Jung’s “Platonic Month” and the Age of Aquarius

“… We live in the age of the decline of Christianity, when the metaphysical premises of morality are collapsing…. That’s why the young are experimenting like young dogs. They want to live experimentally, with no historical premises. That causes reactions in the unconscious, restlessness and longing for the fulfillment 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….”                                                                                                                                                                                                  Jung (1929)[1]

            … 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… only by the individual human being, via his experience of the living spirit, whose fire… was handed onward into the future….” 

                                                                                                Jung (1959)[2]

… Considering the terrible time in which we are living… it reminds me of… those dark centuries when the culture of antiquity was gradually falling into decay. Now once again we are in a time of decay and transition,… The vernal equinox is moving out of the sign of Pisces into the sign of Aquarius,… Our apocalyptic epoch … contains the seeds of a different, unprecedented, and still inconceivable future…

            The coming new age will be as vastly different from ours as the world of the 19th century was from that of the 20th with its atomic physics and its psychology of the unconscious. Never before has mankind been torn into two halves, and never before was the power of absolute destruction given into the hand of man himself. It is a “godlike” power that has fallen into human hands…. 

                                                                                                Jung (1955)[3]

Transitions between the aeons always seem to have been melancholy and despairing times, as for instance the collapse of the Old Kingdom in Egypt… between Taurus and Aries, or the melancholy of the Augustinian age between Aries and Pisces. 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! Already I am a grandfather twice over and see those distant generations growing up who long after we are gone will spend their lives in that darkness…. 

                                                                                                Jung (1955)[4]

 

            This essay was inspired by a student’s question: What might we expect in the Age of Aquarius? What does “Aquarius” symbolize and what’s coming in the future? Good question! Would that I had a crystal ball and could peer into it and produce a sure-fire answer. No such ball. But I can fall back on the vision and intuition of Carl Jung, who had quite a bit to say about what he felt (and intuited) was coming as the old aeon gives way to the new.

            That there are aeons and we can speak of “old” and “new” ones is one of Jung’s many contributions to our contemporary thought, for which he earned the sobriquet “father of the New Age movement.”[5] In this essay we will begin by considering Jung’s concept of ages and what he called the “Platonic month.”[6] Then we will draw on astrological insights for some ideas of what we might expect an “Aquarian age” to be like, and finally we’ll conclude with Jung’s statements about the future.

 

Jung’s Concept of Ages and the Platonic Month

 

            As I have noted in multiple previous essays on this blog site, Jung was an avid student of history and a keen comparative anthropologist. In formulating his idea of ages, he was not being original. He recognized that

…the propensity of the human system to form such conceptions as the world periods of the Parses, the yugas and avatars of Hinduism, and the Platonic months of astrology…is worldwide.[7]

While this periodizing tendency can be found in many different cultures, Jung was being creative in called astrology’s division of eras “Platonic months.” He coined this term; it does not go back to Plato.[8]

            Jung was also a student of astrology. He read Ptolemy’s Almagest and worked up charts for some of his patients. He was familiar with the astronomical phenomenon of the precession of the equinoxes, which is

the earlier occurrence of the equinoxes in each successive sidereal year… the result of a slow westward movement of the equinoxes along the ecliptic caused by a gradual change in the direction of the earth’s axis because of the combined action of the sun, moon, and planets on the mass of matter accumulated about the earth’s equator.[9]

and he understood how this phenomenon led to the shift from one astrological sign to the previous sign over the passage of thousands of years.

            But how many thousands? This question exercised Jung and led to many footnotes and scribblings of calculations in his various essays. In “Aion,” one of Jung’s master works, he tried to work out the date when the Age of Aquarius would begin. He notes

… Astrologically the beginning of the next aeon, according to the starting point you select, falls between A.D. 2000 and 2200. Starting from star “O” and assuming a Platonic month of 2,143 years, one would arrive at A.D. 2154 for the beginning of the Aquarian Age, and at A.D. 1997 if you start from star “a 113.” The latter date agrees with the longitude of the stars in Ptolemy’s Almagest.[10]

Jung seems here to opt for the 1997 date, but before we get all excited at the realization that we are already in the age of Aquarius, we must acknowledge that not only the choice of star was the subject of debate: the length of the Platonic month was much debated too. Some sources put the length at 2,160 years,[11] others at 2,148 years.[12] So we might be in the new age now, and we might not. Better to take the cautious approach of some astrologers who suggest we are “on the cusp” of Aquarius.[13]

            Whether we are “on the cusp” or actually in the new era, we can see signs of it now in our current reality. This gets to the heart of the student’s question that provoked this essay. What’s an Aquarian age going to look like?

