This is the first in a series of posts about each of the seven classical planets of astrology. I’m beginning with Saturn because he is the most difficult, both in terms of his impact on our lives and in terms of interpreting him astrologically.

Saturn was called “the Greater Malefic”, identifying him as the greatest bringer of woe and misfortune amongst all the planets. Modern astrologers prefer to bring out the positive in each planet and astrological relationship, but there is still no question that Saturn can be a major challenge.

Why is this? Each planet carries a particular type of life-energy; all of them are essential parts of the human condition. So what is it about Saturn’s energy that it makes it so harsh and unhappy for us?

I think it has mostly to do with ego. In our hopes and dreams, the world becomes a personal playground for us, and we can be the star of our own movie. Saturn’s mission is to impose a universal order, to lay down rules for all of us. He could care less who sees themselves in the starring role, and he doesn’t suffer prima donnas gladly. We probably all remember a parent, teacher, or relative who had a good dose of Saturn energy to share with us . . . their rules were absolute and no exceptions were made, they seldom smiled, they were absolutely focused on the task they were responsible for, and expected the same of everyone else. And they were no doubt quite determined that each transgression we made would be answered by “consequences” (which probably felt a lot like punishments).

People respond in different ways to the imposition of rigid, absolute authority. Some struggle to conform, and live in fear of failing to live up to expectations. Others rebel, rejecting the authority outright, and perhaps even sabotaging themselves, feeling that a dramatic failure is at least liberating.

It’s the same with Saturn in a person’s birth chart. Whatever area Saturn presides over in one’s chart is likely to be an area where we have our greatest “issues”; it will be a place where we struggle against the fear of failure, or where we rebel and evade responsibility. Either way, we can expect Saturn to lay down the law upon us, by showing us, one way or another, the “consequences” that come from not living up to his standards.

In earlier times, astrology focused on outward manifestations: it would be used to predict what career you would have, who you would marry, and so on. Modern astrology has a more psychological focus; we see the planets as shaping our personalities; they have become rather internalized. One of the teachings of modern astrology, though, is that if we do not accept and “own” these energies in our own personalities, we will encounter them outside, in the shape of other people and unanticipated life events. It seems to me that as we move outward through the planets, they become progressively more difficult for people to internalize and own. Mercury, for example, is a verbal and mental energy; most of us feel completely comfortable with the idea that we own our own words and thoughts. Saturn, though, being the outermost of the classical planets, can be very difficult to bring inside and own.

Most of us, for many years (or even our entire lives), continue to react to Saturn like children at our desks listening to the stern and humorless schoolmaster. We may try to please him, or pine away waiting for recess, but we see him as in command. He defines the situation, and we react.

How do we internalize and own Saturn? It’s not an easy task. I can’t say I’ve mastered it in my own life, although I do enough to generally avoid being broadsided by his lessons. To internalize Saturn, we must change our way of thinking about duty and responsibility. Rather than being arbitrary burdens placed on us by outside authorities (family, employer, society), we can think of the responsibilities we take on as the tools we use to achieve our goals. This doesn’t make them “fun”, but it does honor them as part of the workings of a complete life.

I planted peas in my garden a couple weeks ago. They are sprouting now. By planting them, I put my energy and intention into a seasons-long project. I will care for them now, through their life cycle, not because I am under orders to do so, but because it is part and parcel of what it means to grow peas. Sure, I have free will. I could choose to ignore them and simply let them die. But then, what was the planting for?

People who haven’t owned their Saturn issues yet will be found either moaning and groaning about the burden of having to weed and water their peas until they are sick of it, or else find themselves in an emotional meltdown when they discover the peas they’ve neglected for weeks have all died – and they really wanted those peas! These reactions are two sides of the same coin. They both represent immature, ego-driven visions of one’s role in creating an outcome: “What is all this weeding and watering stuff? I’m the star of this movie – can’t I just eat the peas?”

This example trivializes things, of course. Saturn rules whole realms of life that are much larger than a row of peas in the garden. But the basic pattern is the same. Imagine the impact of Saturn’s lessons when the row of peas is a career, a marriage, or a relationship with a child. In these big-issue situations, it’s not a simple matter to internalize Saturn and see responsibility for the situation as something natural that you have invited yourself into.

The rewards of mastering Saturn are profound, however. As I noted in an earlier post, Saturn in classical mythology ruled over the Golden Age, a time when people lived in prosperity, peace, and freedom. His subjects did not resent his law, because it was their law too, and they lived every day amid the rewards of it.

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