Artwork – “Element – Water Dance” by Anna Elissa
The Element of Water
Unfortunately I do not know who to credit this to as the original document had no signature, and I could not locate a corresponding link either.
A sentimental person thinks things will last.
A romantic person hopes against hope that they won’t.
F. SCOTT FITZGERALD
Water, we are told by science, is the simplest of the elements: two atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen, and presto!, we have water. Water is also the most unshaped of the elements: temperature can alter its constitution to ice or steam, objects impose their shape on it. The greater percentage of the human body – something like 85% – is composed of water. Water is all around us, the source of life. Water covers two-thirds of the earth’s surface. And from water, the Koran tells us, all life begins.
The element of water, astrologically, is the most enigmatic of all the elements. It is the most ‘primitive’ in that it is further from the rational realm which we are pleased to call human thought. Look at the symbolism of the three watery signs: Cancer, Scorpio and Pisces. All three are cold-blooded creatures in nature, very far on the evolutionary ladder from the warm-blooded mammalian kingdom which has produced its dubious fruit of man. All three inhabit areas of the earth where man cannot live: the depths of the ocean, the barren seashores, the desert. When we examined the symbolism of the element of air, we saw that there were no bestial figures among them. The Twins, the Scales, the Waterbearer. An absence of ‘animal’. Now, when we look at water, we see an absence of ‘human’. What this means is not that the water signs are ‘cold-blooded’ in the sense we colloquially mean it. Far from it. But it may mean – among other things – that the structures, theories, and principles of differentiated human thought are not the mode of operation of these ambiguous signs. The water signs move like the realm of nature: with instinct, at home with that which is nonrational, unexplainable, sometimes magical. They are all motivated with feeling – and feeling, as everyone except a few obsessively fanatical material scientists will admit, is not something you can measure by statistics, define by hypothesis, contain within rationally understandable laws.
Where does reality lie?
In the greatest enchantment you have ever experienced.
These are the words of the poet Hugo von Hofmannsthal. They describe one of the water signs’ basic attitudes toward life: what is felt is real. And because what is felt is something terribly intimate and subjective, its reality is apparent only to the person experiencing it. Water signs are never very good at explaining themselves to people. Generally, they don’t try, but rely on their sure instincts to take them through complex situations. They can rarely tell you ‘why’ they have done something, from a rational point of view. When pressed, the water temperament will either go sullen and silent, or begin to offer some very half-baked and patently absurd rationalizations. The language of the heart is not translatable.
It’s amusing to speculate about things like the development of language and rational thought. We in the West place great emphasis on the processes of the intellect. Our inheritance is largely that of ancient Greece, with its concentration on philosophy and meaning and balance and rationality. The classical Greece which underpins our modern systems of law and education is an air-sign phenomenon. We have forgotten that there are other languages, other modes of communication. Touch, for instance. Feeling. Images and symbols. Colour and music. All these belong to the realm of the water signs. Many water people do not think conceptually, but imagine things in pictures. You can see them as children, excelling at languages, the arts, history, finding a lot of difficulty in mastering algebra, logic, chemistry and physics. It isn’t that they lack intelligence. It’s that their intelligence is more gifted in other areas. Today we consider the ‘smart’ child as the one who does well in IQ tests. But as a water-sign friend of mine once said, IQ tests are excellent determinants of how well a person does at IQ tests. Nothing more.
For water signs, the most important thing in the world is feeling, and in particular, the objects of feeling – which are usually human beings. Relationships with people are the breath of life to the water signs. More than any other element, they fear aloneness and isolation. They need the constant contact of other people, the constant flow of feeling, the security of love and relationship. A water sign who has pulled in on himself and withdrawn from others is a sad creature. For many water signs, others are the most important thing in life – hence their sometimes rather suffocating tendency to live through others at their own expense.
Let’s take a typical example of this tendency to live through others. Carl Jung uses an interesting analogy, in his work, of a relationship being a combination of two factors: a container and a contained. Picture it like this. One person is usually something like a large house with many rooms, most of them unexplored. The other person is like a small, comfortable, self-contained flat within that house. Both people, for a while, are content to remain in the warmth of the flat. It’s safe, it’s cosy, the alien world outside can’t intrude. It’s secure and unchangeable. You know its boundaries.
