When astrologers want to understand the archetype that underlies a zodiac sign, they look to the mythological stories that center around the deity that rules the sign. To understand Gemini, we look to Mercury, ruler of thought and ideas, wearer of the winged cap. To understand Libra, we look to Venus, goddess of love and beauty. Her nature as siren, tempestuous lover and self-indulgent hedonist helps us understand both Libra and Taurus, the two signs Venus rules. Clearly Venus and Mercury were well-identified by the ancients and interpretations of their movements that worked thousands of years ago still work today. All the other bodies visible with the naked eye (the Sun and Moon, Mars, Jupiter Saturn) were also clearly identified and associated with the right archetypal principles and so their zodiac signs are well-understood. But astrologers have had a challenge when it comes to Aquarius. This sign’s ruling planet, Uranus, may have been misnamed.
The deity Uranus is not one that has much mythological tradition surrounding him. There are not many stories to look to in discovering the meaning of this sky god. We know he was father to Saturn and that Saturn overthrew him, we know he was a primordial sky god. And that’s about it. No long tales to tell, no intricate personality quirks. And the things we do know about Uranus only fit Aquarius marginally. It’s occurred to one astrological thinker that there is a different deity whose stories and personality do fit the qualities of Aquarius, and that would be Prometheus. The astrologer is Richard Tarnas, whose discovery and line of thinking are detailed in his book, Prometheus the Awakener.
All of this gets me to my point, which is: Aquarians, the myths of Uranus do not have a lot to tell you about your own nature. But the myths of Prometheus do. Here is his story . . .
Our tale begins in a time before human beings existed, when the world was fresh and new, and populated by gigantic gods called Titans.
Prometheus was one of the Titans. Animals had already been created and they were wonderful, but Prometheus wanted to make something better, so he created Man out of clay. He made Man in the shape of a god, which was rather arrogant of him and resulted in Man thinking a bit much of himself as well. By the time Man was made, all the gifts of life (wings, feathers, speed, strength, fins, etc.) had already been disbursed among the animals, so that there was no special gift for Man. Prometheus had an idea what to do about this, so he took himself to Mt. Olympus, the dwelling-place of the gods, and got some fire and gave that to Man. This was an incredible advantage over the other creatures, because Man could keep himself warm, cook his food, and make tools using fire, and the other creatures couldn’t do that. Fire gave Man enough safety and leisure to cultivate arts and commerce.
According to Bullfinch’s Mythology, Prometheus is represented by the Greek & Roman poets as “a friend to mankind.” But Prometheus’ gift was gained at a price: Jupiter (Jove to the Greeks) was angered at the theft of fire and he, as king of the gods, punished Prometheus. Prometheus was chained to a huge rock where every day a giant eagle came and ate his liver from his still-living body. Every night the liver grew back—so this was an unending torment, because Prometheus was a god and could not die. Prometheus was in possession of a secret about which of Jupiter’s offspring would eventually overthrow him. Jupiter swore that Prometheus might be released if he would reveal the future usurper’s name. Prometheus refused and stubbornly endured his punishment.
The tale of Prometheus contains a number of themes that connect with the Aquarian temperament and mark him as the originator (planetary ruler) of that temperament.
1. Prometheus loves humanity. The sign of Aquarius is well-known for producing individuals who are “people persons.” Some Aquarians love humanity more as a concept and less in terms of one-on-one relating, but Aquarians are famous for standing up for human rights.
2. Prometheus demonstrated a refusal to support monarchy, holding out instead for decentralizing power. This strongly parallels the Aquarian tendency toward political activism and democracy. Aquarius comes down solidly on the side of the people as opposed to Leo, its opposite sign in the zodiac, which represents monarchy and centralized power. The best illustration of this is that around the time of the discovery of the planet we call Uranus (which, I’m arguing, should be called Prometheus), revolutions began happening as a phenomenon. I’m speaking of the French and American revolutions. The people joined together and rose up as one against an oppressive monarch, on two continents at the same time. These revolutions were soon followed by more revolutions, in Russia, China and elsewhere. Since the middle 1700s, revolution exists as a thing in itself, as it never before used to. When Uranus was discovered, the Revolutionary that lay hidden in humanity’s collective unconscious reared up and was activated.
3. The theft of fire from the gods and the giving of fire, with all its power, to humanity, was an act of rebellion on the part of Prometheus. He was a rebellious god, stuck in his own ideas and doing his own thing. He was a trickster. In a similar vein, the planet Uranus brings out a quality of rebellion in people when it’s strong in their charts. Uranian types tend to be rebellious, reactive and strong-minded. They sometimes enjoy rule-breaking for its own sake.
