A Quest for Coherence
This essay promotes the view that many astrologers within our lifetimes have correlated signs, planets, and houses in ways that have brought confusion to astrology and distorted their ranges of application. Here I would like to look critically at the modern affiliation of the sign Aquarius with the planet Uranus, that Uranus is the “modern” ruler of Aquarius, either replacing or in addition to its traditional ruler or “domicile” or “house lord” Saturn.
Last year I argued against bringing together houses, signs, and planets according to the “Twelve Letter Alphabet” in an article entitled "Untangling Astrology's Symbols: Pluto and Scorpio, Neptune and Pisces". This is a continuation of my thoughts in that article.
When the outer planets Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto were discovered they soon made their way into astrology. At that time some astrologers, wishing to be modern, updated the traditional pattern of planetary rulers or domiciles of the signs of the zodiac. Previously, Sun and Moon governed the signs Leo and Cancer respectively, then the five starry planets were given two signs each. The updated version uses Uranus instead of Saturn for Aquarius, Neptune instead of Jupiter for Pisces, and Pluto instead of Mars for Scorpio. Today, some astrologers use traditional rulers only, some use modern rulers, others use “co-rulers.” I belong to the first category.
Below is a table with this information.
And to the below is a graphical layout of the traditional pattern of signs and their planetary rulers or domiciles. When the outer planets were mixed into this pattern the beauty of the original pattern was lost. You can see this in the diagram below:
In my view, this attempt to modernize astrology resulted in bringing Uranus and Aquarius together in an unhappy marriage of convenience that benefits neither Uranus nor Aquarius. They need to be liberated from each other. Let’s first look at the planet.
Uranus as Outlier
What is an “outlier”? Although used more often in recent times thanks to a best-selling book, the word is several hundreds of years old and refers to somebody who “lies” (sleeps or dwells) outside a house or communal property, in the open air. In fact, all the outer planets are outliers but Uranus seems to have this as a defining characteristic.
My favorite source for core meanings of planets is Reinhold Ebertin’s Combination of Stellar Influences ( first printing 1940). One must start somewhere. On page 58, Ebertin tells us that the basic principles of Uranus are suddenness, revolution, change. Let’s keep these in mind.
If you want to look at Uranus in terms of space, Uranus is the outlier who becomes the outside agitator who presents the system with possibilities for fundamental change.
If you want to look at Uranus in terms of time, it is the planet of abruptness, of discontinuity, surprise. The activity of Uranus does not reflect a linear sense of time or bounded spaces – instead Uranus disrupts stability and structure, it exposes openings in that world that we routinely patch together through habit and expectation.
It’s easy to see Uranus’ affiliation with lightning and earthquakes and with sudden realizations. We have experienced the suddenness of the lightening flash and some of us have experienced the surprise of the earth suddenly moving; we tend to find lightening exciting but earthquakes terrifying.
Additionally, we have all had flashes of insight, where mind jumps over a string of concepts and finds something else – a thought that seems to come from nowhere and doesn’t feel like it is ours. Astrological Uranus gives us these moments of genius, these moments of spontaneous unfettered mind.
The implication is that Uranus cannot have a fixed point of view, a particular agenda or ideology. Uranus is not humanitarian, animatarian (my word), feminist, ecological, or any of that. Uranus is not concerned with the politically correct or the socially or individually appropriate, whether among groups of right-wing plutocrat wannabes, religious fundamentalists, or even my liberal friends.
Instead, Uranus brings to light our inconsistencies and our hypocrisies, especially when our assumptions have made us too self-righteous and comfortable. Uranus represents the unsettled and outrageous in us and our lives – the truth might set us free but it also humiliates us.
We should not confuse the independent streak of Uranus with what we modern people call individualism.
Although Uranus pokes holes into social convention, it is equally adept at puncturing habitual mind. Many of us have experienced Uranus transits not as rebellion against outer structure but against ourselves and how we structure our lives. If we want to talk about individualism as being a distinct person with a core, then we need to look at Leo and the Sun, not Uranus. Individualistic rebellion that is truly Uranian is lonely and scary; if not, you’re probably looking at adolescence or Leo.
Is Uranus the planet of technology?
Yes – when a new technology first appears. It’s a breakthrough, dissolving the sense of what is possible. Yet once invention becomes assimilated to daily life, it is no longer Uranian but Mercurial. Think of your relationship with the device you are using to read this article or what you used to print it out.
Is Uranus the planet of astrology?
Sure, from the viewpoint of the person who has just had his or her natal chart interpreted and for whom a new sense of reality has emerged. Perhaps also for the astrologer whose use of the structures and symbols of astrology open up new insights and perspectives. I confine Uranus and astrology to these situations.
Uranus is the indeed the planet of revolutions – political, social, or cultural – but this can only take us so far. We know from our history and today’s world that dramatic change is followed by either reaction or by assimilation and new equilibrium. In either case, Uranus did its job and other factors take over afterwards.
