What is Saturn really doing on your birth chart?

‘The nature of Saturn is far more evil than that of Herschel [Uranus]: he is called the Greater Infortune, and he is undoubtedly the cause (subservient to the will of Providence) of the greater portion of human suffering. When he is rising or setting at birth, the person born will suffer much lingering sickness, and be very subject to blows, bruises, and falls. If he be on the meridian, or coming to the meridian, he causes perpetual trouble and disgrace: all the native’s affairs go wrong, and, unless there be some very strong aspects of other planets to counteract this evil position, the native is the complete child of misfortune. If he be in the opposite situation, that is, near the north meridian, or cusp of the fourth house, his effects are nearly as evil. Persons born under his influence are nervous, fearful, bashful, cowardly, melancholy, and given to shed tears. They suffer from chronic diseases, and are liable to mental infirmities. Their dispositions are thoughtful, malicious, and reserved; they are firm and obstinate in their opinions …’

– from William Lilly’s Introduction to Astrology, 1647.

In the old astrology texts (some up until the mid 20th century) Saturn is the planet astrologers love to hate and all manner of baleful, dark forebodings are in store when there’s a transit, or he is ‘badly’ placed on a birth chart. However, this depressing and deterministic ‘in your face’ style of interpretation for Saturn is, thankfully, long gone. We modern stargazers like to think we’re more sophisticated, enlightened even. But – even now – there’s just no getting away from the fact that people do find Saturn’s effects unpleasant! Sometimes he really does cause ‘perpetual trouble’, as Lilly put it. So let’s first look at what Saturn really means, for it is surely the most fascinating planet that astrology has ever produced.

For one, Saturn can symbolise: ‘consensus reality’ and the material world, self discipline, isolation and separation, clarity and sobriety, seriousness and ‘gravity’, conservatism and tradition, security, repression, patience, limitation, inhibition, one’s ‘Achilles Heel’, The Wise Old Man, the Father, the powers of the State, justice and the ‘letter of the law’, regularity, time, Universal ‘weights and measures’, experience, Fate, maturity, old age and infirmity. He would also ‘rule’ jobs like: School teacher, Policeman/woman (as representatives of the law), High Court Judge, Prison officer, Civil Servant, Bank manager (but not financial speculator), Customs and Excise officer, Tax Inspector and even Watchmaker.

One could, of course, extend the items on the list, but the common denominator is that they’re all to do with imposing order or discipline, whether administrative, judicial or financial – they are how society organises its resources, and instructs, corrects (or even punishes) its members when they breach its laws. (The watchmaker, of course, constructs devices that measure the duration of the earth’s rotation on its axis.) Saturn, in brief, rules the sphere of material form and structure, and the compromises we must make with the ‘real’ world.

The old Titan god in Greek mythology who corresponds to this astrological archetype is Kronos, who – learning of a prophecy that said his offspring would one day usurp him – proceeded to eat every one of them as they were born. The symbolism (if not obvious) is that of the old timer refusing to relinquish power and control to the younger bloods, of our capacity to keep on going – whether this means upholding tradition or hanging on to our personal authority. Saturn is thus the deeply conservative side of us. The one which plays by the rules.

But what the astrology student soon learns about (and what the experienced astrologer never forgets) is Saturn’s reputation for ‘bad luck’, hardship, failure, depression, loneliness, and a host of other baneful things too varied to mention. Quite why this should be, astrologers say, is because it represents an area of life where we’re working from fear and insecurity, or a sense of inferiority. Much Saturn behaviour is, therefore, a classic defence mechanism against life and its trials.

What never seems to be discussed is just why we have this archetype living in the Collective Unconscious. For it truly is Universal – just look at World Myth and you’ll find Saturn’s pernicious counterparts there in the evil, malevolent or plain stupid characters that appear. In other words, how does it come about that Saturn should represent all of the nasty things in life? Sure enough, Saturn’s essence can be boiled down to psychological fear and whatever causes it – but (again) why? I think I have the answer.

I’ve written before that Universe is essentially one Great Soul, or Universal Mind, and that at a very fundamental level of being we’re all connected to it. We are essentially minds with bodies, as opposed to bodies that contain minds and our material existence (our physical self and our daily life) is a by-product of Mind – the world is but a dance of Universal energy, as indeed modern physics shows.

Saturn as your Inner Scrooge/Wise Teacher

Now, in astrology, Saturn is (significantly) the only ‘earth’ planet – the only representative of the material world. Nothing can manifest in three dimensional form without the hard-edges of Saturn; everything would just be a sea of emotion and ideas. I believe there’s a key here to why we feel so afraid and defensive wherever we find Saturn on the chart. At a very profound level, we’re aware of our spiritual connection to the World Soul, but with Saturn we attempt to stand outside of it. We attempt to act upon our Universe as if we were separate. (In a sense, this cannot be any other way – we all need to stand on our own two feet and define ourselves. It’s part and parcel of finding our individuality.)

