Aquarius (1): Standing out from the Crowd

Aquarius, by Dan Hodgkin
The Water Bearer. Aquarius is The Fixed Air sign and, like Capricorn, it  is ruled by Saturn, but is more concerned with toppling structures than with building them up, hence its association with anarchy, political and social upheaval, drastic and radical change. The whole of chapter 13 is devoted to these themes, and the image of the man carrying a jar of water (14:13) is the clearest zodiacal indicator of all. The decans are Piscis Australis (the Southern Fish), Cygnus (the Swan), and Pegasus (the Winged Horse). Both Cygnus and Pegasus are associated with the idea of going away and returning.

Mark 14

The Passover and the feast of Unleavened Bread was two days away, and the chief priests and the experts in Jewish law were looking for a way to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him, but they didn’t want to do it during the festival in case there was a riot among the people.

      While Jesus was in Bethany, eating a meal at the house of Simon the leper, a woman came in carrying an alabaster jar full of very expensive perfumed oil, pure nard. Breaking open the jar, she poured the oil on his head, to the great annoyance of some of those present. ‘Why this waste of the perfumed oil? It’s worth a year’s wages. It could have been sold and the money given to the poor.’ They were very indignant.
       But Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. Why are you bothering her? She’s done a lovely thing for me. The poor are always with you, and you can always do good to them whenever you want to, but you won’t always have me around. She has done what she could. She has anointed my body in anticipation of my burial. I’m telling you the truth, wherever the good news is preached throughout the world, what this woman has done will be spoken of. She will be remembered for it.’
       Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray Jesus to them. They were delighted, and promised to pay him, so he began looking for a suitable time to hand him over.
       On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb was customarily slaughtered, his disciples said to him, ‘Where do you want us to go to prepare the Passover meal for you to eat?’ He sent off two of his disciples, saying, ‘Go into the city where a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him, and say to the master of whichever house he enters, “Where is my guest room, where I might eat the Passover with my disciples?” He’ll show you a large upper room, equipped and ready. Prepare for us there.’ The disciples left for the city and found everything just as Jesus had said; and they prepared the Passover.

Written in February 2008

‘Go into the city, where a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him.’ It was this instruction by Jesus to his apostles in chapter 14 of Mark’s Gospel which prompted me to construct the theory of the zodiacal structure of Mark in the summer of 1989. This particular passage had intrigued me throughout the twelve or so years that I had been teaching courses on the Gospels. Who was this man? He’s not named. There is no mention of him before this incident, and he disappears from the narrative immediately afterwards. The fact that Jesus knew he would be there – just as he appeared to know that there would be a horse waiting for him on which he could ride into Jerusalem – would seem to suggest either that he had remarkable powers of foresight, or that he had set the whole thing up in advance. While this latter is a possibility, the text gives no indication of it, and the historically minded among us are left wondering why such a strange meeting was necessary, and, in the absence of emails, telephone calls or previous visits, just when and how it had been arranged.

Aquarius, by Salvador Dali
The most perplexing aspect of it, from the point of view of its plausibility as history, however, is the unusual way in which this man was to be identified. We can readily accept that the plan required him to grab the apostles’ attention – much as, today, someone might say to a person they are to meet for the first time, ‘I’ll be standing under the station clock, wearing a pink carnation, and reading a copy of the Daily Telegraph’ - but for a man to be carrying a jar of water in those days would go beyond what was required for recognition. Meetings between strangers are generally done discreetly, especially if there is some reason for them not to arouse too much public attention. But a man carrying a jar of water would not have been a discreet sign; it would have been an announcement in Technicolor and stereo! Men didn’t carry water in those days. This was woman’s work, at a time when the demarcation between male and female roles was clear and rigid. It would have been the equivalent of someone today drawing attention to himself by standing completely naked, or dressing up as a harlequin!
          To the student of astrology, however, the man is readily identifiable as the pictogram of the zodiacal sign Aquarius, and I had seen him as such, but I couldn’t work out why he should appear at this point in the narrative. Why should one of the zodiacal signs be introduced, out of the blue? Baffling, indeed, but then, one afternoon, as I was supervising an examination and idly flicking through a Bible which happened to be on the desk (it was a Catholic school!) I realised, to my astonishment, that this was not an isolated appearance. All the other signs were there in Mark’s Gospel, in perfect zodiacal order, and they were so obvious that I wondered why I had never seen them before, why, apparently, no one had ever seen them before. Some were clearer than others admittedly, and some incidents didn’t seem to fit the scheme too neatly, but the sequence was unmistakeable; it had just been overlooked by generations of scholars who had been asking the wrong questions of the text.

