Its Origin and Meaning in Astrology
The above image is the established symbol (also called glyph) for the Zodiac sign Aquarius, the Water-Bearer (or Water-Carrier). It’s a simplified drawing of water waves, the liquid Aquarius is carrying. Both the Zodiac sign and its symbol have been along for ages.
The Zodiac division of the ecliptic into twelve parts, each assigned a Zodiac sign, is probably of Babylonian (Mesopotamia) origin. They were very early with astrology, mapping the sky and noting planetary movements thousands of years ago.
The Zodiac, very much like the one we know today, might have emerged in Mesopotamia around 1000 BC. But Babylonian astrology is probably far older than that.
The Great One
The Babylonians connected this Zodiac sign and the constellation with one of their gods, Ea, calling it “The Great One.” Ea was often depicted with an overflowing vase. Later, the Babylonians simply called the constellation the Pitcher.
The reason for the connection between the sign and the carrying of water is hidden in history, but it has been persistent. The constellation gives a clue.
When the stars in the constellation are connected with lines, it’s possible to make out a figure of some sort, pouring something in abundance.
Several of the Zodiac constellations are more vague than that in depicting their Zodiac sign. Here’s the constellation Aquarius:
The right side of the constellation can be said to represent a man, and the left side the water he pours out. It might take some imagination, but it’s not that far-fetched.
Below is an antique illustration of the same constellation, where the figure of the water-bearer has been added. It’s from a 17th century book: Firmamentum sobiescianum, by Johannes Hevelius, 1690.
Aquarius in Ink
Below is an ink version of the symbol for Aquarius, which I did a number of years back in an experiment of using Japanese ink calligraphy (shodo) for old European astrology symbols. I’ve used these pictures on my astrology websites, mainly for fun and for the odd graphic effect, and I’ve seen them copied all over the Internet. I’m fine with that, although I think it wouldn’t hurt if the source was mentioned. Well, what to do?
Anyway, here’s that ink again, this time in the original black and white (click on the image to see a bigger version):
Aquarius the Sign
As for the picture commonly used to represent the Aquarius Zodiac sign, it’s been an image of a water-bearer since the days of old Babylonia – surely much longer than the symbol described above has existed. Below is one typical example of the figure, where the stars of the constellation Aquarius have also been marked, though not with unquestionable astronomical accuracy. It’s an illustration from Poeticon astronomicon, a 1482 book by Hyginus.
The Greeks picked up the idea of a water-bearer and connected it to the myth about Ganymede, Zeus’ lover, who was brought to the domain of the gods, where he served them drinks.
The Parthenon temple on Acropolis, Athens, from the 5th century BC, when Greek philosophy was starting to emerge – as a reminder of the major Aquarius trait: the philosopher. Here is the temple on its own, in the process of restoration:
Here are the symbols (glyphs) of all the twelve Zodiac signs, and links to pages telling more about each Zodiac sign symbol.