Group of people

Aquarius the Water Bearer shows your involvement with groups, technology, rebellion, futuristic vision. Ruled by Saturn and Uranus, here you cultivate individuality in the non-personal side of life.

I am he As you are he As you are me And we are all together.... ~ John Lennon

Aquarius glyph GROUP: association, society, alliance, coalition, league, union, council, bloc, federation, community, clan, totem, caste, fellowship, guild, brotherhood, sisterhood, club, faction, sect, clique, circle, ring, crew, crowd, ingroup, team, organization, institution, institute, affiliation, chapter, membership, lodge.

INDIVIDUAL(ITY): person, man, woman, child, elder, human being, mortal, soul, being, entity, creature, critter, earthling, personality, body, somebody, someone, one, fellow, chap, singleton, item, persona, single, organism, life, object, aloneness, solidarity, singularity, integrity, unity, oneness, solitude, detachment, seclusion, alienation, aloofness, particularity, uniqueness, intactness.

"So what," you ask? Just look at all the different words there are to describe an individual and a group of individuals. And this is only a sampling! Clearly, the English speaking world places high importance on these concepts, judging from the quantity of the words.

The zodiac sign Aquarius is about both the group and the individual; about our commonality within groups and our individual uniqueness. From our initial perspective, it may seem like these concepts are mutually exclusive, yet each is tethered resolutely to the other. In honour of Uranus travelling through its native sign, Aquarius, this article will extensively examine the inter-dynamics of groups and the individuals that form them. By the time we have concluded our trek through the land of Aquarius, it will be difficult to tell them apart.


Groups the Macrocosm

The drive for connection with other human beings is one of the most primal instincts in human nature. We are social animals who exist in families, tribes, villages and cities. We belong to circles of friends, synagogues, churches, temples, workplaces, neighbourhoods, clubs and constituencies. We seek out each other's company to share information, for mirroring of who we are, and because, as a whole, the group can accomplish more than its individual members alone.

A group is indeed greater than the sum of its parts. Although composed of distinct, unique individuals, a group will take on a life of its own and become an entity in its own right. Like a river made up of many droplets of water, a group of people will also contain currents, eddies, cascades and shifting tides. Group dynamics rise out of the collective gestalt, much as psychological impulses spring from an individual's psyche.

Within a collective context, a person may behave differently than s/he would as a separate individual. If we believe our group approves of and supports certain behaviour, we are more likely to emulate that behaviour rather than risk alienation and disapproval. If we think the group disapproves of or discourages certain actions, then we are more likely to avoid those actions (especially within that group). This may even happen despite our personal beliefs, values or better judgment. Peer pressure is a mighty force to be reckoned with!

Our first experience of the need to belong comes to us in childhood, in our family of origin. Here, belonging was, at its most crucial level, a life or death prospect in which our very survival depended on being accepted as a member in good standing with our family. To deviate from the family's good graces was to risk abandonment, isolation, rejection and disconnection. Hence, we conformed to a large degree to our family's expectations and set our inner compass according to the family group dynamics often without even realizing it.

As adults, we have options that we didn't have as children. We can take greater risks asserting our individuality, since abandonment and rejection don't bring the same life or death consequences. However, we're still subject to the intense human need to be accepted and esteemed by our community. We still depend on our environment for our livelihood, companionship, mirroring, intimacy and commerce. It's extremely difficult to live as a hermit, particularly if we still want the advantages and perks offered by the collective society.

This can lead to awkward, even painful consequences if we do something that leads to alienation from mainstream society or from our groups of choice. Rejection is one of the chief fears that motivate human beings, be it by one's family, friends or community at large.

We all need to belong and are thus prone to compromising our ethics, morals, beliefs, opinions or integrity when our well-being within the group is at stake. We may look the other way when something seems amiss, afraid that if we speak out we'll become a target for criticism. Perhaps we want to avoid rocking the boat, so we agree on the outside when we really disagree inside, our dissention being camouflaged by silence. Our complicity in group dynamics can occur in many ways.

GoatThe Scapegoat Scenario

If we do risk speaking out or go against the grain for some reason, we may have to endure criticism, rejection, alienation, disconnection or banishment. Depending on how much our dissension is seen as a threat to group cohesion, the response may be mild or severe, evoking anything from raised eyebrows to outright retaliation.

