A crucial aspect of Aquarian energy, which is acknowledged but generally underplayed by astrologers, and largely lost to the many of the people it most affects, is revealed in the mythology behind the sign.
The mythology of Aquarius is the story of Zeus, king of the gods, falling for the beautiful Ganymede, son of Tros, the founder of Troy – the God transformed himself into an eagle to swoop down and whisk the young man to the heavens from the fields where he was tending sheep. In Heaven Ganymede replaced Zeus’ daughter Hebe as cupbearer to the Gods, when she went to marry Hercules. In some versions she stays around and Ganymede is the personal cupbearer to Zeus. The God compensates the young man’s father with some fine horses and the reassurance that Ganymede will not only hold the fine distinction of being his cup-bearer but will become immortal, which the King was happy with. So, when the goddess Hera became jealous and Ganymede was forced to move on – Zeus placed him in the sky forever as the zodiac constellation Aquarius.
“Ganymede was the loveliest born of the race of mortals, and therefore the gods caught him away to themselves, to be Zeus’ wine-pourer, for the sake of his beauty, so he might be among the immortals.”— Homer, Iliad, Book XX, lines 233–235
Planet Earth, on its journey through the cosmos, is currently on the zodiacal cusp transitioning, in astrological terms, from the AGE OF PISCES to the AGE OF AQUARIUS. Pisces is a WATER SIGN, and for 2000 years the Piscean Age has been characterised and dominated by watery themes of EMOTION and FAITH, of MYSTERY and ILLUSION; Aquarius is the water bearer but an AIR sign, the element of KNOWLEDGE and UNDERSTANDING, of EQUALITY and LIBERATION: The rise in the late 20th century of the great causes of human rights, racial and gender equality, gay liberation, plus the advances in science, technology, communication and accessibility to information through digital technology are all signs of this shift occurring in the collective consciousness.
Here is a detailed re-telling of the legend from Gay-art-history.org:
Erichthonius, the first to ever harness four horses to a chariot, was the richest of mortal men. He had a son named Tros, lord of the Trojans, and to him in turn were born three unblemished boys: Ilus founder of Ilium, Assaracus, and god-like Ganymede – the handsomest ever born of the human race. Tros loved Ganymede from the bottom of his heart and set guardians and tutors to watch over him as he wrestled, or rode to the hounds, or swam through the crashing, dragging breakers of the warm Mediterranean.
One day, looking down from his throne on Mount Olympus, Zeus spied Ganymede up in the meadows of Mount Ida, chilling with his friends under the watchful gaze of his aged tutors. Instantly, the King of Heaven flamed with love for the young Trojan’s thighs. Zeus shook himself once and turned into a powerful eagle. Straightaway he swooped down upon the world of men. Casting shafts of lightning every which way, he whipped up a fierce tempest turning day into night. Under cover of the storm the majestic eagle pounced and tenderly seized the boy in his talons. The aged guardians reached out to stop him, the hounds barked madly. Paying them no heed, the god and the boy rose up higher and higher and vanished into the blue.
In the blink of an eye the two arrived in Olympus. The eagle folded his wings, shook himself once and turned back into a god. He took Ganymede to bed and then appointed him cup bearer. But to make room for him, Zeus had to chase away Hebe, Hera’s daughter and his, who served the drinks at the divine feasts. Clumsy, he called her, claiming she once stumbled. Hera saw it all and went insane with rage and jealousy.
All the other gods rejoiced to have Ganymede among them, for his beauty filled them with delight. And Ganymede thought pouring nectar to the immortals was mad cool, and when he filled his lover’s cup he made sure to press his lips to it first, giving it half a twist as he placed it in Zeus’ hand.
Back on Earth, Tros’ heart was filled with cruel sorrow, not knowing where the divine tempest had taken his son. He cried endless tears. Even Zeus was moved by his pain. He sent down Hermes as messenger, who let Tros know his boy was now among the gods, immortal and forever young. Zeus gave Tros in exchange for his son a pair of white prancing mares, deathless and able to walk on water, the very same that carry the immortals. Tros’ heart was filled with joy and he drove his new horses as fast as the wind.
Hera, besides herself, vented her rage by destroying the Trojans. But Zeus, grateful for Ganymede’s love, made a place for him among the stars as Aquarius – the Water Bearer. There he still stands, smiling, pouring nectar and shielded to this day by the wing of the Eagle constellation.
