A return is the time period a planet or luminary takes to return to its original place in the natal chart. For Saturn, this time period is approximately 29.5 years. Saturn stays in each sign around 2.5 years. Thus, the time period from around 29 until 31 or 32 years of age is a time when Saturn is in the same sign as it was at birth, and all things “Saturn” become prominent in one’s life – often via some difficult lessons or challenges. This is the first Saturn return (the second taking place another 29.5 years afterwards).
Saturn stands for: hard work, boundaries, limitations, old age, duty, responsibility, maturity. Saturn does not do “get rich quick schemes” or superficiality. Saturn is known as the lord of karma – and this includes karma from past lives. He often gets a really bad press, and is traditionally known in astrology as the “greater malefic” – though I think this is because in general, a lot of people have accumulated bad karma given our materialistic view of life, and also have swallowed the kool-aid of easy, instant gratification without the sweat that goes into attaining something truly worthwhile. Yet Saturn also stands for industriousness and productivity, self-discipline, self-restraint, and that beautiful (and painful) awareness of our limited time on earth, our mortality, making us appreciate and make the most of what time we do have left.
Saturn engraving by C Lasinio, 1516
Saturn return is when we grow up. Our view of life after we turn 30 becomes markedly different to our more carefree 20-something. Our late twenties are a time when we feel the undercurrents of an undefinable, yet consistently growing pressure to do something with our lives. For many this “do something” is achieved in traditional Saturn manifestations of responsibility, duties and maturity: buying a first home; getting married; having children; a promotion at work that brings more work and recognition. Many find such responsibilities a welcoming and grounding anchor in their lives. For those that have built something meaningful in their lives, or have followed a path in tune with their calling, Saturn return brings rewards and achievement.
For others, however, this can be a time of tumultuous upheaval and a complete re-structuring of their lives in rather painful ways if the time leading up to the Saturn return was spent on the wrong path or in pursuit of superficial trivialities, for example:
the wrong career choice: either due to parental expectations of what career path one should follow; or following a path that is not in line with one’s abilities, or heart; or simply, what we once thought would fulfil us no longer does so.
the wrong partner: particularly for those who partnered or married young, and who changed as the years went by, while their partner didn’t or also changed but in very different ways. Saturn return is when we can no longer deny what is not fulfilling us. A relationship that is not fulfilling, or based on false impressions at best and deception at worst, is unlikely to survive the first Saturn return; if it does survive, there’s the second Saturn return to deal with.
aimless drifting: ah, the parties in your 20’s! The clubs, pubs, festivals, the drinking, the drugs, the exotic holidays, the going here and there for no reason other than you can, without adding to anything of substance in particular. You’re 24! Old age is like, a lifetime away, and the vigour and immortality of youth make you feel so good and invincible. You have so much time ahead of you! …. well, Saturn kinda puts an end to the party, man. You’re now 30 and old age is like, here already. Bummer, dude.
(Of course, I’m joking: 30 is most certainly not old age, however when you first arrive at it from the ageless twenties, it often feels like that).
Glyph for Saturn resembles a scythe
There is, of course, some very good news to all this reality-check: you get to shed anything that no longer serves your core truth. You may do it kicking and screaming, but ultimately Saturn is good medicine: bitter, but good for you. You now get to find and follow that which truly resonates with your truth, your essence, your calling. No more illusions. You learn to differentiate between what is a superficial pursuit of meaningless activities, and put some elbow grease towards building a solid foundation. You get to be discriminating in your choice of friendships and partners. No, it’s often not easy, because Saturn doesn’t do easy. In fact, as you look around at your peers, most of whom are happily getting married, buying a house, starting a family, or getting that raise or public recognition, you may find yourself wondering where you’ve gone wrong and will you ever achieve anything in this lifetime, and what is your purpose here on earth anyway. Again, there is good news: it may not feel like it, but you are young and have time on your side. And as my yoga teacher said, “The purpose in life is to find your purpose.”
Let me put this another way: would you rather continue on that unfulfilling work path, or that unfulfilling marriage, and find yourself at your second Saturn return, around 59 years of age or so, facing this crisis? Do you think you’d look back and think “Gosh, I wish I had changed course when I was 30!” You bet. And how much harder is it to do this later in your fifties, what with all the obligations of family, financial responsibilities, health issues, and so on. A lot of people find it just too hard to make the change at almost 60, when they really should have tackled it at 30, settling instead for the safe yet unfulfilling life they’ve always known. Saturn is waking you up now, and giving you that chance to change. You’d be amazed what can happen when you give life a chance – and yes, I do speak from experience though that is for another post.
I leave you with the following words on the Saturn return from eminent astrologer Robert Hand’s book, Planets in Transit:
“This is one of the most important times in your life. A major cycle of experience is closing, and great changes are about to take place. How great these changes are depends largely on what you have been doing with your life over the past several years. Have you been living as you feel you should or as you think others want you to? If you have been doing the latter, Saturn will have a greater impact. …
Consciously, or unconsciously, you are pruning your life of everything that is not relevant to what you really are as a human being. If this process is not happening consciously, you may experience a sense of loss for the elements of your life that are coming to an end now. However, do not dwell upon these losses, for they are necessary in order to clear the decks for the major period of action in your life. If this is your first return of Saturn, particularly, you should roll with the punch and voluntarily let go of those elements. If you try to hold on, you may be somewhat successful, but twenty-nine years from now the second Saturn return will be much more difficult. Then you will be more firmly established on paths that are inappropriate for you. If this is your second return, you are faced with the need to make radical changes. However difficult this may be, make the changes. Your later years will be much better if you do.
This is a time of endings and new beginnings. If you have built your life up to now around activities that are inappropriate for you, it will be a period of crisis. If you have been doing what you should in previous years, this transit will simply mark a time of solidification and the beginning of new phases of activity. It is this transit that makes people over thirty different from those under thirty because the Saturn return is one the most maturing of all transits.”