            I have spent a long time since then working on this theory and refining it, and, more importantly, trying to tease out the implications of such a zodiacal scheme for our understanding of the Gospel narrative. A zodiacal sequence does not preclude the story being historical, but it certainly reduces the possibility, and if it’s not history, or a kind of history, then what is it? I have come to the conclusion that Mark was writing an account of what we might call today the ‘spiritual journey’, using Jesus as a representative figure – Everyman or Everywoman – and that the stories in Mark’s bizarre narrative should be read as spiritual ‘parables’, as lessons on the spiritual life. They are not so much about a historical figure called Jesus, but about you and me. Mark’s stories are not simple, eye-witness accounts of incidents which stretch our credulity; they are immensely rich metaphors which challenge and excite our imagination.

Each section of Mark carries a lesson based on the intrinsic meaning of the zodiacal sign that it reflects, and one way of learning what the individual signs represent is to look at the lives and the characters of people born under them. We’ve done this before with the other signs and I repeat here what I’ve said so often before: I’m not making the fatuous claim that everyone born at a particular time of year exhibits all the characteristics of a certain zodiac sign, that the human race can be divided neatly into twelve invariant groups. There is infinite variety among people, and infinite variety even among people of the same sign. But, there are certain characteristics which can be identified as typical, which some individuals seem to embody so clearly that their zodiac sign can be guessed even after slight acquaintance, sometimes just by looking at them.

            Aquarians are among the easiest to identify. The words most commonly used to describe them are ‘eccentric’, ‘zany’, ‘original’, ‘independent’, and, less flatteringly, ‘opinionated’ and ‘perverse’. The typical Aquarian, like the man carrying the jar of water, is one who stands out from the crowd, one who almost makes a virtue out of being ‘off-beat’. This will manifest in a number of ways. Sometimes it will be in their dress, but more often it will be in their intellectual life. Aquarians like nothing better than expressing controversial opinions, and they seem especially fond of assuming radical political or religious positions, which they will defend tenaciously.

Johnny Rotten, born 31st January 1956
           Many Aquarians are iconoclastic, showing scant regard for traditional and customary ways of thought. Both Johnny Rotten, the lead singer in the Sex Pistols, and Malcolm McLaren, who managed the group, were born under Aquarius, and their song God Save the Queen, which came out at the time of Queen Elizabeth’s silver jubilee in 1977, inaugurated the whole ‘punk rock’ movement, and scandalised the British establishment, which, of course, was its intention.

Germaine Greer, born 29th January 1939
            Some of the most prominent feminist thinkers have been born under Aquarius. (Aries has its share, but Aquarius has more.) Germaine Greer, Susan Sontag, Gertrude Stein, Virginia Woolf, Angela Davis, Vanessa Redgrave, and Betty Freidan, were all born in late January or early February, and these women have been among the intellectual leaders of the contemporary movement for women’s liberation. Oprah Winfrey is an Aquarian, and while not exactly a feminist, she has established herself as one of the most powerful – and one of the richest - people in the world. Her endorsement of Barack Obama is said to be worth millions of votes to the Democratic presidential hopeful.

Vincent Furnier, aka Alice Cooper,
born 4th February 1948
Barry Humphries, aka Dame Edna Everidge,
Born 17th February 1934
Eddie Izzard, born 7th February, 1962
The man carrying a jar of water is presented in the Gospel as an androgynous figure, and androgyny – blurring the distinction between male and female, or combining male and female in one figure – seems to be associated with Aquarius. Gertrude Stein, born this very day (3rd February) in 1874, was a pioneer feminist, but she was also a lesbian, and her story Q.E.D., written in 1903, is said to be one of the first ‘coming out’ stories in literature. Her relationship with Alice B. Toklas was, according to her friend Ernest Hemingway, similar to that of husband and wife. In more recent times, the singer Alice Cooper, originally called Vincent Furnier, while not a homosexual (as far as I know), deliberately defied convention by adopting a female name. He will be celebrating his sixtieth birthday tomorrow. And the brilliant Australian comedian, Barry Humphries, born on 17th February, is far better known as the insufferable Dame Edna Everidge. Eddie Izzard, another cross-dressing comedian was born on 7th February 1962. (Grayson Perry, the artist famed for his cross-dressing, is not a Sun Aquarian. He was born on 24th March 1960, with the Sun in Aries. But he has Moon conjunction Mars in Aquarius, both opposition Uranus, the planet which has most affinity with Aquarius.) 

One of the literary world’s most celebrated Aquarians is Dublin’s own James Joyce, who was born here on 2nd February 1882. (Incidentally, Joyce took astrology seriously, and ensured that all his major works were published at what he considered to be auspicious times.) Ulysses turned the literary world upside down, breaking all the novelistic conventions, and Finnegan’s Wake is one of the most idiosyncratic works of world literature.

