The Resurrection of the Cicada
During early summer in 2021, billions of cicadas have started emerging from their 17 year cyclical hibernation in the Eastern United States, bringing with them both biblical terror and modern wonder.
Birds can be seen chasing them, cars and sidewalks are splattered with their carcasses, and human beings for a brief moment have been asked to pause and admire their more-than-human efforts.
This event happens to coincide with a generally revolutionary time. As Jupiter and Saturn both began their transit through Aquarius, a global pandemic raged, large structural systems are being both reconsidered and destroyed, and many people are wondering: will I ever wear professional clothes again.
During these particular transits, most of us were separated from our loved ones and to a large extent from our conventional lives. We were forced to adopt new jobs and sources of income. We were forced to adapt to blatant and chronic trauma. We were forced to consider something different, out of the ordinary, unconventional. This is Aquarius. Aquarius is everything considered unprecedented. It is the threshold of consciousness itself. During periods with strong Aquarian influence, we are not merely invited or asked, but often forced into new ways of being. With the immanence of the collapse of global systems of oppression, as well as the looming correction of climate crisis, there’s not one among us who is not called to action.
At the core of this Aquarian signature is a kind of existential unrest, one which considers how the old has become undeniably outworn, and one which fills each individual with a nameless anxiety that says, “you can’t go back there anymore”.
Like Aquarian times, cicadas too find that they cannot go back. In fact, during their brood periods, in this case, 17 year to the cycle, once finally emerging, they leave behind the shells of their former selves. These chitinous casings continue to cling to the edges of granite buildings, oak trees and the stems of magnolias. They are a testament to a rather humble kind of resurrection. Leaving behind their old bodies, the cicadas sing for new life. Their song has the power to deafen and damage the human ear drum. Their message: You must let go of how things were.
I would like to propose the cicada as a contemporary symbol for not only this particular astrological period but for the Aquarian signature and for the new age that has been inaugurated by so many successive and often traumatic events.
Below I will review some of the traditional themes associated with Aquarius, but only to set up an alternative to its normative depictions.
Aquarius (January 20 – 18th February)
Action: Intention, psychological liberation, invention, detachment, network, preternatural objectivity, intellectual security, idiosyncracy, agency. The weird.
Western element: Fixed Air
Ruling Planet / Body: Saturn, Uranus
The Sun passes through the sign of Aquarius every year from about the 20th of January till 18th of February.
Aquarius, like Capricorn, is one of the oldest recognized constellations, and has a strong syncretic quality, which not only adds to its complexity, but also its ambiguity.
The first recorded mention of Aquarius was in Babylonian star catalogues, where Aquarius is referred to as the Great One, i.e. Enki or Ea, who we’ve discussed in the Capricorn section, who is often depicted holding/pouring an overflowing vase. In Babylonia it was often negatively connected to the overflowing of the Tigris and Euphrates, but in Ancient Egypt became connected more benevolently to the annual flooding of the Nile. The Egyptians believed that the river flooded when Aquarius dipped its jar into the river, which marked the beginning of spring. In Ptolemy’s Almagest, he refers to the Alpha, Beta and Gamma Aquarii as lying in the right shoulder, left shoulder and right forearm, which pours. Ptolemy listed as many as 20 stars pouring from the jar itself. Several of the stars in Aquarius begin with the term “sa’d”. In Arabic, ‘sa’d’ means luck. Alpha Aquarii is called Sadalmelik, from sa’d al-malik, translated as the lucky stars of the king. Beta Aquarii, sa’d al-su’ud, possibly meaning “luckiest of the lucky”. The exact origin of these meanings is unknown. Some also translate sa’d as “happiness”.
In Greece, Aquarius holds many associations, including Deucalion, the son of Prometheus who built a ship with his wife Pyrrha to survive the Great Flood (associated with biblical Noah).
