C.G. Jung’s Vision of the Aquarian Age

Printed in the  Summer 2018  issue of Quest magazine. 
Citation: Greene, Liz, "C.G. Jung’s Vision of the Aquarian Age" Quest 106:2, pg 19-25

By Liz Greene

Liv GreeneThe idea of the New Age as an astrologically defined epoch—assumed, in modern times, to be the coming Aquarian Age—began to take shape in the late eighteenth century, crystallized in the nineteenth, and is still popular today. But it is difficult to find agreement among authors about just what constitutes the New Age. Many of the ideas that form the basis of New Age thought are very ancient and have not been significantly altered by modernity (another exceedingly ambiguous term). They might equally be viewed as “Old Age,” as they reflect cosmological and anthropological themes that have maintained a structural integrity for more than two millennia. C.G. Jung viewed such ideas as archetypal: they belong to the “spirit of the depths,” as he called it in his illuminated personal journal known as The Red Book, and not, as might be assumed, to the “spirit of this time.”

New Age ideas—particularly the conviction that self-awareness and God-awareness are indistinguishable, and that God can be found within—are assumed by some scholars to be unique to “modern” spiritualities, a category in which Jung’s own ideas are often included. But this assumption is not supported by textual evidence. The equation of “god-knowledge” with “self-knowledge” is clearly expressed in late antique Hermetic, Neoplatonic, Gnostic, and Jewish esoteric literature. Nevertheless, Jung believed wholeheartedly that a new epoch reflecting the symbolism of the constellation of Aquarius was about to dawn and that his psychology might make a significant contribution to the conflicts arising from such a profound shift in the collective psyche.

The God in the Egg

In 1951, following two heart attacks, Jung wrote a work called Aion: Researches into the Phenomenology of the Self. The Greek word aion has a number of different meanings and usages, all of which are relevant to Jung’s understanding of the imminent collective psychic change he envisioned. Homer and Herodotus used the word to describe the lifetime of an individual. Euripides, like some Hermetic treatises, personified Aion as a divine being, calling him the “child of time,” who “brings many things to pass.” Aeschylus and Demosthenes used the word to describe both an epoch and a generation. Sophocles understood it as one’s destiny or lot, akin to the idea of moira or Fate. Hesiod used it to define an age or era, such as the Age of Gold or the Age of Iron. Paul used it to refer to the present world, as well as to an era or epoch. In Plato’s Timaeus, aion constitutes eternity, while chronos (time) expresses aion temporally through the movements of the heavenly bodies.

Jung seems to have favored the idea of an aion as both an astrological epoch—lasting roughly 2,165 years, or one-twelfth of what he believed to be the great “Platonic year” of 26,000 years—and a god-image, emerging out of the human religious imagination and embodying the qualities of that epoch. These epochs are reflected in the astronomical phenomenon of the precession of the equinoxes: the gradual backward movement of the point of the spring equinox (the moment each year when the sun enters the zodiacal sign of Aries) through the stars of the twelve zodiacal constellations.

The Gnostic text Pistis Sophia, with which Jung was familiar in G.R.S. Mead’s English translation, describes the aions both as celestial powers ruling over specific regions of the cosmos and as the regions themselves: zodiacal constellations with doorways or gates through which the redeemer god passes as he accomplishes his task of salvation. In contrast, the magical text known as the Mithras Liturgy presents Aion not as a zodiacal constellation, a planetary archon, or an epoch of time, but as a fiery primal divinity, also called Helios-Mithras: as Jung understood it, an image of the libido or life force. A vision of this eternal being is the goal of the ritual of the Mithraic religion, leading to the temporary “immortalization” of the initiate. Later in the ritual, prayers are offered to the “seven Fates of heaven,” the planetary divinities governing Heimarmene, or astral fate. An invocation is then addressed to Aion that names his primary attributes and functions. Aion, the “star-tamer,” emanates and controls the heavenly spheres, and the vision vouchsafed the initiate in the Mithras Liturgy allows an identification with divinity that, at least for a time, breaks the power of Heimarmene. Jung associated this freedom from the bonds of astral compulsion with the integrating potency of a direct experience of the Self; but like the liturgy, he stipulated no guarantee of the permanence of the state.

