Johfra Bosschart, Aquarius
1.“And the pool was filled with water out of sunlight,
And the lotus rose, quietly, quietly,
The surface glittered out of heart of light.”
T.S.Eliot, “Burnt Norton”
2.“Praise to the jewel in the lotus.” (Om mani padme hum)
3. And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which [were] under the firmament from the waters which [were] above the firmament: and it was so. (Genesis 1: 6-7)
Looking at the image, these words come to me: pure, luminescent, incandescent, pristine, enlightening. Johfra surpassed himself by managing to portray the mystery of transcendence. We are beyond the bounds of time and space here, contemplating the heart of cosmic consciousness, the primordial fabric of the universe. While looking at the image each of us will be undoubtedly captured by a different part of it. For some reason, over and over again I found myself looking fixedly at the seven luminescent lotuses at the bottom. Before writing about Aquarius I felt there was a pressing need for me to get closer to understanding the mystery of the sacred lotus (Nelumbo nucifera). I took a long time studying its mystery, helped by a wonderful book by Mark Griffiths, a renowned British botanist, who became nothing short of obsessed with lotus after receiving three-thousand year old seeds of this precious flower. His method of investigation was very appealing to me because he did not limit himself to science but also explored extensively the mythology of the lotus in various parts of the world. In Hinduism, the goddess Lakshmi together with the god Vishnu are crucial in Vedic creation myth, as Griffiths summarizes:
“They float in the void upon an immense multi-headed serpent whose concave body resembles the wall of a uterus and whose thousands mouths hold the planets. From Vishnu’s navel issues a single flower of Nelumbo which opens to produce Brahma, the god who will set about the work of creation itself. … the lotus, the primal generative organ, is Lakshmi’s and hers alone. She is the female principle and principal, the essential earth in which Vishnu is rooted. Her catalytic energy is known as Shakti, a Sanskrit word for power. A similar symbiosis exists between other lotus goddesses and their male leads – between Isis and Osiris, between Inanna, Ishtar and their various spouses…”
The lotus signifies Vishnu’s authority and purity, and also “his capacity for infinite rebirth and his dominion over Dharma, the rules of conduct that lead to spiritual awakening.” If we were to analyze the above fragment astrologically, we would notice a merger of a few Zodiac signs and if we were trying to extricate the symbolism of Aquarius we would have to stop at the lotus-born Brahma, who produced all the material elements of the universe through his meditation. He also gave humans concept and ideas to understand the material reality.
The lotus is an absolutely outstanding flower. Its diamond-hard seeds can survive thousands of years and still germinate and produce beautiful flowers. Once the seed encounters appropriate conditions, sunlight being a crucial one, but also wet and muddy soil, it is ready to bloom almost immediately, as Griffiths describes:
“The lotus embryo is less like a fledgling nymph and more like Athena, capable of bursting forth from the acorn, its Jupiter’s nut, fully armed for the trials of life. Although encased within the utter darkness of soil and seed shell, it remains full of chlorophyll, ready to seize the day in the midst of perpetual night. The moment light touches it, the lotus plumule is at work, photosynthesizing, fully functioning and fast-moving. Within days of its emergence, this germ of brilliant green will have produced its first rhizome, roots and leaves.”
That passage reminded me of Krishnamurti’s claims that true enlightenment cannot be achieved through time, because it is already there, outside of time, and is achieved immediately: “That ultimate thing, which is truth, is not to be achieved through time. It can never be achieved; it is there; or it is not there.” (via http://www.esotericonline.net/forum/topics/jiddu-krishnamurti-talk-on-enlightenment?xg_source=activity). Aquarius is a fixed sign and in its most evolved expression it signifies the constancy and permanence of the divine logos, which was at the beginning of all creation. What Iamblichus wrote in Egyptian Mysteries resonates with the symbolism of lotus and Aquarius very deeply:
“God’s being shown seated on a lotus signifies a superiority which rises above and excludes all contact with the mud of the world. It also points to the reign of the intellect in the heavens. For every feature of the lotus is circular, from the outline of its leaves to the shape of its fruit, and circularity alone is akin to the activity of the intellect as it invariably manifests itself in identity, ruled by one order and one reason. God himself is established in himself as being above power and activity of this kind, august and holy in his transcendent simplicity, abiding within himself – this is what his being seated on the lotus signifies.”
