Basic Saturn Issues
by Sue Tompkins
Saturn. Fear, control and denial. Authority. Discipline. Time. Learning things the hard way. Responsibilities. Duties.
Beyond all else perhaps, Saturn represents fear, and many of the problems and difficulties surrounding this planet can be traced to this single root principle. When Saturn contacts a planet in our chart we tend to be frightened of expressing those things symbolized by that planet. More than that, we feel unable to express them, for we feel awkward in that area of ourselves -- awkward, clumsy and severely hampered.
Naturally enough, we don't usually want people to see a part of ourselves that feels to us like an awkward, clumsy animal for it doesn't occur to us that others might perceive it as acceptable or even beautiful. And even if they did, what good would that be, for it is our perception of ourselves which decides most things. Little wonder that Saturn has been linked with the Jungian idea of the 'Shadow' -- that part of ourselves which we not only attempt to hide from others but successfully conceal from ourselves as well.
We hide Saturn by attempting to package up our fears into some socially acceptable form or by pretending that we are adept in this awkward area of ourselves. So whilst Saturn may well describe our Achilles' heel, we can often manage to hide this aspect of ourselves, even from ourselves. It is important to realize this way of dealing with Saturn when considering Saturnian contacts in the natal chart, for at first glance the individual may not seem particularly awkward in this area of their lives and may even appear very sophisticated and adept at dealing with it. The sophistication isn't always 'false' either, for eventually we can become genuinely very adept at those things that were initially our biggest problems. Turning lead into gold as the alchemists would put it. But this comes only after time and only after lots of effort. And after facing our fears and perhaps suffering numerous disappointments.
When we do learn things the hard way, and through experience, we generally know about them thoroughly; we become an 'authority' in that area. And this is what Saturn seems to insist upon, that we deal with the issues, whatever they are, thoroughly. For as always Saturn, unlike Jupiter, never lets us get away with anything.
So contacts from Saturn to another planet in our chart can describe, when we are older at any rate, a real understanding of what that planet represents. On the other hand, we can merely pretend that that understanding exists. How do we now the difference? When merely acting with our Saturn (though not of course consciously doing so) we tend to express the planet involved in a controlled and formulated kind of way. We tend to behave how we think we should behave in the given circumstances, how society would expect us to behave. What is missing is spontaneity of self-expression; the 'false' and inevitably socially acceptable response is usually rather boring and, whilst saying all the usual things, lacks sincerity somehow. It is rather like a child writing a typical 'Thank You' letter for a Christmas present -- a kind of 'formula' response.
Discovering what our Saturn represents is inevitably a long and painful process. Like everything, pain too seems to have some purpose, for it is our pain that tells us that something is wrong inside ourselves. Pain tells us that there is a wound somewhere that demands our attention. Fear too has its purpose. It is fear that makes the rabbit freeze or the antelope run. Freezing or running are defense mechanisms. Defenses protect us, rather as clothes protect us on a cold day. Our Saturn contacts can describe us as being underdefended or overdefended in various aspects of life.
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As children, we have a special need of our defenses, and childhood is the prime time for building them, but as we get older some of those defenses may become inappropriate, even strangulating. We can never look into a distant horizon if the first thing that our eyes hit is a brick wall. When Saturn contacts a planet in our chart it is often as if we have built a brick wall around those things that that planet represents. And for many people with difficult Saturn aspects in their charts, much of the adult life has to be spent slowly taking the wall down, brick by brick. For confronting the Shadow has to be done slowly and with great care and respect.
When we are 'overdefended', when we have surrounded ourselves with rather too much brick wall, we will have locked away a lot of the potential in our lives, for here, we are too frightened to take risks. This is also one of the reasons we can associate Saturn with pain, for when in pain we usually feel better if we can relax and let go.
It is often the holding on that is painful, but with our Saturn contacts we are often frightened to let go. Our defenses have protected us up until now and we believe they always will, whereas now is usually the time to let go.
Another Saturnian principle is control and this too is often attributable to fear, for when we are frightened we often attempt to control whatever is going on. We also want things very clearly defined. When Saturn touches a planet in our chart we will tend to seek definition of whatever that planet represents. Venus-Saturn for example is frightened of not being loved, so may push their partner to define their feelings. Do you love me? How much? Will it last forever? This of course does not usually yield the required response, for feelings cannot be quantified or defined in this way and the partner may not want to be forced into responding in this way in any case. So classically the Venus-Saturn type will go away feeling unloved and unappreciated to sit in a room by itself and face another lonely evening wailing that nobody cares.