But the person who is the container becomes aware that the house is really much bigger than anybody thought. He – or she – begins to become restless. What’s in all those unexplored rooms? What’s the world like outside? Granted, it’s unknown and probably unsafe. But it’s fascinating just because of that. So the container begins to fidget, and finally he gets up with a torch and a length of rope and decides to explore the basement. The contained panics. Will he come back? Will he shatter the peace and security of their world? What will happen?
The contained in relationships are usually the water signs. Within their own world, they create anything, for imagination is one of the strongest gifts of this element. Water people have wonderful imaginations. They are also sensitive, perceptive and profound. It is rare to find someone with a strong water emphasis in his horoscope who is shallow and superficial. But they are frightened of anything that might disrupt the peace of the nest.
Not that water people never change. They change all the time – with a rapidity that is upsetting to the air signs in particular. But it’s their feelings that shift and change. One day up, the next day down. Most water-sign people are moody. Now moodiness is something we tend to see as neurotic. This is our air-sign education again, establishing standards of consistent behaviour. In fact the feeling nature in any person is not consistent. Feeling is like water. It flows and shifts and takes a new shape depending on what it meets. And water people, at least those that are brave enough to express their real selves to others, are not consistent in their moods. It never bothers them. They’re used to it; and ups and downs are not frightening. Neither are anger or fear, love or hate. But these things are distressing to the more rational types, who can’t cope with their own changing emotions. Water is also an incredibly subtle element. Nothing is simply black or white to the water signs. If you watch a typical television western of a decade ago, you can see the kind of values which air signs make: there are good guys and bad guys. To water, things aren’t that simple. Good guys often have a secret bad streak, and bad guys are capable of acts of nobility. To water, people are complex and must be taken as they are, not as one would ideally like to think they ought to be. In this way, the water signs are the most realistic of all – that is, about human nature. They may not make a great noise about it. But they know. No person is wholly one thing.
There is a kind of relative quality about the values of the water signs because of this. They may have strong likes or dislikes – and this is one of their typical characteristics. Water people tend to react instantly to others. Yes, I like him. No, I don’t. Often they can’t explain why. Here’s a typical air-water dialogue:
AIR: Well, what did you think of my brother?
WATER: I don’t like him.
AIR: Don’t like him? But he’s my brother. Why not?
WATER: I don’t know. I just don’t like him. I’d prefer not to see much of him. There’s just something about him.
AIR: What do you mean, ‘Something about him’? What kind of remark is that? You must have a reason. Look, he’s a really decent guy. He’s always helped me when I’ve been in trouble. He gives a lot of money to charity, and votes labour. He’s good to his kids, and faithful to his wife. How can you not like him?
WATER: I just don’t like him, okay? I don’t care what he does or doesn’t do. I’m sorry he’s your brother. I don’t think he’s very honest. Maybe it’s his shoes. I don’t know.
AIR: What a silly, irrational thing to say.
Silly and irrational. This is generally the attitude more radical people give when the water signs produce their instant feeling judgements But water is democratic enough to know that his own response is not a universal one. Most water signs won’t say ‘He’s an evil person.’ They’ll own up to the fact that it’s their own feelings. It’s just, ‘I don’t like him.’ And that’s that.
Feelings have their own logic, however. And the values of the water signs are just as complex, just as subtle, just as carefully built of associations and nuances as the theories and ideas of the air signs. It’s just that the process doesn’t take place in their heads. It occurs, in popular jargon, in the gut. Usually the water person isn’t aware of the process. The whole intricate mechanism of establishing a set of values and measuring something against those values, takes place somewhere in the depths of the psyche. They don’t know why. They just feel, one thing or another. Pleasant or unpleasant, beautiful or ugly, comfortable or uncomfortable: it’s like the result coming up in the little window in the computer. The figuring is done inside, through processes which defy the intellect. The infuriating things is that they’re usually right in their assessments.