What I also learned from the book on the sacred flower was that lotus leaves have astonishing self-cleaning properties. Deborah Houlding, an excellent writer and astrologer, reminds us that for the Romans, February, the month of the water bearer, was traditionally the month destined for purification. Also the mantra om mani padme hum is recited to achieve purity of body, soul and mind. Now we are getting closer to answer the mysterious question why the air sign Aquarius is symbolized by a water bearer. To delve deeper into this mystery, we must look at other creation myths. In the Greek creation myth:
“Earth brought forth Ouranos, the Sky, to be her cover and protector and a place for the blessed gods. He was filled with stars.” (Richard P. Martin)
The planet Uranus is a modern ruler of Aquarius. Johfra chose to depict the god Ouranos as a mandala: the Sun surrounded by a circular rainbow. The rainbow has long been a symbol of human, earthy connection with the great beyond, the realm of the gods and goddesses, the logos. In our times it has also evolved into a symbol of embracing diversity and universal tolerance, also in keeping with the meaning of the sign Aquarius. There is an ongoing debate in astrological circles about traditional and modern planetary rulers. Johfra, who had an uncanny symbolic ear, does not take sides but typically for a non-rigid and open creative artist he honours both traditional, i.e. Saturn and the modern, i.e. Uranus, rulers of Aquarius. I have recently become convinced that both deserve merit. Keiron le Grice writes:
“The encompassing background to the unfolding human drama, the sky has ever been a symbol of the transcendent spiritual power that lies above and beyond the personal sphere of human existence.”
Uranus is a transpersonal planet, while Saturn is the last planet which can be visible with the naked eye. Symbolically, that would mean that Uranus is a force inaccessible by the conscious mind, ego obliterating and transcending the limitations of time and space. Uranus has no choice but act in the world through Saturn, the principle of material realization. In myth, the god Kronos (Roman Saturn) castrated his father Ouranos. When the divine Uranian logos seeks to be embodied in the realm of gross matter, these pristine, beautiful ideas will inevitably get crippled and will always be short of perfection. In his article “Does Uranus rule astrology?”, Dane Rudhyar says that in the name “Uranus” the world “Ur” is hidden, which means “primordial space-substance” or “the original cycle of being.” He says: “Ouranos was, at least in the oldest times, the vast primordial deity that was the ruler or soul of the whole Universe before its various realms or levels of manifestation became differentiated.” If we analyze the symbolism of Saturn more closely, we will discover that there is something very significant that he shares with Uranus, which makes their claims to ruling Aquarius conjointly valid. In his “Meditations on Saturn,” Rudhyar reminds us that in myth the god Saturn was the ruler of the Golden Age (Satya Yuga in Sanskrit). “Satya” and “Saturn” are related, according to Rudhyar:
“The word Sat in Sanskrit signifies ‘essential being.’ It is the pure, spiritual foundation of existence. It is, thus, the seed state before germination – i.e., before the purity of essential being is affected by the results of complex and often adulterating relationships with the world. ‘Satya’ is the powerful assertion (Ya) of essential being. In the now quite fashionable language of Zen Buddhism, the word refers to a man’s ‘fundamental nature’ — or, it is said, to ‘the face one had before one was born.’ This fundamental nature — this pre-existing form of selfhood (i.e., “face”) — which becomes clouded over by a constantly increasing agglomeration of non-essential characteristics and superfluous social acquisitions, this is the seed-being deep in every human personality. To live “spiritually” is to live in terms of, and with reference to, this seed-being instead of according to the dictates or ever-changing moods (perhaps vagaries, even perversions) of our surface being. It is, therefore, to live in terms of what the planet Saturn essentially represents — that is, in terms of the “purity” of our true self. In Sanskrit, the word Satya has also the meaning of truth — but truth not as an intellectual fact — i.e., a statement is true or untrue — but instead as a reference to the essential being of every living entity, especially of every human person.”
On a personal note, while writing this post I was constantly thinking about a dream I had many years ago that I have always regarded as the greatest dream of my life. In this dream, I was looking at the Sun during a solar eclipse. Suddenly, I saw that the Sun had turned into the planet Saturn, which was entirely made of gold. There was a circular rainbow around Saturn. The whole image was moving, Saturn was spinning and sparkling, and so were its golden rings. I knew when I woke up that I had just been initiated into a very deep truth. Now when I am looking at Johfra’s image of Aquarius, which I did not know at the time when I had the dream, I feel I am getting closer to understanding the essence of that dream. I think it was an alchemical dream, no doubt, but also the golden Saturn was “the pre-existing form of selfhood” that Rudhyar spoke about. In the painting, a pilgrim walks through the gate of the skull towards a supernatural light in the distance. That is the light I saw in my dream, while the skull is a classic symbol of Saturn. It is as hard as rock (the philosopher’s stone), the indestructible core of our spiritual being.
In the painting by Johfra, our lotus seed nature is generated and purified by divine waters poured over it from above. In his Pulse of Life, Rudhyar calls the Uranian urn “the mystic seed-bag”:
“It is also a symbol of the storm-cloud, laden with bountiful rain which will water the expectant crop, and release the lightning. … The lightning is not only a destructive force. It is the means for the precipitation out of the air of precious nitrogen necessary to living processes.”