It is within this breeding ground that scapegoats are born one of the uglier dynamics that can emerge in groups. The original meaning of a scapegoat was apparently a ritual in which the townspeople would project the problems of the village onto a goat, then set it away, believing it would carry their problems with it. I suspect that if the people were truly ready to let go of the dynamics which fostered their problems, such a ritual could have a powerful effect. However, if this action was merely out of desperation and the root dynamics of the problems and conflicts remained firmly entrenched, such a ritual would be unlikely have much effect in the long run.

In terms of group dynamics, scapegoating is typically a function of the group's attempt to rid itself of a persistent problem by ejecting the person(s) they believe to be the source of the problem. Such a person can find him/herself the target of increasing and intense criticism, disapproval, alienation and hostility, whether deserved or not. Perhaps the most horrendous example of the scapegoating dynamic is that of the holocaust, in which millions of Jews and other social undesirables were strategically exterminated. Hitler lead a movement which saw Germany's problems as being the fault of an "impure" populace. The result was genocide at its worst.

Another example of what I believe to be scapegoating, this time in modern day Ontario, Canada, is Premier Harris' policy of blaming those who partake of social programs for today's economic problems. Many Ontarians feel Harris has become overzealous in the speed and degree of cutbacks; that he is targeting not the source but the symptoms of the problem.

When there are few jobs to be found, are the unemployed who collect welfare and unemployment insurance the cause or the result of the root problem? When those who are barely physically mobile, or who must remain attached to cumbersome medical equipment in order to survive, are refused the renewal of their right to Wheel Trans (transit for the physically disabled), forcing them to remain effectively house bound, is the provincial government not attempting to rid itself of its economic woes by penalizing those who least deserve and can ill-afford to shoulder it? These actions are frequently called blaming the victim, assigning blame to those who can least defend themselves.

Unfortunately, the Harris government appears to genuinely believe that by eliminating much of the funding to these sub-groups (unemployed, disabled, etc.), the economic problems of the larger group (Ontario residents) will be solved. Despite mounting protest, there are those who continue to support the actions of this government. Many of these people may not be affected by the governments cutbacks or be aware of other causes of our current economic problems (shifting tax structures, automation, NAFTA/free trade).

On a more individual and astrological level, the experience of being alienated from the group for reasons beyond one's control can be painfully familiar to someone with strong Aquarius energy in their chart. For the rest of us, the houses where Uranus and Aquarius are found in our charts, as well as the 11th House, may be where we feel like outsiders (estranged and detached from the rest of the group) or where we feel particularly connected to the group (e.g., participate in group activities).

Getting Your Goat (Back)

Once a current swells within a group to flush away its problems by citing one or more people as the cause, it is very difficult to turn this tide. It takes a heroic effort of awareness, objectivity and openness to a balanced perspective, on the part of the group's members, to stabilize the panic of scapegoating with an attitude of reason, impartiality, fairness and humanity.

Unfortunately, there are few individuals and fewer groups who are capable of sustaining this balance in the face of compelling peer persuasion. Hence, it is probable that few groups are able to stem the tide of scapegoat ism once it has begun. Even voices raised in objection can be lost in the dominating energy. (Witness how little the mounting outrage and protests in Ontario have affected the Harris governments momentum.)

Group problems rarely, if ever, originate from a single individual. Group dynamics are very complex and are almost never at the mercy of a single individual's influence. No one can control a group without its members' consent, whether that permission is granted passively (apathy, bewilderment, indifference, etc.) or actively (supporting and defending the leaders vision and policies, etc.). Problems within the group are a function of the holistic group dynamic not that of one "problem" individual. Even in the event that one person contributes a singularly negative influence, it is still the deeply underlying group dynamics that provide a breeding ground for specific problems to flourish to the point of crisis.

Scapegoat-ism is ultimately a polarization between the groups leader(s) and the scapegoat. The group current could flow in favour of either pole, probably depending on where the power is seen to reside. The leaders mandate may be questioned and the scapegoat may become the Underdog, which the group rallies to protect. This may, in turn, focus the leader as the groups next scapegoat, that person now being seen as the new cause of their problems.