The relationship of Uranus with inner planets or personal sensitive points may tell us where in life a person experiences instability and moments of genius, difficulties settling down to one mode of functioning, and possibilities of major change during one’s lifetime. It is a place where we experience sudden transitions from which we reformulate and revisit and revise, bringing about a new dynamic equilibrium.
Sometimes aspect relationships from Uranus help define a person’s life, yet these situations are more the exception than the rule. For example, Alan Turing had Uranus conjunct his Midheaven and that Friedrich Nietzsche had Uranus in close opposition to Mercury (and Sun opposite Pluto). The former developed the concepts and technology that would become the computer, and he never ceased to be an outsider. The latter, a tormented intellectual who despised his own tendencies toward conventional virtue, aimed at a "revaluation of all values" and his writings were meant to disturb, not to attract disciples. A contemporary person with the same configuration of Mercury and Uranus is Edward Snowden but with a different manifestation. I trust the interested reader will find his or her own examples of people whose lives demonstrated a Uranian influence that impacted the larger world.
Transits of Uranus to planets and personal sensitive points bring occasions of disruption and change but usually in a temporary way. However, when the fault lines under the person’s life are strained, a Uranus transit can cause the ground to shift and that can have lifetime consequences.
Aquarius is Something Different
We now turn our attention to Aquarius, and I will present it by responding to some of the descriptions of the sign from modern astrological literature. For now, keep in mind simply that Aquarius has the element air and the mode of fixed.
I return to The Astrologer’s Handbook by Frances Sakoian and Louis Acker, first published in 1973, one of the first astrology books I studied. It provides a depiction of Aquarius as indistinct from Uranus which presents problems.
“Since the planet Uranus rules Aquarius, friendship and companionship are extremely important to Aquarians…Born under a fixed sign, Aquarians have eccentric temperaments and are determined and stubborn…The influence of Uranus promotes an honest enjoyment in meeting new people and exchanging ideas. Aquarians’ group instinct will always direct them to where there are people, or else people will come to them.” (p. 56-57)
To begin, friendship and companionship are not Uranian areas of life. My usual resource on the topic of friendship is from the ancient world, Books 8 and 9 of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. Aristotle divides friendship into three kinds: those of pleasure, convenience, and virtue:
- Most of us had predominantly friendships of pleasure when young – the “gang” to hang out with and to derive our identity from.
- Friendships of convenience are situational but equally important. They are often based on common interests; they are also why people tolerate going to work each day.
- Friendships of virtue, in which the individuals encourage the best in each other, are more stable, consisting of far more caring than clinging. They are Aquarian, not Uranian, in keeping with Aquarius being both an air sign and fixed. It may be that these three kinds of friendship move along a Leo-Aquarius continuum.
The influence of Uranus promotes an appetite for newness, although I would not confuse that with friendliness, for Uranus by itself is too unstable and irregular to maintain steady relationships. Aquarius is often associated with the quality of kindness (and I agree), on the cool and non-clingy side, and this quality is irrelevant to Uranus.
I classify Uranian friendships as friendships of convenience. These friends would be your partners in brain-storming, those who inspire you to seek the “road less traveled”, to understand a problem or come up with innovative strategies. When these needs have passed, however, the alliance fades into the background until a situation calls for collaboration once again.
Aquarius is fixed and airy and this is what accounts for its group instincts.
But what kind of group instinct is it?
Certainly not that which desires to be “trendy” or be “cool” – again, that’s more Leo and the Sun. Instead the group orientation of Aquarius is mostly mental, from shared ideals or principle. This also includes its tendency to stand apart when principles are compromised – for the sake of the group, not to hoist one’s flag of personal ego. I dare say that Aquarius is rather conservative when it comes to embodying the ideals of whatever larger entity it is involved with.
Sakoyan and Aker bring together eccentricity (Uranus) and stubbornness (the fixed nature of Aquarius). This is strange. Placed together, they seem like a description of a classifiable character disorder, or at least one whose steady crankiness most people would find hard to tolerate.
Another source on Aquarius from about the same time period is Marcia Moore and Mark Douglas, Astrology: The Divine Science, another book I studied when I was first learning astrology. Their description uses Uranus and Saturn as co-rulers for Aquarius.