Probably the most prevalent association was that of Ganymede, who was cup-bearer to the gods. “A cup-bearer was an officer of high-rank in royal courts whose duty it was to serve drinks at the royal table. On account of constant fear and plots and intrigue, a person must be guarded as thoroughly trustworthy to hold the position. Must guard against poison in the king’s cup and often has to drink before serving it.”
In Homer, Ganymede is described as the most beautiful of mortals who is a hero and whose homeland is Troy. In one version of the story, Ganymede, a phrygian prince is kidnapped from mount Ida while tending a flock of sheep. While tending, Zeus saw him, fell in love and either sent an eagle or assumed the form of an eagle and abducted him to Olympus. The myth became model for the popular Greek practice of paiderastia, a socially sanctioned relationship between an older male and an adolescent male. Plato suggests this appropriation and popularity of the myth originated in Crete. Ganymede embodied the natural, fun-loving and unassuming presence of the prepubescent boy.
The Latin aquila translates as eagle; or water-colored bird. Eagles fly higher than any other bird so they can get a higher perspective. Though the Cretan appropriation of the myth leaves the modern observer uncomfortable, the Greek relationship between older males and younger males has a significance that is worth observing.
Both Aquarius and Capricorn are considered ruled by Saturn, though Aquarius later will share rulership with Uranus (Which will be discussed later). Saturn, associated with time and timing, also represents the traditional and the outmoded; we do it because it’s always been done that way. Typically, Capricorn takes on this particular essence; developing authority and renown through hard work, while simultaneously honoring the tradition or work of those who came before, thereby coming into the form of the tried and true. Aquarius is therefore representative of a threshold of this tradition into the non-traditional, and overall the capacity to strike out on one’s own, that is, to rebel from the tradition, and cultivating a way that is wholly unique, freak and misfit even. As such, the age threshold for ancient Greeks which Ganymede represents is one that embodies this tension between the older ways of being and the new.
Zeus’ commission of an eagle, it is suggested, might signal the possession of foresight, but even more appropriate the capacity to see potential in another. The Greek term related to Ganymede is getheo meaning to rejoice, and/or ganymai meaning “to be glad”. The latter part, mede is rooted from medea meaning “counsels, plans or cunning”. Another related Indo-european root geu translates as to have religious fear or awe. Also related, the Greek ganos, meaning “brightness”; possibly connected to gay.
The image that emerges is the kind of threshold that marks one’s pure exuberance for life; but it marks an especial brightness. Across imagery, Aquarius embodies an especial brilliance that borders on cunning. It is only this sharp edge that is able to pierce through the tried and true of the old. The flooding of the Nile, the heralding of spring was especially connected to a sense of cyclical freshness, and unprecedented renewal.
To give a little more context to Greek pederasty, which is necessary for a few reasons, historian Mariah Cavanagh makes a few significant observations.
The first is that pederasty was a social custom in which an adult male would court a young Greek boy to become his model, guide and initiator, and he would become responsible for his chosen young counterpart. In a culture that involved fully-embedded military service, and one which had no formal education, this relationship was a central part of the Greek rearing.
Scholars point out that the Greeks did not think of sexuality in the same way we do today. Their sexuality was ta aphrodite; matters associated with aphrodite encompassed sexual acts, urges and pleasures. There was always an active partner and a submissive one. According to Cavanaugh, the Greeks never conceived of sex as a mutually satisfying experience shared by equal partners. They regarded sex as an activity one does by oneself, even though the other person was there to be acted upon. To the Greeks, the act of love was utterly one-sided: you could be longed for and loved, even desired, but there was no mutual love, meaning that both individuals could not love or desire each other. This helps us understand the reason the Greek relationship required one submissive and one dominant partner—love was only one-sided.
This is not to say that all pederastic relationships were sexual though. The eromenos, the young beloved one, was expected to pay attention to the distinction between honor and shame throughout this relationship. The relationship was a preparation for manhood, and the eromenos was being evaluated by onlookers for his potential to assume domestic and civic responsibilities. It was considered a prime display of self-control for the older male to temper his passion and not engage in sexual intercourse with his progeny. The dominant partner’s abstaining from sex was done out of respect for the boy’s civic status and personal autonomy.