One example of this, I believe, is the recent pattern of erratic election results in Ontario. Voters have swung from one political extreme to another, which I believe is a result of desperation combined with intense disillusionment. As one political leader fails to eradicate our persistent problems, s/he falls from grace and is seen as reprehensible. The vehement banishment of one leader gives rise to an (apparently) overwhelming mandate for the next alternative.

Whose Authority?

Saturn glyph Uranus glyphThis illustrates the function of Saturn in the Aquarian archetype. The Capricorn side of Saturn represents our struggle to claim our own authority; to set our own rules and make our own decisions. In Aquarius, if we have not mastered this task, we may become meek followers or overzealous leaders, neither of whom will be capable of tolerating healthy dissention or diversity within the group something a healthy group must allow for. Ideally, we are meant to bring ourselves to a group as fully-functioning, autonomous individuals, or else well be vulnerable to the will of the group conscience which may or may not be in our best interests or the group's.

If a group's members chronically resist embracing their own Saturn energies, that function will probably become projected onto the group itself and/or its leader(s). Saturn then becomes a force compelling individuals to rigidly conform to the group agenda, allowing little flexibility for individual preferences, needs or variation. The group as a gestalt could become tyrannical, fanatical, erratic or scattered.

And in such an atmosphere, woe betide the person who dares to stand up and declare, "There's something wrong here!" Such a group is founded on rigid conformity and protective defense of its dysfunctionality. Any opposing voices intent on introducing a healing, functional energy are likely to be perceived as threats to the group and could possibly become targets or scapegoats. Such an attack is ostensibly a protective mechanism of the group, designed to preserve what is held to be its only workable structure.

A healthy, functional group, on the other hand, can withstand differing views within its membership. Its cohesion is not dependent on compliance, so much as on a common thread running through its membership. It requires that its members have a shared bond within their individuality, not be like clones who all nod "yes" on cue. A healthy group will also be able to deal with new ideas and directions growth and change are constants that affect groups as well as individuals.

This is essentially the difference between the roles of Saturn and Uranus in the Aquarian drama. At its best, Saturn builds self-authority in the individual and cohesion in the group; Uranus brings a holistic flexibility to the group and the qualities of risk-taking and disclosure of personal perspective to the individual. At its worst, Saturn promotes rigid conformity in the group and blind obedience in the individual; Uranus sparks erratic swings and fragmentation in groups, while sparking rebellion and reactivity in the individual.

The Individual the Microcosm

We in the western world pride ourselves on being individuals unique, independent, insulated from the prescribed influence of others. We see ourselves as self governing free to think, feel and do according to our distinctive uniqueness. Our culture values this quality and tends to see those who are open to the influence of others as weak, naive and simple.

But are we actually capable of being truly autonomous individuals? As already discussed, each of us is instinctively compelled toward membership in at least one group. Even a hermit once belonged to a family, and even if s/he deliberately leaves that family, s/he continues to be a member in absentia of that group. The hermit living in isolation may instead have an intimate connection to the community of wildlife around him/her.

Modern psychology is founded on the premise that we are receptive, responsive beings who are indelibly shaped by our early childhood environment, its effects carried into adulthood in one form or another. Similarly, sociology is based on the supposition that we are permeated by and reflected in the groups we align ourselves with, be they families, friends, co workers, political parties, religious groups, clubs, neighbourhoods, countries or cultures.

Clearly, we are much more than separate specks adrift in a cosmos of other specks.One's identity as an individual is very complex, composed not only from conscious and unconscious personal thoughts and behaviour, but also from associations with others. Whether this is with a single other person (one to one relationship) or a group of people, we are influenced by those alliances in ways we're often not aware of.

We learn from others, are persuaded by others, are motivated and spurred into action by others. We may intersect through our interest in astrology, or our membership in an organization; through our love of movies, or an enjoyment of skating. We may share philosophical ideas or religious beliefs. We might all be friends of "so and so" or perhaps we live in the same neighbourhood.

Resonating to the Whole

Whatever the groups we belong to, we are all aligned with many groups for many reasons, and each one plays a part in defining and reflecting who we are as individuals. A person who belongs to an astrology group is revealing something about him/herself that may not be shared by someone who belongs to a fundamentalist religious group. A member of the Progressive Conservative Party is actualizing some part of who they are, as is someone involved with the New Democratic Party.

