I've been practicing Astrology for almost 40 years, and for the first 20 of them I had a difficult time truly understanding the sign Aquarius.
I've long known the Aquarius buzzwords and concepts, but I could never quite grasp them in a deeper way. It's maybe because I'm a Taurus and I don't have any planets beyond Scorpio, leaving the last third of the zodiac unoccupied in my chart. But I also think my challenge in really getting Aquarius has to do with its abstract nature and some of its unique characteristics.
The Water-bearer is an Air sign
Aquarius, the Water-bearer, is not a Water sign. It's an Air sign that's associated with intellect, rather than emotion. Perhaps that represents the power of the mind to manage the waters of our feelings. It's also a Fixed (middle of the season) Air sign, which is hard to imagine. What is Fixed Air in the natural world? Don't know, but in Astrology it represents a strong mind.
I sometimes think of Aquarius as the sign that loves humanity and hates people. That's because it can be so idealistic about human potential that it is easily disappointed by the flaws and weaknesses we all have. Accepting the imperfection of others can be a challenge when the Sun is in this sign or when we have planets in Aquarius in the birth chart. Learning to tolerate oneself and others when falling short of our highest expectations provides compassion that reduces the heavy burden of negative judgments.
Another complex aspect of Aquarius is that it believes in cooperation and demands individual freedom. We generally think of these as contradictory drives, which in most ways they are. Yet it is this very contrast that is one of the most remarkable features of this sign. To me these two principles represent an ideal society, one in which we equally recognize the value of the community and the sovereignty of each person in it.
Aquarian the contrarian
In actual practice this contrast makes some of those with the Sun in this sign appear to be contrarians. They resist external control, yet they still value the concept of collectivity. Volunteerism, however, is a good expression of this idea that we get to choose how and where we participate in the community rather than being forced to follow arbitrary rules. Still, rules are necessary within any society and as guiding principles for individuals as well.
What I love about these seemingly contradictory Aquarian traits is that they attempt to reconcile or include the dominant opposing concepts of government. Total individual freedom is a libertarian ideal that belies the necessity for cooperation. Total community control is a socialist ideal that can undermine personal freedom. The seeming opposition of these principles represents the extremes of right versus left politics, a philosophical divide that often blocks legislative progress.
Yet when we embrace the Aquarius in all of us, it becomes clear there is a conceptual space that encompasses both points of view. Recognizing that collective and individual interests are not two totally different things but are two sides of the same coin may help us overcome the divide between self-interest and working with others.