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Kronos, a Titan, dethroned his father but was in turn dethroned by his own son; such is the story of fatherhood. The uroborus he holds is a symbol of time and continuity; the scythe at his feet, is a symbol of death and the need to clear away all that is unproductive, outdated or completed.

Saturn in Psycological Astrology
Saturn's Rulerships
Saturn in Mundane Signification
Saturn through a Telescope
Astronomical Data


Saturn the Great Teacher by Deborah Houlding

As the most distant of the visible planets, Saturn signifies the boundaries of personal awareness and experience. Astrologically, it depicts the finite limit to our own perceptions, capabilities and life; the fixed extremes against which personal will-power and self determination prove futile. The archetypal figure of the stoic old-man in his deathly shroud portrays the unmoving end which awaits us all, regardless of whether or not we are prepared for it. Death, after all, is an extremely limiting experience.

Much of Saturn's astrological interpretation can be traced to its astronomical appearance and movement. As the outermost planet, extremes and boundaries of any kind fall under its influence; from mundane significations ranging from gateposts, doors, thresholds and walls, international borders, skins, leather, teeth, bones, nails and hair, to the signification of personal limits imposed by fear, self-doubt, weakness and lack of resource. Though the universe extends immeasurably beyond what can be seen by the naked eye, once a planet has passed outside the range of human comprehension, its influence becomes impersonal. Liz Greene calls Saturn "the membrane which separates the personal unconscious from the collective unconscious". It is the final planet to bring its influence to bear directly in our daily lives and observably in the structures that define our world. It has no interest in transpersonal awareness, higher philosophies or intangible collectives; its focus is realism and it stands as the absolute testimony to the need to honour reality as defined by common sense.

Saturn is the slowest moving of the traditional planets, completing its cycle around the Sun every 29-30 years. It is also dim and unimpressive to view. Both its lacklustre appearance and its sluggish motion have contributed to astrological signification over old age and poor vitality, as well as a careful, determined and slow but disciplined approach. There is no heat and fire in the characteristics of Saturn, no burning passion or inflamed desire, its movement is deliberate, steady and predictable. In traditional texts it is known as the Greater Malefic because it is placed furthest from the creative warmth of the Sun and the fertile moisture of the Earth and Moon. Its qualities are therefore defined as 'cold and dry', conditions that are antipathetic to growth and healthy development. Standing on the perimeter of our personal cosmos it is also considered dark, incapable of receiving or generating much luminosity. The absence of light further defines it as heavy, inclined to fall or weigh down - gravity and grave are two words that respond directly to its essentially serious, ponderous and somber nature.

Thus Saturn has a natural rulership over places and conditions that are cold, dark, oppressive, or defined through weakness, decay or hard physical labour. It is the lord of winter, the enemy of the Sun, the symbol for the authoritarian father or the unswerving law caster who cares less about the spirit of personal morality than obedience to structures that serve a collective purpose. Saturn calls for loss, denial and sacrifice wherever our immediate ego-driven interests conflict with wider needs or our own future evolution. As the 'Grim Reaper' Saturn appears only to be concerned with bringing denial to our hopes and expectations, but as 'Father Time' we understand the purpose is to order the individual to be subservient to their society and their own spiritual destiny; to recognize that their life at any given time is only a small part of a much wider scheme; to safeguard the continuation of existence and ensure that subsequent generations will thrive and prosper. Saturn is often linked with history, traditions and the past, but it is every bit as concerned about the future. Everything that arises from its influence carries the aim of creating firmer foundations for future potential. Ancient depictions often show Saturn holding the Uroborus, the serpent who eats its own tail, a symbol of eternal regeneration which forges birth and death into the endless cycle of past, present and future.

Saturn in Psycological Astrology

If the meaning of Jupiter is to develop through expansion, then that of Saturn is to mature through constraint. Its position in the chart can highlight where we encounter loss, frustration and failure, and the emotional pain that this entails. Its experience is usually hard and the value is often not recognised until Saturn's other quality, time, has been allowed to pass.

For many people, especially those who have matured in outlook and vision, Saturn transits can be a beneficial time, where qualities of stability and steady investment in long term planning prove well rewarded. The period can act as a reminder that sacrifices made in the past were fitting and well considered. Saturn will always bring an 'aging' touch, a feeling of getting older and slowing down; sometimes it brings a surprising awareness that we are actually content to give up the dreams and ambitions that drove our passions in the past.

