Saturn without Suffering

Published in The Mountain Astrologer 2005

Among the ten planets used in popular astrology, Saturn is far and away the most likely to get negative spin. Indeed, if we were trying to assign a planetary rulership to the concept of negativity itself, most astrologers would chalk it up to Saturn.

But all this presumed malevolence has less to do with the planet’s essential meaning than with our interpretations, which are still weighted down by dusty old notions from a fatalistic and pre-individualistic time. Astrologers are rightly covetous of our link with the past, but it is worth considering that many of our assumptions rely upon planetary designations that had lost much of their numinous power by the Dark Ages, at which point Saturn started to acquire the cranky and doomful pedigree we still use today.

Astrology changed radically at the turn of the last century when it was broadsided by psychology, which offered new terms and models to map the mysteries of the human psyche. Over the decades since, astrology has discarded many of its rustiest anachronisms. At least, we no longer repeat to our clients the old warnings about the likelihood of being beheaded if Argol is placed at the Midheaven.

Last to get the memo

But Saturn, of all the planetary symbols, seems not to want to change.

Carl Jung’s theory of the shadow did much to bring Saturn into the world of contemporary thought, redeeming its old fear-based associations with new understandings about the unconscious mind.1 But in practice, our use of Saturn seems to defy the non-judgmental principles that have streamlined the other symbols we work with. Even followers of the kinder, gentler astrology pioneered by Dane Rudhyar2 tend to approach Saturn as a hold-out from a harsher epoch.

Rudhyar was the first to apply Jung’s idea of synchronicity – the mysterious relationship between apparent “causes” and “effects” – to the workings of planetary cycles, leading astrology out of the stilted old assumptions of mechanistic materialism. He incorporated into astrology insights from depth psychology, downplaying the planets’ literal associations.

Saturn’s literal associations – e.g. punishment, hardship and death – have through the ages been more limiting than any other planet’s: not only because Saturn governs the concept of limits, but because we have held onto its literalisms in a more limited way. Through habituation, most of us continue to emphasize Saturn’s linkage with explicit misfortunes caused by external forces, in a way we no longer do with the other planets. I propose that this approach misconstrues Saturn’s purpose and stymies our use of astrology.

It is time to give this planet a fresh look. Stripped of all its accumulated baggage, would Saturn deserve the old malefic label?

Holistic perspective

The first step in changing Saturn’s outcast status and bringing it into the fold is to concede that we may have strong feelings about this particular symbol, and separate them out from our study. Such feelings are real and valid – Saturn has been said to govern fear; it’s hardly surprising that we feel afraid of the symbol itself – but feelings do not lend themselves to a rigorous understanding of a symbol’s bare-bones meaning.

From the holistic point of view championed by most contemporary astrologers, there really isn’t any room to cast any planet as the bad guy of the chart. Negative-vs.-positive typing in general should raise a red flag for students of archetypes.

In those moments when we are we are musing about astrology’s elegant overall balance, about the perfect symmetry and parity of all its intertwining cycles, it may strike us as odd that one planet among the ten is all but universally presented as unfavorable. With Saturn, we have allowed ourselves to break one of our fondest rules: the neither-good-nor-bad rule.

Most of us would agree wholeheartedly that every symbol in the birthchart has both an ideal side and a shadow side; yet where Saturn is concerned, we all seem strangely willing to accept the view that its shadow side is its primary meaning. When in a holistic frame of mind, we might ask ourselves whether it seems likely that the Great Cosmic Plan singled out one of its archetypes to violate the law of It-all-depends-on-how-you-use-it. We would have to conclude that either Saturn was uniquely invented just to be cruel, or something is missing from our understanding.

Time and Space

To begin neutralizing our judgment about Saturn, let us remember that it is the governor of nothing less than Time and Space.

The implications of this rulership are quite stunning. No other planet has anything to do with either of these two ubiquitous features of the Earth plane, which we think of as so constant and immutable that they don’t even enter into our worldview phenomenologically – except perhaps in science fiction or the more esoteric reaches of metaphysics.

It should give us renewed respect for Saturn to consider that it alone presides over the idea of marking the passage of time, called by some the fourth dimension. And that Saturn alone presides over the idea of being located somewhere in space, another differentiation peculiar to the realm of matter. As concepts, time and space are taken so much for granted that it may give us pause to recognize them as being deserving of governance at all.

