Astro Journal · Mythology

Planet Myths: The Story Behind Uranus

Uranus represents your need for freedom and change and the desire for independence from tradition and the status quo. It’s associated with sudden awakenings and insights that revolutionise your perspective and turn your life upside down, pushing you towards individuation and liberation.

Uranus is the next planet out from Saturn and its orbit takes 84 years, spending about 7 years in each zodiac sign. True to its nature as a maverick, it rotates on its side so each pole is exposed to the light in turn as it rolls around the sun.

Although the planet is visible to the naked eye, it’s very faint and for centuries it was seen as another star. Then in 1781 William Herschel finally recognised it as a planet using a newfangled telescope. Its discovery coincided with the French and American revolutions and the Industrial Revolution in Britain, and it overturned our view of the cosmos.

Uranus is the modern ruler of Aquarius along with Saturn (although traditional astrologers disagree). The glyph represents the cross of matter between two crescents of the soul, all above a tiny circle of the spirit. But the two crescents can also be seen as an ‘H’ standing for Herschel.

As the higher octave of Mercury, Uranus represents the Universal Mind. While Mercury shows how you use your mind on a personal level, Uranus connects you to the vast impersonal consciousness of the cosmos. It acts like a Cosmic Alarm Clock, zapping you with Wake Up Calls, forcing radical revolutions both inner and outer.

Some of the archetypes associated with Uranus include: the Great Awakener, the Cosmic Trickster, the Rebel, the Maverick, the Eccentric, the Scientist (or Mad Scientist), the Magician, and the Bolt from the Blue. Its lightning-fast insights can be both creative and destructive, bringing innovation and disruption, liberation and chaos.

Let’s see how all this is portrayed in the myths…

Uranus Myths

Uranus is named after Ouranos, the Greek god of the heavens who, with Gaia, his mother/sister, created the manifest universe of sky and earth. His name means ‘rainmaker’ and he’s associated with thunder, rain, and lightning – his electromagnetic discharges seeding life by fertilising the soil of Gaia with nitrogen.

As the sky, Ouranos represents the Mind of God and the first flash of light in creation. Liz Greene calls him an “ancient and elusive deity” because there aren’t many myths about him. With Gaia, he’s best known for creating the race of Titans, which represent natural forces.

But Ouranos’ beautiful mind also gave birth to monsters like the Cyclops and the Hundred-Handed Giants, and this pissed him off no end. He was so offended by his hideous offspring that he shoved them back into Gaia, banishing them to Tartaros in the underworld.

Gaia didn’t enjoy this process so she got Kronos to castrate his father (see Capricorn Myths and Saturn Myths). Some of Ouranos’ blood spilled onto the earth creating more Giants and the Erinyes (Furies), while his severed genitals landed in the sea, giving birth to Aphrodite (Venus). Kronos overthrew Ouranos to become king of the gods and was overthrown in turn by his son, Zeus.

This creation myth has parallels with earlier Mesopotamian and Hittite myths that feature the sky god Anu, who was identified with the ecliptic north pole and the constellation of Draco. In this story, Anu’s son Kumarbi bites off his genitals and spits out three gods, one of whom later deposes Kumarbi, as Zeus does to Kronos.

To the Greeks, Ouranos was a personification of the sky which was seen as a huge dome decorated with stars. This is similar to the way the Egyptians depicted Nut, goddess of the sky and one of the oldest deities in their pantheon. One of her epithets was ‘Mistress of All’ because she gave birth to the gods after lying on top of Geb, who was the Earth – an inversion of the Greek myth that has a male sky god and female earth.

Nut was originally represented as just the night sky but later became simply the sky. Interestingly, rather than having Ouranos conceived by Gaia, the Orphics made him the son of the goddess Nyx, a personification of Night. Either way, it suggests Ouranos may’ve inherited his rule over the universe from an earlier goddess who he usurped.

Aion holding the zodiac in place

To the Romans, Uranus was also depicted as Aion, the god of eternal time who held the zodiac in place around the earth – probably why Uranus is seen as the ruler of astrology and astrologers. However, some astrologers think the god Ouranos isn’t a good fit for this planet.

In Prometheus the Awakener, Richard Tarnas says naming the planet after Ouranos appeared to make sense because he was the father of Kronos but it became clear that the archetypal characteristics of Uranus don’t match the mythology of Ouranos very well. Ouranos doesn’t initiate change, unless you count his endless monstrous creations. But even these, he rejects.

Tarnas suggests that the archetype of Uranus finds a better fit in the mythology of Prometheus. Prometheus was a Titan who was also seen as a Trickster. There are various myths about his parentage, but Hesiod said he was the son of the Titan Iapetus and an Oceanid called Cymene. His name means ‘forethought’, and his brother was called Epimetheus, meaning ‘afterthought.’