Jung’s description of Aion included the name Kronos (Saturn), but he elided it with chronos (time) and emphasized its leonine attributes. Paradoxically, Jung associated this “Deus Leontocephalus” (lion-headed god) not only with the sun, but also with the Gnostic archon Ialdabaoth and the archon’s planet, Saturn. Aion was many things for Jung: a fiery libido symbol embracing all opposites; a symbol of time expressed through the solar pathway of the zodiacal round; and a personification of the planetary deity Saturn-Kronos (Jung’s own horoscopic ruler, as he was born with the Saturn-ruled sign Aquarius rising in the east). Aion, for Jung, also embodied an astrological age—that of Aquarius— which, in its imagery and meaning, combines the human form of the Water Bearer with its opposite constellation of Leo, the lion. W.B. Yeats, preoccupied with the same zodiacal polarity, described his own vision of the approaching New Age in his poem, “The Second Coming,” written just after the Armageddon of the Great War, with a prophetic pessimism not unlike Jung’s own: a terrifying being with a lion’s body and the head of a man “slouching toward Bethlehem to be born” in the midst of chaos and social disintegration.

The major theme of Jung’s Aion is the shift in human consciousness and a simultaneous shift in the god-image, reflected in the ending of the Piscean age. In Jung’s view, Pisces is associated with the Christian symbols of Jesus and Satan as the two fish. The advent of the Aquarian aion is associated with a new symbol: humanity as the Water Bearer. Jung believed that each of the great shifts represented by a new astrological aion is reflected in the imagery of the presiding zodiacal constellation and its planetary ruler:

Apparently they are changes in the constellations of psychic dominants, of the archetypes, or “gods” as they used to be called, which bring about, or accompany, long-lasting transformations of the collective psyche. This transformation started in the historical era and left its traces first in the passing of the aeon of Taurus into that of Aries, and then of Aries into Pisces, whose beginning coincides with the rise of Christianity. We are now nearing that great change which may be expected when the spring-point enters Aquarius.

There has been considerable speculation about where Jung acquired the idea of a New Age in relation to the movement of the vernal equinoctial point. Jung himself has been credited with being the first person in modern times to disseminate the idea that the long-anticipated New Age would be Aquarian.

Actually the idea of an Aquarian Age is rooted in the late eighteenth-century Enlightenment, when a number of scholarly works were produced that focused on the Christian figure of Jesus as one of a long line of solar deities. Although none of the authors of these works provided the kind of interpretations offered by astrologers contemporary with Jung, all of them emphasized the importance of the precessional cycle in the historical development of religious images and ideas.

In 1775, the French astronomer Jean Sylvain Bailly (1736–93) proposed an astral origin for all religious forms. Bailly was followed by a French professor of rhetoric, Charles François Dupuis (1742–1809), who, in his Origine de tous les cultes (“Origin of All Cults”), argued that all religions sprang from sun worship and that Christianity was simply another form of solar myth. Like Jung over a century later, Dupuis noted the parallels between the astrological constellation of Virgo and the mother of the solar messiah. Describing the engraving he commissioned for the frontispiece of his book, Dupuis noted “a woman holding a child, crowned with stars, standing on a serpent, called the celestial Virgin . . . She has been successively Isis, Themis, Ceres, Erigone, the mother of Christ.”