“People born with Sun in Aquarius are charged with a subtle electricity which works quietly but effectively to make them more dynamic than they seem…The Aquarian who lives up to his inner potential can transcend ordinary limitations by invoking nature’s higher laws, and he sees nothing mysterious about doing so. Therefore, the sign is associated with both Saturn (law) and Uranus (breakthroughs)…The Sun is in detriment in Aquarius. Symbolically this shows that the desires of the individual personality must now be subordinated to the requirements of society as a whole.” (p. 163-4)
This seems closer to the sign Aquarius than the previous description. Moore and Douglas focus on the understated nature of the “Aquarian” personality, drawing an implicit contrast between Aquarius and the opposite sign that the Sun rules – Leo. (A planet in detriment is always in a sign opposite to its ruling sign or domicile.) Planets in Aquarius lack ostentatious display and are instead cool, measured, and attempt to be reasonable. This is not Uranus. As a fixed air sign, Aquarius balances tolerance with the notion that its ideas are the best. Aquarius can present a smug reasonableness that the planet Uranus loves to puncture.
Where do the ideas and ideals of Aquarius come from?
This follows from Aquarius being an air sign, and all the air signs handle multiplicity in different but complementary ways. Gemini handles multiplicity by allowing all aspects of a situation (or the world at large) to emerge and enjoying their dynamic interplay. Libra reconciles and harmonizes, of course. Aquarius, however, organizes multiplicity according to context, principles and ideals. This doesn’t feel like the kind of otherworldly “higher law” mentioned in the quoted paragraph above, but it does reach for a larger perspective.
Moore and Douglas also note the need in Aquarius for the larger group or society to be its reference point. If we wish to assign Leo to “personal ego”, then Aquarius becomes “social ego”. Both are implications of the fixed mode of Leo and Aquarius.
Once again, the “breakthrough” quality above is not the nature of Aquarius as a fixed sign but that of the planet Uranus. Unfortunately, the end of their description shoehorns Uranus into an otherwise fine depiction of the sign Aquarius.
Sometimes descriptions of the sign Aquarius simply subsume the sign into the planet Uranus. Closer to our day is Joyce Levine’s A Beginner’s Guide to Astrological Interpretation (1992),where she states that,
"Like all air signs, Aquarius faces life through his intellect, but through his Uranian rulership ideas come to him in moments of inspiration that appear like a lightening flash. He’s a mental pioneer, who’s individualistic, creative, and inventive. He doesn’t care about the past or tradition. Aquarius believes in breaking down boundaries and moving into new territory...”
Adding that Aquarius people are friendly and outgoing Levine then says,
“He views the world from a detached perspective that borders on coldness and can’t understand when others don’t do the same…His freedom means more to him than any person, and a lasting friendship must be based upon freedom of choice and separate identities….”
Here’s a current description of Aquarius from the internet that is Uranus with a mere hint of Aquarius. Here, under the title “Aquarius in a Nutshell” in which, ironically, I find more ideology than insight, (downloaded January 2015):
“Aquarius is the sign of visionaries, unconventionality and intellectual independence. Aquarius are the people who deviate from the crowd and go their own way. They are always after intellectual stimulation, constantly discovering something new, forming new opinions and stubbornly traveling their way regardless of what other people think. Aquarius are filled with paradoxes, they are interested in the opposite ends of the spectrum, they like to be alone yet are social butterflies, they like to experience both sides and see both opinions as they formulate new ideas with their forward thinking, active mind. Aquarius have a 'live and let live' policy where everyone is free to be themselves, an Aquarius never judges others because as human beings, we are all equal and entitled to our own opinions…."
“They welcome change because boredom is their enemy. Anything new is an opportunity to Aquarius. Aquarius can act as an expert on any topic, they are very good at inflating their own importance, they feel it is deserved because their eccentricity makes them unique. Conventional people beware, Aquarius likes to shock and deviate from the norm, this is how they live. Aquarius is known to pick at anyone they find weak or
dull-minded. It is simply an easy target for verbal exercise for them, no harm is meant but it might be taken from the other person. “
Having said all this that is the nature of Uranus, I find its concluding sentence difficult to reconcile with the previous material:
“Deep inside, Aquarius would never intentionally hurt anyone, they have respect for every human, even thought this might not seem apparent to the more emotional types.”
“Picking at anyone they find weak or dull-minded” certainly demonstrates a lack of respect for every human. Aquarius would care, I doubt Uranus would.
Closer to the mark seem to be depictions of Aquarius that arises from the zodiac as a cycle. In this view, pioneered by Dane Rudhyar, Capricorn completes the growth of the collective self but requires the following Aquarius to stay true to its basic principles. The cyclic depiction of the zodiac goes far to illustrate basic meanings of the signs of the zodiac, but is vitiated by being based on the cycles of day and night in the Northern Hemisphere alone. Michael Meyer’s Handbook for the Humanistic Astrologer (1974) gives some basic concepts for us to consider:
Principle: social expression
Process: Exteriorization of social position
Purpose: Response to Social Need
Abstract Meaning: Ability to create and express in social and collective terms. Personal insecurity
Concrete Meaning: Science, music, and genius. Political movements and revolutions. Humanitarianism, group and collective ideals.
Here we see Aquarius as the whistle-blower who risks his or her career or life to expose the transgressions of the larger community for the ultimate benefit of the community.
