The Saturn Return ~ the Article and Book:
It has often been said that under strong Saturn transits one can choose between exhaustion and depression—some choice! It implies that because Saturn is often about doing real work in the mundane world that exhaustion is the better choice— hinting that “it’s better to wear out than to rust out”as Mark Twain once said.
So folks who understand “just a little” astrology sometimes view the coming of a Saturn Return with raised eyebrows and deep sighs. But then a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.
Saturn brings to mind the two ancient Greek maxims, inscribed at the Temple atDelphi: “Know Thyself” and “Nothing in Excess.” One might think that by understanding and trying to live by these wise sayings one could avoid the great troubles in life. Perhaps they help; but still we seem to suffer. Our understanding of these words change as we age, but life often plays some nasty tricks on us in the meantime. Perhaps this is why we have Saturn transits—it’s a chance to get it right this time.
Saturn is the archetypal symbol for a way of being, or a process that slows us down and makes us take a cold hard look at reality. It can feel like the voice of the inner critic and in ancient times it was seen as “the old malefic” when its passage in the chart was viewed with some suspicion. It has roots in the idea of melancholy, timely delay, and redefining our lives from the very foundation. Despite any fatigue or depression, we are pressured to act at these Saturnian times, and ideally the action we must take will follow the insight and maturity that has been developing over time. For astrologers, it is a topic we are endlessly exploring with our clients.
However Saturn also represents the arrival of the harvest and our reward for hard work and effort. It brings a good harvest if we’re willing to wait. Its passage in a chart—especially at the time of the Saturn Returns– marks a time when we have an opportunity for deep change and life-changing rewards. Not so bad!
There are two Saturn Returns that happen to everybody—the first is between the ages of twenty-eight and thirty, and the second, between the ages of fifty-eight and sixty. It’s necessary to consult the ephemeris or your astrologer to find the exact date for you, but the feeling of the Saturn Return saturates this whole time period. Astrologically speaking, the first Return is when we truly come into our adulthood, and the second is when we come into the wisdom of the Elder.
It’s true that our culture sees the age of twenty-one as the time of becoming an adult—but not for astrologers. For us it’s twenty-eight. And you may get your Social Security at sixty-five, but it’s at the second Saturn Return at around fifty-eight that your true personal and social security comes up for review. Saturn Returns can be times of rough passages– or harvest–and they’re usually a bit of both.
The good news is that although Saturn’s transits in our lives may mark times of plain hard work and great self-questioning, it’s also a time when opportunities present themselves and the rewards can be great. Procrastination doesn’t look like a good option any more. Perhaps our old lover is finally gone—and there’s someone on the horizon that looks really good—but will we make the same mistakes and bring our grief and anger with us into this fresh chance? Or perhaps we’ve landed the new job, and now the work is profound— and really hard. Or we’ve become pregnant, and we’re not feeling too great. The astrologer will say—hang in there, and do what needs to be done. Do your Saturn.
That’s the feeling of a Saturn transit, and especially the first Saturn Return, but look what’s coming! If you follow through with your vision, you’ve taken the first steps towards a true new beginning.
The first Saturn Return, in the late twenties, is often marked by these kinds of personal milestones. The navigational tools are twofold: you must take a chance now, and you must give it all you can. If you are willing, you will be rewarded.
Saturn often asks us “Whose movie am I in?” and then challenges us to be the director and author. Wouldn’t it be so much easier if we could just read our lines in the screenplay and have the ghost of “Christmas Future” come to us to show us the way? Instead, we are called to become our own “author-ity”—to truly become the author of our life.
We are being asked now to re-write our personal life scripts with our own spiritual muscle. Not always so easy, especially when our life drama is full of people and situations that no longer reflect who we really are and what we are becoming. The human unconscious has ways of conjuring up people, events, and situations that challenge us to the bone. It’s almost as if the unconscious hires other people to play out parts of our life stories—this one is the boss, this one the victim, this one the unfaithful lover. At Saturnian junctures in your life you’ve probably “had it” with some of these people/roles and it’s time to write them out of your life script. We are now challenged to take back our projections and to look at the drama of our life as our responsibility. It’s too late to blame anyone anymore.
The Second Saturn Return, in the late fifties, is a time that calls for concrete actions in the real world, but it can be more subtle and sometimes more insidious. If we don’t do what needs to be done now, we may not be given a second chance. If we put off our yearly physical exam and don’t stop the spread of some nasty growth, it may be too late later. If we take a stiff upper lip and deny the fact that “the job is killing me, but I must wait till retirement age,” it may indeed kill you.
