Edward Carpenter and the Age of Aquarius
Definition: [Astrological Ages] Looking for the first mention of the Age of Aquarius is rather like opening a series of Russian dolls... one reference leads to another. The work of Paul Le Cour, and later Jung, seems to rest in turn on work in the 1920s by the English author Edward Carpenter [1844 -1929 AD], now better known for his openly gay life style [unusual at the time], than for his works on astrology. [And in turn Carpenter's work seems to rest on that of another Englishman, Gerald Massey [1828 1907 AD]]
In 1929 Edward Carpenter published the following in Astrosophie:
The quotations from "Pagan and Christian Creeds" are reproduced below. The footnotes in green are Carpenter's.
The Vernal Equinox has all over the ancient world, and from the earliest times, been a period of rejoicing and of festivals in honor of the Sungod. It is needless to labor a point which is so well known. Everyone understands and appreciates the joy of finding that the long darkness is giving way, that the Sun is growing in strength, and that the days are winning a victory over the nights. The birds and flowers reappear, and the promise of Spring is in the air. But it may be worth while to give an elementary explanation of the astronomical meaning of this period, because this is not always understood, and yet it is very important in its bearing on the rites and creeds of the early religions. The priests who were, as I have said, the early students and inquirers, had worked out this astronomical side, and in that way were able to fix dates and to frame for the benefit of the populace myths and legends, which were in a certain sense explanations of the order of Nature, and a kind of "popular science."
[There follows at this point several paragraphs describing the astronomical nature of the Vernal Equinox which I have omitted.]
How was this location defined? Among what stars was the Sun moving at that critical moment? (For of course it was understood, or supposed, that the Sun was deeply influenced by the constellation through which it was, or appeared to be, moving.) It seems then that at the period when these questions were occupying men's minds - say about three thousand years ago* - the point where the Ecliptic crossed the Equator was, as a matter of fact, in the region of the constellation Aries or the he-Lamb. The triumph of the Sungod was therefore, and quite naturally, ascribed to the influence of Aries. The Lamb became the symbol of the risen saviour, and of his passage from the underworld into the height of heaven.** At first such an explanation sounds hazardous; but a thousand texts and references confirm it; and it is only by the accumulation of evidence in these cases that the student becomes convinced of a theory's correctness. It must also be remembered (what I have mentioned before) that these myths and legends were commonly adopted not only for one strict reason but because they represented in a general way the convergence of various symbols and inferences.
[* Modern scholarship considers this to be much closer to two thousand years ago. See the Precession of the Equinoxes for more on this..]
[** Modern scholarship has shown that the astrologers of two millennia ago remained firmly convinced that the Vernal Equinox Point was within Aries, up until about 150 AD, even though it had really entered Pisces by 100 BC. See the Zodiac Wheel for details on this. Several decades after Carpenter, Jung offers an opposite description to Carpenter for Christ and the Age of Pisces based on where the Vernal Equinox Point actually was, rather than where most astrologers of the time thought it was.]
Let me enumerate a few points with regard to the Vernal Equinox. In the Bible the festival is called the Passover, and its supposed institution by Moses is related in Exodus, ch. xii. In every house a he-lamb was to be slain, and its blood to be sprinkled on the doorposts of the house. Then the Lord would pass over and not smite that house. The Hebrew word is pasach, to pass. The lamb slain was called the Paschal Lamb. But what was that lamb? Evidently not an earthly lamb--(though certainly the earthly lambs on the hillsides WERE just then ready to be killed and eaten)--but the heavenly Lamb, which was slain or sacrificed when the Lord "passed over" the equator and obliterated the constellation Aries. This was the Lamb of God which was slain each year, and "Slain since the foundation of the world." This period of the Passover (about the 25th March) was to be the beginning of a new year. The sacrifice of the Lamb, and its blood, were to be the promise of redemption. The door-frames of the houses--symbols of the entrance into a new life--were to be sprinkled with blood. Later, the imagery of the saving power of the blood of the Lamb became more popular, more highly colored. (See St. Paul's epistles, and the early Fathers.) And we have the expression "washed in the blood of the Lamb" adopted into the Christian Church.
