Saturn has a pretty bad reputation in astrology, and for good reason: he is the greater malefic, representing difficulties, trials and tribulations of all kinds.
In ancient times, Saturn was the last planet visible to the naked eye, marking the boundary of the visible cosmos and the realm of the seven wandering stars. It is also the only planet that does not go out of bounds: above or below the outer bounds of the Sun’s path around the Earth, which is 23 degrees and 27 minutes of declination North and South.
Accordingly, a lot of Saturn’s meanings have to do with various forms of boundaries: the delineation of one thing from another. Saturn can be physical buildings, which have four walls and a roof that mark the boundary between outside and inside. Saturn can also be time, which marks the boundary between past, present and future.
Saturn also represents rules of all kinds, whether it’s the rules of a chess game, city bylaws and governmental legislation, or social rules by which we interact with one another. These rules mark the boundary between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. They provide a framework for us to order our lives and interact with society.
The rules of the road ensure we can drive safely in traffic. The rules of commerce govern how we buy food and other items we need, how the financial markets function, and so on. Various social rules dictate how to behave in certain situations as opposed to others. For example, the social rules when you’re on a date are quite different than the social rules of your behaviour at work – and when those rules get blurred or broken, that’s often when problems happen. Saturn is not happy when people break the rules.
Saturn also represents death. This is also a boundary, of a sort: the boundary of our own mortality. Saturn is illness and loss, which are related to both death and boundaries – the boundaries of our health and the limitations of our physical body.
Here is a short list of Saturn’s main astrological significations:
Saturn is the greater malefic while Jupiter is the greater benefic, so there is an inherent duality in their meanings: they serve as foils for one another and their meanings often fall neatly along a binary.
Saturn rules the signs of Capricorn and Aquarius. When the Sun is in these signs, it is the coldest part of the winter in the northern hemisphere. This fits with Saturn’s location as the planet that is farthest away from the heat and light of the Sun – so, Saturn is associated with cold and dark.
Saturn is exalted in the sign of Libra, which is a Venus-ruled sign. Libra is all about law and order: balance, justice and fairness. All of this involves rules and laws, and the administration of those rules and laws. As the planet that signifies rules of all kinds, naturally Saturn would find his exaltation in the sign that is concerned with law and order.
In astronomy, Saturn is famous for its beautiful rings: a wonderful visual metaphor for Saturn’s associations with limitations, structures and boundaries. Some other planets have rings – Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune – but Saturn’s huge, colourful rings are much more prominent and overshadows all the others.
Astronomers think that Saturn’s rings are made up of a former moon or moons, which orbited too close to Saturn and were eventually swallowed up by the planet, leaving millions of particles of icy rocks that were shaped into rings by Saturn’s gravity.
Consider that in mythology, Kronos (the ancient Greek name for Saturn) devoured his children to prevent them from taking his power. The planet Saturn is surrounded by rings which are the remains of its former moons – its children, so to speak – who threatened the planet by getting too close and were destroyed in the process.
One of the most fascinating astronomical aspects of Saturn is that it rains diamonds inside the planet. It is estimated that 10 million tonnes of diamond hail rains down within Saturn at any one time, from specks of tiny diamond dust to chunks as big as 10 centimetres (4 inches) across. Saturn is a gas giant and lightning storms rage across it, turning methane gas into carbon soot that falls and is compressed into graphite by the planet’s intense pressure. The graphite continues falling in towards the centre of the planet, where the pressure compresses it further into solid diamonds, and then into liquid diamond rain, where it eventually reaches a vast ocean of liquid hydrogen that scientists believe is at Saturn’s core.
Raining diamonds is a perfect metaphor for the action that Saturn brings in astrology, particularly around one’s Saturn return. Saturn exerts intense pressure and weight on us, restricting us and forcing us to be disciplined and change in the face of these burdens. If we are able to meet Saturn’s challenge and have grace under pressure, hopefully we transform into a sparkling diamond, as it were.
In mundane astrology, Saturn represents the land itself and natural resources, as well as anyone who works with or owns the land: farmers, foresters, miners, oil rig workers, landlords/land owners, etc. Because of the association of Saturn with death and illness, Saturn represents elderly people, infirm people, illnesses and epidemics.
To finish this article off, I offer two quotes about Saturn from a pair of brilliant astrologers.
Charles Obert, Saturn Through The Ages: Between Time and Eternity, 2019:
“Saturn is a border planet at the edge of time and eternity, the unmoving and the moving. You have Saturn as borders, walls, structures, edges, containers, skin. Saturn on the edge of eternity also is the mediator of the eternal law and order of the heavens down into the mutable world. This is Saturn as judgment, related to the modern notion of karma, but also Saturn as wisdom meaning knowledge and understanding of those laws – combine law plus age and you get the wisdom of age. Saturn as the outermost planet is very much the planet of entire cycles, and the wisdom that comes from knowledge of the entire cycles.
As border or gateway between moving and unmoving, time and eternity, Saturn is death – and, as Bonatti pointed out, Saturn marks both the entry into time and the exit from time. This relates Saturn to the after death reckoning, the judgment where our lives are measured over against the eternal law. Saturn also comes to represent Time itself, the overall process, and thus also overall cycles, and the consequences of the passage of time.”
Richard Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche, 2006:
“The principle of limit, structure, contraction, constraint, necessity, hard materiality, concrete manifestation; time, the past, tradition, age, maturity, mortality, the endings of things; gravity and gravitas, weightiness, that which burdens, binds, challenges, fortifies, deepens; the tendency to confine and constrict, to separate, to divide and define, to cut and shorten, to negate and oppose, to strengthen and forge through tension and resistance, to rigidify, to repress, to maintain a conservative and strict authority; to experience difficulty, decline, deprivation, defect and deficit, defeat, failure, loss, alienation; the labor of existence, suffering, old age, death; the weight of the past, the workings of fate, character, karma, the consequences of past action, error and guilt, punishment, retribution, imprisonment, the sense of “no exit”; pessimism, inferiority, inhibition, isolation, oppression and depression; the impulse and capacity for discipline and duty, order, solitude, concentration, conciseness, thoroughness and precision, discrimination and objectivity, restraint and patience, endurance, responsibility, seriousness, authority, wisdom; the harvest of time, effort, and experience; the concern with consensus reality, factual concreteness, conventional forms and structures, foundations, boundaries, solidity and stability, security and control, rational organization, efficiency, law, right and wrong, judgment, the superego; the dark, cold, heavy, dense, dry, old, slow, distant; the senex, Kronos, the stern father of the gods.”