“Dignity, the only true dignity comes through hard work.” – Federico Fellini
Saturn is one of those planets that have a terrible reputation and even worse PR. No wonder; it’s associated with reality, responsibility, hard work, hard knocks, setbacks, caution, lessons, and limitations. Oh, and let’s not leave out old age! Ancient astrologers referred to Saturn as The Great Malefic; he’s also known as Lord of Winter, Father Time, and the Great Teacher. Saturn is the Dr. Phil of planets; it’s about getting real. Saturn isn’t bad; no planet is but he’s a no frills kind of guy. Jupiter, the planet with great PR and terrific buzz, has a reputation for luck, prosperity, and abundance yet Jupiter isn’t all he’s cracked up to be. Bigger-is-better Jupiter, the Bill Clinton or Donald Trump of planets, also rules excess and exaggeration; it’s where we can’t say “no.” Bottom line; Jupiter isn’t all good luck and Lotto and Saturn isn’t all struggle and sacrifice. It is said that Jupiter gives us crutches while Saturn takes them away. Yet it is Saturn who teaches us self discipline, self control, good boundaries and a strong work ethic. Not exciting or sexy qualities but absolutely necessary if we want to create anything of lasting value.
Law & Order
In mythology Jupiter (the Greek Zeus) was king of the gods and created the laws; in astrology, the planet Jupiter is associated with (among other things) justice and the legal system. Saturn, on the other hand, represents those figures that enforce the law; the policeman, the principal, or a sergeant in the army. Saturn is associated with authority and our earliest experiences with it. Ultimately Saturn teaches us to become the author of our own lives. Saturn rules structures; the external structures of society that keep us safe (but can also confine us) as well as our skeletal system, spine, and the skin that contain us. Saturn also rules the knees and encounters with this stern teacher often bring us to our knees.
We all have the planet Saturn somewhere in our chart; unfortunately, we can’t have it surgically removed. Some celebrities have tried (you know who I mean) but no one can hold back Father Time. The sign and house in our chart where we have Saturn is where we are slow and often stuck; it’s an area that doesn’t come naturally or easily. It’s also an area where we have tremendous potential but like certain subjects in school, we have to work harder and longer to fulfill it. The good news is that Saturn gets better with age. More good news; unlike Jupiter, Saturn doesn’t shower us with gifts but he is fair. If we work with Saturn we will be rewarded accordingly (but not a penny more). Another name for Saturn is the Lord of Karma; we reap what we sow.
The Saturn Return
“Don’t be mad at me ‘cause you’re pushing thirty and your old tricks don’t work anymore.” – Amy Winehouse
Everything changes at our Saturn Return; I mean everything. This is the big Kahuna, the doorway to adulthood, and the first major Life Cycle. The Sun comes back or returns to where it was at birth once a year; it is our Solar Return or what is commonly called our
birthday. Saturn takes approximately twenty-nine and a half years to return to the position it occupied in the sky at birth. Voila, it is our Saturn birthday or Saturn Return. People talk about the big 30; it’s really the big 29.
Think about it; during our twenties we’re coasting, experimenting, and drifting. Hey, that’s what the twenties are for; it’s the time to gather experience and explore options. Then something shifts in our mid to late twenties; it’s almost as if we get a wake-up call and we realize we don’t have all the time in the world and we need to make some serious decisions. Even if we’re already on a big career path or we’re married with children there is a part of us that is still tied to our parents and their values or perhaps rebelling against them. Just as a bird instinctively knows it is time to leave the nest the Saturn Return signals it’s time to grow up, get real and take responsibility for our life. It doesn’t matter how much potential we have; sooner or later we must prove it to ourselves and the world.
“Saturn doesn’t ask us to give up our dreams, only to make them real.” –Steven Forrest
Saturn is associated with career and status so for many of us our Saturn Return involves a career decision or if we’re already working in an area we’re passionate about, then we might take on more responsibility or go into business for ourselves. But that isn’t always true; some of us may already be working in demanding and highly skilled professions, making lots of money, even saving lives and contributing to society. In that case we may commit to a relationship, start a family, or go back to school. Whatever it is will entail compromises, even sacrifices. At our Saturn Return we’re finally ready to do that.
By the time she was twenty-nine Celine Dion had achieved stardom; she had made twenty five albums and was at the top of her career. She wanted desperately to have a child but couldn’t get pregnant. Finally, in 1999 (at her Saturn Return) she made a difficult decision; she put her career on hold in order to start a family as well as help her husband recover from cancer. She gave birth to a son in 2001. When she returned to her career, critics noted that her music had a more mature sound.
Whether it’s a career, a family, or a role in the world, we take on something that will occupy a good part of our adult life and come to define us. Bottom line: we find our mountain and climb it. No small thing. How do we know what to commit to? Around twenty-seven something begins to happen that gives us a clue.