Speculations on a link between the precession of the vernal equinoctial point and changing religious forms continued throughout the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. François-Henri-Stanislas de l’Aulnaye (1739–1830), who authored two books on Freemasonry, produced a text in 1791 called L’histoire générale et particulière des religions et du culte des tous les peoples du monde (“The General and Particular History of the Religions and Worship of All the People of the World”). His work was the first to consider the implications of the precession of the vernal equinoctial point into Aquarius, which he believed had taken place in 1726. In his Anacalypsis, published in 1836, Godfrey Higgins (1772–1833), a religious historian whose work exercised a major influence on H.P. Blavatsky, declared that the equinoctial shift from Taurus into Aries was the time when “the slain lamb” replaced “the slain bull.” In the late nineteenth century, Gerald Massey (1828–1907), an English poet and self-educated Egyptologist, offered a detailed scheme of the evolution of religious forms according to the precession of the equinoxes through the zodiacal constellations. One of Massey’s papers, “The Historical Jesus and the Mythical Christ,” privately published in 1887, contains the first reference to the Age of Aquarius appears in the English language:

The foundations of a new heaven were laid in the sign of the Ram, 2410 BC.; and again, when the Equinox entered the sign of the Fishes, 255 BC. Prophecy that will be again fulfilled when the Equinox enters the sign of the Water-man about the end of this [nineteenth] century.

All of these authors utilized mythic images to illustrate vast collective changes in religious forms and perceptions, and linked the myths to particular zodiacal constellations in the cycle of precession. Although Jung did not cite any of their writings in his own published work, the same ideas are central to both Aion and The Red Book. That no one seems to have agreed on the date for the start of the new Aquarian aion is not surprising. As Jung himself stated: “The delimitation of the constellations is known to be somewhat arbitrary.” 

Ancient Sources for the New Age

Texts explicitly relating the dawning of a New Age to the precession of the equinoxes may only have begun in the modern era. But Jung believed that earlier sources supported his belief that a new astrological aion was about to begin. For example, he attempted to find validation for the Aquarian Age in an alchemical text by the alchemist and physician Heinrich Khunrath (1560–1605). Khunrath declared that an “age of Saturn” would begin at some unspecified point in the not-too- distant future and that it would usher in a time when alchemical secrets would become available to everyone: “The age of Saturn is not yet, in which everything that is private shall become public property: for one does not yet take and use that which is well meant and well done in the same spirit.”

Khunrath does not mention the precession of the equinoxes or Aquarius. Nor does the idea appear in any other alchemical literature of the early modern period, steeped in astrology though it was. But Jung believed that Khunrath was referring to the Age of Aquarius, because this constellation is traditionally ruled by Saturn. In a 1940 lecture, Jung commented:

Khunrath means that the age of Saturn has not yet dawned . . . Obviously the question is: what does Khunrath mean by the age of Saturn? The old alchemists were of course also astrologers, and thought in an astrological way. Saturn is the ruler of the sign of Aquarius, and it is quite possible that Khunrath meant the coming age, the age of Aquarius, the water carrier, which is almost due now. It is conceivable that he thought mankind would be changed by that time, and would be able to understand the alchemists’ mystery.

In this alchemist’s work, Jung found what he perceived as evidence that the Age of Aquarius would be concerned with revelations of an esoteric and psychological nature, “secrets” that had either been lost or had never been known, and whose emergence into collective consciousness would transform human self-awareness. Despite his pessimism about the capacity for global self-destruction inherent in the interiorization of the god archetype, Jung was guardedly optimistic about the psychological potential of the New Age.

In Gnostic literature, Jung may also have found similar evidence of a belief in precession as a herald of great religious changes—although here, as in Khunrath’s writings, there are no explicit references to the astrological aions in relation to the precession of the equinoctial point. The Apocryphon of John, as described by the second-century Christian heresiologist Irenaeus, speaks of the breaking of the chains of astral fate by the advent of the Redeemer: “He [Christ] descended through the seven heavens . . . and gradually emptied them of their power. Pistis Sophia also provides descriptions of a great “disturbance” in the heavens. But like the Apocryphon of John, it does not explicitly refer to equinoctial precession.