When we first enter into something new, we may start it for one reason, but later continue with it for another reason. For example, someone might initially join Alcoholics Anonymous to stop drinking, but keep attending meetings to meet a deeper, spiritual need. A person may return to school in order to fill spare time, but later discover that s/he has a need to learn something that will give him/her a new passion in life.

In the same way, the surface reasons we have for aligning ourselves with a group might be only the tip of the iceberg, compared to the underlying motives that keep us connected to it. Our involvement with a group alters our perspective, shifts our direction and permeates our thinking. As we settle into a familiar rhythm with that group's standards, norms, rituals and dynamics, we will either leave it, deciding it's not for us, or we'll grow increasingly consistent with its agenda, philosophy and patterns.

For example, as we continue to attend a bible study group at our neighbourhood church, we'll likely adopt much of its outlook and become more religious, as we integrate our group experience into our personal worldview. We "resonate" with the collective consciousness, attuning our perspective to that of the group like a piano string vibrates to the sound of a tuning fork.


Peer Power

Given this vulnerability to group influence, how autonomous is the individual in the broader perspective? Certainly we are more than mere pawns of the group conscience, but we are also more than disjointed pieces that coincidentally form a whole. We have social, mental, spiritual and emotional tendrils that reach out and become intertwined with those of others in other groups. And, just as the group is greater than the sum of its parts, each individual is greater than the sum of his/her alliances.

This is part of what makes us unique no one else has exactly the same collection of associations as we do; and even if they did, our experience within those groups differs. On the other hand, our affiliations also bring our individual integrity into question if we are molded and swayed by our involvement with groups, can we trust that our decisions and beliefs are our own, or have we been mesmerized by the dynamics of the group?

Noam Chomsky, linguist and political dissident, has written about a phenomenon he calls "manufactured consent." This term refers to the idea that our opinions and beliefs can be and are maneuvered by those in authority to suit their needs and support their agendas. This theory indicates that we can be manipulated, not only to agree with someone, but also to believe it's our own decision made from free will.Chomsky's theories describe a deliberate intent on the part of the leaders and movers of a so called democratic society to fabricate a consensus. However, I believe the same concept can also be applied to the subtle influences of a group upon the individual.

Chomsky's idea casts a skeptical light on the validity of what we believe to be our autonomy and independence. His theory draws into question the extent to which we know our own minds and challenges the western bravado that maintains we are self-governing beings rooted in free will. On the contrary, Chomsky's concept of manufactured consent suggests that even as "free thinking" adults, we are capable of being manipulated by group conscience, particularly when met with apathy or ignorance. However, by identifying and naming this dynamic, Chomsky's work implies a belief that it is possible to transcend our susceptibility and take outside influences into account when forming our decisions, beliefs, values and direction.

Despite our intimate, symbiotic connection to group dynamics, there is always that spark of individual uniqueness and vitality that enables us to be more than manipulated automatons. This spark keeps us moving toward growth and evolution, at both the individual and group level, yielding new perspectives and new alliances. Our Uranian spark stirs up the melting pot of our individual awareness and the global gestalt.

The Aquarian Agenda

This rather expansive discussion of group and individuality issues is meant to illuminate a fundamental principle associated with Aquarius. The upcoming New Moon cycle brings us into the Aquarian arena where we can confront the issues of fate versus free will, liberation versus subjugation, and individual versus group consciousness.

Uranus, the planet of spontaneity and liberation, can also facilitate blind reaction and erratic behaviour. When we resist a conscious perception of what we're reacting to, we need to question how much our responses are the fruit of personal individuation, and how much they have been unconsciously manipulated by a larger, group-based dynamic. Uranus would have us expand and stretch our perspective to encompass a vast, multifaceted awareness of ourselves and the world around us.

Aquarius challenges us to expand our awareness to include these paradoxical, complex, multi-faceted perspectives of ourselves as group members and individuals. It is not a case of choosing one over the other we are all of them! We are not called upon to eradicate one and fervently grasp the other rather, Aquarius would have us strike a balance between them, accepting ourselves as social beings that need group contact, as well as islands: entities unto ourselves. The Aquarian agenda is to bring us to a superior awareness as communal beings who are ultimately capable of making wiser choices based on a humanitarian acceptance of our human uniqueness as well as our commonality.


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