The Age of Aquarius is one of 12 successive 2,150-year periods, each of which corresponds with one of the 12 signs of the zodiac. In the same manner in which individuals born at different times of the year are thought to be dominated by different astrological signs, astrologers also tend to view different historical periods as being dominated by the influence of particular signs. According to this view, Earth, for the past several thousand years, has been passing through a period dominated by the sign Pisces (the Age of Pisces). This succession of ages is based on a phenomenon known as the precession of equinoxes.
Due to the precession of equinoxes, the spring equinox moves slowly backward through the constellations of the zodiac, so that approximately every 2000 years, the equinox begins taking place in an earlier constellation. Thus, the spring equinox has been occurring in Pisces for the past several thousand years and will begin to occur in the constellation Aquarius in the near future. This is the background for current speculations about the so-called Age of Aquarius. The phenomenon of the precession of equinoxes also means that the spring equinox occurred in the sign Aries during the Hellenistic period (the period of Ptolemy), in Taurus several thousand years prior to the Hellenistic period, and so forth backward through the zodiac.
Because of the space between different constellations, it is difficult if not impossible to determine precisely when one age ends and another one begins, although this has not prevented many practitioners of traditional astrology, as well as esoteric astrology, from asserting that the Aquarian Age has already begun. A popular date for the beginning of the Age of Aquarius is the year 2000. If, however, the Age of Pisces began with the ministry of Jesus (as many claim), and if each age is 2,150 years in duration, then, clearly, there is a long way to go before the arrival of the Age of Aquarius.
The contemporary notion of the Age of Aquarius, developed in occult and theosophical circles in the last century, was mediated to the larger society by the counterculture of the 1960s (as in the well-known song "Age of Aquarius" that was featured in the rock musical Hair). The metaphysical subculture that emerged as a successor to the counterculture in the early-to-middle 1970s eventually dropped the appellation Aquarian Age in favor of New Age. Most popular accounts of the difference between the Piscean Age and the Aquarian Age emphasize the negative traits of Pisces and the positive traits of Aquarius. Thus, attention is called to the negative Piscean tendency to adopt an attitude of blind faith, and to the positive Aquarian tendency to adopt a more empirical attitude. The limits of this approach—which often ignores positive Pisces traits as well as negative Aquarius characteristics—should be clear.
A comprehensive critique of the Aquarian Age notion can be found in Nicholas Campion's important treatment, "The Age of Aquarius: A Modern Myth." Although this work is useful, contrary to Campion's argument, the ancients did put forward a theory of successive astrological ages based on the precession of equinoxes (see Mithraism and Astrology).
Bach, Eleanor. Astrology from A to Z: An Illustrated Source Book. New York: Philosophical Library, 1990.
Campion, Nicholas. "The Age of Aquarius: A Modern Myth." In The Astrology of the Macrocosm. Edited by Joan McEvers. Saint Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 1990. Ulansey, David. The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries: Cosmology and Salvation in the Ancient World. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.
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