Absolute Aquarians

Daniel Tures, Adult Librarian, Edendale Branch Library,
Sign of Aquarius graphic
My fellow Aquarians, we are high-tech visionaries flaunting wild sartorial choices, we are bad at small talk, we dream big dreams!

The time of Aquarius is now! We noble souls born between January 20 and February 18 are the water bearers, pouring out rivers of inspiration upon the world. Aquarius is the eleventh sign of the zodiac, our constellation rising in the southern sky between Capricorn and Pisces. We are independent, humanitarian, creative, and innovative, and at the same time, immature, detached from reality, aloof, and opinionated. That's right, all of us are like that! We think big, we think different, and we let our freak flags fly. You can't pin us down. Our turn-ons include adventure, travel, and social justice; our turn-offs are superficiality, vanity, and anything dull or conventional. We attract bold, beautiful Geminis, Leos, and Sagittariuses, and we irritate Scorpios and Tauruses and other misguided types like that.

I say all this, of course, in the spirit of 'sun sign' or 'pop' astrology, the kind that saw a revival in the 1960s and 1970s and is still prevalent today. This simplified version dates back to the work of English theosophist Alan Leo (born William Frederick Allen in 1860), who promulgated the idea that the twelve sun signs translate into twelve different character types. With a few more bells and whistles, these can be used to generate daily horoscopes full of difficult-to-disprove affirmations, warnings, love matches, and expectations. Notwithstanding Alan Leo's 1917 conviction on charges of fortune-telling, horoscopes like these later became popular in mid-century newspapers and magazines. With the arrival of '60s mysticism, sun sign astrology was quickly elaborated into a system of divination requiring the services of a paid expert to properly navigate.

Although now deemed mystical hogwash by the scientifically-minded, the practice of astrology goes back millennia to the Mesopotamian civilization, and our literature and time-keeping terminology are suffused with its idioms. The ancients believed that the position of the stars and planets at our birth influences the course of our lives and that their evolving configurations as they wheel through the sky can give us understanding and foreknowledge of life's events. Kings, queens, captains of industry, explorers, philosophers, and inventors have been guided by astrology, even long after it was superseded by modern scientific understanding—all the way up to Ronald and Nancy Reagan, who would privately consult their astrologers before undertaking anything of importance.

As historian Benson Bobrick shows in The Fated Sky: Astrology in History, "astrological terms permeate our language: conjunction, opposition, forecast, aspect, lunatic, venereal, disaster, influence—as in influenza since all epidemics were once ascribed to celestial effects; we speak of 'mercurial,' 'saturnine' or 'jovial' temperaments; and people' thank their lucky stars'..." The seven days of our week are named for sky-gods: the Sun's day, the Moon's, the day of the pagan war god Tiw (akin to Mars), the day of Woden (the equivalent of Mercury), and so on to Saturn's day. Homer's epics are awash in astrological references, as are the Bible, Shakespeare, and Chaucer. Astrology helped give birth to astronomy, meteorology, medicine, and mathematics, not only via the instruments for observing the heavens invented by early scientists (many of whom were also devoted astrologers) but also the mathematical techniques developed to calculate their influence on human lives and historical timelines. The modern version may be cosmic woo-woo for star hippies, but the study of classical astrology's importance to the rise of science has recently regained a certain vogue in academia.

But anyway, back to the woo-woo! Where was I… my fellow Aquarians, we are high-tech visionaries flaunting wild sartorial choices, we are bad at small talk, we dream big dreams. Let us consider some of the many noteworthy historical figures born in late January and mid-February, all of whom can be shown to share this delightful set of personality traits.

