In the Shadow of Saturn, part one

Sign changes of Saturn are fairly rare, coming about every thirty months. Many planets (Venus, Mars, the Sun) change signs every few weeks or so; the Moon changes signs every few days. When Saturn changes signs, it tends to define a mini-era of history. At the current rate of time, even these phases of two-and-a-half years can seem to blur by.

Planet Waves
On Oct. 29, Saturn moved from Virgo to Libra, one in a sequence of events that adds up to the high-voltage astrology of 2010 and is a step on the way to what we've been calling 2012. Later this month, Saturn makes its first of three 90-degree or square aspects to Pluto, which describes the transition of the world that we are witnessing. It also describes an inner process of learning to take responsibility for ourselves and the direction of our lives. This month and for the next few seasons, distinct historical events will provide opportunities to make personal decisions.

Most astrologers you ask to define Saturn would give you a list of keywords that sounds a bit like this: structure, form, responsibility, parents, career, discipline, the government, limitations, time and death. In the body, Saturn rules the bones and the teeth. All of that is pre-psychology; the values still hold, but they're based on an external worldview.

We're now free to understand Saturn as being about one's relationship to authority. As we mature and gradually take responsibility for our lives, authority increasingly becomes an inner experience. When we're young, we usually need to be told what to do. As we get older and understand the customs and laws of our society, and accept the demands of living, we can be self-directed within those boundaries. In the process, we acquire the privileges of freedom, or we overdo Saturn and get hung up on guilt and fear.

As adults, we can still experience Saturn as an external factor (a cop pulling us over and writing a speeding ticket) or an internal factor (using cruise control and following the speed limit). Get enough tickets and you lose your license; the Saturn factor sets a limit. Avoid tickets and your insurance rates stay on the lower side of the scale; discipline offers a reward. There is flexibility if we choose the self-directed method. For example, if you're driving on a highway and set your cruise control at about seven to 10 miles per hour over the speed limit (still following a structure, and an understanding of informal rules), it's reasonably safe and generally you won't get pulled over. If you drive your own car with a sense of self-control, you won't need to encounter the state trooper with a radar gun.

Being aware of boundaries puts us into a conscious relationship with them, and therefore we can stretch them a little if necessary. The flexibility in the relationship becomes more apparent. If you get pulled over, your relationship to authority counts for a lot. If you start the conversation by saying, "How fast was I going? I'm sorry I was speeding," you'll do better than if you say, "You've got a lot of nerve for pulling me over when I pay your salary with my taxes!" (Note, the reason he pays those taxes to pay that salary is because he needs a babysitter.)

Saturn works by both inner and outer methods, and in truth our lives are directed by a combination of external factors and internal factors. Indeed, as children, we experience external authority (parents, teachers, religious leaders) and that is what we internalize, unconsciously, until we become aware of the process and take over for ourselves. That, in turn, is influential in creating our sense of authority, which we usually transfer onto bosses, spouses the government and what we call 'god'.

To give a friendly example, at first they have to 'make us' do our homework, with the treat of an external factor (the promise of good grades, or the threat of getting left back) as incentives. Then as adults we figure out that if we stay on top of our work, we have more freedom, including the freedom to do the kind of work we want as adults. To give a more challenging example, imagine you have parents who are afraid of people and afraid of life, and they constantly put this fear into you in the form of fearful expectations and rules you have to follow, including the habit of judging everyone. This leads to isolation and misery, and being a miser is a way of life that might come naturally to someone who can't work with the energy of Saturn in a constructive way.

In modern psychological terms, the word constructive is one of the first ideas we can apply to Saturn. To a significant extent, this energy or mental property that I'm calling Saturn grants us the ability to structure our lives. It is quite literally maturity (usually gained over time, a Saturn function), a sense of independence of thought and respect for process, including the process of time. Do I need to say that we're living in very tough times, where Saturn is concerned? Maturity is not so popular; we constantly expect others to take responsibility for why we tripped or tried to drink a scalding cup of coffee.

I would propose that our current struggle started around the time George Bush took the office of president without actually having been elected. That set a tone for our society's relationship to authority. This happened shortly before the last Saturn-Pluto alignment (technically, quadrature alignment), which took place in the summer of 2001: Saturn (in Gemini) opposite Pluto (in Sagittarius). At that point, we experienced Saturn as an external factor, seizing authority over us: the PATRIOT Act, the cultivated obsession with terrorism and thus with the government's ability to control and spy on us without a warrant, and more to the point, to influence us with fear.

