthlessly confronts us with our responsibilities. Pluto is the probing detective, plumbing the depths and exploring beyond the edges to unleash new sources of power. It is the cosmic plunger seeking to eliminate anything that obstructs the flow of change. Where Uranus is the lightning flash, and Neptune the cosmic sea, Pluto is the atomic fire. With Pluto, we make ourselves more vulnerable so we can become more potent, as therapist Stan Dale puts it. Pluto is transcendental courage and guts. It gives us new life by forcing us to face death. It is the caterpillar shedding its skin to reveal the butterfly, or the phoenix rising from the ashes. It is the revelation of deep changes going on inside us. It destroys to rebuild, and it kills the old self that we may be born anew.
Pluto charts the rise and fall of all civilizations and power structures. It rules groups, syndicates, and all who pool their resources to boost their power. It can release undreamed-of wealth and opportunity. It is connected to all the movements of the Twentieth Century, such as existentialism, vitalism, totalitarianism, sexual revolutions, the rights of minorities and outcasts. What it touches it dismantles, rejuvenates, and reorganizes. Whereas Neptune insidiously dissolves and breaks things down, Pluto seeks to totally destroy and then rebuild them. Along with the Moon, it is connected to agriculture and all cycles of death and rebirth through its mythic connection with Persephone. It is sexuality and fertility worship, and represents the secrets of biology and the mysteries of creation.
In 1979, as Pluto's eccentric and elongated orbit took it inside Neptune's orbit, astronomers discovered that Pluto had a partner. They named it Charon ( as opposed to Chiron, the comet-asteroid discovered at about the same time to be orbiting between Saturn and Uranus). It has now become clear that Pluto-Charon is a dual planet, each revolving around the other at the same rate so they are always facing each other. This represents the principle of complementarity, which Neils Bohr recognized at the heart of all things. It is thus not only the polarizing but the synthesizing planet, reconciling inner and outer worlds, male and female, bringing together the individual and the collective to form the creative. As our view of Pluto changes, it continues to bring forth new movements, such as ecology and feminism. Now "networking" and interdependence is replacing the older Plutonian ideal of totalitarian power. As the New Age dawns, we will discover that Pluto is primarily the planet that periodically brings new life and a renaissance of the human spirit. Pluto is linked to the sign of Scorpio and to the Eighth house, and is also strongly associated with the first sign Aries.
In the transcendental trinity of planets Uranus is the Lord of Light, Neptune is the Redeemer of Love, and Pluto is the Restorer of Life.
Some astronomers now say there may be another Planet X farther out. If so, it probably has an extremely long and eccentric orbit and has now moved deep into space, or astronomers would have spotted it by now. Some speculate that this new planet might be called Persephone and rule the sign Taurus or Libra. If so, we may expect to discover it in the Twenty-first Century; we may even find more planets beyond it. Personally, I doubt this will happen, but other, smaller planetoids may be found.
The astrological nature of the planets of the transcendental trinity are reflected in the physical traits we are discovering about them. Uranus, for example, is surrounded by brilliant white clouds that seem to radiate energy from below them. Its axis it tilted by ninety-eight degrees relative to its orbit, symbolizing its independence and deviance from the norm. Like Saturn (co-ruler of Aquarius) it has a faint set of rings. Neptune is surrounded by deep, beautiful blue-green clouds that remind us of the sea. It has a giant spot similar to Jupiter's, the other planet traditionally linked to religion and the sign Pisces. Pluto's eccentric orbit gives it the aspect of the one who probes deeply into the unknown to bring back its secrets into the world. It too is tilted on its axis, making it as unconventional, radical, and deviant as Uranus is. Its nature as a dual planet (with Charon) represents the mysterious power of inter-relationship at the heart of life.
It is no accident that we have discovered the transcendental trinity in our time. The precession cycle places us at the cusp of the Ages of Pisces and Aquarius, signs ruled by transcendental Neptune and Uranus. Prior to this, we moved through the Age of Aries, which is ruled by transcendental Pluto. These three great astrological "ages," each ruled by a transcendental planet, are and probably will remain the only three complete ages we pass through in our history here on Earth, after which we may set sail for the stars or melt away into higher dimensions. The three great ages of the precession cycle, and the successive discovery of three outer planets one after another in modern times, reveal three stages in our quest to transcend ourselves-the assertive, innovative phase (Aries, Uranus), the escapist, compassionate phase (Pisces, Neptune), and (hopefully) the creative, integrative phase (Aquarius, Pluto).
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