Another facet of this peculiar ability to ‘sniff out’ the feeling quality of a person or a situation is a thing which we call taste. Now, taste is a very difficult thing to define. It connects up with all kinds of things like aesthetics and art and beauty. These are so hopelessly relative that you can get into a good flaming row about it any time. Taste is a deeply personal matter. But good taste seems to be something that the water signs possess in abundance. But knowledge of the theories of aesthetics often produces monstrous tastes.
I once attended a lecture with slides about the work produced by a particular school of art – by the artists’ definition – were primarily comments on social and political states. They made powerful and important statements about the depersonalization of urban society, the oppression of the working-class, and other ideological attitudes. They were incredibly ugly. Worse, they were tasteless. There was a violent debate among the audience following the show of slides. Several people protested that these might be valid and important socio-political statements, but to define them as art was a dangerous thing. They might or might not be, depending upon who looked at them. Four people in the audience were particularly vocal in their disgust. I inquired later about their birth signs. They were all water signs. The objets d’art have offended their taste. They could accept them on the level of political and social statements. But they were ugly. They were offensive to the eye. Here is the subjective judgement: I don’t like it, it doesn’t please me. It’s a simplistic but good illustration of the difference.
Water and air see very different realities, and value very different things. To the air signs, the idea is everything. Feelings must be subjected to the dominance of the idea. To the water signs, feeling is everything, and the idea must be bent to the feeling. Air, for this reason, tends to be more liberal in its politics – sometimes excessively so. ‘Humanity’ is always a big issue for the air signs. Water tends to be more conservative in its politics – sometimes excessively so. ‘Humanity’ is not a relevant concept for the water signs. It means nothing. Mrs. Thomas across the street who at eighty cannot pay her fuel bills because her pension is too small – well, that’s a reality, provided you know Mrs. Thomas. One Mrs. Thomas is enough to influence the political viewpoint of a water sign.
You can argue unto eternity with these two. They are both right; they see two sides of a coin. Water sees what is here and now, the reality of the pain, suffering, loneliness, dreams and needs of other human beings. Air sees what ought to be, what should be, what from an idealistic point of view might be. Because the water signs can’t grasp broad principles very easily, they can often become bigoted in a small way. Rarely in a large way, because they aren’t concerned about large wholes. But if one Black or one Jew or one Arab offends him, a water sign will often form a value judgement against the entire race or nationality. Why? Because he personally, had a bad experience.
The water signs are usually pretty well acquainted with the darker side of human nature. Because they are naturally sympathetic, people unburden themselves, and they learn a lot of secrets. They are also acutely sensitive to all the undercurrents of feeling within a person, whether they are spoken or not. They have a strange ability to feel what somebody else feels, and enter into his emotional state with ease. For this reason many water signs make wonderful priests, doctors, counsellors and teachers. The gentle, delicate touch of the water signs never prods or pushes. It just shows empathy and understanding. And it opens hearts. The trouble is, there has to be a direct, personal contact. Discuss human suffering in the abstract and it means nothing to water. Show him an individual who is in trouble, and he will respond.
With all these virtues, you might expect some pretty strong vices. They can be phrased in one simple word: reason. Water signs have a problem with reasoning. I’ll say again that this has nothing to do with intelligence. Intelligence is something which has many different ways of working. You can have a person who is a brilliant mathematician and who is perfectly stupid about other people. You can have someone who has wonderful insight about people yet can’t add to save his life. There are all kinds of intelligence. One is probably no better than another. With the water signs, the intelligence is of the heart. It’s intelligence about people, what they need, how they feel. But water isn’t a very objective element. It’s hard to see beyond the garden wall.
Consequently, water people are often unreasonable. They are also often unfair, which is infuriating to the air signs. They will quite blatantly set one standard for themselves and another for others. And you can’t argue with it, because they can’t argue. If they try, you will get the most amazing flow of opinions second-hand, make-shift ideas, ‘they say’ and ‘everybody knows’, third-hand quotes from unread newspapers, and a lot of completely irresponsible declarations that may or may not exist in reality. In other words, water is capable of bending the truth, for ‘truth’ as an abstract is something known only to the element of air. To the water signs, there are a lot of truths, depending on which side of the apple you bite.
