Saturn. Called by some astrologers 'the Taskmaster' or 'Great Teacher'. To the Greeks he was Chronos, Lord of Time.

The placement of Saturn (i.e., the house and the ruler of that house, and its aspects to the inner and outer planets) in the astrological chart describes the precise nature of the most painful, difficult, and ultimately rewarding lessons an individual must learn over the course of life. Forewarned: forearmed. It's pointless to try and avoid it, but you can be ready. Look at your chart, or have a professional do it for you.

Saturn returns to the place it was when you were born between the ages of 27-30 (a complete birthtime natal chart will tell you exactly when Saturn will begin and end its return transit. This roughly three year period is known simply as the Saturn Return.

Does It Hurt?

How each individual experiences their Saturn Return depends entirely on how they've lived during the previous twenty-nine years. If you have been building steadily toward a goal that's right for you, Saturn Return can be a time of achievement and rewards. If not...

At its most mild, Saturn Return will simply incline one to eat well, adopt better living habits, stop dating weirdos, begin paying bills on time, and to get organized and on with adulthood. Business as usual, perhaps with some longing glances back in the direction of childhood.

On a more moderate level, a sense of urgency may take root, a feeling that you must accomplish everything now or never. Goals come sharply into focus. If your career is unfulfilling or inappropriate, you'll experience a strong push to establish yourself in a more fulfilling job.

Spicy, Inferno Hot
At its most intense, Saturn catalyzes a personal apocalypse and resurrection, breaking you down and building you back up again more or less from scratch, using the building materials left behind in the wake of a massive deconstruction of everything you thought you were.

If you've been pursuing goals for the wrong reasons (such as fulfilling someone else's expectations), living under cherished illusions, or otherwise boating down de Nile, Saturn can be relentless - to the point of cruelty- in prodding you to make adjustments.

Interpersonal Effects

On an interpersonal level, relationships will either sink - or swim. The U.S. Census Bureau lists the peak divorce years as ages twenty-eight to thirty. Some people experience more subtle or private adjustments in their patterns of relating, such as shifts in responsibilities. Many couples decide to become parents, not only altering their relationships but their financial obligations and perhaps their careers as well.

If a relationship is healthy, based on mutual respect, honesty, and sharing, it will probably survive the test of Saturn Return and become even stronger. But a relationship begun before the partners knew what they really wanted - i.e., in their young 20s, is likely to fall apart. However, relationships that start during this period may have a "fated" or "karmic" quality about them.

The Bottom Line

Essentially, Saturn returns for a visit after 28 years and pulls at you in its demanding way. For many, the Saturn Return can mark such life changes as marriage, the birth of a child, the changing of jobs or careers, divorce, a crisis in health. It demands answers to difficult questions: Are you doing what you need to be doing? Are you with the right person or people? Are you living up to the potential that you had at birth? What are you here to do? Have you figured it out yet?

So, What Do I Do?

Get ready. Take stock of your life. Be honest. Dare to dream. Dare to act on your dreams. Because Saturn is damn well going to demand that you do. You can ignore him all you want. You can hide under your bed, take extra doses of vitamin D-nial, call your mum every night. But If you ignore Saturn now, you will pay the price in another 28 years. And by then, it will be too damn late for you to get back the past thirty years - and that's the time you've got to do what you need to do.

And Then You Get to Do It Again!

During a lifespan, there are three major cycles of Saturn.

Of course, all of the tasks Saturn asks of you at these three times involve skills developed over a lifetime of growing as a person. They are not limited to these ages. These are simply times when the intensity level becomes extreme.

The price of continued avoidance of Saturn's demands becomes higher at each stage. As painful as Saturn Returns can be, they are opportunities to learn the skills and acquire the hard-earned wisdom that will make the challenges faced at each stage bearable in the long term.

Astrologer Anne Whitaker says:

"The first Saturn return, ages 29-30, is the first and perhaps most critical. Until age 30, life's energy is increasing. Thereafter, the body begins to mature, energy to wane, and our ability to recover from self-inflicted punishment and the battering of life begins to diminish. Consequently, the margin for serious errors to be made, from which one can recover and even benefit, grows inexorably narrower. The development of self-awareness becomes ever more important, as well as a realistic appreciation of both one's gifts and limitations."

