Aquarius

by Helen Valborg @ Theosophy Trust


AQUARIUS


The Good, the Pious, and the Just are born
When first Aquarius pours out his Urn.

Manilius

  In the silent visage of the great Sphinx is etched the attitude of the timeless Watcher who waits "through the ages for the coming of man who shall rend his earth-wrought chains and achieve the destiny of his race." On the opposite side of the zodiac, the Lion looks to the full emergence of the Aquarian Man. The great potentialities of Leo in their highest aspect await the time of their manifestation in the ascending sign of the Water-Bearer. In air the most refined and powerful fire abides.

  Aquarius represents the ideal toward which humanity is moving. The name itself is a haunting reminder of the hopes for a better world that many bury along with their all-too-fleeting youth. 'The Age of Aquarius' seems to hesitate in its dawning, whetting the longings of a world-weary generation. But no thoughtful observer of nature's process could presume that a new birth, transcending these limiting expectations, would take place until the old dead forms had disintegrated and become mere compost for the future. It has been known since ancient times that Aquarius was bound up with destruction and rebirth. This is why the Water-Bearer is linked with the great floods and with Him who rides out the deluge and lays down the seed of a new order.

  The water glyph of Aquarius is thought to hark back to Atlantean times and was followed by the simple emblem of a water jar. This seems to have illustrated the repeated process whereby the soul passed through life after life, drinking the turbid waters of the world. But with the increased manifestation of spiritual man, the emblem shifted its emphasis from the water jar to the being that bore it and the design took on the symbolic embellishments that we are familiar with today. Like the Hindu bhisti who walks the town prepared to quench one's thirst, the Water-Bearer is shown with a vase that overflows with waters which nurture the soul. The Sumerian god Anu was believed to keep the bread and water of immortal life in heaven, and because of his overflowing vase, was identified in lesser forms as the god of springs and rivers. Another name for Anu was Gula, 'the great star,' the Sumerian astronomical designation for Aquarius which literally means 'the Great Urn.' Gula was seen as a goddess who was identified with the 'dark waters' and saved the soul from death as it passed into rebirth. The Euphratean designation for Aquarius was Ramanu, 'the Exalted,' who is depicted in one bas-relief as a deity holding an urn from which flows a double stream of water. Another relief shows Ramanu clothed in a robe ornamented with symbols of five planets and holding a thunderbolt in each hand and accompanied by a leashed dragon. The connection can be made here between thunder and the giving of water through rain, but much more is implied in this elaborate and bold symbol. These meanings are echoed in the Assyrian tablets which depict the Nimrod Epic. In the eleventh tablet, representing the eleventh sign of the zodiac, the god Rimmon is shown together with the emblems of thunder, lightning and rain. The zig-zag lines projecting from the hands suggest the serpentine motion of water as well as arcane electricity.

  Aquarius is sometimes identified in the mythological figure of Ganymede, the cup-bearer of Jupiter who holds an inclined urn which pours forth a river that runs from his feet and makes its great tour over the entire globe. He was believed to have been carried away from earth by Zeus who admired his youthful beauty. In fact, Ganymede was reduced to the personification of the object of lust. This is, lamentably perhaps, borne out in the personal characteristics of the Aquarian, who is often envied by many, sought after, loved and poorly appreciated by those who may be ungrateful for his bounty. The Aquarian may squander his gifts and even endanger his own interests while friends look on and despair. But he is always saved at the 'eleventh hour' by his keen intellect and the protecting hand of 'God.' All that he has squandered is replenished easily, to be lavished once again. The Buddhist Nidana ordinarily associated with Aquarius is Jati, which belongs to the future and marks the time when the soul shall break its bonds and realize its unity with its brethren. Jati means 'birth' and is strongly reflected in the Aquarian's inclination to give freely of the fruits of his labour. He knows that they cannot but stagnate in his clutches, so his hand is always open, always seeming to deplete his riches but never closing to contain them. Ideas in thought, speech and the written word are constantly forthcoming while the inner nature maintains a cool agnosticism and confident distance from froth. The inwardly reserved person abstains from identifying with the outer vestures which his soul-powers may assume. Thus, the fully developed Aquarian is not protective of any form but acts to break them up and permit the birth of ever-new modes to take their place. If an Aquarian does not manifest the positive potential of this sign but instead is passive, this tendency to disintegration of external forms may express itself as a hypersensitivity to criticism and an inclination to 'fall apart' with its impact. Instead of transcending the pairs of opposites, the weak Aquarian becomes crushed by them. If Capricorn symbolizes a solidly independent, rock-like stance, Aquarius represents a crumbling hillside of granite. The lessons of Capricorn must be learned well before the soul is ready to blossom fully in Aquarius.

