Saturn Return

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.

Surrendering The Past

Why is that when reflecting upon the past, we sometimes find it painful? Maybe there's some memory attached conjuring a sense of loss, of failure, or something which has died and is now deeply missed. As we get older, this becomes more prominent in consciousness; it's the crystallizing awareness of Saturn. Regrets, disappointments, shortcomings--they all seem to slowly have more relevance than they did before. As we age, time becomes more real, more solid, more ephemeral. I noticed recently that this process has been gradually increasing in my own awareness. Perhaps it's just the natural side effect of my encroaching Saturn return; this event which has loomed before me for quite some time--and now, it's getting a lot more real. I'm starting to really understand why this is such a big step in one's growth and awareness. Astrologer Steven Forrest, in speaking on the Saturn return process, compares it to puberty, which once severed us from adolescence. I think this is a rather apt description [1].

How do you describe puberty to a seven year old child? The feelings, emotions, desires--how could one possibly understand this transformation before hand? The truth is, they can't. According to Steven, this is the same with the Saturn return. It's like a second puberty. There's no way you can comprehend these changes until you reach them. Saturn returns to its natal placement around the age of 29 and 30, or in some cases, such as mine, 28--how lucky am I? I've noticed this increasing sense of urgency--to do something, anything, to grow up quick, before it's too late. I've felt this uprising fear that there isn't enough time; that life is slipping away. The clock is ticking faster, the hours are passing more quickly. I need to act, I need to step up. There's this overwhelming pressure placed upon consciousness, it's a reality which I was always aware of, but until recently, never truly quite understood or comprehended--and I suppose, I still won't completely grasp until it's official. Anyway....

Recently, within the past few days, I've noticed this "portal to the past" opening, as I like to call it. It's these periods of time where we are suddenly drawn toward reflecting on the past, and in some ways, urged to re-create or re-experience it, as if we could once again capture its essence--and in many ways, we do, it's sort of an energy field that surrounds us, triggering memories like a familiar smell. I feel like this is a prominent feature of astrological anomalies like certain retrograde cycles (obviously), and eclipses, which we are currently at the epicenter of. Eclipses are quite unusual experiences, and it's interesting how quickly we forget just how prominent they are and their impact on our lives. Why is this? I suppose it's because they symbolize change. They quicken the process of inner and outer transformation. Sometimes change in and of itself is frightening, and sometimes traumatic.

The Sun is the "now", it's the pure light of conscious awareness, self-expression, and the primary fuel source of the ego, the I am. The moon can be likened to our more "hidden", personal, and intimate nature, and thus also, to the "past"--it is our conditioning, our formative foundation, our securities, instincts, and inner motivations. With a solar eclipse, in particular, like the one occurring on May 9th, these two constructs of psyche merge and mingle in a very unique way. Unlike other new moons, the eclipse is an actual direct alignment of earth, sun, and moon. In astrology, we call this an occultation; a very potent and powerful conjunction of planets. We could say that, in a way, the past and present melt and fuse together. Veils which once obscured and blinded us from certain truths are suddenly lifted to reveal a hidden, and sometimes, disconcerting reality. We find ourselves at the edge of a precipice--and as with any astrological event, we're urged to make certain choices about how we wish to proceed.

Do we jump? Take the leap of faith? Or do we back away, overwhelmed by vertigo, clinging to the past and the familiar womb of safety, certainty, and the "known". These two constructs, of past and present, come together to form some third thing which to our present awareness presents itself as this unknown and unfamiliar formation. What do we do with it? Where do we fit it into our present awareness? I think that most of the time, overwhelmed by the experience, we choose to cling or to go back to what we know. We can't quite fit this new and unusual experience into our reality, and so we sometimes choose to ignore it. The reality is that it doesn't just go away. We can't really shove it under the rug; and so it manifests itself outside of us, forcing some kind of change to take place. The reason the past comes up at these times, is because it is a necessary processing that takes place within the psyche, to essentially make way for this new emerging awareness and experience.

It's like a psychic clearing of the house. We're shuffling through the clutter, going through the boxes, brushing off the dust and cobwebs. Suddenly we find an old photo, a familar object from our childhood, and we stop and reminisce--we get somehow lost in the process, forgetting our original intention which was to make more room or reorganize the space around us. Eclipses invite us to process the past, and surrender to the emerging reality before and within us. We can't stop the changes that must take place now, on both a personal and collective/societal level. If we choose to ignore what's happening within us, if we choose to run back to what we know, what we've already experienced--then it is very likely these changes will come from without, from some external force. Either way, something shifts within us. That's the whole point.

How far can you go with this? How deeply can you really go? Ask yourself these questions, they're important. Can you let go? Can you surrender the past, and make way for the new? This process comes and goes. Just as the Sun will rise tomorrow, another eclipse will return. We'll find ourselves back here, back at this precipice once more. Unlike other eclipse cycles, however, we are in the midst of a unique eclipse Trifecta. This creates an extended process of inner and outer transformation to take hold of us. It might be scary, and a little uncomfortable, but it's best if you choose to face this whole thing head on, and really make the leap. We are opening up to more space, more awareness, and ultimately, more consciousness. We can't change the past. It's over, but we can shape the future. What we choose now will very much alter the course that lies before us. So when in doubt take the plunge. Jump. Trust and have faith in yourself; but don't be hasty, there's no rush. Saturnian time is ultimately an illusion. Go with it. Flow with it. It's a process.

When we stop and realize that we're merely a part of a great unfolding, that all that we need to do is step aside and let it happen; it becomes a whole lot easier to manage. Keep this in mind. I think that ultimately, my own sense of urgency in regards to my Saturn return is entirely reactionary. No one can force puberty, and you don't just wake up one morning with pimples and strange urges toward to the opposite, or the same sex. It's a process. What's happening to me--these new feelings, experiences, and sensations, they'll become commonplace one day, just like all that hair under my armpits. So keep that in mind as well. What might be uncomfortable in the moment will be fully assimilated all in due time.

Anyone feeling this?

For those astrologically privy, look to the house in your horoscope where this eclipse falls, at 19 degrees of Taurus. This will clearly describe the area of life where this leap can take place for you. As I described in my previous article, this particular eclipse is about clearing out stagnation and moving beyond patterns of stubbornness. Meditate on these symbols, but ultimately, just do what comes naturally to you now, while being mindful of the tendency to cling or stay stuck in familiar old patterns.If the eclipse touches on specific "tigger points", ie. planets or certain placements in the chart, then this process will be exceptionally pronounced. 

Notes & Comments

[1] Puberty arises about around the time of the Saturn opposition; that is, Saturn opposite natal Saturn, around age 14--the halfway point of the 30 year Saturn cycle.