Case Study : Saturn return

A few preliminary thoughts on Saturn return

A return is the time period a planet or luminary takes to return to its original place in the natal chart. For Saturn, this time period is approximately 29.5 years. Saturn stays in each sign around 2.5 years. Thus, the time period from around 29 until 31 or 32 years of age is a time when Saturn is in the same sign as it was at birth, and all things “Saturn” become prominent in one’s life – often via some difficult lessons or challenges. This is the first Saturn return (the second taking place another 29.5 years afterwards).

Saturn stands for: hard work, boundaries, limitations, old age, duty, responsibility, maturity. Saturn does not do “get rich quick schemes” or superficiality. Saturn is known as the lord of karma – and this includes karma from past lives. He often gets a really bad press, and is traditionally known in astrology as the “greater malefic” – though I think this is because in general, a lot of people have accumulated bad karma given our materialistic view of life, and also have swallowed the kool-aid of easy, instant gratification without the sweat that goes into attaining something truly worthwhile. Yet Saturn also stands for industriousness and productivity, self-discipline, self-restraint, and that beautiful (and painful) awareness of our limited time on earth, our mortality, making us appreciate and make the most of what time we do have left.

Saturn return is when we grow up. Our view of life after we turn 30 becomes markedly different to our more carefree 20-something. Our late twenties are a time when we feel the undercurrents of an undefinable, yet consistently growing pressure to do something with our lives. For many this “do something” is achieved in traditional Saturn manifestations of responsibility, duties and maturity: buying a first home; getting married; having children; a promotion at work that brings more work and recognition. Many find such responsibilities a welcoming and grounding anchor in their lives. For those that have built something meaningful in their lives, or have followed a path in tune with their calling, Saturn return brings rewards and achievement. 

For others, however, this can be a time of tumultuous upheaval and a complete re-structuring of their lives in rather painful ways if the time leading up to the Saturn return was spent on the wrong path or in pursuit of superficial trivialities, for example:

  • the wrong career choice: either due to parental expectations of what career path one should follow; or following a path that is not in line with one’s abilities, or heart; or simply, what we once thought would fulfil us no longer does so.
  • the wrong partner: particularly for those who partnered or married young, and who changed as the years went by, while their partner didn’t or also changed but in very different ways. Saturn return is when we can no longer deny what is not fulfilling us. A relationship that is not fulfilling, or based on false impressions at best and deception at worst, is unlikely to survive the first Saturn return; if it does survive, there’s the second Saturn return to deal with.
  • aimless drifting: ah, the parties in your 20’s! The clubs, pubs, festivals, the drinking, the drugs, the exotic holidays, the going here and there for no reason other than you can, without adding to anything of substance in particular. You’re 24! Old age is like, a lifetime away, and the vigour and immortality of youth make you feel so good and invincible. You have so much time ahead of you! …. well, Saturn kinda puts an end to the party, man. You’re now 30 and old age is like, here already.  Bummer, dude.

(Of course, I’m joking: 30 is most certainly not old age, however when you first arrive at it from the ageless twenties, it often feels like that).

There is, of course, some very good news to all this reality-check: you get to shed anything that no longer serves your core truth. You may do it kicking and screaming, but ultimately Saturn is good medicine: bitter, but good for you. You now get to find and follow that which truly resonates with your truth, your essence, your calling. No more illusions. You learn to differentiate between what is a superficial pursuit of meaningless activities, and put some elbow grease towards building a solid foundation. You get to be discriminating in your choice of friendships and partners. No, it’s often not easy, because Saturn doesn’t do easy. In fact, as you look around at your peers, most of whom are happily getting married, buying a house, starting a family, or getting that raise or public recognition, you may find yourself wondering where you’ve gone wrong and will you ever achieve anything in this lifetime, and what is your purpose here on earth anyway. Again, there is good news: it may not feel like it, but you are young and have time on your side. And as my yoga teacher said, “The purpose in life is to find your purpose.”

Let me put this another way: would you rather continue on that unfulfilling work path, or that unfulfilling marriage, and find yourself at your second Saturn return, around 59 years of age or so, facing this crisis? Do you think you’d look back and think “Gosh, I wish I had changed course when I was 30!” You bet. And how much harder is it to do this later in your fifties, what with all the obligations of family, financial responsibilities, health issues, and so on. A lot of people find it just too hard to make the change at almost 60, when they really should have tackled it at 30, settling instead for the safe yet unfulfilling life they’ve always known. Saturn is waking you up now, and giving you that chance to change. You’d be amazed what can happen when you give life a chance – and yes, I do speak from experience though that is for another post.

