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Aquarius and the Great Turning

Steve Nation
February 2007

Welcome, friends, to this festival meditation. What a time the full moon is! The sun, in alignment with the constellations and planets of space, turns its gaze most directly and immediately right into the mind and heart of the human world. The most common way of experiencing this intense focus of solar energy is to be touched by the beauty and eerie quality of the light reflected by the full moon. At night, the quiet time of darkness when all that is outer is at rest and the world sleeps, we see the earth before us in a special soft and subtle light - and we are moved, often deeply.

Throughout the ages, this experience of the beauty of the full moon has been understood to signify something 'other' - something full of mystery. To philosophers, poets and people of faith, the full moon acts as a signpost pointing to the existence of a living relation between human and cosmos. From the most ancient times it has been regarded as an interlude in our lives when the God-like beings of the stars reach down to gently touch regions of mind and heart of which we are usually totally unconscious. The divine within us is sustained by this ritualistic, rhythmic touch of the life of the Sun. It is as if the monthly inflow of life and love from the cosmos acts as a heart beat for the long, long path of our evolutionary growth from human to super-human - a heart that beats endlessly from incarnation to incarnation.

It seems right to approach the Aquarius full moon in such a spirit - with a sense of the beauty and mystery of the event. So lets pause to visualise the radiant light of the Sun, conditioned by Aquarius, pouring into the entire field of human consciousness, during this full moon period in February 2007.

We know o Lord of Life and Love about the need,
Touch our hearts anew with Love,
That we too, may love and give.

The idea that we are entering into the Age of Aquarius is a part of the folklore of our time - it's a powerful idea in human consciousness, and yet it has had little serious attention from scholars, writers and leading edge thinkers. We should expect that to change. What I think is most commonly meant by the vague idea of the dawning of Aquarius is the sense that the world is on the cusp of a new age, and that we are living in transition times. I want to explore this idea a little, reflecting on aspects of the esoteric perspective of transition - and what transition into Aquarius might mean for individuals and cultures at different stages of development.

One of the things associated in the popular mind with Aquarius is the egalitarian spirit - as opposed to the authoritarian spirit associated with the Piscean age. The new age brings with it a profound sense of the oneness and wholeness of the human spirit - an awareness that in essence we are all equal before God. It also brings great respect for the individual unit of life - for the part and the inherent diversity of human lives. And this Aquarian sense of wholeness and respect for the individual favours the creation of families and cultures in which individuals enjoy freedom to grow and develop without authoritarian rule.

Yet this does not suggest a flat land where all are equal in all things. As human beings we are all equal in spirit and potential, but we differ in the phases of our development - particularly from the perspective of the soul. When we look at any culture or religious group, we see these phases of development in broad terms - those whose concerns are primarily focused on survival and self-interest - for themselves, their families, their group, their religion or nation; those who have a basic sense of goodwill towards others; those who find a good measure of their meaning and identity in service to the good of the whole.

Another way of looking at the phases of human development in esoteric terms is to use the model of the chakra systems. In one phase consciousness is focused primarily below the diaphragm and incoming energies are concentrated in the solar plexus or sacral centres; then there is a transitional phase with energies mainly flowing through the lower centres but also, to a lesser extent, through the throat centre with a faint response from the heart and ajna centres; and there is the phase of those who are transferring energies from centres below the diaphragm to the higher triad with the thousand petalled lotus in the head in process of opening - and of course there are all manner of phases within and between these three major groupings. [see Esoteric Astrology, p. 76 for a summary of these phases of development.] The phases are not black and white - either one thing or the other - in each life we are recapping lessons learnt from experience in previous lives (karma) as well as growing or resisting growth through the opportunities of our current life. We are an amalgam - a mix that is in process of integration and synthesis, and this is reflected in the living relations between the chakras - some quiescent, some active, some, perhaps, the focus of unhealthy repression.

If you gather any group of human beings there will be a hierarchy of spiritual and ethical development - this is plain for all to see. A strong sociological model for this hierarchical understanding of culture and consciousness has been developed in the Spiral Dynamics approach of Don Beck and others - and in the integral approach of such writers as Ken Wilber. What is important in any of these models - esoteric or exoteric - is to move away from value judgements and rather use the model to see things as they are and, as a result, to best understand where the opportunities for growth and development most clearly lie - in each phase, each turn of the spiral.

