The astrological sign Aquarius (January 20 – February 18) is ruled by the planet Uranus. Uranus is named after the ancient sky god and father of the Titans, Ouranos (meaning sky). In the mythology of ancient Greece and Rome the sky god and his wife, Gaia (Earth) were the original procreators – the parents of Saturn and grandparents of Saturn’s children: Jupiter, Pluto, Neptune, Vesta, Ceres and Juno. It is appropriate that the planet Uranus is found two orbits (or two generations) beyond Jupiter.*
Uranus is rather different from the other planets of our solar system. It is aquamarine-blue and its north-south axis tilts ninety-eight degrees, causing it to spin on its side. It has rings as well as twenty-seven known moons. Several of its moons orbit in a direction that is opposite to the spin of the planet and its other moons, and there are occasional collisions. This offers a good picture of the eccentricity of Uranus and also of those born under the astrological sign Aquarius.** Fittingly, Aquarian behavior is considered to be unusual, contradictory, sudden and unexpected.
One year on Uranus lasts for eighty-four Earth years and has four extreme seasons. For twenty-one years its northern hemisphere is in darkness, as its North Pole tips away from the Sun. This is followed by twenty-one years of normal days and nights. Then its northern hemisphere experiences twenty-one years of daylight as its North Pole tips toward the Sun, followed by twenty-one years of normal days and nights. In an oddly similar way Aquarius people display a matching behavior pattern – they tend to hold a position (i.e. insist on a novel idea or a belief) for an extended period until it is accepted by society. And then, when something new is understood, they turn their focus away from the long-held belief and concentrate on affirming the new object of interest, insisting on its truth, until it is accepted. People born under the fixed sign Aquarius can be irritatingly adamant about their ideas!
We can learn more about the character of Aquarius by examining the Classical myths associated with Vesta (who the Greeks knew as Hestia), the goddess of home and hearth. There are very few stories about her, but even this detail is telling. She does not have a big personality like Jupiter or Venus, and almost everything we know about Vesta revolves around what she does for others. But it is clear that she displays distinct “humanitarian” behaviors – which are linked with the Aquarian modus operandi.
Ancient images of Vesta show her modestly dressed and veiled. And according to legend, during a time of strife among the gods, Vesta made a vow of eternal virginity, sacrificing the right to marry and have children, in order to end discord between her rival suitors on Mount Olympus. As a reward for preserving the peace, Jupiter gave Vesta the special honor of being worshipped in every home and temple as “goddess of the hearth” and “guardian of the community”. The notion of doing something for the greater good is a common theme associated with Aquarius.
In another tale Vesta is the first of the Olympians to acknowledge the god Dionysus, and she gives up her seat on the Council of the Gods so that newly-arrived Dionysus (also known as the “approaching god”) might have a place among his peers. As there are only twelve thrones on Olympus, Vesta’s sacrifice is extreme. This is another example of considering ‘what is fair’ in regard to others. It is also a demonstration of characteristic Aquarian behavior – of accepting the new and unknown (i.e. Dionysus) before it is universally recognized. How fitting that Aquarius has jurisdiction over things that are original!
Please note that the hearth in every home and at the center of every community of the ancient world was a representation of the sacred, sacrificial altar. The sacred hearth was the place where one life (vegetable or animal) was sacrificed to feed both mankind and the gods. Humans were said to consume the material aspects of the sacrifice while the gods received the subtle invisible aspects, such as human prayer, carried to heaven on the smoke of the hearth’s fire. This is apt because Vesta, goddess of the sacred hearth, embodies sacrifice.
As a mythological personification of Aquarius, Vesta seems an appropriate representative for her grandfather, Uranus (Aquarius’ planet ruler), because her behavior echoes the quality of his ‘sky-like’ physicality. That is – Vesta’s influence is universal (an altar in every home and temple) but at the same time, materially insubstantial (neither physical throne nor seat of power). One might also think of this as a description of the feel of the astrological influence of Uranus which has the unexpected and almost indefinable quality of ‘sweeping change’ that spontaneously occurs. For example, almost all of those born between 1941 and 1949 have Uranus in Gemini. This shared planetary placement bestowed a shared world view in regard to youthful rebellion and an interest in mind-expanding experimentation, as demonstrated when the Uranus-in-Gemini generation came of age during the 1960s and 1970s.
Vesta’s deeds suggest the Aquarian principle of brotherhood (e.g. accepting Dionysus into the brotherhood of gods) and the broad perspective that puts the needs of others at the same level of importance as one’s own needs. Vesta’s behavior is a perfect representation of one side of the Aquarian nature, but it is important to remember that Vesta gave her throne to Dionysus, the eccentric god of wine and ritual ecstasy. And Dionysus represents the ‘other side’ of the Aquarian nature which includes things wild and foreign that have not yet been incorporated into society.
Like Aquarians everywhere, Dionysus, the god of epiphany, does not react well to those who do not accept the new truth he brings. Though Dionysus is never violent himself, those who negate or mistreat him are driven mad by strange and unexpected changes in their environment, and are then destroyed by the crazed people that surround them. (Is this a mythological metaphor representing what happens when we fail to live in the present and to recognize the truth?) It is also rather interesting that ancient images of Dionysus usually show him carrying a jug just like the Water-Carrier of the Aquarius constellation.
Dionysus, pictured on this Attic pottery vase, is accompanied by a few of his followers (maenads and satyrs), crowned with ivy leaves, and carrying his trademark vessel.
Overall, Aquarians are tolerant and open to things that are new and different. This trait can represent a threat to the ‘established order’ for many people. Some may even feel that Aquarians are peculiar and a bit cold (like their icy ruler, Uranus, with its anomalously low core temperature), and in a sense, this is true. Aquarians are often unconventional, and their inclination to favor ‘mind’ over ‘emotion’ can diminish their ability to comprehend the feelings of others, which tends to blind them to appropriate behavior. But even with the upheaval something different inevitably brings, and the problems Aquarians may have with conventional social standards, they are fully able to be good friends. They lend personal support in word and deed when a fellow human suffers or is not being treated fairly.
Aquarians seem to be essential to the activities of large organizations and peer-group activities and they enjoy working toward shared goals. However, it should be mentioned that despite their focus on human fellowship and fair play Aquarians may intentionally transgress social taboos for fun (enjoying the shock effect on the ‘old guard’). They can also be surprisingly snobbish and scornful of stale social mores. The contradictions never end!
Similar to their paradoxical planet-ruler Aquarius people can be interesting, amusing, self-effacing, and obstinately opinionated, all at the same time. Like Gemini and Libra, Aquarius is an air sign, despite its Water-Carrier constellation. Some say that the Water-Carrier symbol represents Aquarius pouring out new ideas for the benefit of mankind, as refreshment for those who thirst.
*See Solar System image in earlier post: “Goddess in the Details – Virgo”.
**Some astrologers feel that Saturn rules and/or co-rules Aquarius.