Saturn problems can often be traced to childhood issues. In childhood we often feel denied those things that planets contacting Saturn represent. And because we feel denied them, we crave them for evermore. They can become the very reason for our existence. We may have been denied in childhood through no one's 'fault', merely through some seemingly cruel twist of fate, a fate that we can eventually be grateful for, once we have got through our first faltering steps.
Although our childhood cannot be held 'responsible' for problems in adulthood, exploring some of the themes in our early life is necessary in order for us to make peace with our past and to enrich our future. But childhood images are useful for Saturn contacts anyway, because planets contacting our Saturn often feel as a small child does when confronted with the stern voice of authority. For example, Mercury-Saturn people often feel as if they are in an examination room being tested every time they meet a learning experience, even if in fact their school years were not especially grueling, and did not include grim examination conditions. But the image is helpful and one which we can dialogue with.
The idea of feeling denied something and craving it, is also, I think, a useful one, for when Saturn touches a planet we do tend to crave those things that that planet represents. With the Sun we may crave recognition; with the Moon nurturance, a home and a family; with Venus, love and affection; with Jupiter, faith, and so on.
Saturn contacts by house, aspect and, to a lesser extent, sign, describe those areas where we lack confidence, where we feel we ought and we should do better. Often we apologize for those areas of our chart which Saturn touches, and in apologizing we are not only expressing regret but are saying that we don't think we are good enough. Sometimes we also offer some sort of justification for our 'faults' and in doing so are defending ourselves.
As many an astrology teacher has noted, this is the part of the chart where we seem to have an internalized schoolteacher always sternly telling us to work harder, do better, be better, try harder. Saturn denies, delays, restricts, restrains, generally slows down, even cripples at times, the development of whatever it touches. The purpose of all this denial and restriction is often to test the validity of what we are doing or what we think we want.
In contrast to Jupiter, which often describes where we feel confident or where we go to to feel good and to find meaning, Saturn describes the place where we tend to feel the least comfortable, most fearful, most awkward, and most vulnerable.
In order to get a feel for Saturn one can reflect on the metal lead, which it rules. Lead is extremely heavy, dull in appearance, and enduring -- it does not corrode easily, for which reason it was once used in water pipes and is still used in roofing. Like lead, Saturn lends an inert, immobile quality to whatever it touches in the chart. Saturn will also slow down the development of whatever it touches but it will also insist that that development is thorough and that no short-cuts are taken. Saturn may appear dull, but it bestows endurance. It insists that time is taken. Saturn is also concerned with rules and regulations (again, with doing the 'right' thing), with duty, responsibility and discipline. Rules and regulations in the wider sense are designed to protect the individual and society as a whole. Parental laws are also designed to protect the child and to educate the youngster as to the limitations, constraints, and responsibilities that living in the material world implies. Overdone though, discipline makes the child frightened of all forms of authority (within or without) and unable to express its individuality.
Saturn is traditionally associated with the father and sometimes the mother. Certainly, Saturn seems to correlate with an internalized image of father and often with the physical father too. Where any parent or other authority-figure is meting out discipline they are acting in the role of Saturn. Discipline need not be negative. Saturn also represents the discovery that if you touch a fire your fingers will get burnt. Thus Saturn represents authority-figures in general, as well as our urge to develop self-discipline and self-control. Difficult Saturn contacts suggest lessons around authority issues; being able to accept the authority of others or being able to develop it within oneself.
Saturn contacts generally get better as an individual gets older and is better able to accept that living in the real world does involve living with fear, constraints and limitations, but that some of these are merely self-imposed. Saturn is the planet concerned with age and with the taking on of the responsibilities and duties that we associate with adulthood. Our Saturn placement and contacts usually have much to say about the way in which we deal with these duties and responsibilities.
This article is excerpted from Aspects in Astrology: A Guide to Understanding Planetary Relationships in the Horoscope ?1989, 2001, 2002, by Sue Tompkins. Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Destiny Books, a division of Inner Traditions Intl. http://www.innertraditions.com
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About the Author
SUE TOMPKINS has been a practicing consultant and teacher of astrology since 1981. She was Director of Schools for the Faculty of Astrological Studies in London for fifteen years and now operates her own school, the London School of Astrology. In addition to her independent courses and workshop offerings, she is a practicing homeopath in central London.