  • Ferdinand Magellan (February 4th, 1480). His birthdate is a matter of dispute, but what really matters is classic Aquarius! He is known as the first mariner to circumnavigate the globe—in two parts. Starting in 1505, he sailed east from Portugal around the horn of Africa and on to Malaysia in quest of spices (Aquarius: that spice life). Then, in 1519, he made another voyage west from Spain, down through what is now called the Strait of Magellan at the southernmost tip of Chile, into the Pacific Ocean—a name he came up with upon finding it relatively peaceful after the stormy strait—and on to the Philippines, where he met a gory end at the hands of some locals who did not want to be colonized. So, close enough for circumnavigation. High-minded, spicy, a harsh taskmaster, a visionary explorer but kind of a crappy manager and communicator. If you know an Aquarius, this will sound familiar.
  • Michael Jordan (February 17th, 1963). Aquarius is one of the four Air signs: say no more. Jordan is widely considered the greatest basketball player of all time, transcending statistics to become a worldwide icon and folk hero of the game. He found his greatest success with the Chicago Bulls; an unlikely union with incompatible Taurus, you say? Perhaps, but nothing can stand in their way when these two strong, unyielding signs find a way to overcome their differences. Flying high with supernatural grace on his way to a dunk foretold in the heavens, he makes it look easy, but if you watched him awkwardly discuss his career in the recent docuseries The Last Dance, you know that the man can be over-analytical and tormented. Aquarius seeks recognition and appreciation, and no athlete ever achieved it like Mike.
  • Lewis Carroll (January 27, 1832). Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, the English mathematician and poet, wrote children's books under the pen name Lewis Carroll, which, in typical Aquarius fashion, are really satires of philosophy and the politics of the day strewn with math and logic puzzles. He had a mild stutter, which he passed on to the Dodo in Through the Looking Glass, a character usually taken to be a self-portrayal. Not only Carroll but many of his best-known characters seem to be hopelessly Aquarian: inquisitive, outspoken Alice, the grinning, vanishing Cheshire Cat, pedantically speechifying Humpty Dumpty, and of course, the defiantly absurd White Queen, who is capable of believing "six impossible things before breakfast."
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (January 27, 1856), Yoko Ono (February 18, 1933), Rick James (February 1, 1948). Self-assured, inimitable, rule-breaking musicians like these form an Aquarius three-of-a-kind. They hydrate our parched ears with streams of supple, sophisticated sound. Mozart blasted off from the baroque into a whole new universe of airy, glorious counterpoint; despite a stormy marriage to Constanze, a Capricorn, the couple had six children. He was a showy dresser ("on the stage with his crimson pelisse and gold-laced cocked hat") with a fondness for billiards, odd pets, and scatological humor. Yoko Ono had an interesting career as a Fluxus artist before she even met John Lennon, a Libra; she is now recognized for her own uncompromising music (Aquarians: give "Walking On Thin Ice" or "Death of Samantha" a spin) and lauded as an advocate for world peace. Rick James started out as a rocker in 1960s Toronto with the Mynah Birds, along with bandmate Neil Young, triple Scorpio; the lineup obviously didn't last. In the late '70s, he ascended the stratosphere of salacious funk and never looked back. Wolfgang would surely approve of his Super Freak ensemble of pleather jumpsuit and thigh-high boots: game sees game.
  • Kim Jong Il (February 16, 1941). When the Moon is in the seventh house, and Jupiter aligns with Mars, it's time for… the Dear Leader of North Korea, who from 1994 to 2011 unswervingly led his country into the militarized, famine-stricken cult of personality that it is today, following the breakup of the Soviet Union. Aquarians love being in charge but often make terrible leaders: convinced of our own superiority, we naturally expect subservience, and when things go wrong, we fail to notice that we are making life hell for everyone else. Many Aquarians are better off with careers of solitude—forest ranger, night watchman, genius classical composer, etc.
  • Edwin 'Buzz' Aldrin (January 20, 1930). Leading up to the Apollo 11 mission, it was assumed that Aldrin, the lunar module commander and an Aquarius, would be the first man to set foot on the Moon. That historic honor somehow got switched to the other astronaut in the module, Neil Armstrong (a Leo), despite some bitter arguments behind the scenes, which Armstrong claims not to recall. The official reason was that Armstrong would be seated closer to the module door; unofficially, he did have a somewhat more handsome and heroic bearing. Another case of a hotheaded Aquarius pushed aside by the self-absorbed dominance of a Leo? Signs point to yes. Aldrin did console himself by being the first man to urinate on the Moon—he took his lunar leak into a special pouch in his suit, of course.
  • Babur (February 14th, 1483). The founder of the Mughal Empire descended from Timur and Genghis Khan, was born Ẓahīr-ud-Dīn but universally known by his nickname Babur, which means 'tiger' or 'panther'—Aquarians have a famous affinity for cats. He battled his way through a vicious family hierarchy to become a chieftain in what is now Uzbekistan. Boxed out of Central Asia by the Ottomans and the Safavids, he turned south and conquered the Indian subcontinent. Surprisingly, for an Aquarius, the empire he founded was pluralistic, religiously tolerant, and well-administered for two hundred years. A fearsome Padishah with an Aquarian artsy streak, Babur wrote an entertaining autobiography as well as many poems that are still sung as folk songs in his homeland. He claimed to have twice swum across many rivers, including the Ganges.