The esoteric picture suggests that the transition into an Aquarian culture and consciousness marks a massive reorientation of humanity in all its various stages of development - reorientation in the self-interest group, the goodwill group, and the serving group; in those focussed below the diaphragm, transiting between below and above the diaphragm, and those stabilising themselves above the diaphragm.

The Great Turning, described in the writings of Joanna Macy and David Korten, is presented by Alice Bailey from the perspective of the soul in largely astrological terms. There is the momentous event in a souls cycle of incarnations when the wheel of the zodiac turns on its access and reverses its direction. And there is the Great Turning that occurs when the primary dynamics of a soul in incarnation move from the Mutable Cross onto the Fixed Cross. Transition into an Age of Aquarius involves these massive, earthquake-like reorientations of consciousness for individuals, cultures and sub-cultures, and for humanity as a whole - in all the many phases of development.

Lets look a little at these changes. The reverse of the wheel is a critical, determining event in the evolutionary cycle of an individualised soul or of the soul of a nation, culture, or a religion. The souls cycle of incarnations on what is called the 'ordinary' wheel forms the basis of orthodox or exoteric astrology. The cycle begins in Aries and passes through all of the signs in an anti-clockwise direction: from Aries to Pisces to Aquarius - all the way round to Taurus. In each sign an endless flow of human experiences and challenges provides the environment in which personality is built up, integrated and out of which a strong individual presence becomes fully grounded and embedded in time and space. Esotericists view this ordinary wheel cycle as involution when the focus of the soul's work is on the development of personality - giving the needed experience in the worlds of desire, matter, and concrete thought process to build up the separated self. This is the way the material side of human nature is fully grounded and embedded in time and space.

Then there comes a time when a Great Turning occurs as development shifts from involution to evolution. The wheel of the zodiac, symbolically, reverses on its axis. Imagine the significance of this moment of reversal for the soul. Now the process of incarnation is all about the developing relation between soul and personality - with the challenging thought (challenging to the personality perspective) that the process is ultimately heading towards soul control. Now the cycle proceeds clockwise, from Aries to Taurus, to Gemini and on, through the signs to culminate in Pisces with the emergence of the one in thousands of years, divinely potentised individual - the World Saviour. For most souls, culmination of all the experience of first the ordinary and then the reversed wheel comes in the emergence of the World Server in Aquarius.

The turning itself, the point of reversal, marks a time of enormous significance in the soul's journey - and in human experience constitutes a Crisis of reorientation which may take a long time and constitute an interlude of many lives of struggle. [Esoteric Astrology, p. 61]

We need to remember that what we are talking about is the major path of development through the signs as followed by the soul. This does not mean that those who have a sun sign of, say Aries, are in the beginning stages of development - either on the ordinary wheel or the reversed wheel - or that those born in Aquarius are approaching the final phases on the reversed wheel. We also need to remember that things are not so clear cut as this simple outline suggest - so an element of conflict in the life of aspirants and disciples may come form the fact that their form life responds to the zodiacal wheel on the ordinary path while their consciousness responds to the reverse wheel.

We get another perspective on the esoteric understanding of the Great Turning - and on entry into the Aquarian Age - by looking at the notion of the three crosses in esoteric astrology. This is another way of understanding the path of development of a being (an individual with soul and personality, a group, a nation, humanity as a whole). The soul is said to mount upon three crosses in its passage through incarnations - although for practical purposes we only really need attend to two of the crosses - the third, the Cardinal Cross marks the higher levels of initiation, the 'endless Way of Revelation' which starts when Nirvana is entered [Esoteric Astrology, p. 555]. In its formative, early cycle of incarnations the soul is conditioned by the forces of the Mutable Cross, the Cross of the Hidden Christ when personality is shaped and the human transits from animal, instinctual consciousness to the aspirant. This is the Cross of temporal and temporary change, of fluidity and of those constantly altering environments which drive the soul within the form from one experience to another, so that the life shuttles between the pairs of opposites. [Esoteric Astrology, p. 553]

The Great Turning comes as the soul moves off the Mutable Cross and on to the Fixed Cross, the Cross of the Crucified Christ. Now experience, opportunity and development is all about the various levels of discipleship and of service to humanity and to evolution. Only when there is a measure of Soul contact and when there has been a touch of spiritual intuition and illumination does this cross come into effect for there is now an awareness of direction and purpose. The person upon the Fixed Cross is becoming increasingly conscious of issues which are larger than [self], more engrossing than previous interests [Esoteric Astrology, p. 555]. On this Cross we trace the path of the integration between soul and personality and their complete fusing and blending.