The natal chart

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The natal chart presents a dominance of the Fire element (The Sun, Moon, Mercury and Venus) together with Earth (Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and the Ascendant). Pluto is the only planet in a water sign (Scorpio), as such I consider the chart to be deficient in the water element. An elemental in-depth analysis is beyond the scope of this post, however I direct the reader to Carl Jung’s elemental associations of the four elements to psychological functions for further exploration.

The chart also has a strong Cardinal modality, so that the Sun, Mercury, Venus, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune are all Cardinal, giving the native a strong inclination towards pioneering enterprise, leadership, being one’s own boss, managerial drive and initiative. 

The focus of this post is on Saturn, so I will not detail a full chart analysis except for where I think it is relevant to our discussion.

Saturn in the natal chart – by sign

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Saturn is placed in Capricorn at 13 degrees and 25 seconds. Saturn is the ruler of Capricorn, meaning this is a very strong placement for Saturn – it’s the sign Saturn is most comfortable and happy to be in. 

Capricorn is an earth sign. It is ambitious, conservative, traditional. Capricorn knows that with dedicated effort and perseverance, it will rise to the top, and is happy to work diligently towards this goal. Capricorn loves hierarchy and the structures and regulations that support it. Real estate, big business, banks, big institutions are all under Capricorn. It is a cold sign, not fond of gushy sentimentality or big displays of emotion. 

The native with Saturn in Capricorn therefore needs to achieve recognition and climb to the top of their game, regardless of which vocational area they choose. Wise use of resources is necessary – of course, you could say that applies to everyone, but I don’t think it has the same weight or implications, for the prudent stewardship of money or resources (this includes both tangible resources such as property, and intangible ones such as skills and expertise) gives a strong foundation upon which to build on. And Saturn in Capricorn is all about building, creating a solid structure, making sure the foundations are rock solid – so that they can be built upon, so they can climb as high as they possibly can. 

Saturn in the natal chart – key aspects

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The native also has Neptune in Capricorn forming a tight conjunction with Saturn (Neptune at 12 degrees), as well as Uranus in Capricorn at 5 degrees. This enhances the Capricorn energy considerably, however I consider it a challenging conjunction. This is because Neptune is the planet of dreams, fantasy, illusions, the arts, the ethereal, the sea, mysticism and spirituality – and it is placed in a sign that is all about pragmatic realism and concrete achievement.

Furthermore, it is right next to Saturn, both planets being located in the same house. It’s a bit like putting an artist in the same room with a banker and asking them to work together. Or putting a nun (or a monk) in the same room with a real estate developer and tasking them with building something concrete and pragmatic: it takes a while for people with this combination to master the energies in a constructive way. This is part of their dharma here on earth. On the whole though, Saturn has the dominant presence because he is placed in his own sign of Capricorn, as mentioned above, it is the one most comfortable to express itself. 

“Sometimes Saturn-Neptune people idealise and inflate the idea of taking responsibility and imagine it to be far more onerous than it need be, or sometimes more glamorous than it actually is. Often it is difficult for the individual to get a true perspective of responsibility. Certainly there is an awareness that the more one is involved with the reality of living in the real world, then the less one has time for pursuing one’s dreams and visions, which can be another fear of those with strong hard contacts between these planets. The challenger for Saturn-Neptune is to make the vision, the dream, a reality in the real world and to find enchantment there too.

This combination is often also commonly found in the charts of artists and musicians and those involved in film or video. And here the artist can be seen as giving form (Saturn) to the dreams, fantasies and feelings of the collective (Neptune), as well as providing a medium and a structure wherein the individual can express their own fears and fantasies.” Sue Tompkins, Aspects in Astrology

Note that both Neptune and Uranus are generational planets – Neptune stayed in Capricorn from 1984 until 1998, so everyone born in that period has Neptune in Capricorn, and within that period, everyone born from February 1988 to February 1991 will have both Saturn and Neptune in Capricorn. This doesn’t diminish the impact of such a conjunction in an individual’s chart, but it ties this impact to the broader generational events and energies of our time.

