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The planets and stars have no spiritual effect in the earthly world, but the parts of the universe which are in endless space are closely connected with each other. This connection produces material effects. – Abdu’l-Baha, Daily Lessons Received at Akka, January 1908, p. 85.
I grew up in the 1960’s. I lived in a commune, loved rock ‘n roll (still do), and got deeply involved in the civil rights and anti-war movements. If you lived during that period of time, you know that it felt like a real revolution—everything seemed subject to change, as if no opinion, outlook or value system could possibly stay sacrosanct. When the musical Hair debuted, and the cast sang “this is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius,” we all thought we understood what they meant—that the human species had embarked upon a journey to somewhere profoundly different than we had ever gone before.
That astrological term—the Age of Aquarius—suggested that a new spirit had been born; that the world had entered a completely unprecedented phase of its development and evolution. In fact, the “new age” movement originally got its name from the phrase “the new Age of Aquarius,” when some star-gazers determined that the world had left the two-thousand year old “Age of Pisces.”
But competing astrologers definitely don’t always agree—their estimates of when the Age of Aquarius might begin still varies by thousands of years, from 1447 AD to 3597.
Technically, that wide latitude in opinion arises from a scientific discovery by the 2nd Century Greek astronomer Hipparchus, which he called the precession of the equinoxes, an astronomical term that defines which of the twelve constellations of the zodiac the sun will rise in on the vernal equinox. Sir Isaac Newton theorized that the precession of the equinoxes comes from the gravitational effects of the sun and the moon on the Earth. The Earth takes 25,800 years to cycle through all the constellations, so each “astrological age” lasts approximately 2,150 years. But because the earth’s rotation has a normal gyroscopic wobble, and because astrologers differ on the boundaries of each zodiacal constellation in the sky, pseudo-scientific estimates of what constitutes an astrological age differ drastically.
The Baha'i teachings don’t give much credence to astrology—Baha’is believe in the agreement of religion and science, and generally see astrology as superstitious and not very scientific—but the Baha'i writings do occasionally utilize the well-known allegory of the astrological constellations to point out that we have now entered a new stage of human development:
When the phenomenal sun appears from the vernal point of dawning in the zodiac, a wondrous and vibrant commotion is set up in the body of the earthly world. The withered trees are quickened with animation, the black soil becomes verdant with new growth, fresh and fragrant flowers bloom, the world of dust is refreshed, renewed life forces surge through the veins of every animate being, and a new springtime carpets the meadows, plains, mountains and valleys with wondrous forms of life. That which was dead and desolate is revived and resuscitated; that which was withered, faded and stricken is transformed by the spirit of a new creation. In the same way the Sun of Reality, when it illumines the horizon of the inner world, animates, vivifies and quickens with a divine and wonderful power. The trees of human minds clothe themselves in new and verdant robes, putting on leaves and blossoms and bearing spiritual fruits of the heavenly glad tidings. Then fragrant flowers of inner significances appear from the soil of human souls, and the whole being of man awakens to a new and divine activity. This is the growth and development of the inner world through the effulgent light of divine guidance and the heat of the fire of the love of God.
The physical sun has its rising and its setting. The earthly world has its day and its night. After each sunset there is a sunrise and the coming of a new dawn. The Sun of Reality, likewise, has its rising and setting. There is a day and a night in the world of spirituality. After each departure there is a return and the dawning light of a new day. - Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 271.
This essential concept—that a new age begins when a new prophet of God appears—delineates the Baha'i principle of progressive revelation. The Baha'i teachings sometimes use the symbolism of the zodiac, the spring or the dawn to describe the coming of that new age:
The spiritual cycles of the Sun of Truth, like the cycles of the physical sun, are in a state of perpetual motion and renewal. The Sun of Truth can be likened to the material sun, which rises from many different points. One day it rises from the sign of Cancer and another from the sign of Libra; one day it casts its rays from the sign of Aquarius and another from that of Aries. Yet the sun is but one sun and one single reality. The possessors of true knowledge are lovers of the sun and are not attached to its dawning points. Those who are endued with insight are seekers of the truth itself, not of its exponents and manifestations. Thus they bow in adoration before the sun, from whatever sign and above whatever horizon it may appear, and seek the truth from any sanctified soul who might reveal it… Thus the lover of the sun, whether it be shining from the sign of Aries, or bestowing its grace from the sign of Cancer, or casting its rays from the sign of Gemini. –Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, newly revised edition, pp. 85-86.
So the Age of Aquarius, from a Baha'i perspective, refers symbolically to a new era of human growth and development, given to us by God and now in the early process of its efflorescence:
Now the new age is here and creation is reborn. Humanity hath taken on new life. The autumn hath gone by, and the reviving spring is here. All things are now made new. Arts and industries have been reborn, there are new discoveries in science, and there are new inventions; even the details of human affairs, such as dress and personal effects -- even weapons -- all these have likewise been renewed. The laws and procedures of every government have been revised. Renewal is the order of the day.
And all this newness hath its source in the fresh outpourings of wondrous grace and favour from the Lord of the Kingdom, which have renewed the world. The people, therefore, must be set completely free from their old patterns of thought, that all their attention may be focused upon these new principles, for these are the light of this time and the very spirit of this age. - Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, pp. 252-253.