Now we can come to Aquarius which marks one of the arms of the Fixed Cross of discipleship. I want to make three points about the Great Turning in relation to Aquarius, the reverse of the zodiac and the crosses.

One. The transition into the Aquarian Age involves the human family as a unit reversing the zodiac to become the world disciple and making the great transition from the mutable to the fixed cross. Aquarius is one of the four arms of the Fixed Cross. There is a fine section in Esoteric Astrology on what happens in the transition from mutable to fixed cross: the four energies of the mutable cross have brought a vast range of human experience; this leads to a gradually growing and profound dissatisfaction the needs of the physical nature no longer dominate, the impulses from the astral plane are frightening, the mind is awake and active and the personality co-ordinated; the dissatisfaction leads to stages of invocation - irregular and vague aspiration for something better and more meaningful mystical and occult awareness leads to an uncomfortable sense of the divide between spirit and matter a new awareness of love begins to grow and as this becomes stronger it is invoked with increasing clarity [Esoteric Astrology, 569]. We can use these ideas as seed thoughts and images with which to ponder the nature of the Great Turning and passage into Aquarius.

Two: Although Aquarius is one of the arms of the Fixed Cross, the vast number of people on the Mutable Cross are also responsive to Aquarian cycles - both in their individual horoscopes and in the general affect of the dawning of the New Age. They will respond to Aquarius with a stimulated wish to serve the needs and wants of the personality. Hence the focus on development in all societies with anti poverty projects, advancement of women, self empowerment programmes, business entrepreneur projects and all levels of education for advancing ones prospects in life.

Three: Astrologers divide each zodiacal sign into three phases - known as three decanates, and each of these phases is ruled by a different celestial body. The esoteric approach suggests that those subject to the Ordinary Wheel of the zodiac enter the decanates in one order - and those on the reverse wheel in the opposite order. Looking at the decanates in Aquarius illustrates the significance of this. Those on the reversed wheel, pass through the three decanates of Aquarius in the order: Saturn (the planet of discipleship brings opportunity through crises that destroy all which holds back free expression of the soul and fostering discrimination and wise choices), Mercury (then spreads the illuminating light of the soul creating an environment in which the mind can think creatively and intuitively), Venus (follows on in the final decanate to bring a union of heart and mind resulting in wisdom as brotherly love). This is the path of the development of spiritual maturity. Those on the ordinary wheel follow a different path through their Aquarian adventure: Venus (now offering instinctual mind, affection and all of the growth experiences, addictions and traps of sex ); Mercury (the slow unfoldment of the mind, volatility and change); Saturn (suffering bringing the opportunity to learn to choose rightly, analyse correctly and decide on higher values in preparation for the Great Turning and Reversal of the Wheel). There is added poignancy in the fact that humanity as a whole is in process of reversing the wheel and mounting the Fixed Cross - so the collective energy enters Aquarius in the decanate of Saturn with conflict providing the opportunity for spiritual development. At the same time large numbers of people in all societies remain relatively instinctual and non-thinking - and they enter Aquarius via Venus. [Esoteric Astrology, pp. 283, 148-9]

So. This has not meant to be a 'lesson' on astrology - and apologies if it seems like this. The Aquarian sap is rising. Its airy nature means that its influence infuses our post-modern culture and conditions the agenda of human affairs. Universal love is the great spiritual opportunity of Aquarius and this is where our attention needs to be directed - understanding what universal love is and how it is expressing itself in all the myriad ways of human beings in our times. Yet in pondering the gradual awakening of an inclusive, universal love we need to develop a measure of sophistication and discrimination. And for this we have to get into the specifics of whatever philosophy is guiding and shaping our lives. For me, that philosophy is the esoteric teachings in the Bailey writings - and in the pattern of the Great Turning of the wheel of the zodiac and the passage of humanity from the Mutable to the Fixed Cross I find much to ponder about the Aquarian stirring of universal love.