Note: I composed this entry for the blog at EarthSpirit Community, and it was published there simultaneously as here.
The EarthSpirit Community is currently finishing its first Saturn Return. At the same time, a number of the founders and members at the heart of the community are in the midst of, or heading toward, their second Saturn Return. This provides all of us, as a community, the opportunity to reflect on where we’ve been and where we’re going together.
Hey, come back here!
Let’s start with: What is a “return?” If you hang around with anyone who knows even a little astrology, you may hear about this “Saturn return” thing a lot. A return is when any planet in the solar system, or the Sun or Moon (which astrologers often include with the catch-all term “planet”) returns to the same place in the zodiac as it was when you were born. Every year, you experience a Solar Return; this happens within a day or so of your birthday. The Sun returns to the same degree in the zodiac as it was in your birth chart. Astrologers often cast a chart for that exact moment, and use that chart as your chart for the twelve-month year beginning at your birthday. You’ve probably heard the expression: “Happy Birthday, and many happy returns.” This refers specifically to Solar Returns, and is an astrological expression. The Solar Return happens yearly, while the Lunar Return occurs monthly. But the Saturn return happens only once every twenty-nine years.
Traditional astrologers (those who practiced the unbroken astrological tradition up through the 17th century) referred to returns as “revolutions”. The original (and still primary) meaning of “revolution” comes from the verb “revolve”, that is, to turn or spin around something. Implicit here is a re-setting of something; sort of “proceed to Go, collect $200”. On some level, it’s a new beginning, a restart of the energy of whichever planet is returning. So a Venus return is a resetting of the love/lust principle, a Mars return a resetting of the energy/aggression principle, etc.
The word “revolution” only later came to refer to a usually violent overthrow or resetting of a political entity; and even then, not all revolutions are violent. But the different variations in the meaning of the word “revolution” give us some hints as to what to expect from a planetary return. Classical astrologers pointed out that there was something karmic about any planet returning to its place in a natal chart. While a return doesn’t give you a totally clean slate for that planet (after all, it’s still in the same sign as when you were born, for good or bad), it does give you a fresh opportunity to work with that planet within the confines of its condition in your chart. For example, if you have Mars in a difficult sign, it will still be in that sign in any Mars return, but you have a chance to realign the way you connect to and focus that energy for the next cycle.
So, why all of this about revolutions and returns? Because in order to understand what a Saturn return is, we have to understand the basics of what a return is.
Here we go again!
As mentioned above, Saturn “returns” in about 29 years to its natal position in a chart. There is a lot written about the first return: time to finally claim your life as an adult, time to accept responsibility for yourself, time to start a new family, time to cast off anything that isn’t authentically “you,” etc. Some of these reasons are what’s really going on with the “dreaded” 30th birthday.
But what about the second Saturn return? This occurs usually between age 56-58, and obviously, we are at a very different place in life than at our first Saturn return. While it’s impossible to predict what will happen to everyone at this second Saturn return, there are a few generalizations that can be made. First the caveat. Your Saturn return (first, second, or third) will reflect where Saturn is in your own natal chart: what sign it is in, and what house. These factors are not to be underestimated, and will influence greatly your experience of this return. But most people undergo an experience of the Universal Saturn at a return. So what is this Universal Saturn? Saturn was originally a god of agriculture. The image of the Reaper is an image of Saturn with a scythe, ready to reap what has been sown. As a matter of fact, the word “Saturn” comes from the Indo-European root /sā-/, which means “to sow”, as in to sow seeds at planting. So Saturn is all about sowing and reaping. We have come to focus a lot more on the end of this process, the reaping or dying, perhaps because of the fear that is often associated with it. After all, there is often a lot more emotional investment in what is yet to come than in what has already happened.
If Saturn is about reaping what we’ve sown, then that might make many of us nervous, fearing that we haven’t done enough, that we won’t measure up. I suspect that this fear is even more acute in North American society, with our idealization of youth, and our Puritan roots and work ethic: nothing short of perfection is good enough. Since perfection is impossible, we have much to fear. It’s easy to look back at our second Saturn return and see all the failures in our lives, all of the ways that we’ve messed up, and how we could have done things better. Also evident to us is all of the things that we’ll never do, since we are more acutely aware of the passage of time at this point. After all, Saturn later became identified with the Greek Cronos (time), and Saturn/Cronos is the origin of the image of Father Time. In a society that worships youth, the potential for being terrified of old age is high.
But what about all of those things that we’ve done well in our lives? What have we done right? What positive differences have we made in the lives of those around us? What is it that have we planted in our 56+ years that is now coming to fruition? Many of us have given birth in one form or another to children, grandchildren, relationships, careers, ideas, businesses, communities... These are all things that we’ve planted, with or without intention. Saturn challenges us to be intentional, to choose well the seeds that we will sow in our gardens, to limit the amount of weeds that we allow to grow and distract us (or to learn what those “weeds” may be used for). The second Saturn return is the time to decide what we will allow to grow in our Winter Garden. It’s no longer spring time, and not everything will grow; we must choose well. Our first two Saturn cycles have given us the opportunity to see what kind of gardeners we are: what we grow well and share with our community, and what we should leave for others to grow and then share with us.
Whenever I plant seeds, I read the package for the instructions on how to cultivate them. Inevitably, I ignore the part that says to trim the seedlings back when they get to a certain height. Why would you want to thin your row of veggies? I want as many veggies as I can grow in my limited garden! But over the years, you learn that not pruning back the plants makes a mess of your garden, and robs many plants of the nutrients that can only go so far. In the end, you often get more fruit from fewer plants, if you grow them correctly. This is the lesson of Saturn.
So at the second return of the Cosmic Gardener, here are a few questions that we might ask ourselves: What is the bounty in my life that I have harvested from my many years of sowing? What have I learned about the “weeds” that distract me and rob the nutrients from my life? In the coming years, what do I want to continue to plant? How can I pace myself so that I can continue to cultivate what is most important to me?
As I write this, I find myself exactly at the half-way point between my first and second Saturn returns. I look forward in fifteen years or so to throwing myself a Harvest Festival Party, similar to the Harvest Festivals that many of us attend and host every August and September. I encourage you to do the same. Celebrate your harvest. The act of celebration will help you to decide what to plant next.