To ancient peoples, homosexuality was just a fact of life – the myths of many cultures reveal this. The story of Zeus and Ganymede was not shocking in those times. The first attempts to control people’s sexuality only came after Christianity was well established as an official religion. Early Christian emperors of Rome even continued to receive tax revenue from male prostitutes into the 7th century. The first laws setting punishments for gay sex (end 4th century CE) targeted only the passive partner and were used against the flamboyant queer priesthoods in the pagan temples. In the 6th century active partners were targeted too, in laws under Justinian in the Byzantine half of the Empire. Due to the collapse of the Western Empire, apart from a short, dark period of Visigoth rule in Spain (which was followed by a much more relaxed, gay-friendly period of Islamic rule) it would be several centuries before aggressive religious and state sponsored homophobia directed at the general population took hold in Europe. The Christian Church adopted a belief that had previously developed among the Jewish people – that sex was only for procreation, and intended only to happen between men and women. For pagans sex was a glorious gift and even a ritual practice. To impose the Christian belief, non-productive sex had to be suppressed, though this was not pushed onto the general population until the second millennium, when church policy developed and secular laws were introduced that led to the persecution of queer sexual expression – this even coming under the remit of the Inquisition due to the general association at this time of same sex relations with both pagan pratices and Christian heresy. (Heretical groups tended to take a sex-positive attitude, in contrast to the Church).
The mythology of ancient Greece, where for 1000 years gay love was deeply interwoven with society at every level, is abundant in same sex love, both among Gods and heroes. Zeus falls in love with the beautiful young Ganymede, Apollo with Hyacinth, Hymen (god of marriage) and, according to Pseudo-Apollodorus was with Thracian singer Thamyris in the first man-on-man relationship in history. Virgin Goddess Artemis was known for her affairs with female nymphs. Greek historian Plutarch said the male lovers of the hero Hercules were beyond numbering, and Achilles was lover with his sidekick Patroclus.
We are often told that male-male relationships in Greece were only approved of between older and younger men, where the elder, the erastes, was dominant sexually over the eremenos, his beloved. However this was a highly respected institution and the elder was expected to teach the young lover about life. Often the age difference was minimal, and equal partnerships certainly were known too:
Alexandrian poet Theocritus (300-260 BCE) wrote:
“Divine were they among those who lived in earlier times,
The one the inspirer,” as a man of Amyclae (Sparta) might say.
“The other a mirror,” as a Thessalian might say,
“And under an equal yoke did they love one another,
Then there were golden men, when the beloved reflected the love of the lover.”
During Greek’s Classical Age, in Plato’s Symposium Aristophanes proclaims:
“Those who love men and rejoice to lie with, be embraced by men, are also the finest boys and young men, being naturally the most manly. The people who accuse them of shamelessness lie; they do this not from shamelessness but from courage, manliness and virility, embracing what is like them.”
Around 200 CE, six centuries after the famously queer Classical Age, Greek rhetorician Athenaeus reported that “Altogether many person prefer liaisons with males to females.”
Plato argued that pairs of lovers would make the best soldiers, and this was put into practice by the Sacred Band of Thebes in the 4th century BCE. Note the emphasis on the virility and strength of the male same sex lovers, both mythological heroes and among living men. Also in the 4th century BCE Alexander the Great, known for his great love of his companion Hephaestion, led the Greek Empire to its greatest victories, and in the 1st Julius Caesar, great warrior and empire builder of the Romans, was bisexual, and commonly called “every woman’s husband, every man’s wife”.
Of the first 14 emperors who led Rome after Caesar, 13 of them were bisexual or exclusively homosexual, including famously Hadrian, who continued the Greek Love ideal by taking young lover Antinous, but this Ganymede died tragically while in Egypt and, like the shepherd boy became immortal – Antinous was raised to the status of a God – within a decade statues and temples dedicated to him spread across the Empire, presenting an attempt to revive the very sex-positive and gay-positive ancient pagan religion, making Antinous a serious competitor with the new young deity on the scene, Jesus Christ.
During the Roman Empire the noble heights of the Greek love ideal of the erastes/eremenos relationship became degraded as sexuality became more about power than philosophy. In the Roman tongue ganymedes became catamites – a word for a young man kept for sex – that stuck around into modern times.
