New Aeon: A Consideration of Astrological Symbolism
1: A Look Back at Pisces and the Mutable Cross
In the last era, the cultural perception of the divine was defined by
the sign of Pisces, its ruling planet Jupiter (now Neptune), and its exalted
planet Venus. Pisces is a sign of endings and beginnings, the link that
closes the circle of the zodiac. Both in the normal passage of the Sun
during the year, and in the reversed passage of the equinoxes, Pisces
is considered to be the terminating sign of the cycle. As such it is associated
with the dissolution of old forms, and the absorption of the dissolved
material into a pool of substance from which the forms of the new cycle
can be built. As a sign of beginnings, Pisces represents the hidden activities
that are necessary before the first visible appearance of the new cycle.
The visible appearance takes place either in Aries or in Aquarius, depending
on the direction of passage.
Pisces is the sign ruling religion, and we can see this manifested in
the dominance of the era by the global religions of Christianity, Islam,
and Buddhism. Pisces is also the sign of the World Saviors, a title applied
both to Christ and Buddha.
The dissolving and absorbing characteristics of the sign can be seen
in all three religions, in the way they created cultural entities that
disregarded the boundaries of local political and ethnic groupings. Christianity
in particular worked the dissolution of local religious practices by transforming
the gods and goddesses of those religions into saints of its own order,
who retained the attributes of the old gods but were now explicitly subordinate
to the Christ and his God in the broader culture of "Christendom." Islam
tended more to eradication than to absorption, but with essentially the
same result, a broad panethnic "Land Under God's Rule." In Buddhism, the
dissolution of old forms can be seen in its intent to free its practitioners
from the karmic burdens of the past and allow them to get off the Wheel
of Life. Due to its rejection of violence, Buddhism has never achieved
the forceful unification of cultures that Christianity and Islam have
done, but its philosophy and practices have nevertheless become equally
The idea of sacrifice, another Piscean characteristic, is also present
in all three religions. 1The Christian mythos has it that Christ was sacrificed
to "save" humanity from damnation. Christianity and Islam have always
encouraged men to sacrifice their lives to the benefit of their religion
and god. Buddha sacrificed his high status in society, and later sacrificed
all that he was as an individual, to free humanity from the Wheel. The
motivation for his work was compassion for all sentient beings, and compassion
is also a Piscean quality. Even today he is revered as the Compassionate
The ruling planet, Jupiter, represents the force that dominates within
the context of the era; Pisces being the religious sign, this force was
perceived as being God. Jupiter the All-Father is the child's image of
the male parent, blown up to cosmic proportions. He is the benevolent
tyrant who gives blessings and punishment by turns, the one who lays down
and enforces the rules (without bothering to explain them), the One Who
Is To Be Obeyed.
This image of God is common to both Christianity and Islam. Buddhism
again manifests the Jupiterian influencing a more subtle form, because
of its outright rejection of the gods. It could not avoid the Piscean
coloring of the era entirely; despite the fact that the core of Buddhism
is not religious in the Western sense, that core has become swathed in
a multitude of religious trappings, with the Buddha himself (as the "Great
One", i.e., Jupiter) taking the place of God.
The exalted planet, Venus, represents the power that can be brought to
its perfection in the era. Venus as Love was the core theme of the Christ's
teaching, the single principle that was to replace and free people from
the laws of Moses. In the West, this principle of exalted love reached
its apotheosis in works of the romantic troubadours, most notably the
Tristam cycles of stories.
The sign of Virgo was on the nadir in the Piscean era, and therefore
represents the common image of humanity, the culture's perception of its
people's fundamental nature. Virgo is traditionally the sign of peasants,
servants, armies (i.e. peasant levies), and other people performing simple
or repetitive tasks under the direction of a superior. The virtues of
the sign are obedience to authority, conscientiousness and meticulousness
in the performance of duty, and contentment with one's place -precisely
those "virtues" that the Christian Church encouraged in the populace for
most of two millennia, along with other virtues designed to ensure a steady
supply of replacement peasants. Using Christian terminology, the purpose
of the populace was to be sheep.
Until recently Islam did not go as far as Christianity in making obedience
to rulers and priests a virtue. But the Virgo characteristic has always
been present in its principles of obedience and submission to the Will
of God. In effect every man became king and priest of his own small kingdom
under God. Obedient and submissive to God but in turn having a "lower"
order of beings - women, then children, who had to be obedient and submissive
to their father/husband. The intermingling of the Islamic and Christian
cultures in southern Europe during the medieval period, eventually infected
Christianity with this tendency.