Saturn return in Capricorn

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Transits on 28 November 2018. Transiting planets are on the outer wheel, natal planets on the inner wheel. Saturn’s transit is at 7 degrees and 30 seconds for this date.

The native started experiencing the effects of Saturn in Capricorn starting 20 December 2017, when Saturn first entered Capricorn. These effects, or energies, have intensified as Saturn gets closer to making an exact aspect by transit – shown above is the transit on 28 November 2018 at 7 degrees and 30 seconds. Saturn will stay in Capricorn until 16 December 2020, with the exception of its entry into Aquarius from 22 March 2020 until 2 July 2020, after which it retrogrades back to Capricorn.

So anyone with Saturn in Capricorn will be experiencing the Saturn return energy and issues outlined at the beginning of this post. The native in our Case Study (and anyone close in age to them) also has Neptune in Capricorn, and Uranus too. So Saturn will first transit over Uranus (already taken place), then over Neptune, and then over natal Saturn in the chart. This magnifies the energies of a Saturn return considerably.

Saturn will reach 12 degrees and 13 degrees Capricorn (the natal chart Neptune/Saturn placement) in January 2019, and also will retrograde to 13 degrees 55 minutes in September 2019. Thus it’s fair to say the first half of 2019 will be felt most intensely by the native – below are some thoughts on the transit of Saturn conjunct natal Neptune:

“During this transit you may have to contend with negative moods that can be quite upsetting. This transit often results in confusion, self-doubt, uncertainty and a general tendency to look at life from the worst possible point of view. At its worst, it can make you completely uncertain about what is real in your life, resulting in a sense of fear and free-floating anxiety. This is because Saturn rules what we normally think if as reality, whereas Neptune rules the ideal, the illusory and the apparently unreal. It is apparently unreal because what Neptune rules is actually another order of reality. When the two planets are combined, the two categories of reality blend and become difficult to separate. It is important to remember that this transit usually makes things appear worse than they actually are.” Robert Hand, Planets in Transit

To help deal with the above energies and the gloomy, depressive feelings such a transit may bring, the native in our study needs to be reminded that the Sun, which is the vital life-giving and self-expressive part of the chart, is in radiant, fiery, exuberant Aries. Further to this, the Moon is in the optimistic and also fiery sign of Sagittarius, so these offer a good antidote to the heavy transit energies currently experienced. Both Aries and Sagittarius are fond of activity and sport, so anything that gets the body moving and undertaking some form of physical effort is to be encouraged. Moon in Sagittarius in particular will require some strong goal setting, and with Sun in Aries the native is encouraged to not shy away from ambitious, visionary or pioneering goals. The small disclaimer to all of this is a warning on being too impulsive, reckless or impatient which both these signs share, though that Saturn in Capricorn would temper this nicely.

Final remarks: a double whammy: Pluto in Capricorn

For all those with Saturn in Capricorn, reading all of the above might bring about familiar feelings that they have been dealing with for a lot longer than Saturn’s entry in Capricorn over the past year. This is courtesy of Pluto, who entered Capricorn on 6 January 2008, and is currently still slowly making his way through the sign – it will stay in Capricorn until 21 January 2024.

The astronomical community may have demoted Pluto from its planet status (it was classified as a dwarf planet in 2006), but the heavyweight energies of Pluto don’t submit to our mortal fashions and understandings of what passes for a planet or not. In mythology, Pluto is the God of the underworld, and a Pluto transit brings to the surface everything we’d like to keep hidden and buried far away from our fearful consciousness, so it can be faced and transformed. Pluto stands for transformation, death, rebirth, wealth, and power. You can’t deny Pluto, run away from it or avoid it. When you’re the God of the underworld, well, you carry some clout.

Let me give just one concrete example of how this has played out since January 2008: our banking and real estate sectors (both under Capricorn) have been under tremendous pressure to change as Pluto moves through Capricorn. This started with the banking and real estate crisis in the United States, which led to what is now called the great recession, accompanied by a great many foreclosures, the collapse of Lehman Brothers and so on. Remember, Pluto is all about power, and the easiest way to give away our power in our consumer society is to be in debt to someone else. Pluto is nowhere near done with this issue, and my two cents is that it’s about to rear it’s head again in many ugly ways as the Lord of karma, Saturn, makes its way to join the God of the underworld (January 2020 will be interesting). The fact our government and banking system have done little to genuinely reform, and instead put as much energy into keeping the status quo by ever-increasing amounts of debt, does not forebode for a happy Pluto transit over the next few years. I am perfectly aware that Pluto might just give more power to already corrupt institutions and people, however I am equally aware that the laws of nature, and the laws of economics, are not subject to our mortal whims and desires that we should have everything we want whenever we want, and sooner or later something’s gotta give. 