These essential rulerships should make clear why Saturn has been associated over the millennia with those virtues that come of learning the lessons of Time. These include the ability to wait, and the qualities of durability and steadfastness; which are especially obvious in people with Capricorn rising, Saturn in the first house, or with their Sun or Moon closely aspecting Saturn. It is Saturn’s relationship with time that makes this type cautious, formal and traditionalistic.

In the same way, the fact that Saturn governs the phenomenon of taking up three-dimensional space – and by extension, weight, density, structure and framework – explains why the old books associate it with persons of gravity. We say that such individuals have “substance”; that they are “solid”. If Saturn is rising, culminating, or otherwise strongly placed, even a chart with an otherwise light and mutable cast (one with a lot of Pisces or Gemini, for instance) will confer upon the native an aura of gravitas.

Failure

One of the hardships with which Saturn is linked in both medieval and contemporary astrology is failure, a concept with a wide reach. Is it even possible to look at failure without value judgment? At first blush, the proposal sounds like New-Age Pollyanna-ism at its most ridiculous.

But when we remember that one of the fundamental functions of Saturn is to get us grounded, it isn’t such a stretch to see the act of being brought down to earth through some sort of fall as a value-neutral event.

Gravity

Falling is a function of gravity, which is governed by Saturn. Interestingly, gravity itself is not a charged concept: we tend to think of it as innocuous and abstract; an inevitable law of the Earth plane. We take for granted that the limitations gravity imposes upon us, if we consider them at all, are there for a reason. We don’t whine about gravity. (If we’re trying to run or climb, we may temporarily dislike gravity; but again, like and dislike have nothing to do with anything except Venus). The point is that we don’t feign ignorance of gravity, nor do we project grievance upon it. Though we may not exactly understand it, we know it would be stupid to take it personally.

What might it be like to approach other manifestations of Saturn with the same non-judgmental perspective?

Getting down

Equally free of negative connotation is the idea of getting down to work, or of “getting down” with playful seriousness on the dance floor. In these cases, too, we are able to make an exception to our standard approach to Saturn as a malefic force.

But when we fall figuratively, in our profession, or emotionally, in our mood, moving downwards takes on a markedly different meaning. Here we readily lapse into the view of Saturn as a significator of doom. These versions of getting down are so fraught with psychological vulnerability as to almost preclude dispassionate consideration. Piled high with all kinds of personal and social associations, all of them pathological, the experience of falling becomes an overly complex experience and a major bummer. Worse, its connotations are so compelling that we are distracted from its denotation – that is, what the planet is trying to teach.

But imagine how freeing it would be to go through life viewing all our falls and “failures” as simply various forms of downward trajectory: humblings rather than humiliations, which correct our excesses and re-establish our connection to the Earth.

Falling well

Looking at falling in perspective will allow us to see that there is a difference between falling poorly and falling well. Consider the judo expert whose falls – or are they willful drops to the mat? – are seen to be part of his repertoire of moves, as carefully judged for grace and timing in a competition as are his jumps and kicks. By keeping his muscles supple and his attention responsive rather than reactive, he hits the floor without harm.

Similarly, the professional in the midst of what seems to be a career downturn may be getting the chance to fall well or fall poorly. By remaining flexible and responsive, he too could negotiate his descent without crashing and hurting himself. But this would require understanding the bigger meaning of a development which is almost universally associated with indignity and fear.

An astrologer looking at the chart of a client in this situation will probably see Saturn imposing an interruption of the apparent career trajectory. The client who has Saturn conjuncting, squaring or opposing her Sun or Ascendant by transit, or who is receiving a hard aspect from Saturn to her Midheaven or its ruler, may feel she is being put down by the boss, the hiring board, or by life in general. Saturn transits to natal Mars, or through the sixth house, may also provoke these feelings; which of course will be magnified by the general societal anxiety associated with keeping a job.

But the astrologer tracking the transit will see the episode as an organic necessity in the soul’s overall evolution. He may suggest that this fall is a signal of it being time to do something different. Maybe the client needs more of a personal life; perhaps the job she didn’t get would have sacrificed her health or cajoled her into betraying her principles. The chart may reveal that there has been an over-extension (too much Jupiter or Neptune), that is now being cosmically rebalanced with contraction (Saturn).

Stopping and slowing down

Saturn always has its reasons for forcing us to slow down or stop what we are doing. By astrological law, Saturn works in concert with the rest of the chart. No less than any other planet, its job is to support the life path.