Ulysses stands almost as a text-book of the Aquarian vision of life. It breaks all the stylistic and linguistic rules, but it also presents the common man as hero, twenty-four hours in the life of a Dublin nobody as equivalent in grandeur and significance to the ten year peregrinations of the Greek hero, Odysseus.

 For all their individuality and idiosyncrasy, however, the typical Aquarian has a strong community spirit and is generally prepared to become involved in environmental and political action groups. Indeed, they seem to operate best in a group situation where they can maintain some measure of detachment. They are not, as a general rule, quick to marry, often preferring less conventional, and less restricting styles of relationship. Many Aquarians seem very uncomfortable with deep personal intimacy: the quickest way to lose an Aquarian is to tell him that you want to marry him!

There are a number of lessons to be learned from this section of Mark’s Gospel, not the least of which concerns the symbolism of the water that the man is carrying, but today I simply want to point out one very simple, and I’m sure by now very obvious, lesson from this story. ‘Follow him,’ says Jesus to the apostles, and what Jesus says to his apostles, he says to us. We have to follow the water-bearer, by being prepared, as he was, to stand out from the crowd – not by cultivating a studied and annoying eccentricity, but by discovering, and then exhibiting that which makes us unique. Your individuality is your precious gift to the world. The world does not need your conformity, it needs your creativity, it needs you to live as your genius impels you and guides you to live, and this means having the courage to break through those layers of convention, those unwritten and unspoken rules of thinking and acting, which would keep your life and your thought within the narrow confines sanctioned by our tyrannical, homogenising culture. ‘Whoso would be a man,’ writes Ralph Waldo Emerson, ‘must be a non-conformist’. These words appear on the gravestone of Frank Lloyd Wright, the great architect, who was not afraid to defy the customs of his time, and who produced some of the 20th century’s most beautiful buildings. He was, by the way, a Unitarian. (I would have loved him to be an Aquarian, too, but he wasn’t. He was born on 8th June, so he was a Geminian.) 

How hard it is to resist conformity, even in a so-called ‘free’ society. George Orwell’s ‘thought police’ are lurking everywhere, detecting and punishing all who dare to stray from acceptable norms of consensus judgement, not with jail or death, perhaps, but with ridicule and lack of preferment.

I’ve suffered from this myself. I’ve been a student of astrology for 42 years, and I consider it to be one of the most important subjects I’ve ever studied, but I’ve often had to apologise for my interest in it to people with a dogmatic objection to it – an objection which has always been based on cultural antipathy and never on personal exploration or knowledge. Almost everyone you will ever meet who expresses hostility towards astrology will do so on the basis of inherited prejudice. And may I just say here that if you think that astrology postulates the existence of invisible rays emanating from the stars, then you know nothing about the subject whatsoever, and your opinion is not an informed opinion at all, it is a prejudice which you’ve picked up from your materialistic culture. Isaac Newton, one of the greatest scientists who ever lived, and a Unitarian of sorts, was rebuked for his own interest in astrology by the astronomer Edmund Halley (after whom the famous comet was named). Newton fittingly replied, ‘Sir, I have studied the subject, you have not’.
A few weeks ago I was reading a new biography of Goethe ( Love, Life, Goethe: How to be Happy in an imperfect World, by J. Armstrong)  in which we learn that the great poet considered that he had been born at an auspicious moment, that his horoscope was a favourable one. His biographer, who tells us in the introduction to his book that he intends to show us that Goethe was one of the greatest geniuses who ever lived, dismisses Goethe’s astrological claim as ‘fantastic’, meaning ‘crazy’. So, on the one hand, Goethe is a genius; on the other, he’s an idiot. James Joyce believed that the three greatest figures in European literature were Shakespeare, Dante, and Goethe, each one of these, like Joyce himself, interested in and influenced by astrology, and yet it is culturally acceptable today – indeed, it is culturally required today – to patronise the astrological interests of these towering geniuses as somehow indicative of an unfortunate tendency towards superstition which, sadly, even genius is not immune from.

So, the man with the water jar is prepared to stand out from the crowd, as is that other Aquarian figure in this section of the Gospel, the woman with the alabaster jar full of costly perfume. She breaks the jar and spreads the pure nard – said to be worth a year’s wages - on Jesus’ head, completely disregarding the protestations of the apostles who suggest, conventionally enough, that she should sell the precious liquid and give the money to the poor. Jesus’ comment that the poor are always with us and we can help them at other times, seems a bit harsh. But, harsh or not, it’s true. We can help the poor, and we must help them, but we will only eliminate poverty – material and spiritual – by a complete transformation of our thinking. This is the real lesson of Aquarius, and this is what I’ll be dealing with next week.



  1. No, Wade, I'm a Gemini - but with a very strong Uranus (Uranus closely conjunction Mercury, widely conjunction Sun, square Jupiter.)


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