Buddha developed the sanest approach to dealing with these energies.
Instead of making the virtues of Virgo applicable to the society as a
whole, he incorporated the general nature of the sign into his methods
of initiation. Buddhist monks are required to spend the part of their
day not used for meditation in performing the many menial tasks necessary
to maintaining their community. By Buddha's prescriptions such tasks,
while they exist in the general community of the culture, are not required
The remaining two signs, Gemini and Sagittarius, represent the mode of
linkage between the divine and human poles of the midheaven-nadir axis.
The effect of the ascendant sign, Gemini, is clear with respect to the
Piscean era, the effect of the descendant sign, Sagitarius, is less obvious.
Gemini is ruled by the planet Mercury. Since no planet is exalted in
this sign, Mercury takes on additional power as its ruler. Gemini governs
the lower or "concrete" mind and those things that derive from it: speech,
writing, books, and communication in general. Since this is the concrete
mind, the things being communicated tend to be things that can be directly
related to the material world.
Both Christianity and Islam have maintained their continuity over the
centuries through the use of books. The rarity of books, the difficulty
of making them in preindustrial cultures, and the magickal properties
they present to the non-literate have served to bolster the belief in
the divine origin of the Bible and Koran for many centuries. The rarity
of other books, and the belief in their magickal nature, is demonstrated
in that neither the Christian nor the Islamic priesthood saw any need
to qualify their books with titles; both "Bible" and "Koran" mean simply
"the Book" not "Christ's Book" nor "Mohammed's Book".
The Book was the final authority on God's intent and nothing else was
permitted to supersede it. Since the majority of the population could
not read their native tongue let alone the Latin or Greek of the Bible,
no one could question the selective readings priests used to convince
the masses of one point or another. Today, we live surrounded by the printed
word, for us it is almost impossible to imagine the credibility given
in earlier days to anything that had been written down, no matter how
nonsensical it was. The very fact that someone had taken the tremendous
trouble to create a book gave an automatic assumption that what it contained
was true and important. Skepticism about the written word was almost nonexistent
until Gutenberg and his partners made books an accepted and unremarkable
fact of daily life.
For much of the duration of Christianity, to be a monk, a seeker after
god, meant to be a preserver and copier of the Word of God. Thousands
of monks spent the greater portion of their lives copying pages of the
Bible; this was literally one of the holiest works one could perform.
Writing and religious vocations were inextricably linked in the public
mind. Thus the term "cleric" or "clerk", originally applicable only to
priests or monks, came to be a generic term for anyone whose occupation
Buddhism managed an even more difficult task, but one that is still within
the Gemini pattern. For nearly a thousand years, there were no written
Buddhist texts at all; the words of the Buddha were preserved in the memories
of his monks. Thousands of monks would carefully memorize specific sections
of the lore word for word, continually checking their memories against
those of many others who had memorized the same portions. Through this
process of unending cross-checking, they managed to carry a decent recording
of the Enlightened One's words for a remarkable length of time.
So for the mass of humanity in the Piscean Era, the primary link between
the divine and man was the Gemini magick of the Word. The link represented
by Sagitarius was less often used, since most manifestations of it required
the ability to read and think clearly before they could be used. In Christian
lands the priesthood also actively discouraged its use, since it was a
threat to their authority as the arbiters of the Word. But despite their
resistance, it can be seen to have had a significant effect in the religion's
The Gemini link was extremely concrete in its manifestations; the Bible
is almost entirely a compilation of events alleged to have occurred in
the mundane world, the Koran almost as much so. Few examples of genuine
abstract thinking can be found in either book. Sagitarius, on the other
hand, represents the higher mind, that part of the mind that works with
qualitative abstractions, visions, symbolic representations, and the creation
of synthesizing linkages between discreet pieces of information.
The sign's glyph, the upward-pointed arrow, confirms that its orientation
is away from the specific events of the mundane world and towards the
perception of larger patterns into which those events fit. Jupiter, the
sign's ruler, again confirms this. He appears here not in the role of
the father-god, but in his more generalized astrological role as the embodiment
of the principles of expansion and inclusiveness.