Prometheus was a culture hero and a humanitarian who rebelled against the gods and had a long-running spat with Zeus. In the oldest version of his myth he created mankind in the image of the gods from clay and water, with the consent of Athene who breathed life into them. She also taught him the arts of civilisation, including mathematics, agriculture, metallurgy, and architecture, which Prometheus passed on to mankind.

Prometheus initially supported Zeus in the fight against Kronos because he knew he would win. But when Zeus decided to destroy humanity, Prometheus turned against him and tricked the king of the gods in a ruse over some meat. Zeus took revenge by denying mankind the gift of fire, saying “Let them eat their flesh raw!”

So Prometheus stole a fragment of glowing charcoal from the sun and delivered the sacred flame to mankind. Zeus punished Prometheus by chaining him to a rock in the Caucasus Mountains where an eagle ripped out his liver every day. Each day it grew back because Prometheus was (is?) immortal, so his torment went on and on.

Meanwhile, Zeus also punished mankind by sending a gift to Prometheus’ brother in the form of a woman called Pandora. Epimetheus had a jar that his brother had warned him never to open because it contained horrible things like Old Age, Labour, Sickness, Insanity, Vice, and Passion – all the things that haunt mankind.

Prometheus had put them in the jar for safe keeping, but Pandora inevitably opened it and unleashed the nightmare, along with the worst element: Delusive Hope, which prevents mankind from killing themselves as a result of their shitty lives. (Great – thanks Pandora!)

Eventually, Prometheus was set free from his torment on the rock when Hercules struck a deal with Zeus that allowed Chiron to swap places with him (see Chiron Myths). He was freed on condition that he wear one of the chains on his finger as a reminder that Zeus was still in charge – a symbol of humility before the gods (see Aquarius Myths).

Prometheus is seen as a redeemer of mankind. His gift of fire represents the creative spark of consciousness that encourages us to awaken to our potential and grow towards enlightenment. But this gift comes at a cost and the arts of civilisation aren’t always benign.

Prometheus bound

The Meaning of Uranus

I don’t believe it’s necessary to choose between Ouranos and Prometheus in relation to the archetype of Uranus. Both myths have something to contribute to our understanding of the experience of dealing with this planet. Ouranos reveals the impersonal and aloof nature of Uranus, while Prometheus gives him a human touch and makes him more relatable.

As the Universal Mind, Ouranos represents the original divine unity before the manifest world came into being, along with separation and differentiation. That process starts with Kronos overthrowing his father, and Zeus overthrowing him in turn, symbolic of a gradual coming into being of new levels of existence – a stepping down of spiritual power into matter.

When Kronos castrates Ouranos, he removes his creative power and separates the sky from the earth. Reality is no longer just an idea in God’s Big Mind – it’s a world fallen into time. Infinity constrained and made finite. Ouranos is now outside the new order ruled over by Kronos, defined by necessity and limitation (see Saturn Myths).

Ouranos clearly prefers the perfection of the eternal heavens to the messy reality of the earth and the chthonic realm. He’s horrified by what he creates because it’s not as he imagined. But this is the nature of creativity. It’s hard to manifest your brilliant ideas and they always change in the process of being given form.

Uranus represents your ability to imagine a better or different life, and to transform it through a visionary understanding of reality. It helps you to look into the future and make changes that align with your vision. But it can also be potentially destructive, like Ouranos, when life doesn’t live up to your ideals and you just trash everything because it’s not perfect.

Many Uranian ideas are ahead of their time and too advanced for people to accept, or they seem crazy and unworkable. They may even be monstrous. Uranus can be fanatical and single-minded in pursuit of his ideals, regardless of the consequences.

It may be that Uranus is so disruptive because he’s constantly trying to destroy Saturn’s structures in order to overthrow the usurper and get his throne back. This is the eternal conflict between order and chaos, the known and the unknown – and there’s no real winner.

Uranus stands for uncontrolled creative power. On its own, it isn’t conducive to life, but without it, life would stagnate and nothing new would come into being. Too much Uranus leads to chaos and disruption and that’s destructive to life, so it needs to be balanced and grounded by Saturn (see Saturn Uranus Cycle).

Uranus will fill your head with all sorts of wacky ideas but unless you take the time to test them against reality they’ll never come to fruition. That means with work (Saturn) and love (Aphrodite/Venus), your vision can be brought down to earth. It may not be perfect, but it can be good enough.

For example, scientific breakthroughs are associated with Uranus, but to make technology that works on a practical level, you need Saturn. Science is as much about hard work and discipline and testing your results and ideas, as it is about innovation and revolutionary change.

This is true of any kind of change and reform, whether personal, political, spiritual, or whatever. After the initial excitement of awakening, rebellion or revolution against the old order, you have the hard work of making those reforms stick. Real change takes time and organisation and experience and wisdom.

Uranus triggers change and growth but only in potential. Change itself doesn’t necessarily equal growth or progress or freedom, unless you make the effort to be conscious of what you’re doing.