The water carried by the water bearer is a pure and sparkling water of the spirit; we might suggest it is not really water but rather prana, life force that permeates the universe and flows through our seven chakras, symbolized by the seven lotuses depicted in the painting. It is important to differentiate between waters of the sign Aquarius and the primordial ocean associated with the sign Pisces, about which I am going to write next month. As Deborah Houlding writes, the glyph of Aquarius derives from the Egyptian hieroglyphic Mu, meaning water. When the Moon was full in Aquarius the river Nile flooded and fertilized the land. David Coleman has even more fascinating observations regarding the area of the sky called Celestial Sea, which includes, among other elements, the signs of Pisces and Aquarius:
“Legends tell us this vast region of the sky is the Source of Life. In the early Bronze Age around 3,000 to 2,000 BCE the winter solstice of the northern hemisphere took place in these stars, a traditionally wet time, and it was known in the northern hemisphere as the Southern Gate of the Sun for the Sun had reached its most southerly point in the skies (the Tropic of Capricorn) and thus began to return light to the world from thereafter leading up to the following solstice.
Note that here I use the term primordial waters, indicating something quite different to the oceans or even the Water Element itself – specifically I am referring to the primordial waters of life that are the astral plane, and astrologically to the influence of the stars that make up the Celestial Sea. In modern terms we might think of this as the medium by which nature causes forms to emerge from the complex interactions of individual organisms as demonstrated by fractals and Chaos Theory. There is a form of natural order that emerges (on Earth) primarily in synchrony with the influence of Jupiter and Saturn on the broader scale and the Sun and Moon on the more concrete scale, but it is the stars of the Celestial Sea which magically ‘pour’ this substance over the Earth, they are celestial influences which act as ‘taps’ that pour the astral waters of life upon our awareness.”
We can say that the modern ruler of Aquarius, i.e Uranus, rules the invisible patterns, which self-organize into a system manifesting physically as the world of form, ruled by Saturn. Reality is a “dynamic patterned energy process,” as Le Grice puts it, and as Johfra so wonderfully shows in his depiction of Aquarius. According to Cartesian dualism mind and body existed independently, but we no longer believe that mind is an incorporeal substance. Says Le Grice:
“…mind and matter, it appears, are mutually dependent: mind depends on material structure, yet this structure is itself the physical expression of mind. Mind, in this sense, brings forth the structure of the world. The entire universe – every aspect of the material world – arises from the embodiment of mind in structure. …
The cosmos, we might say, is the materiality of the cosmic mind, and the cosmic mind is the interior dimension of the cosmos.”
I am reminded of C.G. Jung’s concept of unus mundus: a common transcendent background for both mind and matter, the matrix of life, the spring of being. David Bohm spoke of the same thing when he wrote about “the implicate order.” As Le Grice summarizes it: “The material world of space and time emerges out of the ‘cosmic ocean’ of energy, Bohm suggests, as an ‘excitation pattern’, like a ripple on a vast sea’.” Mind and matter are two faces of one unitary reality.
What will the approaching Age of Aquarius bring? I would say we my see “the union of Ibex and Lotus.” I am referring here to an archaeological discovery made at Ur (ancient Mesopotamia): a figure of a mountain goat feasting on lotus. When it was originally discovered it was mistakenly referred to as “Ram in a Thicket.” The goat, connected with the sign Capricorn, in Johfra’s painting symbolized by the skull (see my post on Capricorn for more details), intimately connects with its sacred seed, its divine lotus nature. The light shining beyond the skull in the distance is the Holy Grail, the truth of enlightenment, which connects us with our inner divine spark and shows our connection to the whole universe.
Finally, I see it as extraordinary synchronicity that I should have come across this poem by Boris Pasternak today on Nigel Borrington’s blog. I think it describes the essence of Aquarius:
(image from Wikipedia)
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David Coleman, “The Guardian of the Collective”, http://astralvisions.wordpress.com/2013/10/17/the-guardian-of-the-collective/
Keiron Le Grice, The Archetypal Cosmos: Rediscovering the Gods in Myth, Science and Astrology
Mark Griffiths, The Lotus Quest: Travels in Search of the Sacred Flower
Deborah Houlding, “Star Lore of the Constellations: Aquarius the Waterbearer”,
Richard P. Martin, Myths of the Ancient Greeks
Dane Rudhyar, “Does Uranus Rule Astrology?” http://www.khaldea.com/rudhyar/astroarticles/doesuranusruleastrology.php
Dane Rudhyar, “Meditations on Saturn”, http://www.khaldea.com/rudhyar/astroarticles/meditationsonsaturn.php
Dane Rudhyar, The Pulse of Life
Rachel Storm, The Encyclopedia of Eastern Mythology