 

A Possible Portrait of an Aquarian Age

 

            Before turning to astrology—our major source for speculation on what an Age of Aquarius might look like—it bears noting that we have no historical reference here. That is, we cannot look back in historical or even pre-historical times to what the previous Aquarian age was like because there never has been one! As I noted above, aeons are so long, and our historical and pre-historical records are so short (in comparison) that homo sapiens sapiens has never experienced life in an Aquarian aeon.

            The closest we can come with some useful historical antecedents are insights from transits of Neptune when it has moved through Aquarius (Neptune being the “sign of the times,”[14] i.e. the planet that tends to signal a shift in the collective consciousness as it moves through the different signs of the zodiac). A recent example is illustrative. From 1970 to 1984 Neptune was in the sign of Sagittarius, a sign associated with higher education, spiritual seeking, idealism, adventure, restlessness, and the quest for meaning. Reflecting the nature of the sign, we witnessed the rise of “flower power,” the hippies, the anti-war movement, the civil rights and women’s movements, various forms of spirituality, the sit-ins and other challenges to authority on many college campuses through the decade of the 60’s and ‘70s. Then Neptune went into Capricorn in 1984. The energy of Capricorn is very different from that of Sagittarius: conservative, buttoned-down, materialistic, ambitious, business-oriented, derivative in terms of creativity. What did we see from 1984 on? Remakes of old movies, revivals of old Broadway shows, the smoke and mirrors of the Reagan era, the resurgence of conservatism in politics, de-regulation and the rise of corporate values, Wall Street materialism (e.g. “Greed is good!”),[15] and young people’s ambitions to become a “Master of the Universe.”[16]

            Now Neptune has moved into Aquarius and we can look back in time to see how earlier centuries reflected this “mini-Age of Aquarius.”[17] What do we see? These were times of social reform and Utopian visions, radically new ideas shaking up the status quo, widespread revolts (when conditions failed to improve), and, in 1781, the discovery of the planet Uranus, which astrologers regard as the ruler of Aquarius.[18] Specifically, while Neptune moved through Aquarius in the 17th century (1668 to 1683) there was the Age of Enlightenment and William Penn’s establishment of a Quaker colony in Pennsylvania (to spare his co-religionists further persecution in England; 1681). In its next passage through Aquarius (1833 to 1847), Neptune timed the rise of Transcendentalism and the abolitionist movement to end slavery; Charles Dickens’ novels revealing the economic injustice of industrialism;[19] and the wave of revolts that swept over Europe in 1848.

            What have we seen in our recent past that reflects a Neptune in Aquarius? Jung noted the experimentation that is a feature of the lives of young people.[20] We can also note the unrest embodied in the Occupy Wall Street movement, the revolts in the Middle East in the “Arab Spring” of 2011, and the growing movements to protect children, end domestic violence and stop the international slave trade. These are just a few of many trends and traits we can identify. Using astrology, we can paint a more detailed portrait of what an Aquarian age might look like

            Features of an Aquarian Era. Like any era, Aquarius will have its positive and its negative side. On the plus side, the coming age is likely to be a creative time, with many new ideas, lots of inventiveness, scientific and technological advances (especially related to electronics, computers and all manner of things electrical). Mavericks and free thinkers will press for a union of science and magic, and will find ways to apply new technologies to promote economic and social justice (e.g. by developing and getting widespread adoption of the “free energy” devices noted in Foster Gamble’s movie “Thrive”).[21] The universal brotherhood of all people will be a mantra, as humanitarianism becomes a general concern. But all will not be sweetness and light: For all its good features, Aquarius comes with eccentricity, oddball characters that can’t fit into any niche in society, outsiders and aliens that are unreliable, unpredictable or prone to exaggerate their problems.            

