We all heard the joyous proclamation – in the 1960’s musical Hair – that ‘This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius’. For those looking and watching, people around the world were supposed to transform into a universal brotherhood built on sharing, on common values and recognition of each other’s basic humanity. War would be a thing of the past, no one ever need go hungry, there would be peace and love, free sex and Jimi Hendrix. And everyone would call each other ‘man’.
OK, this is just a parody of sixties hippy idealism – but even in the real world, expectations of the benefits of the Aquarian Age are a little premature: in fact, we’re not even there yet! Though its baby-steps are evident with the digital revolution, the Age of Aquarius may not begin properly for another five hundred years, maybe more. Unfortunately, the Age of Pisces is still very much with us.
Astrological ages are determined by the so-called precession of the equinoxes, which move westward along the ecliptic (the sun’s apparent path) relative to the fixed stars. The equinoxes are those two periods in the solar calendar when the days and nights are of equal length, hence ‘equinox’ (meaning equal night.) The first equinox in the year is called the Vernal (derived from the Latin word for spring, ‘ver’) and over time the zodiac constellation at the Vernal Equinox will change as it moves backward through the zodiac. An entire cycle takes roughly over a period of 25,700 years (or a Great Year). Each Great Month or astrological age can be estimated at about 2,160 years for each sign, though one shouldn’t be too hard and fast here.
If we picture the heavens as a 360 degree circle, then each degree of the zodiac (30 x12 signs) takes approximately 72 years to ‘move’ along the horizon. In the early centuries B.C. (up to about 500) the world was in the Age of Aries. But instead of astrological epochs terminating one year and beginning the next, one sees the collective values of one era gradually disintegrating (which can be up to four or five hundred years) to be replaced by different ones. The old dying and the new being born can thus happen simultaneously as forces of history – when a new paradigm might come along – begin to take root, grow and thrive. This could be seen, in fact, around the dawn of the sixth century BC, as The Age of Aries transformed into the Age of Pisces. In a previous book of mine The Christ Enigma: The Jesus Myth and the Gospel Code I wrote that:
The fiery Olympian gods of the Arien age, presided over by jealous Zeus/Jupiter, were replaced by gods who suffered on our behalf. The cruel, wrathful Jehovah of the Old Testament later had a Son who preached compassion, and an ‘eye for an eye’ became ‘turn the other cheek’. The Martian like hero revered in the early centuries B.C. was slowly being replaced by the wise teacher, the healer and (in late Judaism) the ‘blameless one’ who will die for the ungodly. By c. 200 BC the gaze had shifted heavenward to a celestial Redeemer. And instead of Samson, Hercules, and the war–god Mars (who ultimately founded Rome), in the centuries AD we get Apollonius of Tyana, Hermes Trismegistus , and the Roman army worshipping Mithra, the god who came to do good on man’s behalf.1
Also, as many historians have noted, there was an unprecedented burst of creativity and progress from about 500 BC – in matters of philosophy, religion and science. This is a period when the classical world in Europe (notably Greece) rose to prominence, even greatness, and Chinese and Indian civilizations in the East produced wise thinkers whose influence on world history is incalculable. (Their teachings are – of course – still with us today.) The influential Greek philosophers like Pythagoras (c. 570 – c. 495 BC) and Plato (424 – 348 BCE) were essentially Mystics – the latter of whom can justifiably be regarded as the Father of Western Philosophy. His ideas about Eternal Images or Eternal Forms (a transcendent dimension that gives birth to everything we see in the material world) is a supremely Piscean concept!
Then there was Buddhism in India, whose founder lived somewhere between the 6th and 4th centuries BCE: ‘He is recognized by Buddhists as an awakened, divine, or enlightened teacher who shared his insights to help sentient beings end their suffering through the elimination of ignorance.’ (Wikipedia.) Then there are the words of Confucius in China, whose ‘moral system was based upon empathy and understanding others, rather than divinely ordained rules.’ (Wikipedia, again.) A little later saw the emergence of Taoism, one of the ultimate metaphysical philosophies – Tao (an interplay of Male and Female universal energy) is a creative ‘void’ out of which everything in the manifest world emerges. (A little like Plato’s transcendent Forms.) It became a religious system around the 4th or 3rd century BC.
Sticking with the Piscean theme, around the same time, Greek religion gave us the Mysteries – death and rebirth ceremonies attended by Initiates aiming for a taste of heaven on earth, as they went beyond the limitations of matter and entered the spiritual realm. With their secret doctrines and promise of a blissful afterlife, cults of Orpheus, Dionysus and Mithra all flourished in the Greco-Roman world up to about the 1st century AD. As such, they anticipate the Ultimate Piscean religion, Christianity, whose aspirations are self sacrifice, suffering, forgiveness, empathy and ultimately, resurrection into a new spiritual life. (If you’re a fundamentalist, the Second Coming of Jesus himself.) Here, of course, is where we find the well known symbol of the Fish, used on many a sepulchre in early Christian burials, besides appearing in the gospels to amplify the figure of Jesus. Pisces is, of course, polarised with Virgo the Maiden, a synchronicity that yields the Virgin Mary.