Saturn Return, 2001-2002

Those experiencing a Saturn Return during these two years are getting even more of an astro-whammy to the gut. Saturn is transiting (moving through the heavens) in hard aspect to an outer planet - Pluto. Yeah. God of the underworld. Named after him for a reason, you know. With the added influence of Pluto, Saturn Returns are heightened to a nearly unbearable level.

Saturn and Pluto in hard aspect to each other signifies death, despair, deep sadness, emergence of buried childhood misery connected to a parent, person, or place (like a school) of authority, and general pain and grief.

Yet take heart: as Saturn returns across its long transit (its influence grows as it approaches that precise place it was when you were born, and then wanes - a process which takes 2-3 years, again - it is possible to say precisely with a natal chart), the individual experiencing the Saturn/Pluto Return will actually reap even greater rewards due to the intensity of the demands.

Saturn always tests one's courage, strength, endurance, and integrity. Pluto adds the opportunity to develop an understanding of life and compassion for others that far exceeds the norm. The potential to become profoundly aware of the hidden depths in every being and in every situation is there - for those who accept the challege.

In the Wake of the Return

The Saturn Return, whether it comes as a storm or a spring shower, will work to wash away the clutter that may have been impeding your progress through life. Stay focused on that. This is good.

You're Not Alone

Newswoman Jane Pauley described turning thirty as having grown into womanhood. German film director Werner Herzog compared this period in his life with a maiden's loss of virginity, a line drawn across his path marking the end of his youth. During his first Saturn Return, Vincent Van Gogh decided to be a painter rather than a minister. Other historical figures to note the significance of their Saturn Return:

Miyamoto Musashi, swordsman
When I was twenty-one I went up to the capital and met all manner of strategists, never once failing to win in many contests. After that I went from province to province dueling with strategists of various schools, and not once failed to win even though I had as many as sixty encounters. This was between the ages of thirteen and twenty-eight or twenty-nine. When I reached thirty I looked back on my past. The previous victories were not due to my having mastered strategy. Perhaps it was natural ability, or the order of heaven, or that other school's strategy was inferior. After that I studied morning and evening searching for the principle, and came to realize the Way of strategy...

Charles Darwin, biologist
During these two years (ages 28-30) I was led to think much about religion. Whilst on board the Beagle I was quite orthodox, and I remember being heartily laughed at by several of the officers (though themselves orthodox) for quoting the Bible as an unanswerable authority on some point of morality... But I found it more and more difficult, with free scope given to my imagination, to invent evidence which would suffice to convince me. Thus disbelief crept over me at a very slow rate, but was at last complete. The rate was so slow that I felt no distress, and have never since doubted even for a single second that my conclusion was correct. I can indeed hardly see how anyone ought to wish Christianity to be true; for if so the plain language of the text seems to show that the men who do not believe, and thiswould include my father, brother, and almost all my best friends, will be everlastingly punished. And that is a damnable doctrine.

Epilogue: The Second Saturn Return Cycle

Astrologer Anne Whitaker notes:

"By the second Saturn return, we can see what our lives have become — and we can see what it is too late to change. This is one of the most fundamental differences in perspective between the second and the first return. At age 30 we have probably still to sow the most productive seeds of our lives — what we have already sown is still only germinating. But by the approach of 60, we are reaping the harvest...

"Most of us will arrive... satisfied with some aspects of our achievement and disappointed by our areas of failure — or those things that fate appears to have denied us without our having had much option for negotiation. I see the main challenges of this stage as follows:

  • first, to value what we have been able to do

  • second, to come to terms with and accept those failures or disappointments that it is now too late to change

  • third, to find, within the limitations and constraints imposed by our state of mind, body, spirit, and bank balance, some further goals that are realistically achievable, which bring a sense of meaning and enjoyment to whatever time we have left

The Shiny Side of the Coin For Those Being Followed By A Saturn Shadow:

This is also the time when the cosmos is right behind you. If you jump now, you'll discover that you have wings. If you act in harmony with your destiny and your genius, you will find that nothing is impossible. Really, ultimately - Saturn only wants what is best for you.