Jung linked the Mithraic symbolism of the bull with the polarity of Taurus and its opposite constellation, Scorpio, describing them as “sexuality destroying itself” in the form of “active libido” and “resistant (incestuous) libido.” By the time he published Psychology of the Unconscious in 1912, he was well aware of the movement of the equinoctial point through the constellations:

Taurus and Scorpio are equinoctial signs, which clearly indicate that the sacrificial scene [the Tauroctony] refers primarily to the Sun cycle . . . Taurus and Scorpio are the equinoctial signs for the period from 4300 to 2150 B.C. These signs, long since superseded, were retained even in the Christian era.

By 1912, Jung had thus already begun to arrive at certain insights regarding the precession of the equinoxes in relation to the Mithraic iconography. He seems to have been convinced that Taurus and Scorpio, although “long since superseded” as equinoctial signs, were still relevant as potent symbols of generation and regeneration even in the Piscean era, when the Roman cult of Mithras first arose.

The Platonic year of 26,000 years (also known as the Great Year), during which the equinoctial point passes through all twelve signs, was never described by Plato, as precession had not been discovered in his time. But Plato defined the “perfect year” as the return of the celestial bodies and the diurnal rotation of the fixed stars to their original positions at the moment of creation. Echoing Plato, Julius Firmicus Maternus, a Roman astrologer of the fourth century CE, discussed a great cycle of 300,000 years, after which the heavenly bodies will return to the positions they held when the world was first created. Firmicus seems to have combined Plato’s perfect year with the Stoic belief that the world undergoes successive conflagrations of fire and water, after which it is regenerated. Although Jung was familiar with Firmicus’s work, it was in modern astrological, Theosophical, and occult literature that he found inspiration for his own highly individual interpretation of the Aquarian aion. 

New Sources for the New Age

Jung’s understanding of Aquarius as the constellation of the incoming aion is not traceable to any ancient or medieval source. His chief perception of this age rested on the idea of the union of the opposites, the interiorization of the god-image, and the struggle to recognize and reconcile good and evil as dimensions of the human psyche. “We now have a new symbol in place of the [Piscean] fish: a psychological concept of human wholeness. In a 1929 letter, Jung prophesied a time of confusion preceding the new consciousness:

We live in the age of the decline of Christianity, when the metaphysical premises of morality are collapsing . . . That causes reactions in the unconscious, restlessness and longing for the fulfilment of the times . . . When the confusion is at its height a new revelation comes, i.e. at the beginning of the fourth month of world history. 

The “fourth month of world history” is the aion of Aquarius: “world history” in Jung’s context began with recorded history in the aion of Taurus between 4300 and 2150 B.C.E. The imminent collective transformation will, in Jung’s view, require a long and potentially dangerous process of integration, as it must occur in each individual. The Red Book might be understood as a highly personal narrative of that integrative process within Jung himself. Jung’s interest in Nietzsche is likely to have contributed to the idea that the celestial Water Bearer—one of only three zodiacal images bearing a human form—might be a symbol of the Übermensch, the “beyond-man,” who transcends the opposites. Nietzsche’s conviction that humanity was progressing toward a goal that lay “beyond good and evil” hints at the idea of the fully individuated human being, which Jung hoped would emerge in the new aion. But Nietzsche never associated his Übermensch with Aquarius.

An obvious modern source for Jung’s expectations of a transformation of consciousness based on the precession of the equinoxes might seem to be the Theosophists, who certainly promulgated the idea of an imminent New Age. Blavatsky was familiar with authors such as Higgins and Massey. But she did not equate her New Age with the entry of the vernal equinoctial point into the constellation of Aquarius, preferring to use what she referred to as “the Hindu idea of cosmogony” (the concept of the yugas) combined with certain fixed stars in relation to the equinoctial point. According to Blavatsky, twelve transformations of the world will occur, following a partial destruction by water or fire (a lift from the Stoics) and the generation of a new world with a new twelvefold cycle. She identified this idea as “the true Sabaean astrological doctrine,” which describes these twelve transformations as reflections of the twelve zodiacal constellations. But this approach does not involve precession, and the twelve transformations do not comprise a precessional cycle of 26,000 years; they comprise the entire history of the planet over many millions of years.

