by Nirmala Nataraj
Most people have a pretty rudimentary idea of astrological transits, via the brief missives penned by horoscope columnists or the occasional Facebook post about Mercury in retrograde and the impact of the next lunar eclipse.
But when it comes to being on the lookout for the next major snafu or life lesson, it’s your Saturn Return that you’ll want to be feverishly researching on Wikipedia and Google.
In general, astrology is way more complex than we give it credit for.
The map of the constellations when you were born is a detailed snapshot of the various cosmic forces and archetypes ruling your life, and given that the sun is only the center of our teeny little solar system, the astrological influences ruling your life sweep out far past the purview of your sun sign.
In the three years preceding the turning of the wheel to 30, I experienced a huge awakening: marriage, graduate school, and divorce were all facets of my great shift.
Of course, while I was standing in the midst of the downpour, it was akin to standing in the calm of the storm (at least most of the time), with little awareness of the chaos brewing just over the horizon.
In the aftermath of all the wreckage, I realized that I hadn’t just awakened overnight to a major life overhaul—I had simply endured a universal rite of passage. As far as significant astrological events went, this was the motherlode.
Forget pesky eclipses, planets in perpetual retrograde, or midheavens conjunct North Nodes. This was my Saturn Return!
A Saturn Return is one of the most astrologically monumental periods of your life. It happens when the slow-moving planet Saturn returns to the position it occupied at the time you were born.
The transit is loooooong: it typically occurs every 27 years, but the influence is felt for a long time: between 27-30, 57-60, and 87-90, typically. While the first Saturn Return tends to feel the most dramatic, each one can be construed as a midterm for life—with grading standards that can sometimes be construed as a bit arbitrary.
The Saturn Return is all about growing pains. The first one marks the official end of an extended adolescence of exploration and typically characterizes the transition from footloose and fancy-free youth to bona fide adulthood.
The Saturn Return generally carries people through major transitions (marriage, divorce, starting a business, the birth of a child, a change of career, the death of a parent, to name a few), which may make you feel somewhat weathered (after all, Saturn is all about responsibility and reminding you that you aren’t a spring chicken anymore), raw, and real.
At the same time we are nosediving into adulthood and the many ramifications of living our purpose, the Saturn Return (particularly in our older age) is about releasing the millstones of obligation that hang around our neck. In many ways, the Saturn Return prompts us to claim our true self and to get serious about expressing it IRL.
The namesake of our beautiful ringed planet shoulders a rather heavy legacy.
The Roman god Saturn is another name for the Greek god Cronus, a Titan who led a revolt against his tyrannical father, Uranus. After marrying his sister, Rhea, Cronus decided to indulge in the repulsive habit of eating his newborn children, so as to prevent them from doing to him what he did to his old man.
When Rhea saved her son Zeus by tricking Cronos into swallowing a rock, Zeus was able to grow into maturity in secret and eventually get the best of his power-hungry father.
In astrology, Saturn signifies inheritance, the passing of time, the notion of sowing what we reap, and the onus of a heavy responsibility. The Saturnian passage is all about moving from victimhood to acceptance of our karma—and even the willingness to transmute our burdens into power.
Saturn is pictured as carrying a scythe, which cuts away at all extraneous parts of ourselves: bad habits, toxic relationships, longstanding patterns that are no longer working in our favor.
So a Saturn Return can feel like death itself. In our early twenties, we might start out with a free pass to life’s all-you-can-eat buffet, but by the time we hit 27, we start to realize that nothing’s a free ride and it’s time to pay our dues.
Because Saturn is representative of harvest time, she who has sown will be the one to reap. This is why we often experience a sense of fever-pitch urgency in the middle of this transit—enough so that decisions may often be experienced as a tad dramatic, even if they have been percolating for years.
The falling-away of old habits may be necessary in the midst of our Saturn Return, but it usually feels like a relief once the difficult deeds have been done. This is why the period after a Saturn Return can often feel like fallow ground grown fertile.