            Concerns and Interests in an Aquarian Era. Eccentricity is likely because people are going to put a premium on sincerity and authenticity more than on persona stuff, like fitting in and being “socially respectable.” People will be inclined to “do their own thing,” and many of these things will come from the leading (or “bleeding”)[22] edge of our current thinking, e.g. spiritual and energy healing modalities, psychic activities and interest in psi and parapsychology, developing the higher mind and achieving holistic perspectives. While Aquarians enjoy their material possessions (more out of a concern for comfort rather than from acquisitive motives), they will emphasize universal principles, and strive to make the world a better place, e.g. by ending hunger and disease, creating peace and freedom, and dissolving political and racial boundaries (which thwart the Aquarian ideal of the universal brotherhood of humanity).

            Values of an Aquarian Age. Aquarians love freedom—independence of thought, independence of movement, and independence from binding commitments (like marriage). The current decline in the marriage rate is likely to continue as Aquarians put more stress on friendship and companionship than on “tying the knot.” The humanitarian impulse in the Aquarian temperament, noted above, shows up in the value put on social reform. Making the world a better place, striving for positive change and improvement in the lives of all people—these matter to Aquarians. Also of value is originality: the derivative creativity of the Capricorn era is not for Aquarius! Aquarians dislike imitation and seek the unique, the different, the unusual, especially if these qualities derive from the creator’s authentic being. Equality, generosity, variety, change and spontaneity are other values characteristic of an Aquarian era.

            Aquarian Attitudes. Aquarians can be argumentative and self-righteous, as so much of their knowledge comes from their keen intuition. As a fixed Air sign, Aquarius can be rigid and fixated on its ideals, to the point of seeming stubborn. The Aquarian non-conformity can slip over into rebelliousness, but, at its best, it shows up as a “live and let live” attitude that is avant-garde and oriented to the future.

            The Aquarian Lifestyle. Aquarius is an Air sign, so thinking, mental exchanges among people, intellectual interests and activities are likely to be prominent in the cultural landscape. Aquarians are gregarious and friendly and seek out like-minded companions and derive their sense of security from being with others. They enjoy meeting new people and are attuned to the instincts of their group. Pioneering, exploring the world, and taking risks, the Aquarian marches to his own drummer and won’t take well to being fenced in. He or she does things in a special way and is likely to have unusual tastes—in fashion, in decorating, in art and music. We might see unisex fashions, for example, as well as innovations in cultural forms. Aquarians are not great athletes; if they get involved in sports it is more as spectators than as active participants. While they can be idiosyncratic, Aquarians are willing to sacrifice for the good of the whole, thanks to their humanitarian concern.

            Business in an Aquarian Age. Some aspects of contemporary business are likely to see a surge of growth: the freelance and self-employment realms are perfect for the non-conforming Aquarian. The strait-laced corporate environment will have a hard time handling Aquarian employees, unless or until it gives up its hierarchical, “top-down” mentality. That is not going to fly in the new era, given the tendency for Aquarians to defy authority, tradition and anything that seems like paternalism or patriarchal control. Aquarians can be tireless workers and they take their work seriously, but their commitment to the job comes from an inner source and they are generally ungovernable in the form that current corporate systems think of governance. One aspect of current business is likely to continue into the new era: our focus on science, technology, and high-tech advances and applications of computer-based systems in both the workplace and in the wider society.

            Health and Healing in the Aquarian Age. Two bifurcating tendencies are likely in terms of health and healing. One we see now: the application of increasingly sophisticated technologies in health care. The other is present, but currently operating under the radar screen of the mainstream system : alternative modalities like sound, light, and energy. Individuals with Aquarius prominent in their natal charts can have problems with the heart, circulation of the blood, brain tumors, hardening of the arteries, and astrologers hypothesize that diseases like these, as well as hysteria, rashes, eczema, fever blisters, nerve ailments and arthritis will be prevalent in the new era.[23] In addition, hyperactivity and autism in children are Aquarian types of problems and are likely to continue to show up in the youth population. Given the non-conforming nature of Aquarius, we are likely to see more people become open to non-traditional healing modalities as we move more deeply into the new age. People are likely to be more open to and appreciative of the wisdom of Carl Jung as well (something that we have begun to see in the last decade or so). To Jung’s opinion of our time and what we are heading into we now turn.