  It is after passing the tests of Saturn that Fohat, which was previously propelling man, now becomes his self-conscious instrument. The lightning and thunderbolt are symbols of the mighty force that has been emerging with increasing strength from the sign of Scorpio onwards. The wavy glyph of Aquarius signifies the final manifestation of the undulatory forces of evolution. Like two serpents, the one above is reflected in its lower counterpart, the lines indicate both electricity and its fluid medium, water. The sting of electricity is like that of the scorpion which propels Scorpio into conscious awareness of the evolutionary task ahead. This sting reveals the influence of Fohat which, like a quick bolt, breaks up the complacent stance of the personality and forces it to abandon obsolete perspectives.

  If, after countless lives of drinking the turbulent waters of the sidereal cup, the soul comes to know and refuse the draught of Lethe, its vestures may still be inadequate to retain the waters of Reminiscence, gathered in golden moments, in the drab contexts of everyday life. Hence the poignant story of the 'leaky jar' in Plato's Gorgias. By contrast, the rare soul, gifted with the power of unerring choice, may turn to the Supernal Vase and partake of the nectar of the gods, the living water of the fabled Holy Grail. At a climactic point in its pilgrimage, it may lave in 'the Elixir of Life,' the waters of immortality. When this moment is reached by that one soul among millions, the highest spiritual source can flood the entire being, conferring boundless benefit to the whole of humanity.

  The sacred alchemical phenomenon of self-transmutation is powerfully symbolized in a vision experienced by a gifted seer. In this vision there were two vases linked together with a golden chain. The upper vase was beautifully sculpted of translucent amber and filled with a shimmering liquid. The lower vase was fashioned of crude earthenware and contained dark and muddy water. A hand appeared and gently tilted the amber vase, allowing its luminous contents to pour gently into the clay jug below. The waters mingled and wherever the shimmering liquid fell, the dark fluid seethed and boiled. Bubbles rose and burst upon the surface in many colours, while the murky waters slowly began to change. Gradually, with steadily altering aspect, the waters became as clear and pellucid as the contents of the amber vessel. The unification of the Higher and Lower Self had been brought to a final and irreversible consummation. Thoth-Hermes succeeds in reconciling Horus and Set in that age yet fully to emerge – when the transmutation of the lower by the higher is universally possible.

  In Egyptian symbology the Nile was closely associated with Aquarius in a dual sense reflecting the double wavy signs of the glyph. There were two rivers in their conceptual system, which existed in heaven and on earth. The Celestial Nile was believed to flow from beneath the throne of Osiris while the Terrestrial Nile arose in 'the place of the Two Rocks,' a stone cavern reminiscent of the rocky birthplace of Capricorn. It was on an island in the Celestial Nile that Horus was born, symbolizing Jati or the new birth, and it was in a similar setting along the worldly Nile that men were afforded the means of obtaining a 'new birth' in consciousness. The androgynous god Hapi held the vessels that overflowed with the waters of celestial and terrestrial life, and the Ego could choose between the two streams. In one, he embraced Divine Wisdom or Thoth-Hermes and entered fully into Aquarius; in the other he plunged again into the River of Forgetfulness.

  At Esneh in Egypt there is a planisphere which depicts the goddess Maat with her arms fully outstretched like the beam of a scale. She represents unchanging Truth and Equilibrium and is seated beside Hapi, the Water-Bearer, who is the 'Man made Perfect.' Her two arms point to the past and future and her head is an upraised feather which balances the consummation of evolution. The combined figures symbolize the equilibrium of balanced harmony and synthesis which are the hallmarks of the Aquarian influence. After the breaking up of the old, the loosening of the bonds, there is a formation of the new which reflects the essentially synthetic nature of soul-evolution. After ages of culling the wheat of wisdom from the dead chaff of form, it is brought to the portals of culmination. Thoth-Hermes is repeatedly connected with Hapi as both the bearer of the water vessel and keeper of the Gates of Heaven, as Nebo was the Lord of Wisdom at Bab-el, the Gate of the Gods. The Egyptians held that drinking the Supernal Waters provided the key to the Immortal Gates. The Book of the Dead records this in vivid prose:

May the abyss of water be opened to me by Tehuti-Hapi (Thoth-Hapi), the lord of the horizon in my name of Opener.