As the body ages, depression and fatigue inevitably arise, yet as the body becomes less an object of vanity it’s a chance for the Spirit to rise. This is the time when we may feel an uprising of irritability as a few old habits have the chance to rear their nasty heads again. This is the time to cut them off—to be done once and for all with them. You may ask yourself: why am I dealing with these same issues again? The answer is—because you’ve almost resolved them! And the last straw can be the hardest. The hallmark of the second Saturn Return is that if you deal maturely with the old pockets of unfinished business you gain the gift that will last till the end—the gift of wisdom. You become an Elder.
And how do you do that? Priorities need to be clearer, and metaphorical closets and basements cleaned. There is a need to look at what we feel disillusioned about and let the illusions go, lest these old ghosts feed on us and make us bitter. It’s a time to slow down and allow more sweetness and companionship into our lives, and to let the wild dogs of ambitious willfulness fight elsewhere.
And if we’re going to be ambitious, we could do it in a way in which we can bring the fruits of our life experiences to bear on the project—such as returning to something we already do well but doing it even better, and with an attitude of reverence. Isn’t this the beginning of wisdom? And as we acquire that, we will be called to ‘mentor’—to pass along the gifts of our learning.
So what are the tools needed to successfully navigate Saturnian waters? Here are a few ideas:
1—Be Discerning. You are at a time now when you understand things you didn’t understand even last year. Use your new wisdom to make wise choices based on clarity of intention. Dream into your future and discern the path through the woods. Here is where the quotes: “Know thyself” and “Nothing in Excess” become relevant. At these ages there is a necessity to pull back from the excesses of your younger years and to know what you can and cannot do.
2—Take Heart. Find ways to reach out to others and be humble enough to ask for advice. If your marriage is in trouble, ask yourself the question: Is the relationship the true source of dissatisfaction, or is it the repository of your own misery? How much are you projecting your insecurities onto your partner, and not taking responsibility or even listening ‘with heart’?
3—Go Deeper. Superficial all or nothing solutions are a quick fix and Saturn doesn’t like quick fixes. Stretch beyond your comfort zones to new places of thought and action. As was said so many years ago:
“Dig deep; the water—goodness—is down there. And as long as you keep digging it will keep bubbling up.” Marcus Antoninis
4—Take Action. Saturn rewards those that act and depresses those who procrastinate. In ancient texts, Saturn was sometimes seen as a devil who made a hand signal that said: “All that you see, is all there is.” That’s the devil’s lie. Prove him wrong.
So Saturn can be seen as the spirit of Father Time, passing through our lives at these transits and “Returns” in the way Scrooge experienced his encounter with the Spirits of the past, present, and future. The purpose of these visits wasn’t to give Scrooge a bad case of nerves, but to give him a second chance at life. He saw himself differently; he grieved, he tried denying and avoiding, but ultimately he acted, and propelled himself—just in time—for his new life.
Pluto Transits: When Pluto makes challenging aspects to our personal planets there is often a crisis leading to a sense of loss. Buried aspects of the psyche and repressed tensions in relationships emerge, leaving the heart wounded.
Pluto’s wounds to the heart are invisible, just like the mythological Pluto is invisible. But a broken heart, or an abused or neglected heart, can be as painful as any other wound, even though we can’t see it.
Pluto seeks to transform and not to hurt, but it often begins this transformation by ruthlessly taking away from us the very love that we think we most need. The healing work of Plutonian wounds happens beneath the surface of consciousness, just like a physical wound heals from the inside out. We need to tend to this wound in a very similar way to any other wound—here are some things to consider:
1—First slow down. When you are wounded you stop! I like to think of this natural impulse to slow down, as the call to go inward and begin to “cacoon.” Just as when you are sick you go to bed, so also, when your “heart is breaking” your energy flows inward to question and grieve, leaving you little energy for anything else. Give yourself a break, slowing down, and taking care of your basic needs: food, rest, and basic self-care.
2—Diagnosis: What do you have? Is this the last wound of a broken relationship? Or is this a warning sign, an “angina” of the heart? How do you describe the condition, how long have you had it, and how did you get it? Why did you get it? The wounded heart needs professional help with this, just as we often need to see a doctor. But if this isn’t possible, you can do this with a friend or with your journal. Take out pen and paper and write it all down. Clarity is a beginning.