 

Jung’s Thoughts on the Future

 

            Jung understood that change is slow, and collective change—shifting an entire planet from one age to another—is especially slow. So he never felt like we had “arrived” in the Aquarian age. Rather, we are in transition, living now “betwixt and between” the old age of the Fishes and the new age of the Water-bearer. Such transitional times are hard, marked by confusion, disorientation, “… reactions in the unconscious, restlessness and longing for the fulfillment of the times…”[24]

            Jung looked about and saw “… the decline of Christianity, when the metaphysical premises of morality are collapsing…”[25] Such a moral collapse showed up in the experimentation of young people, living as they did “with no historical premises.”[26] He saw the world had “…degenerated into rationalism, intellectualism, and doctrinairism, all of which leads straight to the tragedy of modern times now hanging over our heads like a sword of Damocles….”[27]

            He felt he was living in a “terrible time” that reminded him “… of… those dark centuries when the culture of antiquity was gradually falling into decay….”[28] and he recognized that the latter half of the 20th century was “… a time of decay and transition…”[29] as the vernal equinox moved out of Pisces and into Aquarius. He called this time an “apocalyptic epoch”[30] which “… contains the seeds of a different, unprecedented, and still inconceivable future…”[31]

            Born in 1875, Jung could look back to his origins in the 19th century and, from that vantage point he could see just how different the two centuries had been. He speculated that “The coming new age will be as vastly different from ours as the world of the 19th century was from that of the 20th with its atomic physics and its psychology of the unconscious….”[32] More than just differences in science, technology and psychology mark the chasm between the old and new eras: Jung recognized that the new age would have to address the tremendously difficult challenge of holding and resolving the tension of opposites:

… 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….[33]

Never before has mankind been torn into two halves, and never before was the power of absolute destruction given into the hand of man himself. It is a “godlike” power that has fallen into human hands…[34]

            So Jung anticipated that the denizens of the 21st century would face reconciling the opposites, both within themselves and in outer reality in realms like international politics. More than this, they would have to do so as one age died and the other took form. This prospect made Jung glum, as he wrote in a letter to his friend Adolf Keller:

“Transitions between the aeons always seem to have been melancholy and despairing times, as for instance the collapse of the Old Kingdom in Egypt… between Taurus and Aries, or the melancholy of the Augustinian age between Aries and Pisces. 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! Already I am a grandfather twice over and see those distant generations growing up who long after we are gone will spend their lives in that darkness….”[35]

On his deathbed Jung had a vision of the world 50 years in the future (c. 2011), which he related to his daughter, who was taking notes. He saw whole areas of the earth devastated, but not the whole earth:[36] “Darkness” indeed!—suggesting that Jung was not very sanguine that we would be able to handle that “godlike” power very maturely!

            In my “first life” I was trained as a medievalist, with a sub-specialty in the late Roman and early medieval periods, so I know what Jung means when he speaks of the “melancholy” of the Augustinian age. It was a time when people watched barbarians overrun cities of the once-powerful Roman Empire,[37] when bishops lamented the fact that they were now the only individual in their diocese who was able to read,[38] when the sophisticated infrastructure built by Roman engineering—the central heating, large aqueducts and civic baths—crumbled into ruins.[39] The elegies of the Anglo-Saxon poets captured the pervasive sense of despair that hung over the early centuries of the Piscean age.[40] Will a similar pall fall on our future? Even worse to contemplate is the question Jung poses to us: Will the “savage forces” of Lucifer appear and enflame our world?

            Jung holds out hope, in his recognition that “… When the confusion is at its height a new revelation comes,…”[41] but will we be awake, aware and alert enough to spot it? This is a serious question, and Jung addresses it to us—those who are waking up, taking up the responsibility to create more consciousness, and doing our inner work. We must recognize the transitional nature of our time, the qualities of the emerging age, and the challenge that has been set before us: We must recognize the reality of evil, watch for the new revelation, and take up the problem of integrating good and evil, shadow and ego. Jung was blunt on this point: “This problem [of dealing with evil] can be solved… only by the individual human being, via his experience of the living spirit, whose fire… was handing onward into the future…”[42]

            Fire (Lucifer’s fire) can destroy but fire (as in the tongues of flame at Pentecost)[43] can also inspire. Which role fire will take is our choice, the choice and the challenge confronting each of us as individuals. So, in response to my student’s question—What will the Aquarian age look like?—I have to reply: Ultimately it is up to us. We can choose to create a positive future, or a negative one. Aquarius holds out both potentials. 

 

Bibliography

 

Avery, Jeanne (1982), The Rising Sign. Garden City NY: Doubleday.

