Getting to Know Aquarius


Let's put aside 1960s musicals for the time being but still celebrate the short, monthlong "age of Aquarius" that started last weekend. To all the folks born with their sun in Aquarius, happiest of birthdays to you.

Aquarius is the water-bearer in the astrological zodiac, the holder of a vase eternally pouring out a river like some cosmic headwaters. Its season in the zodiacal calendar runs from Jan. 20 to Feb. 18.

Aquarius is one of 88 constellations that are sprawled across the entire celestial sphere and one of a dozen that has the special designation of being in the zodiac, the band of sky where the sun journeys on its yearly circular path.

As an area of space, Aquarius caught the attention of astronomers and everyday space lovers recently. In 1995, humans first saw an exoplanet (one that lies beyond the solar system). And 22 years after that discovery, scientists working with the Belgium-led Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope (TRAPPIST) telescopes in Chile and Morocco discovered the most Earth-like exoplanets orbiting a single star. Seven planets round a star barely bigger than Jupiter. Their home, while some 39 light-years away, lies within Aquarius from an Earthling's perspective.

There are forces in our collective culture that perpetuate the imaginative drive to leave this planet for an unpolluted "blank slate" planet elsewhere. But what colonialist thinking underpins the go-forth mentality?

Aquarius' recognition as a constellation dates back to Babylon. And in nearly all cultures that picked out that pattern of stars, Aquarius is tied to water, rivers and floods.

The association with water makes the sign's place among the Zodiac, one of three air signs, difficult to understand. According to Deborah Houlding, a traditional astrologer based in the United Kingdom, Aquarius "bares no relation" to the emotionally charged water signs of the Zodiac. In the Aquarius symbology of pouring a libation for the gods, one "seeks only to cleanse, illuminate and purify," qualities typical of air signs.

It's easy enough to envision the glyph for Aquarius, two horizontal wavy lines, not as waves of water, but as bolts of lighting, currents of electricity passed among clouds in the airy sky.

People born with their sun or moon in this sign, or are born with an Aquarius rising sign, are known for their affable airs, clear-minded intellect and their ability to call it like it is. Society is always in need of those qualities, but especially now.