In its negative expression, Saturn only touches those areas of life that have outgrown their purpose and relevance, passed beyond their natural time, or have inappropriately strained against a sense of order which is beneficial to maintain. Like winter, it comes to prune away all that is inhibiting to future growth, and by bringing a period of temporary restraint, it forces us to consolidate our position. Saturn may challenge us to consider the extent to which we, as individuals, are able to stand alone and 'let go' of relationships and material comforts that we have come to love and rely upon. Some of its transits will coincide with periods of loneliness and emotional isolation; some simply carry disappointment as a venture built upon false reality is shown in its true colours. Saturn can often coincide with a period of financial loss or the failure of a business idea, but Saturn didn't necessarily set the seeds for that loss, it only revealed its inevitable conclusion. Saturn deals with reality and forces us to face it.

Because its orbit is so slow, we can predict in general terms the times when Saturn's maturing influence will be felt most keenly. Around the age of seven Saturn squares its natal position and heralds a key phase of child development which witnesses the loss of 'baby teeth'. The opposition occurs around 14 years, when we enter puberty with the loss of childhood. The next square occurs around 21 years, when we move away from adolescence and begin life as an adult, though true maturity is not said to begin until after the 'Saturn return', which falls around the ages of 29-30. Most people experience an important change at this time, often accompanied with loss, sadness and depression. Only with the gift of hindsight do we see how we emerge from the event feeling somewhat older, but mainly a great deal wiser.

Saturn's Rulerships

The Sun is seen as the planet of creativity, light and life - Saturn, the Lord of Death, is viewed as its enemy. As the Sun rules Leo, and governs the height of summer, Saturn takes rulership of the signs that govern midwinter, Capricorn (its nocturnal home) and Aquarius (its diurnal home). Saturn is a diurnal planet and therefore more openly expressive in Aquarius than Capricorn.

Capricorn and Aquarius correspond to the depths of winter, when life is inclined towards hibernation and activities are impeded by the cold, dark environment. This is a time of particular concern for the elderly and weak, although all of us are more susceptible to feelings of weariness and depressed vitality. Most of the world's population lives in the northern hemisphere where the influence of Saturn dominates the natural world at this time of year. The trees are bare, the ground is hard, nature presents us with a hostile environment and the Sun's light is weak and short-lived. In protection our clothing is heavy, inhibitive to free movement and the absorption of vitamin D and uplifting steroids and nutrients derived from the Sun's light. The result is that we feel sluggish and prone to illness and debilitating colds. Winter is a melancholy time and Saturn governs the melancholic temperament.

Saturn in Mundane Signification

Of the seven metals, Saturn rules lead, which has a very dull surface and makes a thick, heavy sound when struck. Lead is also the heaviest, the most stable and the most inert metal, the traditional metal of tombs. Lead poisoning was originally referred to as 'Saturnism', because the physical ailments of ingesting small quantities of lead include fatigue, depression and melancholia. Lead collects in bone tissue and is more prevalent in the bones of old people than those of the young. Nick Kollerstrom in his book Astrochemistry explores the link between Saturn, lead and Saturnism, reminding us that the effects of lead poisoning are to 'slow down' the mental processes of the mind. Saturn also rules all ordinary country stones that have no glitter and shine. It is said to rule the dross of all metals and the dust, ash and rubbish of everything. It does however, have some rulership over diamonds, the hardest mineral, derived from crystallised carbon.

In observable characteristics, Saturn depicts someone who is characterised by austerity or seriousness. If Saturn is dignified and well placed, they are inclined to think before they speak, and as a consequence their words carry weight. Such a person is not to be lightly dismissed; Lilly describes Saturnine types as profound in imagination, severe in acts, in labour patient, in arguing or disputing grave, in obtaining the goods of this life studious and solicitous. Their sense of humour is dry and earthy, based on observing the reality of life. They seldom throw caution to the wind and are always aware of a sense of responsibility to themselves and others. They do not display their emotions easily, but their emotions, like their imaginations, can be profound. Such individuals are observably deep, sincere, and generally gather respect.

Where afflicted or badly placed, Saturn may express itself through negative cynicism, undue pessimism, a suspicious spirit or the feeling of being at odds with life, living in a world that is naturally hostile. There is often a lack of trust or an inability to believe in that which cannot be seen and tested; this creates a tendency towards jealousy in relationships and a self-perpetuating cycle of destruction because the motivating power of belief is blocked. By placing their focus too strongly on observable reality, a negative Saturnian type may be driven by materialist gain to the detriment of building comforting and supportive relationships. It is not easy for Saturnian types to express their emotions in a relaxed and open manner, and an afflicted Saturn may indicate repressed feelings that can lead to personality disorders.