But because most of us measure our work life from our culture’s point of view rather than from a cosmic point of view, we tend to overlook Saturn’s complicity in our soul purpose. When it comes to assessing our careers, the first thing we turn to as a gauge – often the only thing – is the definition of success that we learned from our parents or from society. (Ironically, many of us would probably disdain these same sources when looking for feedback about, say, our sex lives or our spiritual lives; having repudiated them long ago as too conventional and limited).

Years from now, when the frustrated client in our example finds herself at the end of her life, looking back over its turning points, she may see that this Saturn transit came at just the right time. She may decide that her first interpretation of this fall was way off; not just because it made her feel bad unnecessarily, but because it was in fact a misreading of her Higher Self’s intention.

Ideally, we would not wait until we were on our deathbeds to view Saturnine downturns in perspective. Rather than immediately construing an arrested career ascent as a harbinger of self-worthlessness, we might use the stoppage to consider our lives as a whole, and apply grace and consideration to the hiatus we are being given.

Like the martial artist who knows how to drop gracefully to the mat, we would ideally apply all of our understanding to the situation at hand – understanding drawn from not just from the values of the work place but from spiritual experience too, as well as from our knowledge of human nature. In so doing we would probably come to realize that the cosmos had given us exactly the incentive we needed to find a different area of work, to downsize our hectic lifestyle, or to make separation from values not truly our own.

Hurdles

Encountering obstacles is another expression of Saturn where a little perspective could go a long way.

If a runner in the hurdles race at the Olympics were to stop in the middle of the track and start sputtering in incredulity when he came upon his first hurdle, accusing the track managers of pulling a mean-spirited trick on him, we would either worry that he had suffered a memory lapse or think he was staging an unacceptable tantrum. Because we assume the runner signed up for his hurdles, we would look upon his protest as very bad form. We would see it as an abdication of responsibility.

Astrology tells us that the same principle applies to, say, running into another driver on the road – another Saturnine hurdle, albeit one we feel we did not sign up for, did not expect and do not want. Here is where the We-Create-Our-Own-Reality idea comes in, and is either accepted or not.

There’s no way around it: astrology is based on the premise that each of us has a pre-incarnate soul identity that chooses this incarnation, of which our natal chart is the script. Saturn is the code within that script which specifies the exact type of challenges to be encountered, so as to induce a very particular type of growth (everyone gets challenges, and growth, but not the same kind). From this perspective, each of us does indeed choose the hurdles we will face, as surely as if we’d signed up for them in a race. And like the reneging runner, we forget we chose them. Instead of continuing with the course, when we hit a hurdle we usually react by looking around for someone or something to blame.

At this point one might say, Wait a minute: in the example of the car accident, what if the other car runs a red light? Surely that driver is indisputably to blame. He or she broke the rules of the road.

And this is true; but if one aspires to look at things astrologically, it doesn’t go far enough. On the social and legal level, there are indeed rules where fault is assigned, and it would be irresponsible not to enforce those rules and assign blame accordingly. But on the metaphysical level, blame is not the issue. The issue is whether we can derive soul meaning from that “accident”, in which the innocent driver participated as well.

Metaphysical premise

Of course, not everybody buys this analogy. Most people, at least in modern Western cultures, would say that comparing life’s unforeseen hurdles to those in a race is malarkey. We can’t choose painful accidents, the argument goes. And even if we could, nobody but a masochist or a potential suicide would choose life-threatening ones.

But if one opts to pursue astrology, the belief that we did “sign up” for Saturn’s (and all the other planets’) lessons is – not to put too fine a point on it – part of the program. It is not that astrologers seek to cajole clients into a leap of faith they don’t want to make; it is simply that astrology wouldn’t work if it weren’t so. And what sense does it make to waste your time on a philosophy whose most basic axiom you don’t believe in?

The truth is that even among otherwise enthusiastic aficionados of astrology, Saturn seems to separate the sheep from the goats in terms of accepting this pivotal metaphysical dictum. Certainly it is easier to declare our belief in unconditional cosmic appropriateness when something pleasant happens than it is when Saturn forces its gravity upon us in a form we find painful.

But in the interest of getting somewhere with the Saturn archetype that goes beyond the passivity of superstition and victimhood, we must follow astrological logic to the inescapable conclusion that in the big picture – and isn’t this what we turn to astrology to show us? – reacting to Saturn’s everyday hurdles as an arbitrary caprice of fate is just as absurd as it would be to react that way to a hurdle in a racetrack.

