Notes on the Age of Aquarius


What is the Age of Aquarius, anyway?

The Age of Aquarius (or the 'new age') is the term used to describe a planet-wide phase in the cyclic evolution of humanity that reflects the character and themes associated with the sign Aquarius. Aquarius is the visionary intellectual of the zodiac, linked with science and technological advances, as well as systems-based (i.e., looking at the whole from an aerial perspective to see how all the parts fit together) modes of thinking. To that extent, Aquarius is also considered a sign centered on humanitarian principles, cooperative living and social responsibility. In addition, Aquarius is linked to unorthodox philosophies, including astrology and other so-called 'occult' studies.

What age is it now?

For the past 2,000 years or so, our global civilization has been passing through the Age of Pisces. Pisces is a highly sensitive and spiritually bent sign, and the start of the Piscean Age roughly coincided with the lifetimes of Jesus Christ and the Buddha, around whom the development of organized religion as a worldwide force was based. (There's a neat synchronicity with both Pisces and Christianity represented by the symbol of the fish.) During this period, the idealized spiritual seed of every person as a 'son (or daughter) of God' spread into consciousness, along with the widespread romanticism of interconnectedness and sacrifice or surrender to higher power (often times, a religious hierarchy rather than a 'God' figure) associated with Pisces.

What determines which age it is?

The astrological ages are based upon the phenomenon called the precession of the equinoxes, an astronomical concept I will attempt to explain in simple terms.

First, if you extend the Earth's equator (a line formed by the Earth's daily rotation) infinitely into space, you create what's known as the equatorial plane. Next, if you follow the path of the Earth's orbit around the Sun and extend that infinitely into space, you get the ecliptic plane. Most of the celestial bodies in our solar system also orbit in this same ecliptic plane.

Because the Earth rotates on its axis at a tilt of approximately 23.5 degrees, these two planes do not coincide. Instead, they intersect at two points, known as the spring and fall equinoxes. These intersections are also referred to astrologically as 0 degrees Aries (spring in the northern hemisphere) and 0 degrees Libra (fall), and they serve as reference points for the division of the ecliptic into the twelve zodiac signs. With me so far?

Here's where it gets a little more confusing. See, before the establishment of this mathematically exact 360-degree zodiac wheel along the ecliptic, skygazers used groupings of stars they identified as constellations to mark celestial motion. These constellations bear the same names as the signs into which the zodiac wheel is divided—but they are not the same thing. (This is where most people get lost.) At a certain time in history, the signs and the constellations did coincide. But over time, these two separate systems of reference (with the same names!) have diverged from one another. Currently, when the spring equinox rolls around—which, by definition, places the Sun at 0 degrees Aries on the zodiac wheel of signs—the Sun's location, in relation to the constellations, is in Pisces, near its border with Aquarius. That is the basis for astrologers' assertion that we are at the end of the Piscean Age, approaching entrance into the Age of Aquarius.

Due to the Earth's wobble on its rotational axis, the Sun's equinox location as measured against the fixed stars moves 'backward' through the constellations at a rate of about 1 degree every 72 years. This is the precession of the equinoxes. And each astrological age, as defined this way, lasts approximately 2,160 years.

You mean there are two zodiacs? And the Sun is at 0 degrees Aries while, at the same time, traveling through the constellation of Pisces? You astrologers are crazy!

Some foes of astrology use this difference as proof that astrology doesn't work ('astrologers are so uninformed, they don't even know that the zodiac doesn't match the constellations'), as if we're so asleep at the wheel, we've never noticed it before. ('Gee, thanks, Mr. Scientist, silly ol' me never thought about that before… duh, der, doi…') No, instead, we have multiple schools of astrology. Some (like mine and that of most Western astrologers) follow the tropical zodiac, that 'imaginary' fixed circle of 12 equal 30-degree sign divisions. Others use the sidereal zodiac, which maps the sky using the actual constellations. Both schools work, since astrology is ultimately based on cycles and relationships, rather than any single reference point.

When does the Age of Aquarius actually begin? Has it started yet?

Alas, this is a question without a single clear answer. The main cause of its unanswerability is the imprecision of boundaries between the constellations. Because groupings of stars change over historical time, and because of all the 'empty space' in the sky between stars, it's impossible to determine with certainty where, say, Pisces ends and Aquarius begins. Likewise, it also prevents astrological historians from figuring out exactly when in history the tropical (sign) and sidereal (constellation) zodiacs coincided.

For our purposes, though, I think it is less important to know exactly when the Aquarian Age begins. Rather, since we are talking about 2,100-year ages, it is enough to know that our entire lifetime should be considered as part of the cusp (or transition) period between the Piscean Age and the Age of Aquarius. I feel we're quite lucky to live through a cusp period, a time when elements of both ages converge in a concentration of climactic-seeming events and changes. Doesn't it feel like this is an unusual, transitional, dense, chaotic time in which to be alive?

What can we expect from the Age of Aquarius, and why is this especially significant now, in January 2004?

I think I've written enough for this week, so you'll have to wait for next week to hear more about why I've chosen to raise these Aquarian Age issues now.