Cavanaugh continues: “The practice of pederasty was first institutionalized in Crete, then moved outward to the wider Greek world. Pederasty took a strong hold in Sparta, where it was well suited to their warrior-based society, then spread from there to Athens. Professor and historian William Armstrong argues that Athens rose to grandeur only after it institutionalized pederasty. It provided a consistent method to ensure the education and development of young men in ancient times.”
Further she says, “To the extent there was any comparison to be made between ancient and modern children, one thing is certain—”becoming an adult” occurred much sooner than age eighteen. Marilyn Skinner, professor of gender and sexuality, describes that adulthood most likely started at or around the age of fourteen for young men. Once they reached puberty, childhood ended and the courting process began. This would suggest that at the age when courting began, the young Greeks were considered adults by ancient standards. Therefore, the term pedophilia simply does not fit this situation. In Greek society once a boy reached puberty, he was considered a self-sufficient citizen who was able to make rational decisions about sex, dignity, and honor.”
These assessments aren’t without firm criticism among scholars, according to Cavanaugh. Despite opposing modern and ancient contexts, many scholars including Enid Block condemn the practice as both “psychologically and physically damaging, and unjust exploitation of a helpless victim by someone in a position of power.”
What is clear, is that overall, in ancient Greece, the institution of education was born out of these particular practices, which for all intents and purposes, grooms and exploits adolescents for qualities that would be valuable to the city-state. This “mind-grooming” continues to be the standard practice in modern Western society today, and it colors all aspects of Western cultural practices.
Though not the most comfortable of topics, the figure of Ganymede and Greek pederasty are significant as they reveal pivotal Aquarian themes.
The first is one of social justice and consideration. The kind of debate among past and present, custom, what is morally acceptable, who has power, who is vulnerable, what is valuable to the societal fabric – are all referent to Aquarius. It is a negotiation with a learning curve. Aquarius argues we cannot wholesale throw out the old because it does not match what we know or accept now. At the same time, Aquarius is especially astute in being vocal for the vulnerable, the preyed upon, the outcast and the underdog. Probably the most primary image embodying Aquarius would be the Orphan. Orphans are often dispossessed from their land, lineage, tradition and all semblance of an organizing/directing factor provided otherwise by family. This kind of trauma alone contributes to a wholesale need of external/epigenetic restructuring of the person. Absent of the authority figures, Aquarius develops quickly their astute sensitivity, their intellect and objectivity, and charisma. One of the most common producers of orphans in the ancient world, of course, was war. It is by virtue of someone’s trauma that they display a remarkable and provocative beauty – but it is a kind of beauty that is unprecedented, irreplaceable. One that commands appreciation from a distance or particularly objective vantage.
Aquarius, then, is perhaps one of the most associative figures to Western intellectual tradition and especially astrology, as the historically syncretic quality of knowledge (deriving from variable landscapes and perspectives) is undoubtedly tied to the Mediterranean’s relationship to conflict that was both climatic and human in nature. The epigenetic structuring, of course, became precisely potentiated in the Greek city-state. By nature, the Greek polis was Aquarian. It challenged the old, the mythic, while simultaneously emphasizing the especially brilliant and gifted in dialectic procedure. It is a working identity.
Ganymede, then, represents an especially gifted kind of cunning, but one that emerges from those who are vulnerable and product of some kind of dispossession and sustained trauma; which in Aquarian language is often referred to as “detachment”. Aquarius is especially associated with the capacity to think objectively in a way that primes one for comprehending in metaphor. We all accept that when speaking mythologically, the mythic event did not occur verbatim; it is an amalgam, or an image that mobilizes several convergent images into a single association, increasing both its power and efficacy in educational use. Aquarius’ intelligence borders on genius. Mythology is therefore tied to trauma. Aquarius represents the particularly brilliant light that glows in the spark of the mythological strata.
