On February 16th, the Sun enters the astronomical constellation of Aquarius, or the Water Bearer, where it journeys until March 12th. During these weeks, how can we learn to better understand the spiritual realities of this constellation?
One way is to read Willi Sucher on the associations of the constellations with the great evolutionary cycles which Rudolf Steiner describes in Occult Science An Outline.[i] Another way is to ponder the imagination of the Greek myth of Aquarius which associates it “with the goddess Hebe, who provided the Olympian gods with nectar and ambrosia, the heavenly, or cosmic food which gave them eternal youthfulness. For some reason Hebe lost her high office… Therefore, Zeus had to look for another cup-bearer. The Eagle (constellation Aquila) was sent down to search for a substitute. He found Ganymede, the son of a King of Troy, and carries him on his wings up to Olympus to take over the office of Hebe.” The important point in this myth is that it reflects a fundamental change in human consciousness during Greek times, when the role of the human being in the affairs of the gods begins to come into play. Now “a mortal had become the caretaker of the food of the cosmos, a tremendous change and perspective of a future relationship between all humanity and the cosmos.” [ii] How will humanity further take on the care of the food (life) from the cosmos? It is worth noting that the Water Bearer, Aquarius, is the only fully human representation in the zodiac. Even Castor and Pollux of Gemini have partial divine heritage.
These transitions in the evolution of human consciousness are carried in the realm of Aquarius in another significant way. Aquarius is that constellation through which the vernal point will pass during the 6th Cultural Age within the current longer cycle of our 5th Post-Atlantean Epoch. So we can say that Aquarius carries our future evolution, but in what way? Rudolf Steiner describes the evolution of human consciousness which unfolds over cycles of time of which the cultural ages are one cycle within larger cycles. We are currently in the 5th cultural age, the Age of Pisces, and are preparing now for the 6thAge, the Age of Aquarius. These ages are defined by the location of the vernal equinox, which is that point on the path of the sun (called the ecliptic) which intersects the celestial equator (the plane of the earth’s equator projected out into space) as shown in the star image in this article. Due to the “wobble” of the earth, this point moves very slowly over time, passing backwards along the zodiac through the constellations, thus defining the changing relationship between Earth/ Sun and the greater cosmos of stars. This is called the precession of the equinoxes, as it determines the location of the spring or vernal equinox and the opposite autumnal equinox. This point takes 2,160 years to move 30 degrees, which is the basic length of a zodiac constellation, with variations. Therefore it takes 25,800 years for one full rotation around the zodiac. This full cycle is called a Platonic Year, so named after Plato, who called it “the perfect year”.
There are various dates given for the start of the Age of Aquarius. Working strictly from the astronomical date based on the boundaries for the zodiacal constellations established by the International Astronomical Union in the 1930s, Aquarius begins at 327.83 degrees of the ecliptic. Therefore, many astronomers calculate the Age of Aquarius as starting in the year 2,597 AD. However, it is important not to become too fixed on an exact degree point, but rather see the transition as a process in changing consciousness with a new era dawning over time. Just as one can calculate hour and minute when the Sun rises above the eastern horizon, so can one experience the dawn as a process of the awakening day.[iii] Also in the sky image in this article you will see that there are red astronomical “demarcation” lines/boxes that give boundaries to the constellations. However if you remove the lines, and look at the pictures alone, you can see that the water of the Water Bearer and the western Fish of Pisces actually overlap. So, does the Aquarian Age start when the vernal point touches this water, even though technically it is still in the Fishes? Perhaps the words of the very popular song proclaiming “this is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius” in 1969 might have some truth.
What then are the signs of the coming 6th Cultural Age? What is the call for the dawning of the Age of Aquarius and how can humanity prepare for it? The task of the current 5th Age is to develop the consciousness soul, to become fully an individual human on earth. In the 6th Age, humanity will develop the Spirit Self and begin its re-ascent to conscious participation with the spiritual world. Just as in the current Age of Pisces, humanity masters the physical world of matter and fully develops the sense of the independent self, so in the 6th Aquarian Age humanity will learn to work consciously with the life forces, the etheric realm, the “cosmic water” and come to fully recognize our spiritual brotherhood, the universal human community based in freedom. If one has eyes to see, the seeds for these characteristics of the 6th Age are already present in the conflicts and choices currently unfolding in humanity.
