As I mentioned the other day, I’ve been reading John Crowley’s Aegypt (now called The Solitudes). Even after many moves where piles of books had to be sold or given away, the books in this series have always stayed with me.
They are so full, you see. Full of symbols, full of twists and turns, full of arcane references. Real historical personages from the Renaissance like Hermetic philosopher and mathematician John Dee and cosmologist and occultist Giordano Bruno appear alongside William Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth I as well as Crowley’s fictional characters.
In this first book in the tetralogy, one important group of symbols is the signs of the zodiac, particularly in relation to Christianity and the falling away of paganism. In a conversation with the main character, Pierce, someone describes the precession of the equinoxes:
“Astronomically speaking pretty soon, a coupled hundred years or so–the sun will begin to rise in the sign of Aquarius. Thus the end of the Piscean Age, that started two-thousand-odd years ago, and the beginning of the Age of Aquarius.”
Two thousand years ago, the Piscean age, the world shifts from B.C. to A.D. Jesus. And Jesus was a fish.
Oh. “Oh,” said Pierce.
“Always precedes, you see,” Earl said dreamily. “Precedes. Before Pisces was Aries the ram, and before that Taurus the bull, and so on.”
Moses had ram’s horns, who overthrew the golden bull-calf. And then comes Jesus the fish, two thousand years on, new heaven and new earth, and shepherd Pan flees from the mountainsides. And now the world watched and waited for the man with the water jug. (1)
Now, Rudolf Steiner had a lot to say about astrology, and Christianity, and the evolution of human civilization and consciousness and how they are all related. He believed that certain civilizations represent the pinnacle or exemplum of each age, and that these civilizations also represent the stages of human consciousness, both on a macro level of human evolution, and on the micro level of individual development through life (this is partly why the stories of certain cultures are included in the curricula for specific ages in Waldorf methods):
The advance of civilizations is also connected with the progression of the sun from one constellation to the other….
At the time when the sun rose in the constellation of Cancer the ancient Vedic culture of the Indians, the culture of the Rishis reached its highest point. The Rishis, those still half-divine beings, were the teachers of men….
The second cultural epoch is named the constellation of the Twins. At that time the dual nature of the world was understood, the opposing forces of the world, Ormuzd and Ahriman, Good and Evil. Thus the Persians also speak of the Twins.
The third cultural epoch is that of the Sumerians in Asia Minor and of the Egyptians. The constellation of the Bull corresponds to this epoch. This is why in Asia the Bull was venerated and in Egypt, Apis….
The fourth culture is that of the Ram, or Lamb; Christ stands in the sign of the Ram, or Lamb; hence he calls himself the Lamb of God.
As fifth culture the external materialistic civilization follows, in the constellation of the Fishes. This developed principally from the 12th century onwards and reached its climax about the year 1800.
In the constellation of the Water-Man in the future, the new Christianity will be proclaimed. ‘Water-Man’ is also the one who will bring it, he who has already been here: John the Baptist. (2)
So, what are we to do with all this? Are these merely coincidences, or artifacts of the human desire to make sense of the world? Or are these symbols representations of some deeper meaning, some illimitable truth? There are so many symbols in Christianity: the cross, the fishes, the lamb. Do we simply pick the one that fits our current system, or is the fish truly the “right” one for what Jesus represents cosmically?
And what can we make of the Age of Aquarius, the Water-bearer? Does he already appear in one of our greatest books?
Jesus sent two of his disciples, telling them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him. Say to the owner of the house he enters, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ He will show you a large upper room, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.” (3)
I think I’ll do a few more posts on symbols…gives me a chance to plunder more awesome online medieval art!
(1) John Crowley, Aegypt, Bantam Books, 1987.
(2) Rudolf Steiner, Foundations of Esotericism, Lecture 8, Berlin, October 3, 190
(3) Mark 14:12-15