Just before the solstice, Saturn enters tropical Capricorn on Dec. 19/20. While transiting Capricorn until late 2020, Saturn will join Pluto, reaching an exact conjunction late 2019/early 2020. Hard aspects between Saturn and Pluto, such as the conjunction, square, and opposition, correlate with what astrologer and historian Richard Tarnas terms, “Cycles of Crisis and Contraction.” While this will be a predictably challenging cycle for most of the world, there’s a highly productive side of this period that is likely to get overlooked when focusing solely on its historical and political context.
According to classical astrology, Saturn is considered the “greater malefic”, one of the most challenging planets in the planetary pantheon. From the classical perspective, any period or natal placement dominated by Saturn is fated to endure a significantly “bad” or difficult experience. While we could argue that “good” and “bad” are somewhat subjective value judgments, there are many experiences universally accepted as unpleasant. A cancer diagnosis, financial poverty, the loss of a child, a debilitating illness/injury; or less dire, but still uncomfortable, like catching the latest cold strain, getting a parking ticket, or smashing your toe against a wall--all things most of us would rather avoid.
In my experience, Saturn cycles are hard. When we undergo a significant transit, profection, or progression involving Saturn, we’re often faced with seemingly impossible to resolve obstacles. Sometimes, we experience substantial losses or physical, emotional, and mental anguish. We might find ourselves blocked from getting where we want to go. Under Saturn, we’re pushed to endure things above and beyond anything we’ve encountered before, and facing the reality of it always feels daunting and intimidating.
Experientially and subjectively, Saturn cycles kind of suck. But at the heart of these experiences are also valuable opportunities for enormous maturation. Under Saturn's thumb, there are chances to overcome something so vast that if we succeed, we’re rewarded with strength, perseverance, self-confidence, autonomy, pride, and mastery. And beyond the “fated” face of Saturn, beyond the things that just happen to us, are also opportunities to accomplish great things, great works within the fields we’re most passionate. Saturn is the natural impulse toward growth, and growing is hard work.
Most of the time, we take the path of least resistance. That’s human nature. Growing pains are a part of life and it’s uncomfortable. We have to step outside of our comfort zone to grow. We have to put in a lot of hours, energy, and willpower to accomplish great things. And typically, we need a good reason to do these things. Life has to motivate us to step up and become something more than we are. Saturnian life pressures can take the form of societal expectations, like high school graduates going straight to college because that’s what the culture expects of them.
If you don’t go to college and follow that prescribed path through life, there are social consequences like limited job opportunities or disapproval from family, friends, and strangers. Social expectations can be so intense that people choose to live inauthentic lives just to appease everyone else (like a gay person hiding their sexuality because they fear the disapproval of their friends and family).
Saturnian pressures can also take the form of a difficult situation, like a job loss (or limited job opportunities) that motivates a person to expand their skills or education to become more marketable. Or even a traumatic event in a person’s life can shatter a person’s consciousness, revealing hidden desires or passions, motivating them to step up to new challenges. Saturn is hard on us, but the results of that hardship can lead us to great achievements and successes we wouldn’t have taken on without it.
Capricorn is one of Saturn’s home signs (the other is Aquarius) which means that Saturn’s influence, reach, and power are at its height in this sign. Capricorn, a cardinal feminine, earth sign symbolizes the beginning of the winter season in the northern hemisphere, a metaphor that works well to describe both Capricorn and its ruler Saturn. From this, we get a sense of Saturn’s contracting nature (we’re indoors more often during the winter). It’s melancholy and desires for solitude (the challenge of surviving the cold winter months and the darkness due to limited sunlight), and its restrictive frugality (having to ration food or supplies to make it through the season).
Both Saturn and Capricorn symbolize our ability to resist temptations, prioritize/structure our lives, and efficiently plan for the accomplishment of future goals. Thus, the positive face of this cycle is its impulse within all of us of getting our priorities straightened out to accomplish things we strongly desire to manifest in the real world. This incredibly “earthy” cycle can help you get “down and dirty” with hard work, focus, ambition, determination, and drive. This cycle comes around only every 30 years, so it’s a fruitful period for laying down the groundwork/foundation for anything requiring enormous amounts of time, dedication, willpower, and perseverance.
The bad side? Well, the risk of experiencing agonizing depression, feelings of futility, hopelessness, an enormous sense of alienation from others, or feelings of insecurity/frustration at not having a purpose or goal to pursue or accomplish. On the collective level, considering that Saturn and Pluto are both sharing the same zodiac landscape for the next three years, it doesn’t look good for progressive, liberal values or expansive, creative or financial growth opportunities.
Historically, these cycles correlate with a political and cultural climate that generates a restrictive, often suffocating grip. These are periods where the world faces a series of crises leading to a global sense that we have to hunker down, toughen up, and make the best of life until things improve. Both World Wars began under near precise contacts between Saturn/Pluto. World War I ignited under the applying conjunction of Saturn and Pluto in August 1914, and World War II and the Great Depression began under the Saturn/Pluto square of 1939. The World Trade Center attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 and subsequent 2003 invasion of Iraq all occurred under the opposition of Saturn/Pluto. The last conjunction of Saturn/Pluto happened in the early 1980’s under the Reagan Administration in the United States, correlating with the start of the “War on Drugs” and heightened tensions between the U.S. and Russia (the climax of the global nuclear arms race).
These periods also tend to correlate with the rise of highly conservative regimes/oppressive dictators, political tensions building to crisis points, the birth/formation of terrorist groups and organizations, and the breakout of disease pandemics. Here in the United States, this Saturn/Pluto conjunction takes place alongside the U.S. Pluto return which has many astrologers rather concerned about what’s in store for the U.S. given the already tense political climate. While there’s no way of knowing exactly what will manifest concretely by looking at the symbolism alone, it’s destined to be a period of increased austerity, political uncertainty, and a massive breakdown/transformation of political, economic, and social structures.
But this is also a period that’ll provide the motivation for many of us to step up and take on vast challenges and obstacles. Saturn’s Capricorn cycle requires the investment of incredible patience, ambition, and endurance. Saturn’s conjunction with Pluto in 2020 is not going to be a comfortable period, but it can totally transform several corrosive systems and structures worldwide, demanding a high standard of accountability and resourcefulness. And if you desperately need to sink your teeth into something requiring enormous strength and endurance, this is the moment for real commitment. Saturn in Capricorn can help each of us dig deep and step up to new personal and collective challenges.