Pain and Suffering

If this idea starts to make more sense every time we look at it, we’re on our way to making alliance with Saturn. Once we’ve got the theory down, we can work on the practice.

This is where attitude change comes in. Buddhism and some schools of psychology, among many other systems, offer us a model of consciousness that draws an operative distinction between pain and suffering. The former is presented as an unavoidable constant of life on the Earth plane; the latter as a conceit of the human mind.

Astrology pairs Saturn with the concept of pain, in its traditional meaning – i.e. effort (as in painstaking). Not necessarily welcomed, pain in the sense of everyday hardship is at least expected and normal. It is a natural function of the animal kingdom from which we are not exempt.

Suffering, on the other hand, is distinctly human, and ultimately unnecessary. It is what happens to pain we don’t let go of. Instead of allowing an environmental or internal insult to flush through us, we tend to clench up in reaction, elaborating on the sensation and decorating it with myriad psychological pictures. Some of these pictures replicate consensual fears we’ve absorbed from the groups we were raised in; others are absolutely our own.

Both types of pictures are described by Saturn’s placement in our natal chart. The sign our Saturn is in indicates the karma we share with others who have that placement, such as our immediate peers. Saturn stays in a sign for about two and a half years; thus a sub-generation of natives will all have a basic set of fear pictures in common.

All those with Saturn in Virgo, for example, will experience more or less the same sense of helplessness around logistical and technical mistakes. Depending on the stress the planet receives in their particular natal chart, the degree of anxiety these natives attach to forgetting their keys, or to getting an appointment time wrong, will vary; but all will have to cope to one degree or another with the dark side of Virgo – a hyper-vigilance about order and accuracy.

They will all have to make the choice whether to view their own and others’ little flaws as a source of suffering, or simply as one of those everyday pains of the Earth plane. Each Saturn-in-Virgo native will undoubtedly have picked up dire messages from childhood about the consequences of mismanaging details; and to the extent that he refuses to discard these negative messages, he sets himself up for suffering over the tiniest error.

Saturn’s house placement is more indicative of the very personal and individual way we express our karma. Natives with Saturn in the 6th house, regardless of what sign it is in, have their own peculiar way of dealing, or not dealing, with this tendency to tighten up behind the prospect of getting the details wrong. They too will have absorbed any notions that may have been floating around in their family linking self-worth with doing things perfectly; and they will have cultivated an idiosyncratic set of responses or reactions to that pain.

The house placement tells us, in this case, that channeling one’s over-attentiveness (or artful attentiveness, depending on the native’s degree of consciousness) into artisanship and healing is the best way to use it. The healer with Saturn in the 6th house treats herself and others by distancing herself from the pain function enough to be able to learn from it and work with it.

All of Saturn’s house placements involve some kind of pain, each of which could be a source of self-knowledge. But if we perceive pain through the veil of strong emotional and mental connotations, we make of it something far more complicated than it would otherwise be; and then we suffer.

Suffering is pain dramatized.

Labor

This distinction is poignantly exemplified by the vast relativity of women’s experiences giving birth. Labor pains are less oppressive in women who put their emphasis more on the labor and less on the pains.

In cultures where childbirth is seen as something to approach with all one’s effort and courage rather than as a quasi-pathological event (such societies would find it very odd that we give birth in hospitals), the womb’s contractions are experienced and released, experienced and released, experienced and released (as in Western “natural childbirth”, a phrase whose redundancy speaks volumes).

In English and other languages, the process of giving birth is described with a word that translates as “work” (e.g. French: travail). Many women who have mindfully gone through labor report that it is the hardest work they have ever had to do, requiring immense bodily concentration, complete focus of mind, and undistracted emotional attention. In order to manage each squeeze of the uterus, they find themselves opening up to a primal understanding of the nature and function of the process of contraction.

These are all teachings of Saturn. Childbirth is the quintessential example of how attitude marks the difference between pain-as-work and pain-as-suffering.

Accepting Difficulty

A thoughtful consideration of the difference between pain and suffering can help us face our Saturn transits with a new awareness.

The native whose Saturn is passing through her 1st house has a particularly direct experience with this teaching: the pain of just showing up can be daunting. One must construct and maintain an identity with which to face the vicissitudes of every day. She has the choice of either suffering behind a grin-and-bear-it face, or developing her awareness to the point where life’s inherent trials are not taken personally: they just are.