The constellation of Pisces, itself, can be imaged as two fishes swimming in different directions, their tails bound together by a cord at a common point, Alpha Piscium. The first of these is the East Fish, seeming to ‘swim’ at right angles to the horizon, its point of contact with the earth. The other ‘swims’ West, along the horizon, as it were. The fish moving ‘north’ symbolises an unworldly spiritual yearning, that typical Piscean desire to transcend the earthly plane; the fish moving along the horizon is ‘closer’ to the material universe. In short, the East Fish is the mystic, wanting to be spiritually redeemed, freed from the suffering of matter; the West Fish is the realist who makes accommodations to physical reality. One a mystic, a poet; the other a pragmatist.
However, this first dawn of genuine participatory spirituality – as seen in primitive Christianity and the pagan Mysteries – came to an end as early as c. AD 371. What happened next in the Piscean Age did not herald the start of the West Fish, however. From around 371, the Vernal Equinox began moving through the ‘cord’ which binds the Fishes together in the constellation of Pisces. Christianity at this time (as the era’s best example) does not fade away, but enters a transition phase. Significantly, following Emperor Constantine’s epochal embrace of Christianity in the fourth century, Theodosius I (r. 379-395 AD) actually outlawed pagan gods and made it the sole Imperial religion, giving birth to today’s Catholicism. Thus, it had moved from its self-denying, humble mysticism (East Fish) to a newer phase, no longer to be persecuted and harrassed by the authorities.
Christianity’s values and precepts dominated Western society well up until the nineteenth century – politically, materially, philosophically. God, it was clear, was the author of the Universe and anyone who questioned this was either heretical or insane. However, as noted, the West Fish is rather different, not seeking to transcend the Universe but embrace it – to drown in it, even. We can see that ‘worldliness’ in strongly Piscean people, immersed in the good things of life (some rather well known for their indulgence in alcohol and other self-medicating substances!) Not for nothing has Liz Greene associated Pisces with the figure of Dionysus, whose cult was based on intoxication of the vine and the savage tearing to pieces of live animals. As Robert Hand notes, the East Fish symbolises transcendence of the material, whilst the West Fish denotes extension within it. This seems to be another way of saying that one facet of Pisces is Neptunian, and another, Jupiterian (its supposedly ‘old’ ruler).
However, the age of the West Fish did not actually begin (astronomically) until 1817 AD. It is as if the interim period (starting in 371 AD) was some sort of transition phase that had witnessed a great cosmic battle between Good and Evil which only Christians could win. The theology of the entire Middle Ages was rife with notions of Heaven and Hell, for instance. As Jung noted, before Christianity, evil wasn’t quite so …well, evil! What he means is that in the previous Arien age of polytheism, Good and Evil were relative. They could even be seen as two halves of the same universal force, as with the myths of brothers Set and Horus in ancient Egypt, or Ohrmazd and Ahriman from early Iran. (Even the Old Testament Satan did not start out as the chief source of all human wickedness.) And there wasn’t just the one God – there were many different gods and the only real sin was ‘hubris’ – a lack of humility before the divine powers.
As stated, the age of the West Fish truly began in the early nineteenth century. If you were a Christian at this time it seemed that the cosmic battle was coming to an end, and Evil was – unfortunately – about to get the upper hand. What I mean is that a new godless age was underway and the grip on society the Christian Church had enjoyed was getting looser. There can be no better illustration of secular society finally making its mark than the anecdote about French astronomer and mathematician Pierre Laplace (1749 – 1827). He was discussing his new work on celestial mechanics with the Emperor Napoleon (in about 1802) who enquired of him:
‘M. Laplace, they tell me you have written this large book on the system of the universe, and have never even mentioned its Creator.’ Laplace, who, though the most supple of politicians, was as stiff as a martyr on every point of his philosophy, drew himself up and answered bluntly, ‘Je n’avais pas besoin de cette hypothèse-là.’ [‘I had no need of that hypothesis.’]2
The transition from religious to secular (essentially where the paradigm moves from a world fashioned by God to a more naturalistic explanation) had its apotheosis in the Theory of Evolution, proposed by Charles Darwin (1809 –1882). Darwin’s 1859 book, On the Origin of Species, was not just highly influential, but helped bring about a new Scientific Paradigm. As Wikipedia notes, ‘by the 1870s, the scientific community and much of the general public had accepted evolution as a fact.’ Then there was secular humanism, which flourished in the mid 19th century – its philosophy essentially being that humans are capable of being ethical and moral without the need for God or religion. The man who coined the term ‘secularism’, George Jacob Holyoake, was born in the same year as the start of the age of the West Fish: 1817. Later that century, there was German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 –1900) announcing that God was finally Dead. Eventually, so will be the Age of Pisces.
1. Page, James Lynn, The Christ Enigma: The Jesus Myth and the Gospel Code, Perrault, 2012.
2. Ball, Walter W.R., A Short History of Mathematics (pg. 387-88), W.W. Rouse Ball, 1888.