Skyscript home page



When and why did Uranus become associated with Aquarius?
    by Kim Farnell

This article arises from a discussion on the Skyscript forum, which took place in December 2003. The original discussion can be found here.

We are all told that Uranus 'rules' Aquarius. Doubtless we all know that this wasn't always so but that the markedly un-rebellious Saturn was once happy and settled in the job. At this point in time opinions vary, from those that believe Saturn resigned, collected his gold watch for long, very long, years of service and passed the honour to Uranus; to those that believe that the upstart Uranus has tried to jump in on his act.

The discovery of Uranus is attributed to Sir William Herschel on March 13 1781. Herschel was occupied in searching the skies for new celestial objects. On that particular evening his attention was caught by the new planet. He didn't realise at first that he had discovered the solar systems newest member, but he did know that he wasn't looking at a star.

It wasn't long before astronomers realised the significance of Herschel's discovery. Originally, Herschel chose to name the new planet Georgium Sidus, after King George III, who granted him a stipend and honoured him with a title for his work. Despite the interesting reflection that a planet known for its disruptive and divisive effects was well matched to a king ousted from power on account of his mental instability, it is perhaps not surprising that the name didn't catch on outside Britain. The German astrologer Johann Bode suggested the name Uranus after the sky god Urania. The new name took a while to become popular and occasionally appears in the form "Ouranus". Elsewhere on this site David McCann discusses the discovery of Uranus.

The 1780s were hardly a high point for astrological journalism. Little was published on the subject until the revival led by Raphael in the 1820s. So, it's hard to establish from this standpoint what astrologers at the time of its discovery made of the new planet. At some point though, we know that Uranus began to be used in astrology and that eventually it was assigned rulership of Aquarius. When did this happen? And who was responsible?

In an interview in 1996, Robert Hand states:

"At any rate, Raphael was the one who assigned Uranus to Aquarius. And the first thing that I understand about Raphael was that he was a terrible astrologer by any standards - traditional or modern. He was basically more interested in selling magical charms and amulets than in doing astrology really well". [1]

Perhaps that answers our question? No, not really. The problem being that there are several Raphaels, spanning the nineteenth century and we don't know here which particular Raphael Hand had in mind. [2]

But Hand's mention of charms and talismans suggests that he had in mind the first Raphael, Robert T Cross (1795-1832). Says Mr Hand in the same interview:

"And, his reasoning went like this- Mercury rules Virgo, Venus rules Libra, Mars rules Scorpio, Jupiter rules Sagittarius, Saturn rules Capricorn, therefore a new planet must rule Aquarius!" It's a neat solution.[3]

Unfortunately, reality is more messy.

If we assume that the first Raphael attributed rulership of Uranus to Aquarius, then it suggests that later astrologers would share this view. Certainly this does not appear to be the case in the late nineteenth century. AJ Pearce's (Zadkiel) Text Book of Astrology was published in 1879. In this he states, rather petulantly:

Some modern authors have assigned Aquarius to Uranus, thus either robbing Saturn of his 'day house' or forcing upon him a partner. However until experience teaches us in what signs Uranus and Neptune are most powerful, I must decline to endorse so hasty an attempt to provide for one of the 'houseless wanderers'.

Almost a hundred years is seen as hasty here - compare that to today's eagerness to attribute rulerships to any lump of rock that happens to fly past your window.

Sepharial, in his Manual of Astrology 1898, didn't believe that Uranus ruled Aquarius:

The dominion of Uranus is indefinite, for he has no house of his own, though he is most successfully placed in the airy triplicity….

The last Raphael, Robert Cross, wrote in his Horary Astrology 1883, that Aquarius is the "house of Uranus". In his Key to Astrology 1891 p27/8, an extremely popular astrological text, and recommended wholeheartedly by Aleister Crowley, Raphael has started to become rather defensive about the matter:

There has been some demur to my apportioning Aquarius to the planet Uranus. I can find no reason to alter my opinion on this matter, for Aquarius is a scientific sign, fond of curiosities, and of dabbling in the occult sciences, and the nature of Uranus is very similar.