The person with Saturn in his 11th house may be dismayed by how hard friendships are, until he realizes that they are not necessarily supposed to be easy. Alliances are something to be processed, over time; and when they run into painful patches, one works through them and lets the episode go. The 12th-house native must apply this principle to the subtle realm beneath conscious awareness, where pain, if it arises, is harder to pin to a source. But just as a nightmare submitted to the clear light of reason can lose its power to damage, so the hauntings we experience from this mysterious part of our psyche – which we call the unconscious, for lack of a better word – can be felt, accepted and released. And in some unfathomable way, the soul is strengthened in the process.

Wherever Saturn is passing by transit, here is where we can practice perceiving “pain” in a new way. As an exercise, consider which house Saturn is in currently for you, and make a note of which activities this placement encompasses. Make a deal with yourself to accept the events that arise, difficult or not; and to confer upon them no special evaluative charge. You are not denying the difficulty; you are just not making it the most important thing about the transit.

If Saturn is passing through your eighth house, for example, resistances to intimacy which have always been there may now reveal themselves. This is happening in order to get you to notice the pattern for the sake of defining it – the first step in healing it. Either you or your lover may shut down emotionally or sexually, signalling unadmitted fears in an area that is already somewhat taboo and thus a repository of repressions.

But withdrawing and shutting down are just forms of contraction (Saturn). There’s nothing wrong with contraction; it is what makes for healthy boundaries. But until we understand this impulse in ourselves, we will probably try to protect ourselves with unconscious boundaries. It is this that works against intimacy; not contraction per se.

The water houses denote experiences that are especially subjective – and thus vulnerable to Saturnine self-doubt – because of their emotional base; and this makes the effort to confront Saturn’s teachings all the more courageous. In the above example, instead of closing off in reaction to the pain of thwarted intimacy, we would say to ourselves, “This is Saturn working, trying to get my attention”. Just the act of refusing to collapse into fault-finding will already make a difference in the situation. It puts the focus back on the challenge, as something to simply face, honestly; either by admitting uncomfortable feelings to the partner then and there, or by choosing to honor the impulse to withdraw – but without defensiveness.

A conscious native in this situation may postpone processing the incident until later, when she can find someone from whom to get dispassionate feedback. However she decides to work it through, she will have noted the difficulty without caving in to it, which makes it much less difficult.

Wherever Saturn is transiting in your chart, instead of putting a lot of energy into whether you like or dislike the episodes it brings, try to scan each one for the teachings of contraction, restriction and consolidation; take them in; and then let the episode go.

Effort and Mastery

Saturn bestows the quality of having been there and done that. Because it governs Time, Saturn governs the type of learning that can only come through Time: experience. The teaching here is that investing effort is the only way to gain a lasting understanding of a chosen activity, and thus about our own capabilities. Saturn teaches that no amount of luck or book-learning can supply the knowledge that good ol’ hard-knocks experience can supply.

We can intellectualize all we want about a new skill, but unless we’ve put effort into it and acted it out (and not just once: Saturn governs repeated lessons over time), we will not integrate it. We may understand a thing conceptually, and even appreciate its significance spiritually; but until we come to know it experientially, we cannot achieve mastery over it.

People with Saturn in Gemini or in the third house, for example, often have to work harder to develop language proficiency, and may take longer acquiring it than is normative for their educational phase. But these are the very folks who may end up with rock-solid communications skills.

At a lecture by British astrologer Dennis Elwell, whose sculpted sentences are a marvel of linguistic craft, he told us that this signature in his chart was both the bane and the blessing of his public speaking. Though his delivery conveyed a seamless oratorical confidence, he divulged that the subjective reality was just the opposite: in order to dare to get up there and speak, he felt he had to write down every word in double-spaced text, down to the punctuation.

Life Phases

When we absorb life on the Saturn level, we develop that unique kind of confidence that self-promoting Mars and self-inflating Jupiter alone cannot provide. It is a quieter kind of confidence, and it is more real.

Mars is associated with that phase of childhood when the ego is blossoming into its first full sense of itself. Jupiter is associated with early adulthood when the wide world beckons and our choices seem unlimited. But Saturn’s truths cannot even be glimpsed until we are three decades old, at the Saturn Return.