Note that the action of Sagitarius does not necessarily connect with
the idea of science as we know it today, though great scientists often
have the ability to think in the Sagitarius mode. Its goal is not so much
to attain knowledge of specific facts, but rather to attain understanding
or comprehension of the universe as a whole. The Emerald Tablet of Hermes
Trismegistus defines the essence of this mode; the many sets of correspondences
that are the basis for modern magickal work are the product of such thinking,
as is this paper you are reading.
Most of the Piscean-era men and women we now know as great magicians
shared a viewpoint that was essentially Sagittarian; they sought to include
all of both the natural world and the magickal world in an inclusive scheme,
making no real distinctions between what we now call science and what
we call magick or religion. It was all one world to them, to be comprehended
as such. Knowledge of any area of existence contributed to their comprehension
of the whole. Naturally this attitude was perceived as a threat by the
religious authorities, who had a vested interest in restricting knowledge
to that which could be gained from their holy books.
An equally threatening aspect of Sagitarius is its tendency towards visionary
experiences. The multilevel symbolism of visions, and the way that the
symbols tend to jump across the carefully-restricted boundaries of words,
was disturbing to the clerics of both Christianity and Islam. The true
visionaries were set on fire by what they saw, and would never allow themselves
to be guided by clerics in their interpretations of their visions. As
a consequence, the religious authorities frequently found it necessary
to set them on fire in a more literal sense, or to lock them up in monastic
communities. And yet, we often find that a generation or two later, the
Church would invest these same visionaries with sainthood, and adopt the
principles they espoused into the formal teachings of the Church. It seems
that the Sagittarian side of the equation was responsible for instigating
many of the changes that the Church was forced to adopt over the centuries.
On other levels, the Sagittarian aspect of the mutable cross manifested
with great strength. On the physical plane, the sign's characteristics
of expansion and inclusiveness show themselves as long-distance travel,
and the entire Piscean era was one in which contacts were being made between
increasingly distant areas of the globe. Exploration went from being the
province of individuals to being a sanctioned and organized activity of
groups within the major societies. Local cultures started to become aware
of themselves as existing within a larger context, and trade with distant
cultures went from being a monopoly of certain groups to being something
generally practiced. By the waning days of the era, when the incoming
Aquarian powers brought improvements in the technology of travel, effectively
the entire world was known and interconnected in a web of transportation.
A corresponding and connected effect was seen in the political realm.
The long-distance links and increased knowledge of the world provided
by the Sagittarian tendency to travel combined with the sign's ability
to enhance the perception of abstract similarities between overtly dissimilar
things. These combined in turn with the power of Jupiter-as-ruler in the
midheaven sign to produce the great empires or over cultures of the Piscean
Era. The Roman over culture was more or less secular in nature, being
rooted in the prior Aries era; but not surprisingly, the two "pure" Piscean
over cultures, Christendom and Islam, had a distinctly religious tone,
so that in the minds of the people being part of the over culture was
identical with being united with the divine.
What all three of these over cultures had in common was that through
the use of abstractions they provided a means for dissimilar local cultures
to perceive themselves as part of a larger whole. Rome provided ways that
any person of good worth could become a citizen, no matter his birthplace
or previous cultural connections. In Christianity and Islam membership
in the over culture was a matter of adopting the religion in question.
In each case there were rules of behavior and demeanor, sufficiently
general as to not conflict greatly in interactions with local cultures,
the adoption of which signaled that a person was a member of the over
culture. These rules enabled people from places widely separated in space
to meet and be assured that they had at least a minimum common basis for
communication. Eventually the social abstractions of the over cultures
became ingrained in the local cultures, and were thought simply as the
"right" way to do things. They never completely eliminated conflicts between
local cultures and rulers, any more than the evolving American over culture
has eliminated regional quirks and biases. But they did greatly reduce
the violence of those conflicts on the personal level, and the frequency
of violent conflicts on the group level. And the awareness of culture
as something separate from a specific place or group paved the way for
the global awareness that is a necessary part of the Aquarian era.
In such a way the four signs of the mutable cross together combined to
determine the world-view and philosophical development of the Piscean
era. This summary presents the most general effects of the cross; the
influence extended far beyond the examples shown. Those with knowledge
of the historical details of the era should be able to apply this fourfold
symbolism to many areas not considered here.