The Promethean arts of civilisation and shiny Uranian technology that we love so much are only as good as we are and depend on self-awareness. If we want to create a better future using these gifts, we need to learn how to handle the fire of consciousness first.

Nut – Mistress of All

Uranus represents the light behind creation, the original creative impulse of the Divine Mind dreaming reality into being. It plugs you into this vast consciousness via the Witness Self, pushing your mind beyond logic and the limits of rationality. In Zen, this sudden awakening is called satori, a lightning flash of illumination that overturns all preconceived ideas about reality – as in the Tower tarot card.

When you look at reality this way, you can see the whole in one flash. It collapses the normal duality of consciousness and shatters old conditioning. This process is destructive to the ego but an essential part of Individuation which helps you to grow towards wholeness and restore lost parts of your being to consciousness.

Saturn governs the timing of how this process unfolds, but Uranus is the Great Awakener – the one who pushes you over the edge and shouts, “Fly!”

You may experience this push as fated events that force you to change. This is never easy or comfortable and you might not feel particularly free because you don’t have any choice. However, not all change is good so you shouldn’t blindly embrace whatever happens. But if it’s genuinely in alignment with the needs of your soul, these moments represent an opportunity to develop your creative power and individuality.

Uranus pushes you to be your unique self because that’s why you’re here. You’re not meant to be the same as everyone else and follow the herd – that’s the path of ego conformity. Some take the need for originality to an extreme and become rebels, with or without a cause, and this creates friction with others. But non-conformity exists within a context, as Erin Sullivan explains in The Astrology of Midlife and Aging:

“this is why radicals or innovators have a difficult time – their adherence to the role of outsider or heretic is only defined by the thing they are radicalising or heretical toward. How annoying for them! The problem that always faces the radical or heretic is the time when his or her Promethean offering becomes the status quo, and their rebellion is thus redundant.”

This may only be a problem for people who don’t understand the true nature of their individuality and its function. Being yourself doesn’t mean you have to rebel against whatever situation you’re in. For example, if you’re surrounded by a bunch of annoying bohemian libertarians, you might assert your individuality by becoming more conservative, or vice versa.

But individuality isn’t about labels or superficial group identities (see Saturn in Aquarius) – its roots are deeper and go to the heart of the question of human identity, purpose, and freedom.

Uranus is sometimes described as representing your individuality, but this isn’t the case. Individuality can’t be reduced to any single part of the horoscope – it’s more like the whole chart with the Sun as its centre, but even this isn’t who you really are.

You’re a unique manifestation of the Divine Mind that’s exploring itself through the creation of this reality. Uranus initiates you into this knowledge (via the gift of fire) and reconnects you to your inner genius and divine nature as Spirit.

This is a paradoxical process because although each person’s path to Spirit is unique, at the level of Spirit we’re all one and there’s no separation. But as Ouranos discovered, life expresses itself through diversity and interdependence, not homogeneity. Being different doesn’t have to mean being separate if your true brotherhood/sisterhood with others is recognised through your mutual identity in the divine – via Christ, or Buddha nature, and so on.

Uranus reveals that reality is consciousness and the play of maya – a ‘real illusion’ – the illusion being that you’re separate from reality. But you’re not. You’re a thought, or dream, in the mind of God trying to wake up and remember who you are.

Your little mind is plugged directly into the Universal Mind and you have a responsibility to use it well. The Uranus quest for divine knowledge may bring you closer to the gods, but there’s a price to pay. Like Prometheus, you need to have humility and respect the limits of reality, even while pushing against them.

Waking up is just the start. Enlightenment happens in a flash (Uranus) and then has to be mastered. True freedom requires personal responsibility and self-discipline grounded in reality (Saturn).

The question is: what will you do with your freedom?

Uranus Myths on Film

Films that represent the Uranus archetype include most sci-fi and space movies, as well as stories about technology, invention and originality, as well as freedom, revolution, independence and awakening. You’ll have your own favourites, but here are a few examples of Uranus on film:

  • Humans and Cylons battling for supremacy in the epic space opera Battlestar Galactica.
  • The Doctor travelling through time and space in his/her TARDIS in Doctor Who.
  • Robert Capa and the crew of Icarus II on a mission to reignite the sun in Sunshine.
  • Dave Bowman battling an insane computer and evolving to new state of being in 2001: A Space Odyssey. (Book review here)
  • Dr Frankenstein giving life to his monstrous creation in the classic Frankenstein.
  • In-valid Vincent breaking free of his genetics to fulfil his dreams in Gattaca.
  • Rick Deckard hunting replicants and questioning his humanity in Blade Runner.
  • Magician Robert Angier transgressing the laws of reality to beat a rival in The Prestige.
  • Intelligence agent Number Six fighting to escape the Village in The Prisoner.
  • Neo taking the red pill and waking up to a dystopian reality in The Matrix.

Explore Blade Runner in depth here. More on the simulated world of The Matrix here.

More on Uranus

Images: Planet; Aion; Prometheus

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