We can’t lay the foundation for something new until we’ve hit ground zero…and Saturn (which I tend to correlate with the Tarot archetype of the Tower—but more about that in the second installment of my blog) is the wrecking ball that gets us there, unequivocally. Sure, trauma might be part of the equation, but it’s all for a good cause.
Of course, “growing up” can mean a lot of different things to different people. A Saturn Return isn’t always full of external trials and tribulations (for instance, it might entail a more internal journey).
For some people, the Saturn Return is all about building a solid foundation; for me, it was about recognizing the castles I’d built in the air, acknowledging the illusions that had festered and multiplied, leading me down dead-end streets and into a dead-end marriage.
The period demarcating my late twenties was less about conforming to an accepted standard of what it means to be a responsible adult—and far more about reevaluating my commitment to myself and my foundational values.
The Saturn Return marks a period in which the penchant for standing around dawdling while attempting to handpick the perfect path (eeny…meeny…miney…moe?) is virtually eliminated by the necessity for action.
You might be prompted to act on your better instincts, but the Saturn Return also isn’t about paralyzing yourself with perfectionism. I once had a teacher who told me that the best job to sign up for is the one you suspect you’re not quite qualified to do.
The Saturn Return is a great time to test this theory out, only to discover that, surprise surprise, the ugly duckling has turned into a beautiful swan! But only decisive action can bring about the metamorphosis.
Of course, Saturn is also commonly represented as Father Time. He’s definitely old school and grandfatherly, but not in a gentle, head-pattingly paternal way.
Indeed, Saturn is the autocrat of the zodiac—he’s all about discipline, hard work, recognizing our limitations (whether they are self-imposed or not), and dealing with our most formidable challenges.
Saturn’s shadow side isn’t exactly hidden beneath the surface, either. Conformity, stuffiness, self-deprecation, and the unwillingness to evolve are all aspects of Saturn—which means the dangers of these qualities can figure heavily into a Saturn Return (meaning the unlearned lesson will most likely circle back around to hit you over the head before too long).
The good news is that when you take Saturn by the horns and show him who’s boss (yup, Father Time, I’m talking to you!), you’ll find yourself coming into a more effortless understanding of your authority.
You will cross a symbolic threshold: no longer wet behind the ears, your choices will be more discerning overall. Of course, the gifts may only be achieved through a series of perilous hoop jumps, so be prepared to up your game in the process.
In general, while your first Saturn Return is all about getting initiated into adulthood and painting your life in bold strokes, your second Saturn Return is about accepting the wisdom of the elder—which, ironically enough, can take us back to the Tarot archetype of the Fool, who exhorts us never to take anything too seriously.
If time was of the essence when we were young and reckless, it becomes so pronounced in our later years that purpose-fueled freak-outs are almost absurd. This is the moment to slow down and smell the roses.
So what to do when you find yourself at that critical Saturnian juncture (especially when it feels like all hell’s broken loose)? Here are some tips.
1. Discover what sign your Saturn is in.
Your sun, moon, and rising signs may not do a world of good—but knowledge of your Saturn sign will clue you in on what’s about to go down.
For instance, my Saturn is in Virgo, which bestows upon me a naturally methodical nature, as well as a strict adherence to the notion of higher purpose. At the same time, Saturn in Virgo points to a lack of boundaries, which may lead to an intentional or accidental journey toward wholeness and restitution.
The Virgo desire for structure can often clash with the longing for purpose and meaning. Virgo’s archetypal perfectionism can also point to a fear of taking dramatic leaps (something I definitely experienced).
Self-direction and autonomy are among the hidden treasures of a Saturn in Virgo. Depending on your Saturn sign, you’ll find yourself mining different varieties of gold.
2. Don’t get too stuck on your life purpose.
That might sound contrary, given the fact that Saturn is all about karma and purpose, but the truth is that we must detach from what we most desire in order to make ourselves suitable vessels for the gifts.