The Saturn Return may be the most dreaded transit in Western astrology – not because of its inherent difficulty, but because our culture is in arrested development as regards Saturnine law. Our society does not honor Saturn, so we dishonor the threshold that it marks.

In the USA, this all-important crossover into adulthood is commemorated a quarter-cycle of Saturn early (seven years) or more. This is when we authorize drinking, voting, the right to be killed (in certain states that have capitol punishment), and even killing (of Pentagon-designated targets). Thus do we ritualize the life-altering turning point celebrated in ancient societies, and in some extant indigenous ones, with sublime rites of commitment to soul-purpose and responsibility to society.

Saturn comes into full flower only in midlife and beyond. Where self-knowledge is concerned, this is the phase of life where the proof is in the pudding. In our Saturn years, we are no longer guessing what we can and cannot do. For better or worse, we know.

It is not only their practical expertise that makes some older folks role models for the young; it is that grounded sense of self. Whatever our age, if we have learned the lessons of Saturn, we have earned the freedom to not have to wonder, anymore, about who we are.

Natal Saturn in the houses

But we don’t need to wait until the Saturn Return to reap the rewards of acting grown-up. The house the planet was in when we were born directs us to those activities and settings that are most conducive to Saturn’s highest expression. Here is where we can nurture the wise elder within us, whatever our chronological age.

For example, individuals with Saturn in the 10th house are meant to model maturity in the work setting. A young worker with this placement may show up with a precocious kind of diligence and regularity that is more associated with employers than employees. Those with Saturn in the 9th may model for others an old-fashioned rigor in their approach to learning; or surprise their elders with earnest questions about the big questions of life. 5th-house Saturn natives may approach artistic performance in a way that deemphasizes spontaneity and emphasizes the rules of the craft, like a young ballerina who trains with the dedication of a veteran dancer.

For those with Saturn in the 7th house, it is relationships that are meant to be approached with a sense of adulthood. Ideally, all partnerships are undertaken with a sense of commitment rarely seen in youth. One reason the astrology books predict “older partners” for natives with this placement is because mature relationships would presumably be more likely with a more mature person; although, as always with astrological projection, things work better when the planet’s influence is owned instead of given away. The native with Saturn here would ideally cultivate her own mature relating skills rather then looking for that quality in someone else; thereby satisfying her karma with commitment directly rather than indirectly.

Aging as loss

To reap the benefits of our inner elder, we will need to challenge and repudiate the societal blind spot that equates aging with losing. When observed from a bigger perspective, it seems ridiculous to believe that the only reason Mother Nature invented the aging process was to illustrate negation: loss of youth, sexuality and vitality.

In truth, what Saturn gives us is a road map for gaining. No longer in the thrall of the awful insecurities of our earlier years, we gain clear access at last to our real selves. Our natal Saturn shows us how to come into our own with a unique sense of authority and style.

Responsibilty vs. Reaction

Wherever Saturn resides in the natal chart, or passes by transit, that is where the native is being taught lessons of responsibility – perhaps the single most distinguishing factor dividing youth from age.

This teaching involves shaking off cultural and familial patterns of reactivism, so we may respond to life instead, at every moment. The ability to respond is, of course, the meaning of the word responsible, a term that has been rendered suspect only because it has been confused with the human conceit of blame. When we look underneath these acculturated connotations, we see that Saturn itself has nothing to do with judgment and blame. It is there to teach karma: that everything we do, think and say has consequences.

People born with Saturn in Cancer, for example, do not take caretaking lightly. They know, instinctively, that accountability is built into every aspect of a parent’s role, and they may postpone the experience accordingly. People whose Saturns are in Capricorn, if they are using the placement wisely, understand that a job is not merely a job, but something that reflects upon who they are as reputable members of the larger group. People with Saturn in Gemini are more likely than others to think before speaking, because they know that words have repercussions.

Saturn vs. Jupiter in the USA Chart

The fact that the words “react” and “respond” are often used interchangeably in American vernacular speech tells us a lot about our consensual attitudes about the Saturn function, and reminds us how skewed our understanding can be by the limitations of collective thinking. In order to get a fuller picture of why we feel and think the way we do about these principles, we need to take into consideration the social context in which our values have evolved.

In the chart of the USA (3), the relative placements of Saturn and Jupiter – with the former in the tenth house squaring the latter’s conjunction with the Sun – go a long way to explain some of the key values in our shared experience.