Back to our Case Study: the native has had to contend with the heavy Plutonian energies for quite some time, as Pluto made its way over Uranus, then Neptune, and then Saturn. Shown below is Pluto highlighted at 19 degrees and 34 seconds on November 28. 

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As Pluto is now more than 5 degrees away from natal Saturn, its influence is starting to diminish somewhat. The native may feel exhausted from that transit alone, and now they have to deal with Saturn too! 

As with any astrological transit, it helps to keep a clear head and not subject oneself to the good old “woe is me”. Everyone has Saturn and Pluto somewhere in their chart, and everyone has to deal with their transits in one way or another. You’re no more special than anyone else in that sense. In addition, countless generations have had to contend with these energies, often during much more testing times: disasters, famines, wars, and so on. I am not trying to diminish the challenges the native faces, but perspective is also a good thing to have. Overall, a Pluto transit is the time to trim away the deadwood in preparation for new growth. In our case, Pluto’s transit over Saturn might feel like a ruthless removal of well-known structures in one’s life, like a strong earthquake that tests one’s foundations: anything not well-built will crumble – or rather, it already has given Pluto has moved on past Saturn.

The Pluto transit is a whole blog post in itself, however I did want to briefly touch upon it as I feel it holds some relevance to the Case Study.

To conclude, the native has already experienced, and will continue to experience the effects of a Saturn return in Capricorn most intensely for the following 6 months approximately. This transit is intensified by the presence of Neptune and Uranus both in Capricorn, with Neptune forming a close conjunction with Saturn. A Saturn return is intense enough on its own, and the conjunction with Neptune and Uranus may well make the native feel like they are dealing with something they are not able to surmount.

However, Saturn requires disciplined work at this time, and careful, prudent management of one’s resources. Focusing on taking small steps and working slowly towards a goal is to be favoured over gambling and quick get lucky schemes. Work is the antidote to many a mental ailment, so it is recommended to find meaningful work that is in line with one’s values.

I should say this also includes looking after our first and most important resource, our body. Capricorn rules bones, teeth and skin, so it is paramount to start taking care of one’s body – living off coffee, cigarettes and wine is no longer an option.

Those that continue to live irresponsibly, who refuse to grow up under the convenient excuse of “not selling out to the system”, who do not question and seek an authentic vocational calling, who trash their body rather than nourish it, eventually pay a high price. Make no mistake, Saturn is a hard task master, but it does bestow rewards and riches to those who persevere through this hallmark of maturity crisis.

I leave you with the following words on the Saturn return from eminent astrologer Robert Hand’s book, Planets in Transit:

“This is one of the most important times in your life. A major cycle of experience is closing, and great changes are about to take place. How great these changes are depends largely on what you have been doing with your life over the past several years. Have you been living as you feel you should or as you think others want you to? If you have been doing the latter, Saturn will have a greater impact.

Consciously, or unconsciously, you are pruning your life of everything that is not relevant to what you really are as a human being. If this process is not happening consciously, you may experience a sense of loss for the elements of your life that are coming to an end now. However, do not dwell upon these losses, for they are necessary in order to clear the decks for the major period of action in your life. If this is your first return of Saturn, particularly, you should roll with the punch and voluntarily let go of those elements. If you try to hold on, you may be somewhat successful, but twenty-nine years from now the second Saturn return will be much more difficult. Then you will be more firmly established on paths that are inappropriate for you. If this is your second return, you are faced with the need to make radical changes. However difficult this may be, make the changes. Your later years will be much better if you do.

This is a time of endings and new beginnings. If you have built your life up to now around activities that are inappropriate for you, it will be a period of crisis. If you have been doing what you should in previous years, this transit will simply mark a time of solidification and the beginning of new phases of activity. It is this transit that makes people over thirty different from those under thirty because the Saturn return is one the most maturing of all transits.”



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