Aquarius: The Water Bearer

From the flooded banks of the Nile to the brimming beaker of Science, the Water Bearer brings with it an impartial generosity and detached humanist perspective. But to reach its true potential, this fixed air sign must operate within its own structure, no matter how abstract.

Published Categorized as Fundamentals
Aquarius the water bearer
Aquarius the water bearer, colored engraving by S. Hall.

Aquarius pouring out his Urn, imparts
An useful Knowledge in resembling Arts,
To find out Springs, and with new Streams supply
The Barren Countries, and refresh the dry;

– Marcus Manilius, Astronomica tr. Thomas Creech

Sign Summary

  • Element: Air
  • Group: Fixed
  • Ruler: Saturn
  • Dates: Jan. 19 – Feb. 18
  • Symbol: human figure on one knee pouring water from a jug

Star Lore

In late winter in the Greco-Roman world, as the constellation of the Water Bearer synced up with the path of the sun across the sky, the rainy season would begin, bringing with it both purifying rains and devastating floods. The Romans called this month Februarius, the month of purification.  The feast of Lupercalia, falling on the 15th day of this shortest of months, saw acolytes strip naked and run through the streets whipping women with goat hide strips in a raunchy ritual meant to ensure fertility and easy childbirth, a pagan predecessor to St. Valentine’s day.

The link between the sign of the Water Bearer and purification, as well as fertility, has a long history. The Babylonians associated the constellation with Ea, the sexless deity of water and streams, whereas in Egypt it was associated with the even more ancient Hap, the personification of the Nile that poured water onto the Earth from two jugs. This association is likely connected to the fact that when the full moon occurred in the constellation of Aquarius, the Nile would overflow its banks, quenching the desert’s thirst and depositing fertile silt on the river banks. The Egyptian hieroglyph, Mu, would also form the basis of the symbol eventually used for the zodiac sign we now call Aquarius.

A winter landscape
The month January and the sign of Aquarius, represented by a winter landscape, the dream of Saint Joseph, and the Flight into Egypt.

Eschewing the flood symbolism of their predecessors, the Greeks associated this sign with Ganymede, the youth considered so beautiful that Zeus went down to Earth in the form of an eagle and carried him back to Olympus to serve as the god’s cupbearer. With this legend, Aquarius came to be associated with brotherly, homosexual, or prepubescent love unsullied by lust, as well as youth and, to a certain extent, barrenness. Even now, modern interpretations of the Water Bearer tend to emphasize this dry, barren quality over the sign’s original watery nature. But what more can we learn about Aquarius, what some have called the “lost water sign”?

Characteristics

The 11th sign of the zodiac, Aquarius is a fixed air sign, masculine and considered somewhat barren. Its traditional ruler is Saturn, the diurnal malefic with qualities of limits, restraint, and detachment. Just as Saturn is seen as being in opposition of the Sun, Aquarius represents the triumph of an egalitarian worldview over the fiery ego of Leo, its opposing sign. Unlike Capricorn, which shares Saturn as a ruler, Aquarius dislikes hierarchy and privilege, preferring instead freedom, fairness, and equality, making it more akin to Libra, a fellow air sign. Unimpressed by celebrity, the Aquarian refuses to recognize borders between people, often placing much value in the interconnectedness of human beings above any outwardly perceived difference of status.

This egalitarian approach gives Aquarius the reputation of being “the sign of the ordinary person.” Aquarians tend to exhibit a detached interest in humanity as a whole, albeit sometimes in the abstract sense of the word. Many Aquarians are engaged in some sort of humanitarian cause, having the distinct ability to look beyond themselves for the benefit of the masses. Service, in some form, is a marked concern of many born under this sign. Valens specifically cites this tendency as generosity, akin to flowing water, with Aquarius granting unto the world their knowledge and unique perspective just as its ancient avatars granted the life-giving gift of flowing water. In contemporary astrology, however, Aquarius as an air sign is more apt to be associated with electrical currents or radio waves, new currents that bring light and knowledge across great distances. There are few things quite as Aquarian as the internet – an invisible, worldwide network that connects humanity and allows individuals to share knowledge and interests. And no matter how niche those interests are, chances are you’ll find a community.