For the next decade, we lived under a government that started illegal, unnecessary wars, wasted trillions of dollars and was unaccountable to the people or to anyone, for that matter. Little wonder, given that the authority process known as an election was not honored by politicians. Moreover, the people failed to internalize their responsibility and demand a fair election. Then, having not learned the first time, we failed to demand a fair election again in 2004 and the story continued. Healthy authority, like most things we talk about in astrology, is based on internal motivation and relationships that go at least two ways.

All of this was classically oppositional in nature: Saturn opposite Pluto. Oppositions generally manifest as some form of external factor, even though there are many internal factors we need to reckon with (for example, our personal relationship to our own fear). In the second half of the decade, Saturn opposed two other slow-moving outer planets: Neptune and Uranus (still ongoing), and the drama continued.

This month, we experience the first square between Saturn and an outer planet in many years: Saturn square Pluto. That is to say, Saturn, newly in Libra, will meet Pluto, newly in Capricorn, at a 90-degree aspect. Squares are like oppositions, only turned outside-in. They guide us to consciously recognize that we contain the polarities that previously existed in the opposition aspect as a relationship between an internal and an external.

Saturn and Pluto are having this meeting in different signs than the last time. Pluto is in Capricorn (a new transit that began in 2008-2009), and is teaching us something about the actual nature of government and corporations. For example, we are seeing an actual government process take place with the health care debate rather than the march to war under strictly fundamentalist values (Pluto in Sagittarius). Now we are seeing corporatist values and discovering that big companies really do think they're god.

Saturn is in [will be in] Libra, a transit that will emphasize relationships of all kinds. We actually think very little about relationships, and most people don't have conscious relationship contracts. Saturn in Libra will be a study in agreements. We'll see the theme of cultivating a more mature alignment to the concept of justice (i.e., something besides revenge). Saturn is well placed in Libra; the astrologers of yore inform us that it's exalted in this sign. Saturn has a self-directed quality here that manifests as a healthy sense of responsibility in relationships. It can also represent our extremely rigid view of relationships and relationship structures that is getting extremely worn out and is starting to seem as useless as it actually is. Saturn here is saying, an overly rigid relationship structure is not the same thing as authentic commitment.

Now let's put the two factors together. All Saturn-Pluto meetings are opportunities to get real; they are confrontational. The square takes this confrontation to an inner level, where we have a significant opportunity for growth. Depending on your relationships to Saturn and Pluto, that growth will feel more or less enforced. Our concepts and structures are going to meet the unstoppable evolutionary force of Pluto. If you got a group of smart, imaginative people together, you could spend an entire evening coming up with visualizations for this.

For example, for along time we've been living and trying to love through times when the government has taken a heavy hand in our private affairs. For example, abstinence only sex indoctrination in schools; constitutional amendments banning some people from having lawful, family relationships; and a manic paranoia around sex that has many people terrified of even looking at one another.

Saturn in Libra square Pluto in Capricorn is going to remind us that there's an element of letting go of inner control when we enter into a relationship with someone. Our concept of relationship changes with each new experience. All living traditions change with time. We have to learn to be flexible to accommodate another human being in our lives. We might feel fear, then we have to deal with it internally; we might experience jealousy, and then at the end of the day we have to deal with our own jealousy rather than attempt to control our partner (or ourselves).

I think the current manic phobia about sex is about the fear of losing control. Everything in our lives right now is about control: the iPhone controlling your data and granting access to the Internet anywhere; the privacy/security issues we obsess over; all these remote 'controls' in front of the TV and on the key chain; our obsession with controlling our image on Facebook; and our numerous obsessions with controlling the people around us.

Sex, with its elemental forces (Pluto), the constant threat of supposed scandal, our emotions getting involved, actual passion, all the secrecy issues and letting out the erotic genie anywhere but in a text message would seem a total threat to the ego, as the ego is now oriented.

Erotic experiences that dissolve the ego are the ones we want, but to have them we need to be able to let go of control, and tap the deep unconscious and set it free. Of course, to do this, 'control' has to go out the window. We must overthrow all those inner (and at times outer) authorities. It's fashionable these days in the world of psychology/psychiatry to consider 'any eruption from the unconscious' as illness or abnormality. If nothing else sex is surely that, and by this standard, go figure: here in the shadow of Saturn, it's become the new definition of insanity.

No, wait -- it's the old one, come back for a visit.

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