We also find these Aquarian traits in some political leaders who innovate in order to maintain. Franklin Roosevelt created the New Deal and prevented the United States from becoming either socialist or fascist, both of which were real possibilities in the 1930’s. Roosevelt’s reforms had the effect of placing capitalism on a sounder footing than previously. Abraham Lincoln, with Sun and Ascendant in Aquarius, continually referred to the values of America’s Founding Fathers and of the Bible to provide a beacon for his war-afflicted nation. Less attractively to me, Ronald Reagan radically reorganized American fiscal policy in an attempt to restore its entrepreneurial spirit and create a freer marketplace.
Saturn ruling Aquarius? You must be kidding.
Many modern astrologers are used to thinking of Saturn as hierarchical, humorless, and rigidly oppressive and Aquarius as egalitarian, fair-minded, and innovative. By this measure Saturn seems a very unlikely candidate to govern Aquarius. We have already seen that modern descriptions usually insert meanings that more properly belong to Uranus. Additionally much written about Saturn recites Capricorn stereotypes. Here, with Aquarius, we are talking about the diurnal Saturn, not that which is affiliated with Capricorn.
As mentioned above, the five starry planets Mercury-Saturn govern two signs: they have two domiciles or “houses”. Those who own two homes see each home bringing out different qualities in those who live there, especially one is a vacation home and the other is close to where they work.
If you are wondering how the same planet can have different identities affiliated with the two signs it governs, look no farther than Taurus and Libran Venus – the former oriented toward sense experience and luxury, the later oriented toward relationship and harmony. One could say the same with Mercury having a Gemini version and a Virgo version, one more spontaneous and the other more organized and systematic.
Capricorn Saturn (nocturnal Saturn) is more rugged, cynical, burdened and hardened, tough-minded and anything but soft. Saturn is a fine ruler for Capricorn of the nature of cardinal and earth. Saturn is also a fine ruler for the sign Aquarius – it’s just Saturn in a different house.
Aquarius Saturn (diurnal Saturn) is the same planet that is exalted in the air sign Libra: reasoning and reasonable, consistent and determined. This Saturn prides itself on objectivity, on discarding personal preference when there are important things to understand or to do. Nor does this Saturn become distracted by frivolity or personal ambition. Saturnine Aquarius has a visceral discomfort with ego-centric pseudo-Uranian grandstanding, opposing self-absorbed Leo as Capricorn Saturn opposes self-indulgently emotional Cancer. (This is from Saturn’s point of view, of course.)
When a planet is in Aquarius governed by Saturn, that planet is more detached, mental, systematic, and organized.
I close with an example:
Martin Luther King, born with Capricorn Sun at the Midheaven degree, had Mercury in the 10th house in Aquarius.
We can consider the effects of Aquarius Mercury on his oratory, the public display of his communication skills. We easily note how King aspired to extend the “American dream” to those excluded from it, and his “I Have a Dream” speech certainly pointed backward nostalgically to an American defined by its original values – as a means of moving forward.
Preparing to do an astrological profile of Martin Luther King, I found an article in the New York Review of Books written by Elizabeth Hartmann shortly after King’s assassination. Early in the article she described King as aristocratic and cool of temperament, perhaps befitting the Sun in Capricorn, but later goes on to describe his preaching style. I italicize the phrases that carry the meaning of diurnal Saturn governing Mercury in Aquarius:
“King’s language, in the pulpit and in his speeches, was effective but not remarkably interesting. His style compared well, however, with the speeches of recent Presidents and even with those of Stevenson, all of them sadly flat in print. In many ways, King was not Southern and rural in his address, although he had a melting Georgia accent and his discourse was saturated in the Bible. His was a practical mode, inspiring the Southern Negroes to the sacrifices and dangers of protest and yet reassuring them by its clarity and humanity. King’s speech was most beautiful in its sudden simplicity, as when he summed up the meaning of the gathering of poor people in Washington. “We have come for our checks!” The language of the younger generation of militants is another thing altogether. It is an effort to share the brutal life of the city poor—a Godless people, if the rhetoric is a true indication. It is also a repudiation of false courtesy and bureaucratic euphemism.”
From Hartmann, “The Apotheosis of Martin Luther King”, NYRB May 9, 1968)
It is not such a leap, but it may be a breakthrough, for modern astrologers to begin to see Aquarius not as Uranian but as Saturnine.
Looking at the sign Aquarius and severing its purported tie with Uranus raises the important question of the status of Neptune with Pisces and Scorpio with Pluto, and indeed this is toward where our attention should also go. I urge the sympathetic reader to apply the logic applied here toward thinking about nocturnal Jupiter governing Pisces, nocturnal Mars governing Scorpio. I do not think this will be as large a leap as applied to diurnal Saturn and Aquarius.