He gives Uranus' exaltation as Scorpio and joys as Libra and Scorpio and an accidental dignity in the 9th.

Simmonite's Horary Astrology 1896, also states that Uranus rules Aquarius.

Luke Broughton in 1899 was of a similar mind to Pearce. Although he kept one eye on Uranus, he wasn't prepared to start dismantling the old rulership system.

As late as 1909, Alan Leo wrote in Everybody's Astrology:

Uranus has been given no sign by astrologers, though Aquarius has often been suggested…

Although the concept of Uranus ruling Aquarius was clearly well known by the end of the nineteenth century, it was not universally accepted. Gradually, astrologers began to accept Uranus as the ruler of Aquarius until numerous astrologers forgot that it hadn't always been so.

However, someone must have suggested it first, and perhaps it was the first Raphael?

In his Manual of Astrology, published 1828, Raphael clearly states that Aquarius is governed by Saturn. He does write on Uranus, saying that because it was so recently discovered, no-one had witnessed more than its half-cycle. Raphael said that in his own experience and that of others it is noticeable in its 'evil' and 'unfortunate' effects. He describes its nature as extremely frigid, cold, dry and devoid of any cheering influence. He likens it to Saturn and Mercury and states that there is reason to believe it has a special affinity with the air signs.

Although he doesn't go so far as to suggest that Uranus actually rules Aquarius, he does state:

We have is reason to think (from several thousand observations) that the sign Aquarius is one wherein he much delights.

We can't help but wonder how he came to this conclusion. Uranus didn't enter Aquarius until a month after the publication of Raphael's Manual, where it remained until 1836. At the time of publication, no astrologer had observed first-hand the influence of Uranus as it travelled through the sign "in which it much delights".

So, perhaps Raphael didn't suggest that Uranus ruled Aquarius after all, but was simply noting an affinity, and being rather cagey about the whole matter. Maybe… except, Raphael wasn't always as consistent as we'd like to think. Three years earlier he managed to adopt both points of view in the same publication.

In The Astrologer of the Nineteenth Century, 1825, p134, he discusses the chart of a balloon crash. Referring to Uranus as Georgium Sidus, he points out that it is the ruler of the 4th house - which falls in Aquarius. The relevant passage reads:

Georgium Sidus and Mars being mutually in trine with one another, was a most lucky aspect for her as a female and foreshadowed her recovery...Venus, lady of the ascendant, and significator of the aeronaut, applying to the fatal conjunction of this baneful star, who also ruled the fourth house...

Yet in the same publication he later comments that Uranus "has no houses allotted him". Perhaps at this point he isn't totally convinced, or is willing to recognise an affinity in practice whilst remaining true to convention in his 'rules'.

If Raphael wasn't totally certain, a friend of his appeared to be. The often forgotten astrologer and friend of the artist William Blake, John Varley, wrote a little known book entitled A Treatise on Zoadiacal Physiognomy in 1828. In this he states:

Aries and Scorpio are the houses of Mars, Taurus and Libra are the houses of Venus, Gemini and Virgo are under the dominion of Mercury, Cancer is the house of the Moon, Sagittarius and Pisces are the houses of Jupiter, Capricorn is the house of Saturn; and Aquarius is governed by the Herschel planet.

Varley had no doubt about the matter. To emphasise the point further he wrote:

But as the dominion of the world was acquired by Saturn's trading people, who by virtue of his real and true dominion in the accumulating sign Capricorn, became the wealthy and powerful directors in the Commonwealth; they - still believing erroneously, while ignorant of the Herschel planets existence, that the sign Aquarius was Saturn's masculine and superior house...

Was Varley the first to definitively state that Uranus ruled Aquarius? There is little astrological literature available from the period immediately predating Varley's work. What do we find if we take a quick run through?