The manifestation of Saturn in physical description is described as 'cold and dry'. This points to little flesh on the bones, small eyes, no alluring softness in curves and dimples, the hair is not soft, shiny and bouncy but sparse and tends towards being lacklustre, pale or dull. The colours of Saturn are those that want for the vibrancy of additional hues, being typically dark and black (Saturn's contact can add an element of darkness to other colours), white and pale, or a grey, ashy colour. The complexion and general appearance is often defined by this, being either pale and somewhat insipid, or dark and brooding. Saturn suggests a medium height but it is not a planet that by itself produces beauty or proportions that are pleasing to the eye. The body is generally thin and angular with prominent bone structure, but sometimes it may incline towards excess fat, due to a weak, lethargic constitution. The countenance is downward looking and there is often an awkward gait, a slow, hesitant movement with little trace of a spring in the step.

Professions and types of people signified by Saturn include miners and those that work with metals or minerals from the earth (Saturn has natural rulership over rocks, stones, metals and minerals), or those that dig into the earth, (farm workers, gardeners, grave diggers, people who dig trenches or work in quarries), or work beneath its surface in tunnels and caves. It signifies plumbers, people who work with lead, brick makers, general labourers, industries where the main product is based on leather or hide, or those that necessitate working in cold, dark, or unpleasant conditions. This includes night workers generally and people who work with the dead in any context, whether they support the bereaved, or create products used in the funeral trade.

Saturn rules dust and rubbish and signifies professions that are concerned with clearing up our dirt and refuse, including road sweepers, chimney sweeps, dustbin men, the sewerage industry, people who work on public tips and all those involved in waste disposal.

In symbolic astrology Saturn is the expression of denial, being a significator for those that have been or are being denied, or those that bring denial to others. It may be the voice of authority or the 'jobs worth' - someone who follows the rules of their job without allowing for mitigating factors. If Saturn lacks dignity it can indicate the lower regions of society: foolish people, down and outs, scavengers, beggars and employees who act as servants or menial staff to others. If Saturn has dignity it can indicate a position of grave responsibility, but the need to endure an element of strain or unpleasantness is retained - managers in highly responsible roles who can take little time to relax from their duties, prison workers or those who must keep discipline and order where it is not willingly given, such as school teachers, or members of the police force.

Monks are naturally signified by Saturn, as are religious orders based upon observing discipline, or enduring periods of isolation and personal limitation or restriction. Saturn similarly governs all those whose work or lifestyle calls for isolation from society, such as hermits, dedicated scholars or people who work or live in secluded outposts.

In a chart cast at night, Saturn is said to signify the father. Grand fathers, and old men particularly fall under its influence.

The places ruled by Saturn include those that are dark, damp, dirty, cold or subject to decay and rot. It rules desolate, uninhabited places such as deserts, mountains, and woods (in particular pine woods since Saturn rules the pine **). It also governs landscape features that delve down into the earth such as mines and quarries, wells, caves, holes or obscure valleys.

Saturn governs all ruins, disused buildings or abandoned structures; dens; monasteries, churchyards, graves, or places built on or near to burial grounds. It may signify buildings that deal with authority, such as places of high office that are somewhat intimidating, or places of confinement such as prisons. Inside the house it will signify dirty, stinking or muddy places. Lilly suggests it rules the sink, but the hygiene standards of the 17th century would have underlain that rulership. It will indicate a festering drain, drains generally and areas around rubbish and waste such as the toilet, an ashy grate in the hearth, the waste bin. Rooms that cut into the foundations of the earth, such as cellars, basements or underground air-raid shelters are signified by Saturn if they are infrequently used or suffer from a cold, damp or dark environment. Saturn also governs thresholds and walls, dark rooms and places that are very cold such as the pantry or fridge/freezer.

The illnesses of Saturn are those proceeding from cold, old age, melancholy or depressed spirits. The pain associated with Saturn illnesses is dull and aching rather than sharp or burning. The fevers are those that involve alternating periods of chills or a fit of shivering, such as malaria. The damage of Saturn's illnesses tends towards a progressive wasting of tissue. These include arthritis, rheumatism, depression, consumption, colds, chills and flu (and all illnesses that involve muscle fatigue, difficulty in breathing and watery discharges from the nose and eyes), strokes, paralysis or palsy, bruises and dark marks, chronic illnesses, coughs, dropsy, starvation, morbid fantasies, fears and nightmares, gout, gangrene, haemorrhoids, defects to the hearing, leprosy, miscarriage, scabbiness, scabies and lice, infections of the skin, and illnesses arising from poisons or damage to the spleen, teeth or bones.