But Saturnian fear arises when we overdo this – when we try to ‘act upon’ the Universe and forget that we’re a product of it. Then, though it may be unconscious, real alienation and insecurity kicks in, the truly defensive behaviour starts and we limit ourselves – we effectively cut ourselves off from life. This is where the typical Saturnian consequences come – the loss, bad luck, loneliness etc., and we feel the only means of control is to amass enough material security (a home, a job, money in the bank) as a way of staving off an encroaching world. One of fiction’s best known characters did exactly this in the story built around him, A Christmas Carol. I’m referring, of course, to Charles Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge:

‘Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster … External heat and cold had little influence on Scrooge. No warmth could warm, no wintry weather chill him. No wind that blew was bitterer than he …’1

Here, then, is the stereotypical miser, but it’s not just with money that he’s tightfisted: Scrooge is as unwilling to give of himself in any other area – socially, spiritually, emotionally. But then, as we all know, something strange happens on that early Christmas morning: he is visited by Three Spirits. The second one, the Ghost of Christmas Present, is the most intriguing and telling from a psychological point of view. On seeing a blinding light issue from the next room, Scrooge was bidden to enter by ‘a strange voice ‘. The room:

‘had undergone a surprising transformation. The walls and ceiling were so hung with living green, that it looked a perfect grove; from every part of which, bright gleaming berries glistened. The crisp leaves of holly, mistletoe, and ivy reflected back the light, as if so many little mirrors had been scattered there … Heaped up on the floor, to form a kind of throne, were turkeys, geese, game, poultry, brawn, great joints of meat, sucking-pigs, long wreaths of sausages, mince-pies, plum-puddings, barrels of oysters, red hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears and immense twelfth-cakes, that made the chamber dim with their delicious steam. In easy state upon this couch there sat a jolly Giant, glorious to see; who bore a glowing torch, in shape not unlike Plenty’s horn …’ 2

In this last sentence we are introduced to the symbolism of the Green Man – the pagan embodiment of fertility, growth and plenty. The abundance Scrooge discovers here (as with the Cornucopia bursting with nature’s harvest) is also related to the astrological figure of Jupiter. He is clearly Scrooge’s polar opposite; he’s everything that Scrooge (a caricature of Saturn) isn’t: full-blooded and hearty, gregarious, prodigal and full of compassion for others. These are all Jupiterian traits – ones that help us tolerate and empathise with our fellow humans. Ones that help us see life’s bigger picture:

“Come in!” exclaimed the Ghost “Come in and know me better, man!”

Scrooge entered timidly, and hung his head before this Spirit. He was not the dogged Scrooge he had been; and though the Spirit’s eyes were clear and kind, he did not like to meet them.

“I am the Ghost of Christmas Present,” said the Spirit: “Look upon me! You have never seen the like of me before!”3

Indeed, he hadn’t. From the psychological standpoint, the Jupiter figure here is a personification: it is what ‘lives’ in Scrooge’s Unconscious, and what is trying to express itself behind all the fear, pain and loneliness in the conscious personality. We all contain our ‘opposite’ within us; it just doesn’t usually break through into consciousness in the dramatic way experienced by Scrooge. (In real life, we tend to meet these opposite characteristics through others in personal relationships.) Thankfully, Scrooge is overwhelmed and undergoes a total personality change – he turns into his polar opposite. It’s as if the seeds of a benevolent heart had been germinating all these years and finally had to burst forth. When they did so, those who knew Scrooge were naturally shocked at the transformation in him. No one would have suspected that the cantankerous old miser was concealing a much more generous Spirit. In Dickens’ last paragraph we find:

‘Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him.’4

In short, Scrooge had at last made peace with the world. Wherever you find Saturn on the chart, then, is where you’ve broken your link to the World Soul and instinctively become uneasy and afraid. This is why you should always go easy on yourself in your Saturn area – don’t worry that you feel inferior here, be patient and try to understand what’s driving you. Take things slowly and realise that it’s your fears that are causing problems. Give yourself time and look gently at your fears – and you’ll realise that you’re only human after all. Saturn’s other face is of the Wise Teacher, who is willing to wait a lifetime as we make this or that error, as we come up against another frustrating brick wall. Saturn embodies patience and a respect for the passage of  time – for the time it takes to slowly learn about ourselves. Isn’t it time you started?


1. Dickens, ‘A Christmas Carol’ in A Budget of Christmas Tales, Louis Klopsch, 1895.
2. ibid.

3. ibid.

4. ibid.