In an article on the history of the idea of the New Age, Shepherd Simpson points out that Jung, whom he credits with the first promulgation of the idea of an Aquarian Age in modern times, could not have gotten the idea from Blavatsky. The Austrian esotericist Rudolf Steiner, whose Anthroposophical Society rejected the Eastern inclinations of the Theosophists but retained many of their ideas, likewise subscribed to the idea of a New Age and referred to it as the “Age of Christ’s Second Coming.” But this New Age, which, in Steiner’s view, began in 1899, is not Aquarian:

There is much talk about periods of transition. We are indeed living just at the time when the Dark Age has run its course and a new epoch is just beginning, in which human beings will slowly and gradually develop new faculties. . . . What is beginning at this time will slowly prepare humanity for new soul faculties.

These “new soul faculties” do indeed belong to the Aquarian Age, but they are only in preparation. According to Steiner’s idiosyncratic reckoning, the Age of Aquarius will not begin until 3573; the present world is still living in the Piscean Age, which began in 1413. Steiner wrote extensively about the problem of evil; like Jung, he believed evil to be a reality rather than a mere deprivation of good, and, also like Jung, he was fascinated with but also repelled by Nietzsche’s ideas. Steiner also understood the necessity for humans taking responsibility for evil:

Until now, the gods have taken care of human beings. Now, though, in this fifth post-Atlantean epoch, our destiny, our power for good and evil, will increasingly be handed over to us ourselves. It is therefore necessary to know what good and evil mean, and to recognize them in the world.

But Steiner was much closer to Gnostic perceptions than Jung was and understood evil to belong to the incarnate world and the dark spiritual potencies (Lucifer and Ahriman), who, like the Gnostic archons, work to inflame the innate selfishness and destructiveness of the human being. Nor did Steiner associate the integration of good and evil with an imminent Aquarian Age. Although Jung was well acquainted with Steiner’s work, Steiner was no more likely a source for Jung’s understanding of the new aion than Blavatsky was.

In 1906, G.R.S. Mead offered his own version of the New Age:

I too await the dawn of that New Age, but I doubt that the Gnosis of the New Age will be new. Certainly it will be set forth in new forms, for the forms can be infinite . . . Indeed, if I believe rightly, the very essence of the Gnosis is the faith that man can transcend the limits of the duality that makes him man, and become a consciously divine being. 

This idea of a resolution of the problem of duality is much closer to Jung’s formulation, and Mead may have contributed important ideas to Jung’s vision. In Aion, Jung elaborated on Mead’s description:

The approach of the next Platonic month, namely Aquarius, will constellate the problem of the union of opposites. It will then no longer be possible to write off evil as the mere privation of good; its real existence will have to be recognized. This problem can be solved neither by philosophy, nor by economics, nor by politics, but only by the individual human being, via his experience of the living spirit. 

But although Mead referred to the “cycles of the Aeon,” he did not link these cycles with the precession of the equinoxes. The New Age, whatever it might be, was apparently not, for Mead, an Aquarian Age. While Jung turned to Mead’s work for insights into many of the texts of late antiquity, it seems he looked elsewhere for ideas about the meaning of the Water Bearer.