3—Create a Treatment Plan—Apply something to calm the pain down. Some have said there are no excedrins for the heart, but you can do several things to ease the pain:
* Go inward to find the healer within, and follow instructions! Your own intuitive healer may say you’ve got to write it out, paint it out, cry or rage it out, or simply clean your house with a passion. This inner healer might ask you to do something radical—and if it’s not too rash, do it. Example: you may benefit by getting away for awhile from your home or circle of friends—consider a retreat or vacation to some place where you can gain perspective. Even a day away can help. Another example: consider surrounding yourself with things you love. This could be buying something you’ve denied yourself till now, such as a cat, a special piece of furniture, a musical instrument, or whatever you may have put on hold. (After my divorce, I hated the loneliness of my double bed. So I bought a large aquarium and delighted in creating a Neptunian underwater scene. I put this in my line of vision across the bed and lit it up at night.) You’ll intuitively know what’s right for you to do.
* Go outward for help. Surround yourself with life affirming supportive things and people. When artist Georgia O’Keefe was suffering from heart-wounding depression early in her life she was delighted to discover how surrounding herself with color, plants, and bright light restored her. Could you repaint your bedroom? Could you change the lighting? Next, get yourself a therapist, coach, astrologer, or friend (or all!) and delve deep into your life until the sting is out of the story. You’ll need to tell and re-tell your story until you can see it as one drama within the larger story of your life. Consider what lessons or insights can be gained and be open to the idea of how this experience can generate new possibilities for you.
* Find the invisible Plutonian germs. What unconscious elements have led up to this? How have your expectations, fears, or old patterns created or irritated this wound? This important unconscious element is like the dirt or germ in the wound. You may not be able to see it all at first. Keep cleaning and poking around. It hurts, but you need to understand the part you played in this wounding. Bring it up to your awareness so it won’t be repeated in the future. During Pluto transits we often regress to obsessive-compulsive coping patterns, so by admitting your anger and your less-than-perfect behavior you cleanse the wound with a deeper level of understanding.
*Apply a clean bandage. The bandage is your attitude and your healing plan. It will be temporary and will need to be changed. Stick with your Plan even when it’s hard. If you re-expose yourself to the wounding partner you risk contagious anger and depression. If possible, don’t expose yourself to re-infection or more wounding.
4—Give the tender wound time to heal. Protect your heart from the toxic “advice” of well-meaning friends, and resist the urge to expose your vulnerability to the world. But yes, you will sometimes break down crying in the produce department in your local supermarket. So be patient and pace yourself. Can you create some scheduled routines and “dates” in your week? This could be as simple as knowing that every Wednesday night you go to the library, and every Friday night you go out to dinner with friends from work, and every Sunday night you call an old friend for a heartfelt talk. Perhaps part of your treatment plan is to go to the gym or out for a walk every other morning for 30 minutes. Put the schedule up in a place you see frequently, and forgive yourself if you’re not perfect. The wound is healing beneath the surface.
5—Find the “healing medicine” you need. Here’s where astrology can be helpful. What other aspects do you have besides this Pluto that’s wrecking havoc? Have you not seen that your 9th house of the higher mind, education, and travel is being activated this spring? Could you take a class or plan a trip? Could you mentor someone or teach a class? And what about that Uranus in the 5th house? Maybe you find yourself attracted to someone very much outside your normal life? Why not? Look at your chart to see where you can play with new possibilities and also to see the length of the “illness.” Like all woundings, full healing takes a long time, but we don’t have to suffer unduly in the early stages, and the final stages of healing can be full of light and unexpected epiphanies. Two years of a Pluto transit does not mean two years of hell.
A last word of caution: be honest about your wound. Don’t attempt any new relationships without being very honest about what’s been happening with you–tell the truth right in the beginning. Astrologers will remind you to trust that new life cycles happen naturally, and you’ll be given more chances to heal your heart. But attempting a quick fix such as trying to remain zen-fully detached and unfeeling is like attempting a spiritual bypass on an emotional wound. It won’t last in the long run. What we feel, we can heal—and though a wound leaves a scar, scars are like tattoos and tell an interesting story. Why not make your story inspiring as well as interesting?
Elizabeth Spring, MA is a counseling astrologer and writer. You can contact her and read other articles on her website: www.elizabethspring.com