  The horizon alluded to here is the meeting place between heaven and earth, and Thoth-Hapi, its Lord, is the Divine Wisdom which becomes manifest in the fully Aquarian mind. Both reason and intuition become balanced like the arms of the goddess Maat. Like the other airy signs, Aquarius tends to harmonize and synthesize that which, in some contexts, would seem to be at odds. But to express fully the fruits of this ability requires a separation out from common lines of thinking and a courage to fully explore entirely original modes of thought and expression. In this sense Aquarius and the other airy signs are like spiral movements which permit the completion of an upward curvature along the evolving zodiacal wheel. That this takes place in the case of isolated individuals, there is no doubt, but it is the universalization of this ability which is longingly anticipated by all those who are not steeped in either gross materialism or pathetic salvationism.

  The increased occurrence of this inward growth is perhaps related to the accession of the influence of Uranus, which, although not one of the seven sacred planets, is associated by some astrologers with Aquarius. It is not agreed as to which, if any, planet rules Aquarius, and there are several who have suggested that Saturn continues to hold sway over the sign just as it does over Capricorn. However, given what is known about the lessons of Capricorn, it becomes clear that, as we move steadily further into the Age of Aquarius, man will become more and more open to subtler influences. At this time most men are affected by Uranus only on the plane of the unconscious mind. The vestures of the lower mind and body are too gross to pick up the current.

  Uranus represents the Will and cannot express itself through the wilfulness that motivates the personal man, and so the affinity that it has for Aquarius remains mysterious and remote to us. There are in Greek mythology several clues as to the nature and place of Uranus in the cosmic scheme of things. These are revealed in the story of how Kronos mutilated his father Uranos or 'Heaven.' As the Heavenly Father, Uranos existed outside of Time, and though he begat offspring, he consumed them so that they were reabsorbed into the One. Eventually, however, with the impulse of creation, Uranos became Kronos who, as a symbolic son, mutilated and cut himself off from his father and fell into Time, which marked the second phase in the process of 'creation.' Significantly, Uranos is related to the Second Race while Kronos is related to the Third, which first experienced self-conscious separation. In the great process of evolution through the Fourth and Fifth races, man now approaches a condition which will permit him to begin to tap the vast potentiality that existed at the opposite descending arc of the cycle. Only now he will begin to permeate his consciousness, while in a physical vesture, with the Wisdom of Timelessness.

  The originality of thought necessary for this transformation can be acquired, in a time still heavily encased in the old modes of consciousness, only by swimming valiantly against the current of Lethe's waters. At every turn, the true Aquarian will find himself at odds with the sentiments of the present. He will be one of that lonely tribe that ventures onto the uncharted continents, turning away from the limiting guidelines of contemporary civilization. He will fight his way against the prevailing tide and find the source of the river itself and, in doing so, will discover Aquarius face to face. The river is like the lines of life that stream out like arteries from the solar source. Great indeed must be that being who holds their initial flow within his vessel. Like the heart of the sun containing, in the rhythm of its beat, the fluid that enlivens the world, the vessel passes on the precious water.

  Water, according to Thales, was, in its non-physical sense, the first principle of things. He believed, like other ancients, that it was the potential fluid of boundless space, the Alkahest or "the one and the invisible, the water, the first principle, in the second transformation." Physical water is the symbol for the world deluge which marks the end of the formal universe and the completion of a cycle through the destruction of the power which caused its components to cohere. With their disintegration, they return to the realm of Chaos which is Akasa, the luminous, fiery water of the Abyss, the metaphysical and alchemical Universal Solvent. The true Aquarian exemplifies the work of this arcane process.

In the presence of this personification of hidden wisdom the images and forms of the concrete mind disappear and are reformed and given to those who are born and come into being in the earth.

