Saturn and the Apotheosis of Ego

False color image of Saturn taken from Voyager I. Photo by NASA, Wikimedia Commons.

The planet Saturn takes approximately 29 years to orbit the Sun. As it moves through the houses of the natal horoscope, it crystallizes and compresses those life arenas – solidifying their awareness into consciousness. Because Saturn deals with limitation and the restrictive barriers of reality, it symbolizes the boundary of ego; the temporary identity the soul cloaks itself with each incarnation.

With every passage or significant transit of Saturn, something solidifies within the individual. At the ages of 28, 29 or 30, the planet Saturn completes its cycle around the Sun, returning to the precise position it was at one’s birth. This significant event is known as the Saturn return, a critical stage of growth and development each of us experiences as either a crisis or a blossoming of ego potential.

At the Saturn return a piece of us dies and a new identity is born. How we each choose to handle this momentous period of time will very much determine the rest of our lives. Saturn urges us to let go of our adolescent identity and to step into a more mature and fully developed self. It can be a period wrought with tension and an impetus to “grow up”.

Successfully navigating the Saturn return is crucial in taking advantage of this powerful launching pad which catapults the individual into an entirely new reality—one that was totally incomprehensible beforehand. Astrologer Steven Forrest, in speaking about the Saturn return, likens the experience to a second puberty. It is indeed the Saturn opposition, which occurs at ages 14-15 that completely segregates the individual from childhood.

With each of these periods, the opposition and the conjunction (return), there is the emergence of a new world—new desires, feelings and urges. Our priorities drastically change at these times, in ways that we couldn't possibly comprehend prior to. We encounter entirely new responsibilities and limitations that greatly challenge us beyond anything we've encountered before.

Saturn is a force of considerable pressure; the friction it often ignites forces us to change our act, to “get with the program”. As we mature, we soon realize that we have to conform to certain rules and codes of conduct if we wish to successfully participate in the world. Human society, as well as the natural world, has strictures put in place which everyone must eventually learn to follow if they wish to survive.

Saturn teaches us how to play the game. Those that fail to conform, to some extent at least, often spend their lives fighting a battle with the world around them—like constantly pushing upstream, against the current. Too much conformity can of course stifle true individuality and change, but there must be a balance between playing the game and breaking the rules.

Uranus, the planet just beyond Saturn, allows us to find the loopholes. But Uranus’ secrets are unveiled only to those who master the Saturn passageway. So in reality, it isn’t until one has completed the Saturn return that Uranus fully emerges into consciousness, inviting us to transcend the limitations of the physical world.

Once we pass Saturn’s test, we gain access to the Uranian/Promethean landscape; we now have the opportunity to create our own rules, to step up and govern our own reality—to do as we please. The Saturn return is really the introduction to Uranus which culminates at the Uranus opposition at around age 42. To responsibly utilize Uranus, we must master Saturn.

True Uranian consciousness requires maturity and integrity. In astrology, we associate Uranus with creative genius, sudden revelations and technological breakthroughs. Uranus allows for the manipulation and control of earthly matter; but without maturity and integrity, this can turn ugly.

We have to wonder whether the technological advancements of our modern era were created by those who had truly mastered Saturn. In looking at the polluting effects of fossil fuel consumption and nuclear energy, we eventually come to the conclusion that without Saturn, Uranus can bring havoc and destruction to the world. 

This is a critical insight in understanding the Saturn return, or any significant transit of Saturn in the natal horoscope. If we don’t master the rules, if we don’t learn to respect and honor the limitations of the natural world, we succumb to destructive tendencies and are overwhelmed by the chaos that is ubiquitous to the universe.

Saturn with a scythe, sitting on a stone
and clipping the wings of cupid. By Ivan Akimov,
Like a child that is raised without boundaries, free to do as he or she pleases, they eventually find themselves untamed, out of control and lost in the world. Saturn’s structure is a vessel we must construct to make our way in the world. In order to properly build this vehicle, we need to follow directions and paths previously laid.

Embracing Saturn means having respect for the wisdom of our elders, ancient knowledge and the traditions of the society we’re a part of. To successfully break free of tradition, we must have fully acquainted ourselves with it and assimilated its essence. All great artists mastered the techniques created by previous masters. Uranus cannot successfully blossom without the foundation of the past, without the wisdom of its forebears. 

In many spiritual traditions the ego is an obstacle to be overcome, mastered and transcended. In western society, the ego is a primary focal point. Modern day popular culture glorifies the ego to the extent that we idolize individuals who have exemplified the height of egoic development. In a world of Facebook and American Idols, the “false” self truly has a powerful grasp of our collective psyche.

So, in reality, in the western world at least, a strong, developed ego or sense of self is paramount to functioning in the world. The ego can be defined as the “I” or “Me” within an individual. It is a conglomeration of likes or dislikes, preferences, and external inputs that make up “who we are”.

From a more spiritual perspective, the true self is beyond this ego mask. Behind the façade of ego, lies the true soul essence, which is free of attachments or concrete forms of identification. This more authentic self rarely finds expression in modern western society. We cling to ego in order to survive and interact with others.