Barker, Stan (1984), The Signs of the Times: The Neptune Factor and America’s Destiny. St.Paul MN: Llewellyn.

Boynton, Robert (2004), “In the Jung Archives,” The New York Times Book Review (January 11, 2004), 8.

Guttman, Ariel & Kenneth Johnson (2004), Mythic Astrology: Internalizing the Planetary Powers. St.Paul MN: Llewellyn.

Jung, C.G. (1959), ”The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious,” CW 9i. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1959), “Aion,” Collected Works, 9ii. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1975), Letters, ed. Gerhard Adler & Aniela Jaffé. 2 vols. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Merton, Thomas (1950), “Introduction,” The City of God. New York: Random House.

Raffel, Burton (1964), Poems from the Old English. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Wagner, Suzanne (1998-1999), “A Conversation with Marie-Louise von Franz,” Psychological Perspectives, 38 (Winter 1998-1999), 12-39.

Wolfe

 

 



[1] “Letter to Walter Robert Corti,” 12 September 1929; Letters, I, 69.

[2] Collected Works 9ii, ¶s141-2. Hereafter Collected Works will be abbreviated CW.

[3] “Letter to Pater Lucas Menz,” 22 February 1955; Letters, II, 225.

[4] “Letter to Adolf Keller,” 25 February 1955; ibid., 229-30.

[5] Boynton (2004), 8.

[6] CW 9i, ¶551.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Go to http://www.reocities.com/astrologyages/jungsplatonicmonth.htm

[9] World Book Encyclopedia Dictionary, II, p. 1529.

[10] CW 9ii, ¶149, note 84.

[11] See www.greatdreams.com/ages.htm

[12] See thezodiac.com > Weird and Wonderful

[13] Guttman (2004), 353.

[14] Barker (1984); “sign of the times” is the title of his book.

[15] This phrase was spoken by Gordon Gekko in the 1987 movie “Wall Street,” starring Michael Douglas.

[16] This phrase was coined by Tom Wolfe in his novel The Bonfire of the Vanities, which vividly captured the ethos of Capricorn; Wolfe (1987).

[17] Barker (1984), 3.

[18] Some astrologers say that this discovery marks the time when the world entered the “cusp” of the Aquarian age; Guttman (2004), 353.

[19] Dickens wrote his novels from 1836 to 1870.

[20]“Letter to Walter Robert Corti,” 12 September 1929; Letters, I, 69.

[21]This movie is now available on the Web site www.thrive.com.

[22] “Bleeding,” in the sense of being so far beyond what people can comprehend that it can be painful and energy-draining. I first heard the word used by business people in this sense in the late 1980’s.

[23]Avery (1982), 347.

[24] “Letter to Walter Robert Corti,” 12 September 1929; Letters, I, 69.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid.

[27] CW 9ii, ¶141.

[28] “Letter to Pater Lucas Menz,” 22 February 1955; Letters, II, 225.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid. Being familiar with Greek, Jung recognized that “apocalyptic” means, in its etymology, that time when what has been hidden becomes revealed, hence its translation in English as “revelation;” our association of the word with global annihilation is the result of 2,000 years of associating “apocalypse” with the last book of the New Testament, the “Revelation of St. John,” and John’s vision of the end of days. For more on ours as an apocalyptic time, see the essay following this one on our blog site.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Ibid.

[33] CW 9ii, ¶s 141-2

[34] “Letter to Pater Lucas Menz,” 22 February 1955; Letters, II, 225.

[35] “Letter to Adolf Keller,” 25 February 1955; Letters, II, 229-30.

[36] Wagner (1998-99), 12-39.

[37] E.g. St. Augustine of Hippo, who wrote his magnum opus, The City of God, in 413 A.D., three years after the Goths sacked Rome; Merton (1950), ix.

[38] E.g. Gregory, bishop of Tours, a city in southern Gaul in the 5th century. Gregory himself was only barely literate: his Latin was a very degenerated version of the elegant purity of Cicero and other authors of the Golden Age.

[39] See, e.g. “The Ruin,” in Raffel (1964), 27-28. This Anglo-Saxon poem supposedly describes the ruins of the Roman city of Bath.

[40] See, e.g. “The Wanderer,” in ibid., 59-62.

[41] “Letter to Walter Robert Corti,” 12 September 1929; Letters, I, 69.

[42] CW 9ii, ¶142.

[43] Described in Acts 2:3.

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