Earning

Take the concept of earning, another principle at the very heart of Saturn’s meaning. The native with Saturn in the second house, to use the most obvious example, might be expected – if we stayed with what the placement ought to mean, without factoring in group values – to disdain money that comes to her unbidden. If her resources are not earned, she would think it a cheat.

But our society gives us very mixed messages about what it means to earn something. Despite the preachings of American folklore, we all know that earning is not really how one makes it big (the phrase celebrates Jupiter, not Saturn) in this country. If we want to make sense of why Saturn is so devalued here, even among astrologers – few and far between are the practitioners who will explain your Saturn transit without a grimace of sympathy – we must take a look at our basic assumptions as Americans about this notion of earning.

Saturn functions to draw into the self certain experiences over time, where they deepen self-understanding and competence. The solar square in the US chart indicates that this approach clashes brutally with our self-image as a nation of carefree young adventurers (Sagittarius rising) galloping headlong towards our destiny of wealth and comfort, which collective picture holds sway not only here at home but is being exported at breakneck speed to all corners of the world. Underlying this picture is the assumption that if life isn’t abundant and easy, something must be wrong.

Working one’s way up the ladder is of course the widely-touted morale of the Horatio Algier story, an exemplary legend that has been disingenuously used to cajole decades’-worth of American schoolchildren – all the while being significantly distorted in the re-telling. In fact, the story’s original plot features a distinctly Jupiterian scenario, not Saturnine at all. It teaches that rich uncles and lucky breaks lead to fame and fortune, thus laying out the quintessentially American doctrine of manifest destiny as it applies to personal success.

When you think about it, this is a bizarrely puerile – if cheerfully upbeat – approach to one’s work of the world. The message is that with fortune(/God) on one’s side, all one needs is an unshakable desire for the brass ring; a philosophy that relies upon what is essentially a religious suspension of disbelief (Jupiter).

It is this childlike notion that underlies America’s collective entitlement complex, and renders young Horatio’s mischaracterized achievements more apt than his proponents realize. With his self-aggrandizing positivism (Jupiter) far more developed than his dedication to work (Saturn), Horatio Algier is more Arnold Schwarzennegar than Abe Lincoln. And in identifying this story as the prototypical hero’s tale, America implicitly teaches its children that earning is only for fools.

The person with Saturn in the second is only the most obvious casualty of this cultural distortion; because it flies in the face of her own personal proclivity. But the distortion effects all of us who buy into it, as taking on an unconscious manifestation of a group chart always limits our own consciousness.

Earning is the opposite of getting a free lunch. It involves a slow application of effort – i.e. slow relative to getting-rich-quick; and effort relative to starting-out-privileged, or tricking and wheedling oneself into a favored position.

Earning may not be the American way, but it is the way of Saturn.

Fifteen minutes of fame

In the surreal world of American celebrity, a lifetime of steady achievement (Saturn) has less appeal than a brief, incandescent moment of fame (Jupiter). Indeed, the veteran expert who has honed his or her craft over long decades is more likely to be dismissed than revered for the years he’s put in; for Time itself is seen as something to battle, abbreviate and out-maneuver.

There is an aura of banal inevitability about the ascendancy in American public life of the Paris Hilton syndrome: the concept of being celebrated for being a celebrity. Andy Warhol’s aphorism “In the future everybody will be famous for fifteen minutes” has proven more prescient than anyone could have imagined at the time he said it. The fact that his observation is now more likely to elicit resigned eye-rolling than derision or dissent tells us that it has shifted from barely credible satire to mere exaggeration.

The phenomenon it describes illustrates the extreme of silliness that is reached when Saturn is not integrated.

Saturn hunger

In its collective unconscious, America pines for its banished Saturn. Saturn at the USA Midheaven is the neglected piece of our collective self-image, the odd-man-out in the chart. It will nag and chide from the background of our national consciousness until a leader comes around who can bring it forward from our shadow and tap its power.

In our hearts, we all know very well what self-respect looks like. We are each born with a template of positive Saturn in our consciousness. Like every other planetary archetype, it represents a built-in spiritual constant; and where our environment shuns this aspect of human potential, it grows so precious to us that we glom onto whatever vestige of it we can find.

Father wisdom

At first blush it would seem ironic that in this Saturn-despising culture, the public responds so positively to Saturn energy when they see it modeled. It is because we are relieved to see it survive in defiance of the prejudice against it. In human cultural life no less than in biological systems, Nature abhors a vacuum. In repudiating father-wisdom, America has become almost comically desperate for exactly that.