You’re most likely to discover who you are when you stop trying. Instead of stressing out over finding your purpose, view your life and your happiness in a more holistic way.
Focus on doing things that make you happy—and when you find a calling that feels genuinely good, desist from waffling and commit, commit, commit!
3. Face your fears.
The tumultuous Saturn is kind of going to force you into those dark corners you may not want to venture into, anyway, so you might as well be chipper about it.
When you confront all the stuff that gives you the heebie-jeebies, you find yourself clearing away both inherited and self-imposed limitations. So find yourself a fellow spelunker, a 12-step group, and the mettle to avoid everything you’ve been putting off looking at.
4. Forgive yourself and others.
Although Saturn is known as the Great Malefic, capable of cutting off innocent bystanders at the limbs, its transit also reminds us of the importance of putting things in perspective.
Because the Saturn Return is likely to plunge you into a period of introspection that is often accompanied by melancholy, you’ll find that the most effective cure-all is a genuine practice of loving-kindness.
Relinquish your story of how things should have gone. In the midst of despair, soften the blow of transition and let yourself be cleansed by the antidote of forgiveness.
5. Let yourself fall apart.
Sometimes, we need to cycle through obsession, addiction, death, loss, and grief in order to get to the light at the end of the tunnel.
After all, what we resist persists—and if we don’t brave all the emotional earthquakes the first time around, we’ll be likely to experience even more tremors in the coming years.
6. Learn to navigate chaos by surrounding yourself with wise, kind co-pilots—
preferably, at least a few who’ve hit all the speed bumps you’re wending your way through.
7. Chuck out all the stuff (including people and things) that doesn’t fit you anymore
or that makes you feel small, stifled, and disempowered. Be perfectly ruthless about it. This is your life, after all.
8. Fill the void with new and positive habits
as opposed to more stuff and more toxic people. It’s an ideal time to start a new exercise regimen or adopt a spiritual practice, especially after tossing out the noncommittal boyfriend or the friend with a penchant for double-edged compliments.
9. Learn to accept the imminence of your death.
I remember reading The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying after the death of a loved one when I was 29 years old.
It made me more conscious of acknowledging each moment of my existence as precious; it also made me realize that 30 wasn’t the end of the world, so long as I was doing what I truly wanted to be doing.
10. Enjoy the good times,
because contrary to what some stellar soothsayers will tell you, it isn’t all doom and gloom. Besides, the depths you can reach are proportional to the heights you are likely to scale.
11. This goes without saying, but take care of your shit.
Pay your bills, do your taxes, get your yearly checkups, and ensure that your business is being attended to.
Legal skirmishes commonly ensue in the midst of your Saturn Return, so you’ll want to have plenty of ammo in the form of preparation and prevention.
12. Give yourself a “coming-of-age” ceremony,
and enlist your dearest friends and family members to offer their blessings. Saturn Returns can be lonely and isolating for many, but if you are conscious of this period and willing to share your knowledge about it with others, you can recognize it as an important rite of passage that needn’t be endured in solitude.
13. Take risks and don’t settle.
Now isn’t the time to play small or weasel out of great opportunities. Be deliberate with your choices, but also know that your path is your own—so make it inimitable.
14. Explore your archetypes.
Some people tend to paint themselves into a comfortable corner at this transition, given that we associate adulthood with consistency, but it’s definitely a good time to try a color and location in the room that you’re not necessarily accustomed to.
Remember, Saturn is also about reclaiming your true self—and the route to that self can often be circuitous and unorthodox.
About the Author:
Nirmala Nataraj is a personal mythmaker, desire coach, and writer whose tools encompass shamanic journeying, the wisdom of the Tarot, orgasmic meditation, and Tantric practices. For more information about her work, visit her websites: www.wingedserpenttarot.com and www.sacredfirecoaching.com.
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