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Welcoming the Water-Carrier

by Beata Bishop(more info)

listed in psychospiritual, originally published in issue 168 - March 2010

Last night in a book I was reading I came across a 15th century representation of Aquarius, the Water-Carrier, whose era we are supposed to enter soon. The image was familiar and even startlingly modern, as it showed a slim young man with fashionable shoulder-length hair, wearing the kind of boots I see every day in the High Street; even his pitcher had a distinct 'designer' look. However, what interested me was the symbolism of it all, the message behind the appearance. According to CG .Jung, the great Swiss psychologist, symbols imply something unknown to us which cannot be expressed in any other way – but may be understood if we unravel their language.

Well, putting on my astrologer's hat, I noted that although Aquarius is an Air sign, he's pouring Water onto the parched Earth, both being feminine elements as opposed to Air's masculine nature. And the elements are not just 'out there', but also 'in here', in every human being. Like the ancient Greeks, Jung associated the four elements with our basic psychological functions, so that Air stands for thinking, Fire for intuition, Water for feeling, and Earth for sensation, our relating to the world through our senses. The Age of Aquarius is supposed to bring enlightened thinking, originality and altruism, all of it typical Air stuff, and yet what comes out of that generous pitcher is Water for the Earth, the two opposite elements. How odd.

But then it suddenly made sense. Leaving astrology aside, I pondered the two questions that crop up frequently in discussions with friends and psychotherapist colleagues, namely "What's behind our global crisis?" and "What makes people so miserable?" And the symbolic answer to both questions seems to be the lack of Water and Earth, of feeling values, and of a real, living, active connection with Nature, of which we are a part. In other words, the gifts of the feminine principle, long suppressed by patriarchal society. On a broad canvas, the lack of feeling values, respect for life, compassion and caring have led to the destruction of the environment and the exploitation of the planet. For individuals, life in the developed world has become strictly utilitarian, focused on the harsh practicalities of everyday life, excluding all else that might add colour, beauty and, above all, meaning to existence. (Just consider how higher education has been stripped of the humanities and forced into 'vocational training', which fits in better with the job market, but excludes a wealth of precious knowledge and wisdom). Feeling, emotion doesn't get much of a look-in, either, except in the negative form of rage and a wide range of violence. Instead of badly needed cooperation, we are encouraged to compete – just listen to any public figure on the radio, proclaiming the need to get ahead of our rivals at any price. . This grim collective climate risks turning us into stress-driven robots, leading grey, arid lives. Indeed, 'arid' is the best description of this sorry state, arid, loveless, sterile, and in desperate need of – Water.

Our relationship to Earth, Nature, and the world of senses is pretty arid, too. Now that more and more people live in big cities and get addicted to the Internet, virtual living is fast taking over from any other kind of reality. Serial research among young – and not so young – city dwellers shows that a large proportion of them have no idea where their food comes from or how it is produced: surely, it all begins on the supermarket's shelves and ends in the microwave? So much has become virtual as opposed to real. There are tourists who don't look at the sights they've come to visit, except through their cameras' viewfinder. There are people who prefer the safety of internet chat rooms to real meetings with real people, just as having the ultimate control in computer games is preferable to testing one's strength away from the console. But all this leaves a gap. What is missing is a sense of belonging, of tangible all-round connectedness to the ground of our being, which is – the Earth.

So far that's been the bad news. The good news is that, turning back to the symbol, the advance whiff of the clear-thinking altruistic Aquarian Age has begun to bring back the two life-giving elements that we need to cure our ills, and those of the world. What's more, the process has started among the all-important grass roots. It's still bitty and scattered, but put the bits together and a pattern begins to emerge. The burgeoning environmental movements, the countless local initiatives, the generous response – even in these hard times – to emergency appeals, all these are motivated and maintained by feeling values, by compassion and a revived community spirit. It's the Water (not the milk) of human kindness that has begun to flow amid and despite all the conflicts, quarrels and assorted nastiness disfiguring the scene.

As far as the Earth is concerned, it has begun to come back into collective consciousness. The threat of global food shortages has turned the spotlight on it, just as Charles Darwin had done in 1881 when he stated that all life on Earth depended on some twenty inches of top soil. Sadly, his message was forgotten, and since his day that layer had become much thinner. Remarkably now it is city dwellers, used to asphalt and concrete, who are discovering the lure of earth. They are queuing for allotments, turning their gardens or windowsills into vegetable patches, learning how to keep chickens and becoming urban shepherds. Last year in this country, for the first time ever, the sale of vegetable seeds exceeded that of flower seeds. Farmers' markets are thriving and spreading. The connection between soil and dinner plate is re-emerging from the shadow of tins, cans and universal junk food.  Schoolchildren are learning to grow their own food and to cook, and all over the country school dinners are improving, although slowly and with many hiccups on the way. The examples multiply.

What's behind it all is a shift in consciousness, a move back towards some fundamental realities which we've forgotten under the mass hypnosis of the consumer society. Yes, there is a worsening global crisis that endangers our very future. And yes, collectively, going back over 200 years, we've caused all our problems. "Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of earth. Man is only a strand in the web of life. Whatever he does to the web, he does it to himself", said the Native American chief Seattle in 1854. At last we seem to have heard his message and, perhaps, change is on the way.

Welcome, Aquarius.


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About Beata Bishop

Beata Bishop is a writer, lecturer and psychotherapist in private practice, working along Jungian and transpersonal lines. Her special interests include the role of the spiritual dimension in all kinds of healing, and the body-mind link in sickness and health. Her book, A Time to Heal (First Stone Publishing, 2010), describes her journey from life-threatening cancer to robust health using an unorthodox nutritional therapy. She can be contacted on e-mail:

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