Saturn is the planet of life lessons, restrictions, boundaries, limits, testing, self-discipline, and responsibility. Once it was thought of in much more negative terms – the planet of sorrow, discipline, and severity. However, modern astrology, like modern tarot, typically casts all the planets with both helpful and challenging qualities. Saturn’s energy can facilitate the development of maturity, stability, responsibility, and restraint, and the positive outcomes that can arise from these qualities. For example, it can help you stick to a diet or exercise plan, and maintain a productive work ethic. Because Saturn rules Capricorn, its energies are well-suited to the career arena, driving ambition and achievement in the outer world. On the other hand, Saturn’s energies can also result in challenges such as a patriarchal or stubborn attitude, becoming set in one’s ways, illness resulting from stress or overwork, joylessness resulting from rigidity about rules and responsibilities, depression, or a feeling of restriction.
In many ways, Saturn is the opposite or complement of Jupiter – Jupiter expands, Saturn contracts; Jupiter provides opportunity, Saturn the wisdom and self-discipline to learn from it. Saturn provides structure and form to Jupiter’s expansive energy by placing limits or boundaries on it. In this way, these two planets typify the yin-yang or male-female principles of the western mystical tradition, with Saturn as the yin, associated with Binah, the great mother, who also provides form and containment of the male expansive energy (although Saturn is not typically thought of as female in astrology). These planetary associations may have been originally suggested by their physical characteristics – Jupiter being the largest gas giant, and Saturn with rings around it, circumscribing boundaries.
The World – If we look at where these two planets fall in the Tarot, some interesting patterns emerge. Starting with the Fool, whose number is zero, one can think of the Universe beginning at an infinitesimally small point or singularity. The Universe expands through the first half of the cycle, until it reaches the Wheel of Fortune, associated with Jupiter. Throughout the second half of the trump cycle, the Universe contracts until it reaches the World, associated with Saturn – and the cycle starts over. This is like the cosmic breath of life, expanding and contracting over and over. On an individual level, it represents the psyche, first developing and separating into different parts, then the subsequent process of reintegration.
Some similarities between the Saturn and World archetypes are suggested by the design of the World – a woman dances within a ring of wreaths. She is the animus mundi – the soul of the world. She dances in harmony with the world and its boundaries or limitations, she does not wish for more or less, but is perfectly in synch with her environment. Not only does she find her perfect place in the world, she is even in tune with the universe, as surrounding the circle of wreaths are the symbols of the four cardinal signs of astrology, further showing the limits or form of the universe within which she dances.
One area where Saturn seems appropriately associated with the World is in the area of life lessons. The World is the final card of the trump sequence, and comes after Judgment, in which our actions and lives are assessed and anything that needs to be addressed is dealt with and released. In the World we are given a moment to rest and dance within our true selves – not wanting to be more than we are, or thinking ourselves less than we are, but integrated and living at peace with ourselves. If we have learned our life lessons well, we will reach the World and are free to move on to the next lesson. If not, we may need to repeat the cycle until it is learned.
This process in astrology is known as the Saturn return cycle. Saturn requires 29.5 years to return to the place in our charts where it began, and this cycle typically triggers feelings of anxiety, fear, life assessment, and judging. If we have learned our life lessons or made good progress toward them, the cycle will get easier each time we go through it. If not, we end up repeating ourselves in different variations until we “get it” – or not! Saturn returns to its natal position at approximately ages 29.5, 59, and 88.5. Considering our current lifespan, most people have two or three chances to learn their life lesson. Those who consciously work on their life lessons with clarity of understanding may have the opportunity to add or create new or “advanced” life lessons. This usually occurs during the third Saturn cycle (ages 59-88).
On the surface, the World may seem different from Saturn because it appears to be a card of peace – being at perfect harmony with the world and yourself. Saturn is not typically thought of as a planet of peace and harmony – more like fear and anxiety! However, successful integration of the lessons to be learned from Saturn could result in a state of peace, wisdom, and maturity that may well be typified by the World card.
Old Man/Father Time – In the earliest tarot decks, the Hermit card was depicted as the Old Man or Father Time. He carried an hourglass, suggesting an association with Time, or the Greek god Kronos, equivalent to the Roman god Saturn. Kronos was fated to slay his own father, and in turn be deposed by his son. According to the myth, once Kronos had taken rulership of the gods, a period of peace and prosperity followed. On a darker note, Kronos castrated his father and devoured all his sons to prevent any from deposing him. Kronos was associated with the Roman god Saturn, the god of harvest. He was credited with introducing agriculture to the world, and along with it, civilization and government. During the 7-day festival of Saturnalia in mid-December, a sacrificial victim was chosen to represent Saturn, who was then slain and sent to the underworld. This has similarities to our modern day custom of representing the end of the year as the old Father Time passing from the world, to be replaced by the New Year’s baby.
All of these associations reflect other aspects of the planet Saturn in astrology, including its association with fatherhood, patriarchal influences, responsibility, authority, timing, and structure. Saturn reflects the endless cycle of fathers and sons, and the tension between them as one inevitably fades to old age and is eclipsed by his son. The planet Saturn also reflects some of the qualities of old age, both positive and negative. Physical infirmities or afflictions are often associated with Saturn. In addition, however, Saturn represents the harvests of late autumn – the wisdom and experience of old age. Because the Saturn return cycle is such an important part of personal growth and tends to be associated with major life events, Saturn is known as the “timekeeper” in astrology.
Saturn Retrograde – Because Saturn is such a “heavy” planet from a personal perspective, Saturn retrograde periods can be excruciatingly difficult if the transit contacts an important natal planet or combination of planets. Saturn transits are fairly slow to begin with, and retrograde motion can result in three separate passes over a natal planet – one as it first passes over, a second as it goes retrograde and passes back in the other direction, and a third when it goes direct and travels over it once again. Saturn may even go retrograde for more than one period during its progression through a sign. During these periods, one may feel the weight of the world and all its responsibilities coming to bear on the area of life represented by the natal planet and the house it is in. With three passes of Saturn over that point, there is little chance to escape the issues and the growth opportunities that are being presented – if you don’t get it the first time, you’ll get it the second or third time! By the time it finally goes direct and leaves that part of the chart things will have come to a head, and major life changes may result.
Saturn retrograde can be likened to a reversed World card, or alternatively, a reversed Hermit card. The World reversed indicates that the lesson is not quite learned yet and this cycle of life is not over – you haven’t gone deep enough or far enough in the process. Loose ends may need to be tied up and more changes made before you can move on in life. You may have to go back to Judgment, the previous card, and face up to some issues from the past before being released to move forward. A reversed Hermit suggests that there is deep inner work to do. There may not be a full awareness of who you really are and what your goals are in life. Saturn retrograde is a time when these issues are likely to come to the surface, often quite forcefully. At this time there is a need to take full responsibility for acknowledging whether your life is really going according to your true path, and for making changes if it is not. Because Saturn is the planet of structure, Saturn retrograde can be a time when old structures are broken down, leaving room for new structures to be built when Saturn goes direct.