Much likelier sources for Jung’s ideas about the Age of Aquarius were two Theosophically inclined astrologers who provided Jung with much of his knowledge of astrology: Alan Leo and Max Heindel. Leo embraced Blavatsky’s idea that humanity was at the midpoint of its millennia-old evolutionary cycle. But as an astrologer, he could not ignore the significance of the precession of the equinoxes, and he associated the New Age with the constellation of Aquarius. In Esoteric Astrology, first published in 1913, Leo declared: “I am actuated by the primary motive of expressing what I believe to be the true Astrology, for the New Era that is now dawning upon the world.” There is no mention of Aquarius in this statement. But two years earlier, Leo had declared explicitly that he believed the Age of Aquarius would begin on March 21, 1928. Leo did his best to reconcile Blavatsky’s idea of the Hindu yugas with precession, but his conclusions were, in the end, closer to Jung’s:

The constellation of Taurus was in the first sign of the zodiac [i.e., Aries] at the beginning of the Kali Yuga, and consequently the Equinoctial point fell therein. At this time, also, Leo was in the summer solstice, Scorpio in the autumnal equinox, and Aquarius in the winter solstice; and these facts form the astronomical key to half the religious mysteries of the world—the Christian scheme included.

In Leo’s view, the great cycle of precession is concerned with spiritual evolution, and the dawning Aquarian Age will mark the turning point of the cycle: the beginning of humanity’s slow ascent back to the realm of pure spirit. Although Jung used psychological models and wrote about wholeness and the integration of opposites rather than a return to a perfected world of pure spirit, it seems that, in principle, he agreed.

Leo described the Aquarian Age in general terms. Max Heindel was more specific, as we see in his 1911 statement about the purpose of his Rosicrucian Fellowship: “It is the herald of the Aquarian Age, when the Sun by its precessional passage through the constellation Aquarius, will bring out all the intellectual and spiritual potencies in man which are symbolized by that sign.”

But for Heindel, these burgeoning “intellectual and spiritual potencies” did not involve the psychological problem of the integration of good and evil. In The Rosicrucian Cosmo-Conception, published in 1909, Heindel provided a detailed explanation of the precession of the equinoxes, calling the entire cycle a “World-year.” In accord with the general tendency to disagree about when the New Age would commence, Heindel declared that the Age of Aquarius would not begin for “a few hundred years.”

Heindel’s 1906 book The Message of the Stars may have been more useful to Jung, as it describes the astrological ages in relation to the polarity of each zodiacal constellation with its opposite. Heindel’s view that the Age of Aquarius contains the attributes of Leo, the opposing constellation, must have been of considerable interest to Jung, who was inclined to view the workings of astrology, as well as human psychology, as a dynamic tension between opposites. Heindel had presented this theme in The Message of the Stars:

There are two sets of three pairs of signs, the first [set] being Cancer and Capricorn, Gemini and Sagittarius, Taurus and Scorpio. In these pairs of signs we may read the history of human evolution and religion . . . This is also divisible into three distinct periods, namely: the Aryan Age [sic], from Moses to Christ, which comes under Aries-Libra; the Piscean Age, which takes in the last two thousand years under Pisces-Virgo Catholicism; and the two thousand years which are ahead of us, called the Aquarian Age, where the signs Aquarius and Leo will be illuminated and vivified by the solar precession. (emphasis Heindel’s)

Heindel also discussed the religious symbolism of the astrological ages:

In the New Testament we find another animal, the Fish, attaining great prominence, and the apostles were called to be “Fishers of Men,” for then the sun by precession was nearing the cusp of Pisces, the Fishes, and Christ spoke of the time when the Son of Man (Aquarius) shall come . . . A new ideal will be found in the Lion of Judah, Leo. Courage of conviction, strength of character and kindred virtues will then make man truly the King of Creation.

Heindel’s “Son of Man,” with his leonine “courage” and “strength,” abounds with echoes of Nietzsche’s Übermensch. Like Heindel, Jung developed the idea that an astrological age reflects the symbolism of two opposing constellations. But he was not as optimistic as Heindel about the new aion. Jung did not assume that the union of the opposites would be a smooth passage into a higher and more loving stage of spiritual consciousness, as did the Theosophists and the New Age proponents of the late twentieth century. He foresaw “a new advance in human development,” but he viewed the transition into the Aquarian aion as a dangerous time, fraught with the potential for human self-destruction. In a letter to Father Victor White, written in April 1954, Jung stated that the shift into the aion of Aquarius “means that man will be essentially God and God man. The signs pointing in this direction consist in the fact that the cosmic power of self-destruction is given into the hands of man.