An example of this kind of intelligence can be seen in the Greek reappropriation of the Hebrew alphabet, and especially the letter A. In Hebrew, the letter A, or Aleph, is depicted as the image of an ox-head. When it was adopted as a written vowel in Greek (which does not exist in Hebrew), the actual symbol of the ox-head was reversed, turned upside down, and became what we now term “alpha”. This example demonstrates several Aquarian features. It reorganizes or appropriates an older tradition, and it also demonstrates the capacity to observe from a completely different physical vantage. In the presence of unknown, unfamiliar or challenging information, one changes oneself; one physically alters their posture, position and viewpoint to render the object or phenomena with new life. The psychological implication of turning the character upside down contains both an awareness of grief and joy as a single experience. Grief from the upheaval, but joy from utilizing that character as what writer David Abram calls a “pictorial pun” or “rebus” – it is designed to uplift. It’s significant that another cognate for the Greek eagle was aietos, aiai; to woe or to cry in woe, grief. Someone who has developed a brilliant beauty from their grief – where their grief changed them from outside in.
Embedded in these images, is a sort of white hot intelligence, one that is both brilliant but can border on tragedy. Emotional detachment, as associated with Aquarius, is intimately tied to existential protection, a sort of militant sharpness. At the same time, it embodies the universal stage of development in an individual’s life when they biologically must reject their parentage; and this dispossesses them and forces them to individuate and rely on their own faculties. The scope of Aquarius is larger, the lessons are broken beyond the safety and comfort of the familial unit. The armor is broken to accommodate and display pure soft tissue.
This Ganymede intelligence is one that is on the threshold of being consumed by the jaded, the cliche, the exploiting, by the predator, by the toxic and violent — but isn’t. Ganymede embodies thrivance. There’s that adage “tradition is peer pressure from dead people.” – This is purely Aquarian. At the same time, Aquarius is the capacity to observe this separation objectively, respecting the consciousness of the old, and holding no ill will toward them.
Aquarius embodies a figure who maintains the natural, fun-loving, generous and exuberant spirit of prepubescence, but who fiercely leads the future with their insight. These are the qualities that give Aquarius their characteristic revolutionary and visionary signature. But this could first show up in prescient wit; someone who tells you a joke, but you just were not ready for that punchline. With Aquarius, you expect the unexpected. It is the image of the egg that during its development not simply transforms but transmutes into a chicken. That particularly brilliant essence is something that emerges from absolute existential and societal pressure; but proves unprecedented and irreplaceable in its form. Aquarius is Plato’s triad of virtue; the Good, the True and the Beautiful. Aquarius is like seeing a new color.
The final association for Aquarius that is significant is its connection to the founder and king of Athens, named Cecrops I. Cecrops (cecr + ops) translates as “face with a tail”, and is often depicted as half-serpent, half-man. He is also depicted with a fish-tail, which hearkens to the Enki association. This further harkens to a concept known as autochthones, (autos – self + cthon – soil) which translates as those who are literally birthed from the soil, that is, indigenous to the landscape; the original inhabitants. The Acropolis was originally referred to as Cecropolis. Cecrops is attributed to the chief architect of culture, the teaching of Athenian marriage, reading, writing and ceremonial burial.
He and other autochthones wore tettiges or cicada-shaped ornaments in their hair representing their belief that they were born from the soil. Autochthony was associated with democracy and egalitarianism, and a juxtaposition to the hierarchical tyrants and oligarchs who preceded them. Cicadas are an apt symbol for Aquarius. There are some that emerge in the summer every year, and another species that remain underground nymphs for up to 17 years before emerging. Cicadas are especially easy prey, and some suggest that the staggered hatching times among cicada species allow them to fool prey. Specialist predators, with shorter life-cycles, would be unable to reliably prey upon them, ensuring potential survival for the species. Those with longer cycles rely on the strength of their numbers while emerging, which further can preserve the species. Other theories suggest that they evolved such long life-cycles to survive during ice ages and cold spells. Most cicadas are diurnal and depend on external heat to warm them up. During sound production the temperature of the tymbal muscles, responsible for their characteristic song, are significantly higher. During the summer, especially during the hottest days, some species will produce their song 24-hours a day. Their characteristic songs are associated with attracting mates. Both sexes have tympana which allow them to detect sound. The males disable their tympana while calling which prevents damage to their hearing. Cicadas can sing up to 120 dB and a song is loud enough to cause permanent hearing loss in human beings if the cicada is at close range.
