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Ancient Mythology
The Tarot


Saturn in Myth & Occult Philosophy
   By David McCann

Ancient Mythology

Kronos In ancient Mesopotamia the planets were seen as gods in their own right. The Babylonian name for Saturn was Sagush and the associated god was Ninurta. When the Tablets of Fate, which held the laws of the universe, were stolen by a dragon, it was Ninutra who rescued them and was henceforth placed in charge of fate and law. Sagush was therefore the star of law and order. This does not conflict with the role of Jupiter: order is not quite the same thing as justice. In the same myth, Ninurta is said to have imposed his rule upon the minerals, who had sided with the dragon, and allotted to them their natures and duties: some 3000 years later Lilly also recorded that Saturn rules mines and those who work with earth or stone. Since the dragon was a beast of the air, the myth may depict the imposition of divine order on the universe, both above and below the earth. Unfortunately, most of the tablets relating to the omens of Saturn have yet to be found, so we know less about his position in Mesopotamian astrology than that of the other planets.

The Greeks equated Ninurta with their own Kronos. He was one of the Titans, the children of Gaia and Ouranos, Earth and Sky. Kronos seized power from his father after castrating him, because Ouranos had prevented Gaia from giving birth to her children. The explanation of the latter can probably be found in an Egyptian myth, which stated that the sky goddess Nut and the earth god Geb had refused to cease coupling: their forcible separation enabled the creation of our world. This is not just a question of making a space in which mankind could live, but of creating the differentiations which distinguish cosmos from chaos. The very word cosmos originally meant appropriate arrangement and good order, its use in the sense of the universe apparently having been introduced by Pythagoras. Thus Kronos made the initial separation of heaven and earth, male and female, just as the astrological Saturn creates order and makes distinctions.

The name Kronos is not Greek, and the account of his deeds, like many Greek myths, came from Asia Minor. The Hurrians (mentioned in the Bible as the Horites) had a sky god Anu (perhaps the same as the Sumerian An) who was castrated and overthrown by his son, Kumarbi. He, being a barbarian, accomplished the deed with his teeth, only to find himself pregnant with the storm god in consequence. In the Greek version, Kronos also became pregnant, but by swallowing his own children as fast as they were born, having been warned that he would be dethroned by one them just as he had supplanted his own father. His wife, Rhea, somewhat distressed by the loss of the first five, substituted a stone for the next, the storm god Zeus, who was then raised in secret. After liberating his brothers and sisters, Zeus led their rebellion - as they had been reborn, he was now the eldest - and so became king of the gods. Perhaps understandably, after these alarming adventures, Kronos had few duties: he was chiefly a patron of agriculture. It was probably this which led him to be equated with the Etruscan god Satres, whom the Romans borrowed as Saturnus. The Greek harvest festival called the Cronia and the Roman midwinter Saturnalia both involved a relaxation of established order, with slaves free to mock their masters.


In the Jewish theosophy known as cabbalism, Saturn is the third sphere of divine activity, called Binah - Understanding or Intelligence.

This is the power which organises the creative forces and imposes form on the universe. It is thus the root of matter. It is also the female principle, for it is through conception and birth that we acquire material form.


The Hermit, 'Father Time' or the sombre figure of Death is often used to represent Saturn because of its influence over 'endings' and 'resolutions'In the greater arcana of the tarot cards, the magical order of the Golden Dawn assigned Saturn to the World. This was presumably because Saturn, as the most earthy planet, rules life on earth. But the card refers rather to the ideal world, or the world to come, and other suitable images can be found: the Hermit (originally called Time), symbolising wisdom and prudence; Fortune, since Saturn represents fate; the Emperor or the Pope, as secular and spiritual authorities; even Death or the Devil.

Among the lesser arcana, Saturn is assigned to the threes on cabbalistic grounds. Since the restrictions of Saturn fall hardest on the element air, the three of swords is unfavourable and called Sorrow. With the other elements, Saturn consolidates their powers and so the three of coins (earth) is Material Works, the three of cups (water) is Abundance, and the three of wands (fire) is Established Strength.

David McCann, who lives in London, is an expert on the history and philosophy of astrology. His articles have been published in many international journals of astrology and he was a regular contributor to the Traditional Astrologer magazine, where this article first appeared.

© David McCann, 1996
This article was first published in The Traditional Astrologer Magazine, issue 11, Winter 1996

More on Saturn
Saturn glypth More articles by David McCann

Other planets featured in this series:

See also:
Mercury's Orbit & Phases
Birth of the Outer Planets