With even more overt pessimism, he wrote a year later to Adolf Keller: “And now we are moving into Aquarius, of which the Sibylline books say: Luciferi vires accendit Aquarius acres (Aquarius inflames the savage forces of Lucifer). And we are only at the beginning of this apocalyptic development!” In light of the history of the twentieth century and the opening decades of the twenty-first, it seems that Jung’s dark prophecy was uncomfortably relevant. 

The Timing of the New Aion

There has never been any accord among authors about the date for the commencement of the New Age. At the end of the eighteenth century, de l’Aulnaye believed that the Aquarian Age had begun in 1726. At the end of the nineteenth century, Gerald Massey insisted that the Age of Pisces began in 255 BCE, with the “actual” birth of Jesus, and that the equinoctial point would move into the constellation of Aquarius in 1901. Alan Leo offered the very specific date of March 21, 1928— the day of the vernal equinox of that year—while Dane Rudhyar, writing in 1969, suggested the Aquarian Age had begun in 1905. And Rudolf Steiner, in the early decades of the twentieth century, was convinced the Age of Aquarius would not start until 3573.

Jung was initially equally precise, and equally independent, about the date on which the new aion would begin. In August 1940, he wrote to H.G. Baynes: “This is the fateful year for which I have waited more than 25 years . . . 1940 is the year when we approach the meridian of the first star in Aquarius. It is the premonitory earth-quake of the New Age.”

This date did not come from esoteric literature, but from a young Dutch Jewish astronomer named Rebekka Aleida Biegel (1886–1943), who had moved to Zurich in 1911 to take her doctorate in astronomy at the university. Betty Biegel became Jung’s patient and then trained with him, giving papers at the Association for Analytical Psychology in Zurich between 1916 and 1918.

In 1918, while Biegel was working at the Zurich Observatory, she sent Jung, at his request, an envelope of materials, which he marked “Astrologie” and kept in his desk at home. Biegel prepared a lengthy list of calculations indicating when the vernal equinoctial point—the moment when the sun enters the first degree of the zodiacal sign of Aries each year—aligned with each of the stars in the constellations of both Pisces and Aquarius. Along with these calculations, Biegel’s covering letter offered three possible dates for the beginning of the Aquarian aion: 1940 (when the equinoctial point aligned with the midpoint between the last star of Pisces and the first star of Aquarius); 2129; and 2245 (when the equinoctial point aligned with two different stars in the constellation of Aquarius, either of which might be considered the “beginning” of the constellation). What Jung called the “premonitory earthquake” of the Aquarian aion, according to Biegel’s first suggested date of 1940, coincided with some of the worst chapters of the Second World War.

Later Jung became less certain about the date of the commencement of the Aquarian aion. In an essay titled “The Sign of the Fishes,” written in 1958, he stated that the equinoctial point “will enter Aquarius in the course of the third millennium.” In a footnote, he explained that, according to the preferred starting point, the advent of the new aion “falls between AD 2000 and 2200,” but “this date is very indefinite” because “the delimitation of the constellations is known to be somewhat arbitrary.” But the “indefinite” and “arbitrary” nature of the date did not deter Jung from his lifelong conviction that the Aquarian aion was coming soon and that its initial impact within the collective psyche would not be pleasant. 