In a lecture given by Rudolf Steiner titled Preparing for the Sixth Epoch [iv], he speaks at length of the 6th Cultural Age and of three major characteristics which “should be carried in our hearts… is our task to prepare them.” He also makes it clear that these characteristics will appear only in that part of humanity which has not “fallen short” of the development necessary to carry evolution forward.
First he describes a moral characteristic:
“There is lacking in human society nowadays a quality that, in the sixth epoch, will be a characteristic of those who reach the goal of that epoch, and have not fallen short of it.. the most highly cultured will not only feel pain such as is caused today by the sight of poverty, suffering and misery in the world, but will experience the suffering of another human being as their own suffering... in the sixth epoch the well-being of the individual will depend entirely upon the well-being of the whole.”
He then describes a second fundamental characteristic:
“…everything we call the fruits of belief today will depend to a far, far higher degree than is the case today, upon the single individuality… in every sphere of religion in the sixth epoch, complete freedom of thought and a longing for it will so lay hold of men that what a man likes to believe, what religious convictions he holds, will rest wholly within the power of his own individuality. Everyone [who has moved forward] will feel that complete freedom of thought in the domain of religion is a fundamental right of the human being.”
The third characteristic:
“…humanity will only be considered to have real knowledge when they recognize the spiritual, when they know that the spiritual pervades the world and that human souls must unite with the spiritual. What is known as science today with its materialistic trend will certainly not be honored by the name of science in the sixth Post-Atlantean epoch. It will be regarded as antiquated superstition.”
To paraphrase, he summarizes that the purpose of spiritual science is to prepare for the approaching 6th Age. This calls for the overcoming of materialism and the preparation of the kind of science that must exist in that epoch, a science that works consciously with the etheric forces. It also requires that communities of human beings be created in which there is no dogma or blind acceptance of a teaching, but rather that all which human beings do, without exception, be built upon the soul’s freedom of thought.
Willi Sucher speaks of this future age in the following way: “The Waterman Age will see the beginning of our being imbued with faculties hitherto in the hands of divine hierarchies. The handling of etheric or life-forces is such an instance. It will place grave responsibilities on us that we will only fulfill if our moral evolution keeps pace with our occult development. In the dim future, we will be raised to the level of hierarchical existence, thus forming what is called in occultism, the Fourth Hierarchy. “Ye shall be as gods...” was the promise of the Dionysian mysteries. The prophets of the Old Testament envisaged similar aspects of future humanity, and Christ gave emphasis to these words (Gospel of St. John X). Thus, the Waterman humanity will be faced with the first steps toward those future vistas.”[v]
So, as we take some time daily to contemplate the Sun now passing through the fixed stars of Aquarius until March 12th , we can perhaps come to a deeper understanding of the spiritual realities of this constellation and be filled with devotion towards the great mysteries of the stars. We can also experience, perhaps with great pain, the forces at work in the world that would hinder this evolution. However, we can also be inspired and feel called even more to need for our own spiritual striving. We are called to already prepare for the coming Age, when the goals of humanity can be further realized and human beings can truly become brothers of Christ and participate consciously in the redemption of the Earth.
Jonathan Hilton Bio
[i] Willi Sucher, Isis Sophia II, p.66
[ii] Willi Sucher, Practical Approach I, p. 85
[iii] Rudolf Steiner indicated the start of the 6th Cultural Age as beginning in 3573, just as he indicates the cultural start of the 5th Age in 1413. A full explanation of this is not possible in this article, however it should be noted that Steiner is speaking about the realization of the impulse of the age. Just as all evolutionary cycles contain a kind of preparatory recapitulation of former ages, so the cultural impulse of each cultural age only fully arrives later in the astronomical age. An analogy could be made to human biography, in which the tasks of the current incarnation only fully come into life at about age 35. Prior experiences are a kind of recapitulation and elaboration in a new form of previous lives.
[iv] Rudolf Steiner, Preparing for the Sixth Epoch, Dusseldorf, June 15, 1915, GA 159
[v] Willi Sucher, Isis Sophia III, p.131