Though little understood, the harm caused by our mass denial of the Saturn principle is widely deplored. Parents, progressives, fundamentalists and Miss Manners all rail against the caving-in to the lowest common ethical denominator that has become the norm among our leaders; the blind conformity that numbs our social consciousness as citizens; the dearth of accountability in relationships; the absence in everyday encounters of little gestures of respect.

Stand-ins for Saturn

Thus the rare instances of public figures who might qualify as a benevolent father figure are balm to the wound. Not terribly exceptional but idolized nonetheless, men like the newsman Walter Cronkite (4) and actor-director Clint Eastwood (5) are unlikely heroes who are seemingly cherished mostly for having aged with relative grace.

“Uncle” Cronkite, whom pollsters tell us was one of America’s most trusted public figures during the divisive sixties and seventies, combined the paternal and avuncular energies of Saturn and Jupiter, which square each other in his chart. His Saturn conjuncts Neptune, the planet that idealizes and mythologizes whatever it touches, enhancing Cronkite’s ability to model the Father Archetype for millions of viewers.

Eastwood’s chart reveals a disproportionately strong Saturn, a singleton in the sign of its rulership: no-nonsense, respect-worthy Capricorn. And though Saturn is not usually a planet associated with sexual charm, one is not surprised to see that in Eastwood’s chart the Father Archetype carries the magnetism of Venus, which opposes his Saturn from the 8th house.

And consider the case of John McCain,(6) a politician who seems to be as esteemed as he is not so much for his actual policies as for personifying our yearned-for Saturn. Like Cronkite, he has a Saturn-Neptune connection, giving his paternality a larger-than-life quality; like Eastwood, his Saturn is made extra appealing by Venus, to which it is opposed.

McCain is widely perceived as having a hard-won integrity that makes him rise above his fellow congressmen – who, by contrast to him, come off as even more sordid and jaded than usual. McCain’s Saturnine draw is so compelling that one is tempted to overlook his voting record and funding sources, neither of which are very different from his far-less-less popular colleagues.

I believe the secret to McCain’s allure lies in his understanding, conscious or not, of America’s Saturn hunger. In offering himself up as a personification of old-fashioned self-respect, he comes off as the exception that proves the rule. The surprising thing is not that this tactic has worked so well to endear the man to an electorate numbed to despair by political cynicism, but that so few politicians have similarly recognized and exploited it. Indeed, the common practice in campaigns for public office is to appeal to the nation’s desire to get something for nothing (Jupiter), as exemplified by tax cuts and lotteries.

This is not to say that Saturn should be viewed as more “favorable” than Jupiter, of course. Such judgments, no matter what symbol we apply them to and no matter where we get them, do little to enlighten us as to meaning. All they do is compromise the clarity of our perception.

Good/Bad

In general, the deeper one gets into the study of astrology, the sillier it seems to project evaluations onto the archetypes. Do we imagine that eternal universal principles exist for the comfort and approval of human beings? As Rob Hand has said: “ ‘Good’ means I like it; ‘bad’ means I don’t. That’s all there is to good and bad.”(7)

If we stripped Saturn of all its negative associations and looked at it the way we look at any other planet, we would approach its natal meaning and its lessons by transit with the assumption that the laws Saturn governs would be taught to us by the most cosmically efficient and graceful means possible. We will have noticed that the universe functions this way with the other planets, and we would expect Saturn to be no exception.

Imagine what our lives would be like if encountering an obstacle were just like any other event… except that we paid more attention.

Notes:

 1. See Jungian astrologer Liz Greene’s Saturn: A New Look at an Old Devil, Samuel Weiser New York 1976.

 2. See especially The Astrology of Personality, Dane Rudhyar, first publ. 1936. Doubleday/Shambala paperback edition: 1970, Berkeley, Ca and Astrology and the Modern Psyche, Dane Ruhhyar CRCS Publ. Vancouver, Wash 1976 2nd edition by Leyla Rael

 3. U.S.A. chart

 4. 11/14/16 6:00 am (uncertain), St Joseph, Mo.; Rodden Astrodatabank

 5. 5/31/30 5:35 pm SF, Ca; Rodden Astrodatabank

 6. 8/29/36 6:25 pm Cocosolo, Panama; Rodden Astrodatabank

 7. Remark in a lecture

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