4. Fire itself represents insight, inspiration and one central symbol for Aquarius is lightening. We speak of thoughts having the speed of lightening and ideas striking us like lightening. Thought itself is the passing of electrical impulses in our brains—and it does happen at a lightning-pace. Sudden insight and the overthrow of old thought-structures is at the very heart of the archetype of Aquarius—and it’s the source of the famous Aquarian inventiveness.
To live fully into one’s sun sign it is sometimes necessary to invite a god into one’s life. Aquarians, your god is above all things a rebel, a revolutionary, a paradigm-shifter and rule-breaker. Your god loves humanity, even when that’s not the popular thing to do. Your god is willing to take the hit for humanity and endure great suffering and pain in order to take a stand for humanity’s right to be just a little bit godlike. Your god gave us the gift of startling ideas and brilliance. He deserves the biggest temple you can build him.
You can read more about Uranus’ discovery and rulership here: Aquarius—Not the Water-Bearer, But the Wave-Maker
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Once upon a time, in the long ago and far away, when gods and goddesses walked the earth among humans and when human beings aspired to godhood, there lived a centaur named Chiron.
A centaur, as you may know, looks like a man from the waist up and a horse from the neck down. There was, at this time, a whole race of centaurs, but Chiron was not really one of them, for he came to be a centaur in a different way. He was the product of a rape. Before Chiron was born, his mother, the nymph Philyra, attracted the attentions of Chronos (or Saturn). Chronos was accustomed to taking whatever—and whomever—he wanted, and so he pursued her relentlessly. She cleverly turned herself into a horse and sped away, but he turned himself into a horse also and caught her. Chiron was the product of their unwilling union. Think about that for a moment. His mother abandoned him at birth without a second thought. His father he never knew at all.
Chiron was always an uneasy union of opposites. The way he came into existence was an example of that, along with the fact that he was, himself, half-god and half-beast. A third example is in his attempts to negotiate treaties between the unruly centaurs (representing Freud’s unconscious or “id”) and their neighbors, the Lapiths (representing Freud’s repressive superego), even though neither fully accepted him as one of their own. Chiron’s dualistic nature drove him to seek his own wholeness. He was driven by a need to put the warring parts of himself together, so he could become one person.
Chiron in all his duality symbolizes an essential human problem: a human being is a spirit in a body. A human being is a bundle of instinctual needs and unconscious drives and yet “in aspect, how like a god” are we. Has it ever occurred to you how funny it is that, when we are pointing out someone’s flaws, we say “He’s only human,” and yet, when we see an animal behaving in a way that seems beyond its capability, we say, “it’s almost human.” It’s almost as if humanity itself is an odd blend of bestial and divine. Chiron is this puzzle of being human.
Chiron formed a strong friendship with Hercules, the mightiest of heroes. They fought in battle together, side by side, on many an occasion. In one battle, amidst the confusion, a poisoned arrow shot by Hercules injured Chiron’s leg, causing what should have been a mortal wound. But Chiron, being immortal, could not die. So the animal part of him had to suffer while the divine part maintained his connection to life. Perhaps it was for this reason that Chiron became a renowned healer. He studied herb lore and healing ways and became a medicine man in search of a cure. He never found one, but he found something better—a way to transcend his suffering and to become truly whole.
During this period, Prometheus was being punished. He was one of the Titans, the gods before the gods we know best (Jupiter, Mars, Venus and the crew). Prometheus thought Man was a pretty good invention, the best and brightest of the earth-dwelling mortal creatures. He believed human beings should have fire, so he stole some from Mt. Olympus (home of the gods) and gave it to humanity. For this, he received an extremely harsh punishment. He was chained to a rock in the underworld and each day a huge eagle (or in some stories a griffin) came and ate his liver from his still-living body. Each night it grew back. Before leaving him there to endure this daily torment for all eternity, Jupiter (aka Zeus) declared that whoever of all the gods wished to, might relieve Prometheus of his torment if that god was willing to take his place for just one night. After that night, the rescuer would die and become a ghost in the underworld, as if he were mortal. No one agreed to—and why would they? They were gods. They had immortality and a luxurious existence. Why would they give that up?
Chiron heard this and thought to himself, “I am already suffering on a daily basis and there is no value to my suffering. If I took on the suffering of Prometheus, at least he would be freed.” Chiron did so—he took Prometheus’ place on the rock and endured the torment of the giant bird. Jupiter was so impressed with this behavior that he did more than make good his promise to free Prometheus. He liberated Chiron from not only the rock, but also the torment of his own wounded body, and placed him among the stars as the constellation Sagittarius.