Like Aquarius, there really is nothing like the cicada, especially in regards to their song. The Aquarian elemental association of fixed air provides a further apt connection to this image, in the cicada’s characteristic production of sound.
Finally, Aquarius embodies a new kind of knowing that is beyond feeling and sight. It is psychological in nature. Air-dominant people tend to make others “think”, and with Aquarius especially, their behaviour and appearance is akin to seeing a new color for the first time. Psychologically, Aquarius-strong people face complex interior blockages from the combined inadequacy of their forebears and also the breadth of their genius. Rather than reinvention, psychologically speaking, Aquarius embodies pure visionary invention. It’s the difference between Newtonian physics and quantum physics and entanglement. The psyche, itself, is the creation of new dimension within the self, according to the weight of existential pressure. Aquarius is someone who creates their own interior space and invents their own life. Their insights are often sudden, impactful and irrevocable. The ego is a shadow of a living authentic person, but Aquarius stands in a kind of shadowless light. Aquarius is the psyche acting as a gauge, the capacity to deduce that though historically, contextually, traditional practices made sense, but the rate of growth and consciousness is malleable, and our perspective can more accurately and sensitively read the needs of the developing human being.
Psychologically, Aquarius will vouch for ways of being that are most preservative of sovereignty. Intelligence for Aquarius is agency. Rather than emotional objectivity, which is often Aquarius’ primary association, it is emotional intelligence and accountability.
Those with prominent Aquarius in their chart develop the gift of selflessness and work for the greater good, which relinquishes them from unresolved and complex psychological conflict. They carry the ideals of equal rights, brotherhood, co-operation between the sovereign nations, knowledge, uplifting of the common individual, but preserving the individual and specific identity of diverse interdependent peoples.
A Symbol for a New Age
I would then like to propose the cicada as an adopted symbol for the Aquarian signature. Through Aquarius, we celebrate the parts of ourselves that resurrect from the ashes of trauma, from prejudice and hatred. We celebrate those who are orphans of circumstance, orphans of war, orphans of oppressive systems, orphans of ignorance. We celebrate the white hot opportunity to be better and to be accountable.
In Chinese Herbal Medicine, the cicada chiton casings (Chan Tui) are used as an herb in the category of release exterior cooling, and are listed with the following actions and indications:
- Disperses wind and clears heat; external wind-heat especially with a loss of voice.
- Vents rashes and alleviates itching
- Clears the eyes and removes superficial visual obstructions
- Stops spasms and extinguishes Liver wind – childhood fevers causing convulsions, delirium, spasms, night terrors, insomnia or nightmares.
Among these indications, cicadas help us clear the inflammatory flailing at the surface of who we are. In a busy, fast-paced and superficial world, we begin to see everything around us, including one another, in only the superficial layer. We exchange our ideas, thoughts, and especially our prejudices and autonomic responses in this level. When operating here for too long, we become like pieces of meat to be consumed by the other. When operating only in this level, we become like cannibals, only able to consume a gnawing hunger. We scratch and the itch doesn’t go away. We rub our eyes at the horrors and atrocities committed by fellow human beings towards the other, and when the hands move away, the nightmare is still there.
Cicadas’ emergence represents a time where the armored surface of who we are, locked in temporary and superficial contracts, locked in incessant wind; is extinguished. It represents a time where those who have lost their voice and their innocence simply must be heard. It represents a time where we can collectively end the nightmare. It is a time to wake from fitful slumber, and to listen to and comprehend the fears that haunt our sovereign child selves. It is time to honor and heal our collective trauma.