A woman walking in the rain as a figure in the clouds pours a bucket
A woman walking in the rain as a figure in the clouds pours a bucket; representing Aquarius in the astrological year.

Natives born under this sign tend to be mild-mannered, and at least outwardly social, a consequence of their humanitarian nature. But as a fixed sign, even the most introverted Aquarian is clear on their opinions and won’t hesitate to defend them when need be. Aquarians do develop a fixed moral code, but as an air sign, that code might tend to be more abstract than that of a Leo or Taurus. More extroverted natives may be extremely outspoken, sometimes to the point of tactlessness. They are generally turned off by feigned or exaggerated displays of familiarity and tend toward the intellectual rather than the emotional. Some are downright uncomfortable with intimacy and have trouble connecting to deep emotions.

Aquarians can have a pleasant conversation with almost anyone and exhibit a detached interest in who the other person is and what makes them tick. The keyword here, however, is detached – passing interest makes way for coldness for the 99% of humanity that the Aquarian decides is not worth pursuing a relationship with. The remaining 1%, the select few that the Aquarian considers true friends, are deeply important to the native, with some prominent Aquarians even tending toward the excesses of cronyism. True friendship is deeply important for Aquarians, with some seeking it from romantic partners as well as in more platonic relationships. The relationships that natives born under the sign of the Water Bearer put the most effort into are the ones they have chosen themselves. Blood is not thicker than water for the Aquarian, and freedom of choice in friendship and romance is paramount.

Even in friendship, however, Aquarians try to preserve their impartiality. Even if you despise a certain someone or something, your Aquarius friend will likely give them the benefit of the doubt until they have had the chance to decide how they feel about them. They want to be on the side of “truth”, a truth they ultimately have to determine themselves. For all its generosity and inclination toward progress, Aquarius is still a fixed sign. Natives born under this sign still need structure and principles, ideals and structure to stand by to guide them on the path of progress. This creates a tension within Aquarians between tolerance and intolerance, partiality and impartiality, flexibility and inflexibility. No matter how humane they seem, they can still have trouble learning or taking direction from others and value their own opinion above all, which some may interpret as arrogance. The idealistic Aquarius can struggle with the difference between their ideals and reality, becoming dogmatic even.

Aquarius painting by Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis, 1907
Aquarius painting by Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis, 1907

The Sun sees its fall in Aquarius, as the sign is the domain of its nemesis, Saturn. Apart from the psychological consequences of being born under a sign that values social consciousness over veneration of the ego, Aquarians tend not to be terribly robust. What they may lack in physical heartiness they often tend to make up for in intellectual aptitude. Many Aquarians have considerable powers of concentration, with the capacity to apply themselves quite single-mindedly to any mental challenge they face. This clarity of mind, reasoned impartiality and lucid and far-seeing perspective is inherent in Aquarius as an air sign, with the symbolism of free-flowing water making way for the more modern associations like the wide open sky and space.

Many Aquarians may pursue careers having to do with science and technology, or those connected to aviation or space exploration. Fields that deal in learning and the pursuit of knowledge, especially teaching and philosophy, are associated with Aquarius. Of the human body, the sign rules the ankles and the circulatory system in complement to Leo’s rulership of the heart. The humanitarian ideal of progress is dominant nowadays in contemporary discussions of Aquarius. The current Aquarian age is supposed to be characterized by renewal, the brother- and sisterhood of humankind, the pursuit of ideals that transcend political and social boundaries. As technology has progressed, the generosity of the Water Bearer can be seen in the proliferation and flow of information around the globe at ever faster rates. In this knowledge may lie the key to realizing the path to betterment for all humankind, just as Aquarius would want it. But just as a river can overflow its banks, the generosity offered by the Water-Bearer needs structure, understanding and ideals to be realized without humankind being overwhelmed by the flood.

References

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