The Lunar Cycle
The heart knows something the mind can only begin to fathom.
There is another cycle that moves almost at the same speed as the Saturn cycle and that is the lunar cycle. The lunar cycle takes around twenty-seven years. Saturn represents reality, form, and structure; the moon is the domain of emotion and instinct. The heart and the mind move almost at the same speed, but the heart leads the way. Before we figure out what we need to do, we get a feeling, an impulse. In other words, being comes before doing. Imagine going to a Broadway show or opera. Before the curtain goes up and the action begins there is the overture. We hear the music and immediately get a sense of the story. Is it The Lion King, West Side Story, or Carmen? The overture tells us what to expect.
The lunar cycle that precedes the Saturn Return is our overture. If we are quiet, pay attention, and listen to our intuition, we can feel something; an impulse that is beginning to grow, a tiny melody that tells us what will happen when the curtain rises. Astrologer Steven Forrest has said: “If you haven’t taken the time to feel you end up making a random choice and have a random chance of being happy. The lunar has to be gotten right; it lays the foundation inwardly and invisibly.”
First we dream; that happens at our lunar time; that is our inner process. We are pregnant with something; incubating who we will be as an adult and it must be nurtured and protected. In our Saturn time we bring that dream into manifestation; that is the outer process. It is then that the two comes together. We are a society of multi-taskers, over scheduled, over extended, and often overwhelmed. Our culture does not honor the lunar, the feminine; slowing down, going inside and listening to those subtle impulses is not something that gets much press or support. But that is exactly what is needed during this lunar time – if the Saturn Return is going to be fulfilled. “You’re can’t get Saturn right if you don’t get the moon right.” – Steven Forrest
What to expect at the Saturn Return
Don’t ask for a lighter load; ask for a stronger back.
Like any initiation it isn’t easy – if it’s easy it ain’t Saturn. This is not about instant gratification; it’s about long term goals. Most likely there will be challenges, oppositions, and set backs; the workload can be tremendous, the road long, the problems and pressures daunting. In many ways the Saturn Return is like going into the army, rehab or one of those extreme wilderness experiences; our addictions, comfort, and freedom are taken away and we are forced to push beyond our limits and confront our fears. But if we dig in and don’t give up, we often discover a whole new level of strength, self-discipline, and maturity. “The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. They are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something.” – Randy Pausch (The Last Lecture)
The Saturn Return brings a mentor: Often during an initiation a mentor or guide will appear to help us make the transition. At our Saturn Return the mentor is usually older although not necessarily in age; he or she may be someone with more experience, wisdom, and gravitas. It was shortly after his Saturn Return that Carl Jung initiated contact with Freud; they met the following year. Although his reputation in Zurich was growing he spent the next several years apprenticing to Freud. In 1928 when Georgia O’Keeffe was twenty-nine, Alfred Stieglitz included her in a group show at his gallery in New York City. It was a small show but it was a turning point; Stieglitz not only helped launch her career he became her lover and later her husband. Johnny Carson acted as a mentor for Joan Rivers. Around the time of her Saturn Return she appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and soon became a regular.
We may move to the place where our work will begin: When she was twenty-nine Isak Dinesen (author of Out of Africa) married and left Denmark for Kenya where she and her husband established a coffee plantation. Gertrude Stein moved to Paris where she created her famous salon. After the war J. D. Salinger returned to New York City. Although he had been published before, it was in 1948 at the age of twenty-nine, that he finally had a story accepted by the New Yorker. The magazine became a literary home for him; it was there that he published much of his acclaimed work. Oprah left Baltimore for her life changing job in Chicago.
It can be a humbling experience: Sometimes right before our Saturn Return we experience some kind of failure or loss. Isak Dinesen was rejected by the man she loved. When his father died in 1953, Jimmy Carter was forced to resign his commission in the Navy in order to return home to run the family business. Clint Eastwood was signed by a film studio in his twenties, more for his impressive looks and 6’4” frame than for his acting skill. His stiff manner and way of speaking were much criticized and he endured many unsuccessful auditions and bad reviews. He described his role in Ambush at Cimarron Pass as the lowest point in his career. That was just before his Saturn Return and his big break in the famed CBS TV show Rawhide.
“Just begin.” –John Cage
What makes the Saturn Return especially important is that it is the first major life cycle. We cross over from youth into adulthood and in doing so we are laying down the foundation for all the other cycles. No pressure. It doesn’t mean we have to have everything all figured out. It doesn’t need to be flashy or high profile; beginnings are often subtle, quiet, and deceptively inauspicious. It can begin modestly; we take a few classes at a community college; we get a job in the mail room of an entertainment company, sign up to do some volunteer work, or like Julie Powell, begin a blog. Julie Powell’s blog, The Julie/Julia Project, in which she chronicles her year of cooking all 524 recipes in Julia Child’s Mastering The Art of French Cooking, led to a bestselling book (Julie & Julia, 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen) and a major movie, Julie & Julia. She wasn’t necessarily seeking fame and fortune; she was twenty-nine, bored with her work, and needed a challenge; something that would test her and push her to a new level. She took what she loved, made a commitment, and saw it through. That’s what Saturn asks of us.