The Birth Chart of Jesus 

Jung was as preoccupied with discovering the birth date of Jesus, whom he believed to be the avatar and chief symbol of the Piscean aion, as he was with the date of the beginning of the aion itself. Jung compared a number of previous “ideal horoscopes for Christ” in Aion and concluded that the correct birth date for Jesus was in fact 7 BCE, as the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in Pisces in that year, with Mars in opposition from Virgo, was “exceptionally large and of an impressive brilliance.” He concluded that this configuration was the “star of Bethlehem” that had appeared as the augury of Jesus’ birth. Jung followed the calculations of the German astronomer Oswald Gerhardt and proposed May 29, the date on which the configuration of Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars had been exact, as the date of Jesus’s birth. This meant that his sun sign was Gemini: the “motif of the hostile brothers” that Jung believed to be one of the dominant archetypal themes of the Piscean aion.

Jung thus amalgamated the image of Christ as the “supreme meaning” of the incoming Piscean aion with the coniunctio maxima of Jupiter and Saturn in the zodiacal sign of Pisces. He viewed the approaching Aquarian aion as the epoch when individuals would interiorize the god-image; thus he did not anticipate a new avatar for the new aion who would manifest externally. He declined to adopt Steiner’s belief in a Second Coming of Jesus, or Annie Besant’s expectation of a new World Teacher, writing: “We now recognize that the anointed of this time is a God who does not appear in the flesh; he is no man and yet is a son of man, but in spirit and not in flesh; hence he can be born only through the spirit of men as the conceiving womb of the God.

Jung did not believe that any single person would personify the spirit of the new dispensation; the Water Bearer “seems to represent the self.” This insistence on individual responsibility seems to have colored Jung’s expectations with profound misgivings about the human capacity to cope with the lack of an external divine object on which to project the god-image. He understood his own role as important, but as an individual, not an avatar, who could help to illuminate the difficult psychological process of interiorization through his published work. Jung’s understanding of the Aquarian aion ultimately mirrors that of Alan Leo, who insisted that “the inner nature and destiny of this sign is expressed in the one word HUMANITY.”

It seems that Jung understood himself to be an individual vessel for the polarity of the new aion, and the work he pursued for his own integration was also work on behalf of a collective that he feared was already beginning to struggle blindly and destructively with the same dilemmas: the rediscovery of the soul; the acknowledgment of good and evil as inner potencies; the terrible responsibility that comes with that acknowledgment; and the recognition of a central interior self, which alone can integrate the opposites.

Jung appears to have viewed not only himself, but all those individuals with whom he worked and all those who might be influenced by his ideas in the future, as potential vessels who could, through their individual efforts to achieve greater consciousness, facilitate the collective transition into an astrological aion in which humans would be faced with the terrifying challenge of interiorizing and integrating good and evil as dimensions of a previously projected duality of God and the Devil. Attempting to define the nature of his psychology to his associate Aniela Jaffé, Jung commented: “The main interest of my work is not concerned with the treatment of neurosis, but rather with the approach to the numinous . . .The approach to the numinous is the real therapy.”

Jung was not encouraging about the global problems that this shift from the Piscean age to the Aquarian would entail. He placed his hopes, not in mass political or social movements, but in the capacity of the individual to recognize the enormity of the responsibility involved and to engage in the inner struggle to achieve greater consciousness. As he wrote: “If things go wrong in the world, this is because something is wrong with the individual, because something is wrong with me.


Liz Greene is a Jungian analyst and professional astrologer who received her diploma in analytical psychology from the Association of Jungian Analysts in London in 1980. She holds doctorates in both psychology and history, and is the author of a number of books on psychology and astrology, Tarot, Kabbalah, and myth, including The Astrological World of Jung’s Liber Novus.

This article is adapted and abridged from the chapter entitled “‘The Way of What Is to Come’: Jung’s Vision of the Aquarian Age” in Jung’s Red Book for Our Time: Searching for Soul under Postmodern Conditions, volume 1, edited by Murray Stein and Thomas Arzt: Chiron Publications, www.chironpublications.com. Reprinted with permission. Please see this edition for the full text as well as the references.

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