  The Alchemists identified a powerful solvent which they called Aqua Regia because of its ability to dissolve the 'noble' metals. It is composed of hydrochloric and nitric acids and acts in such a way that the hydrogen ions are released, rendering the oxidizing agent in the compound capable of breaking down and rebinding the metal substance. Prior to its release, the hydrogen itself acted as a bind upon the oxidizing agent. Symbolically, this is suggestive when it is borne in mind that hydrogen is the most pervasive, universal and ontologically prior element known in the physical universe. If one further recalls that Uranus in Aquarius represents the Will, one can interpret the released hydrogen as being freed to merge with the Universal Will, thus enabling the dissolution and reformation of new forms to take place. Locked-in hydrogen atoms can be seen as the shadowy binding force of the personality's wilfulness, while the liberated atoms immediately permit the work of evolutionary progress. This is the work of the mystical Alkahest which eventually will restore all compounds to their primeval essence and man himself to his spiritual home.

  If the soul is not to be swept away in the flood, never knowing the reason for its births, it must take command of the vessel that will cross the Abyss. When Gilgamesh, in the Babylonian Epic, reached the land beyond the sea, Tsit-Napishtin informed him how he himself had escaped death. The eleventh tablet of the Epic describes the deluge and how Ea provides the vessel which will carry Gilgamesh to the place where he will be "washed clean of leprosy" and provided with a pure vehicle, a karanasharira, through which the liberated man can manifest. The Egyptian Book of Tuot in its eleventh division corroborated the importance of dissolution of the old mental and physical vehicles when it speaks of "the entrance to the circle which judgest bodies." The vestures of the soul are tested here to see if it must descend into rebirth or ascend unto the gods. Since the vestures are the result of true knowledge, it is clear that this knowledge must be from within-without, from without-within, and through every atom of one's manifest being. By taking in the Waters of the Supernal Cup, the fully realized Aquarian obtains the perspective of the highest plane of the Astral Light, the Universal Solvent of Akasa.

  The ethical and social expression of Aquarius is yet to unfold in this world of narrow moral and political categories. But its tone has been suggested in all the world-shaking ideas put forth by the Great Teachers of the human race. These ideas are the precious drops that presage the approaching monsoon. The ideals summed up in the beautiful 'Aquarian Axioms' are the cosmic and individual basis for the social and ethical forms of the future when all men will fully understand that "Life is built up by the sacrifice of the individual to the whole." When men know through the laboratory of their own seven-fold nature that "Harmony is the law of life," and that true self-knowledge and spirituality "is the power of perceiving formless, spiritual essences," then the whole world will be ready for the revolutionary forms of the Aquarian Age. But this can only happen when the old forms have been completely dissolved, for it is truly axiomatic that "You cannot build a Temple of Truth by hammering dead stones. Its foundations must precipitate themselves like crystals from the solution of Life." The earnest seeker of the New Age will never cease looking for that solvent within himself which will break down the barriers of pseudo-objective consciousness and reveal the oneness implicit in the concept of universal relativity and relationship.

  In a crucial article which exemplifies the Aquarian mode of consciousness, H. P. Blavatsky intimated the importance of understanding the Universal Solvent of Akasa. Many great minds in this confused age are seeking to discover the correlation between higher theories in physics and the forces operating in moral, social and political relationships. They seek to discover the Alkahest that will dissolve the old methodologies and presuppositions which bind their perspectives. They strive, these few courageous ones, on the intuitive edge of their rational minds, for glimpses of the new synthesis. To them, anything is possible; nothing is impossible. Given their efforts, why then indeed do we –

who inherit so much tend to narrow the universe and put it in a little box, instead of mirroring the universe in a grain of sand and seeing it there mirrored? Instead of doing that of which the poets and the mystics speak, why do we try to behave like those individuals who, when the Bodhisattva in the guise of an elephant came striding majestically, simply clung to their particular metaphorical plank of salvation which the compassionate elephant swept aside on its way?

When will we let go the myriad forms and emulate the heroic pioneers of mankind who struggle ceaselessly against the 'evidence,' against the muddy tide? We who are privileged to live in the present can alchemize our entire sphere of influence by focussing steadily upon the Akashic archetype of the Man of the Future.

Hermes, March 1977