  • William Henry Harrison (February 9, 1773). Dying just 31 days after his inauguration in 1841, Harrison had the shortest term of any U.S. president. Aquarians: we never like to overstay our welcome. Worn down by campaigning and cabinet squabbles, he got caught in a downpour on his morning walk and died of pneumonia. He was succeeded by his vice president John Tyler, an Aries, who estranged his own party, headed the nation towards civil war, and is generally ranked as one of the worst presidents ever.
  • Oprah Winfrey (January 29, 1954). No one better exemplifies the charismatic, visionary, humanitarian side of Aquarius than Oprah, blazing her own meteoric trail from a humble upbringing to unprecedented media success. Possibly, her various moons and rising signs, or whatever else goes into an astrological chart, have helped her overcome the usual Aquarian tendencies to aloofness and self-sabotage. Aquarians love to change the conversation from "me" to "we," and none more than Oprah, who always sees the big picture and the hidden connections. She is a passionate, inspiring communicator, deeply invested in the arts, and ambitious but also empowering those around her. Her partner, Stedman, is a Pisces, normally an incompatible pairing but one that can find longevity through mutual respect. Where will Oprah's Aquarian journey take her next?
  • Ernest Shackleton (February 15, 1874) was not only one of the greatest Antarctic explorers, he was more Aquarian than the Broadway cast of Hair. The Aquarius is often disparaged as being cold and detached: Shackleton made not one but three voyages to the most cold and detached place on the planet, even climbing Mount Erebus, the most active Antarctic volcano. Aquarians prioritize those who need them most: Shackleton is legendary for leading the crew on his third voyage to safety when their ship, the Endurance, became trapped in ice. After it became clear the ship could not be dislodged, the crew camped on an ice floe until that disintegrated, whereupon Shackleton got them into a lifeboat and guided them through stormy, frigid seas some 830 miles to South Georgia Island, where they eventually made it to a whaling station. When not exploring, he drank to excess and managed his money poorly, the dark side of Aquarius. But as his fellow explorer, Sir Raymond Priestly, famously said, "For scientific discovery give me Scott; for speed and efficiency of travel give me Amundsen; but when disaster strikes and all hope is gone, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton."
  • Harry Styles (February 1, 1994). This whimsical glam-pop elf-man dancing to the beat of his own drummer is as Aquarian as it gets. Famous for his flamboyant outfits (Harry Styles is his real name!), he proves that when it comes to Aquarius, there may be One Direction—but it's whatever direction Aquarius wants to go. From boy band heartthrob to pop star, fashion auteur, Hollywood actor, and beyond, Styles is surfing the cosmic Aquarian wave.
  • Rasputin (January 21, 1869). Naughty, naughty Aquarius. Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin, nefarious mystical adviser to Nicholas II, the last Romanov ruler, was an Aquarius gone wrong; his name is now synonymous with manipulative scheming. After an unruly youth, he had a religious experience of some kind and became a self-styled wandering monk. His hypnotic charisma, apparent from his demonically piercing gaze as captured in old photos, gave him increasing prominence at the Russian court as a holy man, though he seems to have been more of a con artist as well as an occult dabbler behind the scenes. As tales of his sexual fiendishness spread, the Orthodox church renounced him—but his influence over imperial decision-making grew, especially as the royal family became convinced he had miraculous healing powers. He was assassinated under murky circumstances at the Moika Palace in 1916 by a group of concerned noblemen. Nonetheless, it is thought that his sinister reputation helped discredit the Romanovs and spur the Bolshevik uprising that was on the way. Aquarians can be nonconformist oddballs, but this guy took things a little far.
  • Neil Diamond (January 24, 1941), Dr. Dre (February 18, 1965), Shakira (February 2, 1977). Another trifecta of talented Aquarians. Neil Diamond started out as a Brill Building songwriter cranking out hits for the Monkees and others; when he was ready to start recording his own stuff, he decided 'Neil Diamond' didn't sound glamorous enough and that he should go by the even more Aquarian-sounding' Eyce Cherry.' Turned out the name 'Neil Diamond' was good enough for the charts, and the rest is history. Dr. Dre put L.A. hip-hop on the map with N.W.A. and then invented the iconic laid-back West Coast style called G-Funk; the 'G' does not stand for 'Gemini.' Though Aquarians have been known to stretch the truth, the hips don't lie, and neither do the sales figures of Colombian mega-star Shakira; she is equally admired for her Aquarian commitment to philanthropic work and social causes.
  • Charles Dickens (February 7, 1812). This delightful Victorian novelist and social critic is still one of the most widely-read and adapted authors today—and, of course, an Aquarius to the core. He checks all the boxes: contagious enthusiasm and expressiveness, creating his own inimitably loquacious style, high-minded humanitarian, social ideals, flashy dresser, inspiring crowds far and wide… all while poorly parenting his ten children and shamefully cheating on his wife with a younger woman. Aquarius often pours out brilliance on the world while deeply failing the home front. But such is the way of many an artist. His books remain unparalleled joys of picaresque melodrama, wit, and characterization, beloved the world over.

Note: the author is an Aquarius and, as such, should not be considered a reliable source of any astrological knowledge or psychological insight.

Reading List

Book cover of The fated sky : astrology in history
The Fated Sky: Astrology in History
Bobrick, Benson

Book cover of A history of western astrology
A History of Western Astrology
Tester, S. J.

Book cover of A scheme of heaven : the history of astrology and the search for our destiny in data
A Scheme of Heaven: The History of Astrology and the Search for our Destiny in Data
Boxer, Alexander