In recent times the history of queer sexualities around the world is becoming more well known: a common theme emerges on every continent of transgender or same sex loving people having a strong association with magic, priestcraft, ritual and power. Victorian explorer Richard Burton reported that homosexual and cross-dressing practices had “been adopted by the priestly castes from Mesopotamia to Peru.”
Gradually it becomes clearer that the suppression of gay and trans people, at first in Europe then around the world, was a power grab by the patriarchal male, part of their subjugation of the mysterious and mystical powers of the feminine, and of men who embodied ‘female’ traits. The powerful shamans of the pre-religious cultures from Siberia to Africa, America to Australasia and East Asia, in some places into modern times, accessed their powers through their gender-variant, two-spirited, sexual natures. This was recorded by the first European explorers and well known in anthropological circles over a century ago. What is missing from most people’s awareness still is that in pre Christian Europe the Great Mother Goddess was served by queer priest/esses in the temples of the ancient Empires for thousands of years, and it was queer priests such as the Gallae (who spread Goddess ceremonies to the far corners of the Empire, including Britain) that led the ecstatic street festivals celebrating deities such as Dionysus or Cybele and her gender changing lover Attis. Ancient religion was very erotic, ecstatic and queer.
“At the time of the birth of Christ, cults of men devoted to a goddess flourished throughout the broad region extending from the Mediterranean to south Asia. While galli were missionizing the Roman Empire, kalu, kurgarru, and assinnu continued to carry out ancient rites in the temples of Mesopotamia, and the third-gender predecessors of the hijra were clearly evident in lndia. To complete the picture we should also mention the megabyzoi, or eunuch priests of Artemis at Ephesus; the western Semitic qedesha, the male “temple prostitutes” known from the Hebrew Bible and Ugaritic texts of the late second millennium; and the keleb, priests of Astarte at Kition and elsewhere… These roles share the traits of devotion to a goddess, gender transgression and homosexuality, ecstatic ritual techniques (for healing, in the case of galli and Mesopotamian priests, and fertility, in the case of hijra), and actual (or symbolic] castration. Most, at, some point in their history, were based in temples and, therefore, part of the religious-economic administration of their respective city-states.” Historian Will Roscoe.
The noble spirit of transgender people and same sex love has been denigrated for so long by the Father religions, made illegal by governments, analysed and pathologised by psychiatry and science… that queer people today have very little notion of the true picture of the history of gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and trans people – of just how widespread and normal bi + homosexuality and gender variant expression has been in history, nor the specific, sometimes holy, roles that people like us were once associated with.
Modern queers tend to look only to the 20th century for our history – but that is the century that gave birth to a gay liberation movement which aimed to reassure the dominant hetero culture that we pose no threat, that claimed we are no different to them except for whom we love. This view of us as minority simply locks us into being a sub-class, assimilated into the whole, adopting their goals and ceremonies.
However, a more ‘essentialist’ view of our nature proposes that queers have our own ways of being, our own spirituality and our own destiny, that the sexual and gender subcultures bring something unique, powerful and necessary to the human whole: in particular, gifts of vision, love and spirit that have been denied and repressed for so long – such long centuries in fact that we often have to do some deep digging before we even see them within ourselves.
The long lost spiritual history of same sex love and gender-fluidity can point us towards our destiny, reveal to us what we might be in the world today as the Age of Aquarius begins, reveal that our quest for global liberation is actually a quest for the spiritual liberation of all humanity. The separation of sexuality and spirituality, of the body and the soul, is imposed and artificial. 20th century gay pioneer Harry Hay, founder of the Mattachine Society and one of the founding Radical Faeries, said:
“Our beautiful lovely sexuality is the gateway to spirit. Under all organised religions of the past, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, there has been a separation of carnality, or shall we say of flesh or earth or sex, and spirituality. As far as I am concerned they are all the same thing, and what we need to do as faeries is to tie it all back together again.”
When false notions of natural and unnatural sexual orientations and gender expression are dropped completely we have a new playing ground in which to explore the mysteries and discover the gifts of queer nature. We get to redefine ourselves, in ways that supersede the limiting notions of sexuality imposed on us by homophobes. We get to reclaim our own spirituality as we claim our sexual freedom, in all its ecstatic, dimension busting potential.
The Age of Aquarius is when Queer/Gay/Lesbian/Trans Love Comes Home.
At QUEER SPIRIT FESTIVAL in Devon, UK, August 17-21, 2023, we will be celebrating the morning of the Queer Age of Aquarius. Come join us for breakfast!