Some water signs are charmingly infantile about the world of abstract ideas. This is the ‘helpless female’ type of both sexes who knows ‘nothing about all that political stuff’ because it’s just so terribly complicated and boring. These people – and it should be emphasized that they are not only women, since I have heard it from a number of water-sign men, as well, under the guise of ‘I’m only a simple labourer working to make a living’ – refuse to recognize that ‘society’ is not some abstract thing that knocks on the door when it’s time to pay taxes, but is a conglomerate of individuals. In a word, water can be pretty irresponsible on a broad social level. There is a story told to me about a water-sign woman who formed a friendship with an IRA terrorist wanted by the police. She didn’t know his extracurricular activities at first. When she found out, she didn’t do anything at all about it, despite the vague and uneasy feeling that he was the one responsible for the deaths of twelve people. Asked why, she said, ‘But he’s such a nice man. He’s always been nice to me. If that other is true, it isn’t any of my business, is it?’ Charming. But it gives you pause for thought…
Instead of rational thought, you get opinions. Instead of objective conversation, you get gossip. Instead of disinterested observation, you get bigotry. This is the uglier face of the water signs. It runs along side by side with the compassion, the gentleness, the empathy, the wisdom, the understanding. But as any water sign can tell you, nobody is only one thing.
Water’s biggest problem in relationships is that he can often see nothing except relationships. This translates either as suffocating solicitude or clinginess or possessiveness. Now obviously it depends on your taste. The constant attention of the water signs to their loved ones is a gift not to be undervalued. Many air signs, frozen in their own feeling natures, misinterpret this tenderness and concern as a cloying possessiveness – not because it really is, but because they can’t respond or receive the gift graciously. But the truth of it is that sometimes water is a little cloying. When the loved one is the most important thing in your life, it can be a little difficult for the loved one – firstly because he can never get away from you, and secondly because you’ve made him responsible for your own happiness. That’s a pretty large burden. The water-sign parent who hates to see his or her children grow up is typical. When they’re babies they need that love and attention. And water signs need to be needed. It’s a basic trait in their nature. The best of them is brought out by someone else’s need. They are literally capable of sacrificing their lives for a loved one. Air will sacrifice for an ideal; water for a loved person. But when that child grows up, he wants to breath fresh air, to move away into his own world. That’s often when the water signs become frightened and begin to cling. What, leave me alone? After all I’ve done for you? The heavy obligations they place on their loved ones can be deadly. If you sacrifice your life for somebody, he’s going to feel pretty guilty about it. Nine times out of ten, he’ll repay you with resentment, because nobody likes to feel that guilty. It’s important for the water signs to learn to let go once in awhile. And, even more important, to take for themselves, to balance the scales. If you are always the giver, it’s a pretty lopsided agreement. The other person never has a chance to give himself; and after a while he’ll begin to dislike himself for being so selfish.
We can put it another way. Water has the tendency, because it gives so much on a feeling level, to generate a lot of guilt in other people. And the list is very long, of water signs who are hurt by ‘cold and unfeeling’ children, lovers, husbands and wives who simply cannot endure the guilt any longer. It’s known to the trade as emotional blackmail. Water is a master of the art.
Although he will always be there to help if you are in need, water sometimes feels rejected if you aren’t in need. It’s a perverse and difficult situation. If water isn’t needed, his lifeblood isn’t reaching him. What can he do? He may leave the relationship himself, because of the ‘coldness’ with which he is being treated. So it’s in the arms of another lover – only to find with sadness that the new one has the same face as the old. Water signs tend to be fascinated and attracted, as well as irritated, by the air signs. Water admires air’s detachment, his coolness, his urbanity, his distance, his aloofness. Many water people have a fantasy that this cool, detached airy partner is secretly an emotional child who really just needs a lot of love. True enough. But it can be pretty offensive if you are thirty or forty and your partner is still mothering you.
Without water, there would be no human relationship, no affection, no love. Too much of it drowns. Perhaps we could use a little drowning at this time in history, since we have been made to feel so ashamed of our own needs and feelings that we are guilty simply if we are inconsistent. Perhaps a little of the ‘art of the small’ is needed by everybody. And so the water signs have an important message to teach. A brain without a heart, like the tin man in the Wizard of Oz, either rusts into rigid paralysis, or destroys the world.