Now I want to point some very important things out here. Chiron’s decision to heal Prometheus by taking on his pain was exactly the thing that liberated Chiron himself. It was a truly selfless act. It also illustrates a healing principle of homeopathy: “in the poison is the cure.” Which means that a very small amount of the very thing that hurt you will cause your body to cough up and expel, in a healing reaction, the original damaging agent. It is also the reason why people drink in the morning to cure a hangover, calling it “the hair of the dog that bit you.” And this principle is related to inoculation, in the idea that a small amount of a disease, when introduced into the system of an otherwise healthy person, will cause that person to create antibodies which stand ready to fight the disease if it appears in force later in life. Whether preventative or curative, all these principles suggest that small amounts of poison effect cure.
Chiron’s story is both beautiful and profound but for Chironic types (people with Chiron placed strongly in their chart) it is more than this: it is a life-path with deep, rich meaning. To be on the path of the healer is a gift which hurts at first, but leaves one with a wholeness, a sense of being knitted together and of having access to all of oneself that would not be possible if the wound had not been there in the first place.
The key to this is to spend as little time as possible in the victim role, and to, as quickly as possible, move on to the role of survivor and ultimately to become a thriver. If you’re a Chironic type, you cannot afford to get self-indulgent anywhere on the path, because you will get stuck there. Acknowledge that the pain is life’s gift, driving you onward toward healing and wholeness—for yourself and the many others lucky enough to cross your path.
Chiron is a part of all of us. All of us have a primal wound, a wound that feels like it will never heal. Our human tendency is to think that we are special in our woundedness (“You don’t know how it feels to be me” was how Tom Petty put it) but that attitude is the very thing that forms the greatest obstacle to our healing. In order to heal and truly move on to surviving and thriving, we must let go of the glamour of victimhood.
Chiron is split; he is both wounded and divine. Chiron in your astrology chart shows a place where you came into this life ready to be wounded. It also shows a place where you have a capacity to be divine, extraordinary, special. Heal the wound and you are left with the divinity. How do you heal the wound? Three ways: First, accept and bring yourself to love the broken or split off side of yourself. Second, let go of attachment to being special in your brokenness, a victim of your fate. And finally, heal others who are like you because this will bring out and exercise your divine ability. You don’t have to do these in any particular order—life will send you random opportunities to do all three.
Chiron’s gift is great, but unattractive. Can you accept it and make something of it? If you can, you will release the pain of being human and take your rightful place among the stars as a constellation.
If you’ve never heard of a planet called Chiron and you’re wondering where it is in our solar system, Chiron, What The Heck Is That? will answer your questions. That post also has more about Chiron’s 50-year cycle, which leads to a powerful life transition we all experience when we turn 50. If you’re near 50, you definitely need to check it out.
Read about what Chiron is up to this year: This Year’s Stations of Chiron.
In the last month (February of 2011) Chiron has now moved into Pisces for the first time in 50 years. Chiron is the Wounded Healer and Pisces is the symbolic “ocean of dreams.” What does this mean?
In Greek and Roman mythology, Chiron is a healer, but he is also a wounded figure. He is usually shown limping, because he’s a reminder that everyone has a broken place inside. He is also a centaur—half horse (from the neck down) and half god (from the waist up). He is a symbol of our own human nature—half-beast and half-god, and that as human beings, we are an uneasy union of the animal and the divine.
Chiron is The Broken One, The Walking Wounded, the Healer and every character who has ever touched greatness through suffering. Chiron says: “I’m here to show you the old, stuck places in you that linger from the past. This may sound painful, but it’s actually an opportunity for healing deep, ancient wounds and recovering your human birthright.” Chiron’s gift is the accelerated evolution that comes when we own our wounding and do what is necessary to make ourselves whole.
In 2011, Chiron, the Wounded Healer, leaves Aquarius and moves into Pisces. Chiron in Pisces does his work gently, bringing up old wounds having to do with intuition and illusion. If you’re cut off from your intuition, Chiron will show you. If you’re deluding yourself about something, Chiron will know. “Watch your dream life,” says Chiron, “That’s where I’ll be, showing you places where you are split or broken and showing you how to heal them. You’ll find wholeness in your dreams and in your spiritual practice.” Even people who never thought they had a spiritual side may find themselves on the path during Chiron’s passage through Pisces. It lasts until 2018.
Tomorrow, I’m going to tell you the tale of Chiron, so you will learn why he is the wounded healer and what that means.
Read about what Chiron is up to this year: This Year’s Stations of Chiron.