The tastes and aromas associated with Saturn are those that are sour, bitter and sharp. Its sounds are deep, low and melancholy. Herbs attributed to Saturn are those that are astringent or binding - which means that the herb has a tightening, constricting effect upon tissue, restricting water in the body and thus helping to reduce inflammation and pain (eg., cypress, horsetail, sage). Saturn also rules over many of the herbs that are potentially poisonness or toxic (eg., aconite, helleborus, nightshade). Some fall under Saturn's rulership for other noticeable qualities; Cumin for example, when smoked, brings a deathly pallor to the face. Pliny wrote that it was used to produce a complexion 'such as bespeaks application to study'. It was put into graves by Greeks and Romans and eaten at funeral rites by other ancient cultures to protect from the hostile influence of spirits. Being associated with the Saturnine qualities of death it also came to symbolise Saturn's other negative traits to the Greeks. Marcus Aurelius was said to have been nicknamed Cumin because of his avarice, and misers were jocularly said to have eaten the herb (see Saturn's rulership over the cypress tree was also used to symbolise death by the Romans, who placed a cypress before the house where a person had died, so that others could avoid the taboo associated with death by shunning it.**

Saturn through a Telescope

In 1610 the Italian astronomer Galileo discovered what he took to be two bright companions, protruding from either side of Saturn: "Saturn is not one alone but is composed of three, which almost touch one another..." , he wrote to the Grand Duke of Tuscany. He recorded their positions as fixed, but two years later they curiously disappeared from view for 12 months. Not until 1655 was it realised that the 'companions' were actually a ring revolving around the planet, midway between its poles. Originally, Galileo described Saturn as "a planet with ears" because the 'companions' appeared as bulges on either side of the planet. This no doubt delighted astrologers by acknowledging the planet's long established rulership over ears and affliction to hearing. It is however, just as symbolically satisfying that the planet associated with bindings and constraint, is encircled by a ring. It is now known that there are seven main rings and literally thousands of separate ringlets comprising countless particles of rock and ice. Approximately every 15 years they disappear from view when they are exactly edge on to the Earth - the event which confused Galileo in 1612. Saturn was last in that relationship with the Earth in 1995 and the next time the rings will be in line is September 2009.

Most scientists believe that the rings around Saturn - the planet traditionally associated with rocks, rubbish and debris - comprise the debris of many collided rocks; others believe that they were formed by an exploded moon, torn apart by gravitational forces. In 1848 Edouard Roche showed how tidal forces will break up any satellite if it gets too close to a planet, the limit being 2.4 times the radius of Saturn, the distance at which Saturn's rings begin. Indeed Saturn has no shortage of moons; the present count stands at 17, the largest number of moons known to circle any planet. Of these one of them, Titan, is of a truly impressive size, being larger than the planets Mercury and Pluto. Titan is of particular interest to scientists because it has an atmosphere which includes carbon and the sort of chemical compounds that could foster life. The heavy clouds that surround the satellite deny any possibility of examining its surface, but while life on Titan cannot be discounted, its low surface temperature (-180C) suggests it would be very unlikely.

Saturn itself is a massive planet, second only to Jupiter in size. The reason it appears so dim from the Earth is because its distance from the Sun is nearly 10 times that of the Earth, and twice that of its nearest neighbour Jupiter. Ironically, although it is unimpressive when viewed by the eye, through a telescope the 'ringed planet' is one of the most amazing and awe-inspiring sights of the heavens. A reminder perhaps, that if we fail to be impressed by the astrological glory of Saturn, the planet of apparent limitation, it is only because our own mortal perspective is so inevitably limited and constrained.

Astronomical Data

Orbital Period: 29.5 years
Synodic Period: 378.1 days
Period of Axial Rotation: 10.2 hours
Greatest Latitude: 2 48'
Mean daily Motion: 2'
Diameter: 74,914 miles (120,537 km)
Volume (Earth = 1): 744
Mass (Earth = 1): 95
Density (water = 1): 0.7
Surface Gravity (Earth = 1): 1.2
Distance from Sun: 835 - 938 million miles (1343 - 1509 million km)
Distance from Earth 800 - 980 million miles (1300 - 1600 million km)
Greatest Magnitude: -0.3
Number of Satellites: 17

** The pine has strong connections with Capricorn. In Greek legend the evergreen pine tree is sacred to the goat god Dionysus, and the pine cone, a phallic symbol of eternity, immortality and rebirth. The pine was burned by the Druids at the winter solstice to draw back the sun, which evolved into the custom of burning the Yule log. Living glades of pine were decorated with shiny objects at Yule, to represent the divine light - presumably the source of the custom of decorating Christmas trees.
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** See: Taboo, Magic, Spirits: A Study of Primitive Elements in Roman Religion by Eli Edward Burris, 1931; Chapter II: Positive and Negative Mana (Taboo).
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See also:

Saturn in Myth and Occult Philosophy by David McCann

© Deborah Houlding, December 2003.
No reproduction without permission.