1791 - Sibly's Conjurer's Magazine points out the connection between Herschel in Leo and fires.

1792 - The same magazine points out a conjunction between the 'new star' (unamed) and Venus.

1794 - In the Astrologer's Magazine (was Conjurer's Magazine) 'Herschel' pops up occasionally, although no one seems too sure what to do with it.

1798 - John Worsedale in Genethliacal Astrology adds Uranus into some charts, but doesn't dwell on its interpretation.

1810 - Thomas White in The Beauties of Occult Science, says of Georgium Sidus "He has no houses alloted him, but participates of the nature of the malevolent planet Saturn in the highest degree; and it is therefore equally unfortunate."

1819 - James Wilson's Dictionary has an entry on Ouranus. "...a new superior planet has been discovered and named Ouranus, from the father of Saturn, because its orbit includes that of Saturn...whatever its influence may be, we are unacquainted with does not appear very malignant."

So it looks very much like Varley should be recognised as the first to claim that Uranus rules Aquarius. But why? What made him so convinced about the meaning and rulership of Uranus?

An article in the Occult Review of July 1916 entitled 'Some Astrological Predictions of the Late John Varley by his grandson, John Varley', offers a clue. The article gives the story of a number of predictions made by Varley and what actually transpired.

He was... in the habit of consulting his own horoscope each morning, and bringing up directions etc. On one particular morning... he was evidently ill at ease and though he had an appointment, he did not go out; and about 11 in the forenoon he gave his watch to my father, telling him to take it to a watchmaker in Regent Street and have it set to Greenwich time... he explained that there were some evil aspects in his horoscope, which would come into operation a few minutes to twelve that day. He was so certain as to the evil effects that he might not go out, fearing some street accident. He said, 'I might be run over, or a slate might fall on my head.', that he was uncertain whether his life or his property was menaced, but he saw in the figure that it would be sudden. The difficulty arose from the fact that the effects of the planet Uranus were not yet understood by astrologers, and his agitation increased as the time approached. He asked if my father was sure that his watch was put to Greenwich time and complained that he could not go on with his work. Sitting down, he said two or three times, 'I feel quite well, there is nothing wrong with me. I am not going to have a fit or anything of the sort.' Then, rising from his seat he came to my father saying, 'What is it to be? The time is passed. Could I have made some mistake in my calculations?' He took some paper and a pencil to go through the figures again - just then there was a cry of fire from the street. He rapidly made a note in his astrological book as to the effects of Uranus. The house was burned down, all his property was destroyed, and unfortunately he was uninsured...

Why, oh why do we not have Varley's notebooks? All our questions about Uranus would be answered. There were no dates given for when this event took place and I've not been able to find any earlier versions of the story.

Returning to our question of when Uranus began to assume rulership of Aquarius, the first tentative comment is in Raphael's Astrologer of the Nineteenth Century in 1825. But this is a little vague, and Raphael is clearly not totally convinced. The first categorical statement that Uranus rules Aquarius appears in Varley's book of 1828.

So there's the answer. John Varley decided that Uranus ruled Aquarius in 1828. And perhaps he took out insurance on his next home.

To pre-empt a question that generally follows the one I have just addressed, the award for being the first person to associate astrology with Uranus should go to Robert Cross, the last Raphael, who wrote in his Guide of 1879, "Astrologers, as a rule, have Herschel prominent in their nativities".

And John Varley put it there.

The forum discussion on the association between Uranus and Aquarius is ongoing, so if you have more light to shed on this issue submit your comments to the forum thread Assignation of Outer-Planet Rulerships

Notes & References:

  1 ] See
Back to text

  2 ] For a discussion on the lives of the Raphaels see "Healing Angels: Astrologers who called themselves Raphael" by Kim Farnell.
Back to text

  3 ] The forum discussion on this site presents alternative views on why Uranus was assigned to Aquarius. See
Back to text


© Kim Farnell, January, 2005.

Kim is available for written work, TV and radio. Visit her website at or email