So, depending on your perception, ego isn’t necessarily a “bad” thing, and there are periods in our life when we should actually be more focused on its development. That initial period of life is the time prior to our Saturn return. While Saturn makes its way around our natal chart for the first time, back toward its natal position, we are in a process of ego development; that is to say we’re in a process of defining ourselves as separate from the external world.

The first hard Saturn aspect to its natal position occurs at approximately the age of seven, when transiting Saturn squares its birth position. This is a time when a child first develops its own individuality as separate from its mother. Logic and rational thought processes emerge within the psyche, so that a child is able to comprehend the rules, boundaries and limitations presented by the external world and society at large.

It is evident that fairly young children who have yet to experience their first Saturn square exist in a world that is more unified and cohesive than more fully developed adults. Trying to teach a very young child “do’s” and “don’ts” or complex rules or codes of social conduct can be very confusing for a child because they have yet to develop the capacity to comprehend it.

[To discuss this issue at length is beyond the scope of this article, but an excellent take on the subject is presented in Magical Child by Joseph Chilton Pearce.]

Saturn’s transits prior to the first Saturn return work to segregate the individual from the external environment, to create a separate sense of self that is unique and distinct. After birth, Saturn slowly creates barriers and separations between the internal and external world.

After all, Saturn is the last of the planets visible to the naked eye. It is quite literally the boundary of the visually perceptible outer reality. The period leading up to the Saturn return is a period of preparation and quite appropriate for ego development. 

We could say that Saturn contains the contents of the natal horoscope within a clearly defined structure we call the ego. The “unseen” or recently discovered planets thus symbolize the aspects of the psyche imperceptible upon first glance. They are the concealed forces within the psyche churning in the background of consciousness.

Thus, Uranus, the first planet beyond Saturn, symbolizes the confrontation between the ego (the self) and the hidden persona that lies just beyond the threshold of conscious awareness. At Saturn return, we each experience what we could call an apotheosis of ego—the process of the past 30 years culminates and takes concrete form.

Promethus by Stephan Kovarik, 1969.
This is crucial to understand, because without allowing for the healthy development of individuality prior to this state, we can end up stunting our own growth, we can end up feeling lost and unable to express ourselves to the fullest. This can lead to feelings of anger, frustration and resentment later in life. The Saturn return is a time to step up and into this fully developed sense of self—a time to announce who we truly are, what we stand for and to make our own way in the world.

These are all obvious Uranian issues. After successfully crossing the Saturn return threshold, we now have access to these “higher” planetary vibrations. We are no longer confined to the limitations of Saturn and the ego template. But with every process of blossoming and culmination, comes the subsequent breakdown and decay.

Just as a new self emerges, the ego begins a process of deterioration. The period of life proceeding the Saturn return becomes far more conducive to the pursuit of spiritual interests and inclinations. This instinctive desire for spiritual attainment is a response to the unconscious realization that there is something more to us than the false and fleeting ego identity. There are higher laws and codes of conduct than those presented by society and the natural world.

Thus, as we move beyond the Saturn return, we learn to live by our own more spiritual laws. Having learned, mastered and conformed to the limitations of the social complex we live within, we now have the opportunity to transcend, challenge and even overwrite the strictures that once bound us.

When the Saturn return presents us with a crisis, we have to ask ourselves some serious questions. Am I actually pursuing the dreams and goals conducive to personal ego fulfillment? Am I dreaming too much and not taking the practical steps and actions toward the fulfillment of those dreams? More than at any other time in life, the Saturn return can truly make it or break it for many people.

What you have conceived of doing as you mature needs to concretely take shape and form at this time. Ego fulfillment is at its peak and there’s a definite sense that it’s now or never. When we fail to take the leap during a significant Saturn transit, we often feel stuck in situations that are no longer suited to our growth and development; we feel stagnant and bored with life.

When Saturn passes with little effort on our part we find ourselves trapped in a life devoid of passion--mundane and unfulfilling. The Saturn cycle helps us to define ourselves in our own way. When we consciously work with Saturn we are able to not only create the life experience we always dreamed of, but we’re able to do as we please, free from the demands or expectations of others.

A clearly defined sense of self allows us to be who we are, say, do or think in our own way, but in order to do that we have to step up and take responsibility for our own lives. To accomplish our dreams, we also have to do the work necessary for mastering techniques and acquiring the appropriate skills. That means no shortcuts—just pure hard work and effort.

But the rewards are long lasting. While Saturn may feel difficult, cold and sometimes overbearing—the greatest joy and sense of fulfillment accompanies a successfully navigated Saturn passage. When Saturn arrives at your doorstep, either through transit or the return—it’s a time to push yourself beyond the threshold toward growth and maturity.

When you feel the urge to move on, to step up and evolve past stagnating and worn out structures, it's time to follow your inner guidance. The soul seeks only to evolve. When we get in our own way through resistance and fears, external circumstances force us to grow up and the experience is generally rather unpleasant to endure.

During any Saturn cycle, just remind yourself to keep moving, to keep pushing beyond the threshold. Know that if you’re responsible and accountable for your actions and that you’re doing the best you can do, Saturn will assist you in the manifestation of your dreams. After all, no one else is going to create them for you; you have only yourself and Saturn to help you out. 

Eco-Ego by Laís F. Camargo via Wikimedia Commons.