Aquarius is an air sign; but the constellation is that of the water bearer, or a giant urn pouring out waters upon the ground. Traditional astrology speaks of Aquarius as the sign of intellectualism; but cosmic astrology (of the ascended masters) attributes Aquarius with divine love.
One can indeed equate the commodity of love as similar to water with its flowing nature and that one must continually be poring it out; and that love, as water, needs to be spread around to turn the wheels of civilization.
Another seeming contradictory element of Aquarius is its two planetary rulers: Saturn and Uranus. Saturn represents a kind of dark, disciplining energy; while Uranus represents a very spontaneous and “undisciplined” sort of energy. The action of Uranus could be considered to be one that “shatters” molds and patterns (but patterns that have become old and outworn).
The attribution of Aquarius with the figure holding the urn could have come about in ancient Egypt. In that desert land where water is important, the annual overflowing of the Nile river from July through October, was a central part of life; it irrigated and nourished the farmland.
It was during that part of the year that the constellation of Aquarius would be helically setting; that is, when the Sun would rise (in Leo), Aquarius would be the constellation setting. The appearance would be that of a giant figure pouring water upon the land; or that of a giant urn descending into the Nile with the resulting overflowing waters as it sank, as in this graphic. (Due to the limitations of my software presently this is the best approximation I can present.)
The Sun also falling in the sign of Leo the Lion at this time also could have found its origin in the fact that it was at this time of the annual flooding of the Nile that the lions would come out of the forest. This also brings in concepts of seasonal or tropical astrology (of the Western brand), but it does seem to be something to cite here.
The water bearer figure has also originated out of ancient Greek myth. Ganymede, the beautiful and youthful cup-bearer for King Tros of Tyros; his beauty was so great that Zeus himself desired him and transformed himself into an eagle to take him to Olympus. It was Zeus who then put his image in the stars. As to whether this story came about by the ever-increasing popularity of homosexuality in ancient Rome and Greece is debatable, but the idea of brotherly or filial love can also be attributed to it.
But the sign/constellation of Aquarius falls in the airy triad in a trine relationship to the other air signs, Gemini and Libra. Aquarius’ contribution to the airy nature can be seen in the propagation of ideas and social norms that bring about a crystallizing effect on civilization and bind people to a particular group giving them social/cultural identity.
The heretofore untouched upon aspect of Aquarius, that of the idea of freedom and individuality; can be seen how the structure and form of society, which is a limiting and confining force, actually promotes individual uniqueness giving each one a separate identity within a larger social framework.
The crystallizing/binding effect can be seen through the rulership of Saturn in Aquarius; and the freedom/individuality nature can be seen in the rulership also through the modern planet Uranus. Uranus also promotes the renewal and reform of civilization, that periodically must shake off its old encrustations though such processes as revolution and innovation.
The sign Aquarius is one that requires a fine balance of what could be considered to be opposing forces. The extreme unbalanced manifestation of Aquarius in consciousness can be the rebel, social outcast, or eccentric who rejects conformity; or likes to “shake things up” just for its own sake.
Aquarius embodies the idea of freedom and how the abuse of power and force can become an anathema to the higher nature of the spirit of man. Power, law, and structure; as symbolized by Saturn; is essential, but it must always be balanced by an altruistic care (or love) for all.
Some libertarians who promote the idea of a society with almost no authority figures as the ideal and that which will bring about the most progress perhaps fall in a little too closely with Uranus, and maybe to not take into account Saturn’s necessary (albeit problematical at times) controlling and limiting influence.
Liberty is the highest prerogative of the spirit of humanity, without the ability to exercise and develop one’s unique talents and abilities the entire Grand Design of the Universe itself is aborted. Each person was created to contribute a unique and important thing to the universe; Aquarius the next-to-last sign in the zodiac embodies that.