 It is said that pasach sometimes means not so much to pass over, as to hover over and so protect. Possibly both meanings enter in here. See Isaiah xxxi. 5.
 See Exodus xii. i.
 It is even said (see The Golden Bough, vol. iii, 185) that the doorways of houses and temples in Peru were at the Spring festival daubed with blood of the first-born children--commuted afterwards to the blood of the sacred animal, the Llama. And as to Mexico, Sahagun, the great Spanish missionary, tells us that it was a custom of the people there to "smear the outside of their houses and doors with blood drawn from their own ears and ankles, in order to propitiate the god of Harvest" (Kingsborough's Mexican Antiquities, vol. vi, p. 235).
In order fully to understand this extraordinary expression and its origin we must turn for a moment to the worship both of Mithra, the Persian Sungod, and of Attis the Syrian god, as throwing great light on the Christian cult and ceremonies. It must be remembered that in the early centuries of our era the Mithra-cult was spread over the whole Western world. It has left many monuments of itself here in Britain. At Rome the worship was extremely popular, and it may almost be said to have been a matter of chance whether Mithraism should overwhelm Christianity, or whether the younger religion by adopting many of the rites of the older one should establish itself (as it did) in the face of the latter.
Now we have already mentioned that in the Mithra cult the slaying of a Bull by the Sungod occupies the same sort of place as the slaving of the Lamb in the Christian cult. It took place at the Vernal Equinox and the blood of the Bull acquired in men's minds a magic virtue. Mithraism was a greatly older religion than Christianity*; but its genesis was similar. In fact, owing to the Precession of the Equinoxes, the crossing-place of the Ecliptic and Equator was different at the time of the establishment of Mithra-worship from what it was in the Christian period; and the Sun instead of standing in the He-lamb, or Aries, at the Vernal Equinox stood, about two thousand years earlier (as indicated by the dotted line in the diagram), in this very constellation of the Bull. The bull therefore became the symbol of the triumphant God, and the sacrifice of the bull a holy mystery. (Nor must we overlook here the agricultural appropriateness of the bull as the emblem of Spring-plowings and of service to man.)
 With regard to this point, see an article in the Nineteenth Century for September 1900, by E. W. Maunder of the Greenwich Observatory on "The Oldest Picture Book" (the Zodiac). Mr. Maunder calculates that the Vernal Equinox was in the centre of the Sign of the Bull 5,000 years ago. [It would therefore be in the centre of Aries 2,845 years ago--allowing 2,155 years for the time occupied in passing from one Sign to another.**] At the earlier period the Summer solstice was in the centre of Leo, the Autumnal equinox in the centre of Scorpius, and the Winter solstice in the centre of Aquarius--corresponding roughly, Mr. Maunder points out, to the positions of the four "Royal Stars," Aldebaran, Regulus, Antares and Fomalhaut.
[* Modern scholarship disagrees with this. Mithraism is now thought to be of a very similar age to Christianity. It's a Roman mystery religion founded when the Vernal Equinox Point was entering Pisces, not when it was in Taurus.]
[** This is one of the the first known uses of the Platonic Month concept. [See Massey's work for an even earlier use.] This use is Carpenter's not Maunder's. Maunder in The Oldest Picture Book carefully notes that: "The Signs of the Zodiac are not of perfectly equal extent. Cancer, for instance, only represents about 19 degrees of longitude; Virgo covers about 43 degrees," a fact which invalidates the simple idea of using twelve equal Platonic Months to measure the amount of time for the Vernal Equinox Point to go from one sign to another. It's possible that Carpenter's incorrect use of a Platonic Months idea may have contributed to his later highly inaccurate start date of 1936 for the beginning of the Age of Aquarius... Which probably influenced Jung - and thus the idea of a New Agewas born early...]
Searching For a New Age in the 20th Century...
© Dr Shepherd Simpson, Astrological Historian. [The information on this page concerning Carpenter and Astrosophie was found at http://cura.free.fr/xxv/25halb20.html, written, in French, by Jacques Halbronn]
See the new Astrological Index for the meaning of other astrological words and phrases