My Saturn Return
To say that I was drifting during my twenties is an understatement. At nineteen I took off for Europe with a one-way ticket and a few hundred dollars; I wanted to travel, meet exciting people, and be a star. In New York I had worked as a model, danced in nightclubs, and done some acting so I headed to Rome. It was the sixties and the film business in Italy had exploded and there was lots of work in American-co productions as well as Italian films. Remember the Spaghetti Westerns? Because the Italians dubbed everything you didn’t even have to speak the language. It was a golden time and anything seemed possible.
I was able to find work in both American and foreign productions. Many of the films were shot on location so I had I a chance to work in places like Belgrade, Budapest, and Greece. I traveled, met amazing people, and had lots of adventures but still didn’t have a clue as to who I was or what I really wanted. I was passionate about films but hated the business of show business. I was young and photogenic; everyone told me I should be in films so I went along with it. I simply didn’t know what else to do.
After several years I became disillusioned with Italy and acting and decided to move back to New York City. A producer I knew asked me to collaborate on a screenplay which led to a job as a story editor and screenwriter at a major film company which I did for a few years. By my late twenties I had hit a wall. On one hand my life was enviable; I was going to film festivals, premiers, and traveling all over the world but it just didn’t feel like my life. Plus I was tired of working on other people’s dreams; I longed to create something of my own but I was at a loss as to what that might be. I was obsessed with exercise and health food and I fantasized about owning an exercise studio (like Jane Fonda) or opening a natural food restaurant but I had no experience in either one. I decided to follow my feelings and explore both fields. I didn’t realize it at the time but I was having my lunar return so it was exactly what I needed to do.
I got a job teaching exercise in a studio on the Upper East Side and worked part time in a health food store. Eventually the food won out; I’m a double Taurus – Sun and Moon in the sign of warm scones with crème fraiche. At the time the health food craze was gaining momentum but the food itself was bland and boring; it consisted mostly of carrot or soybean loafs, brown rice, and homemade breads that could sink a ship. I had a vision of healthy food that was also delicious and sensual. I wanted to combine wholesome ingredients with gourmet recipes. And that’s exactly what I did.
In 1974 I opened a natural food restaurant on 10th Street in Greenwich Village called Whole Wheat ‘N Wild Berrys. I never went to culinary school or apprenticed with a chef or even worked in a restaurant (apart from the occasional waitress job while pursuing acting). I literally had no experience – not something I would recommend, by the way. I also had another handicap; since my teens I had suffered from a crippling eating disorder; my life revolved around food, fasting, and dieting – which is how I first became interested in health foods. With all of that there was one thing I had on my side: Saturn. I was ready to take on a big challenge; I was even prepared to face my dysfunctional relationship with food. “Gloves off; I will no longer be held captive by a muffin or a scone,” I remember thinking. “I’ll beat this or else.”
The world was ready for my vision of natural food and I was ready to work hard. I loved going to the restaurant every day, coming up with new recipes, working with the staff, connecting with customers. I even loved the long hours and double shifts! Friends wondered how I could give up my life of film festivals and traveling abroad. Others warned me that it was the wrong time since the economy was bad. But I knew it was my time. I’m not going to lie and say it was always easy; it wasn’t. I had some knowledge of health foods and cooking but zero about preparing food on a large scale and even less about the logistics of setting up and running a business; the equipment, plumbing, the permits, and finance. The most challenging thing of all was that every day I had to face my worst fears; peanut butter pie, moist gingerbread with homemade whipped cream, and lush cheesecake; that was pure torture! But I hung in; I hired better and better people, I worked really hard; I made a lot of mistakes but I learned, and over time I gained more confidence. The restaurant became a success and I grew in ways I never dreamt possible. Eventually I even healed my eating disorder. Saturn was a tough and didn’t cut me any slack but in the end, a superb teacher.
We all have a Saturn Return; whether we’re an A-list celebrity with an entourage, the president of a country, a single parent, or a homeless person. Saturn doesn’t exclude anyone and he doesn’t play favorites; he demands the same level of accountability and dedication from each one of us. We find something we want to do, make a commitment and work hard to see it through. Don’t complain or whine; don’t cheat; don’t back down. The rewards aren’t necessarily flashy but they are solid. We may not get gift bags, fancy perks, and free passes. We get something more important; self worth, confidence, dignity, and a way to function in the world.
“Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.” – Anne Lamott