Saturn Returns

Saturn’s cycles have become part of the fabric of our culture. The “seven-year itch” and the fear of turning 30 are seen as significant turning points in life, and both owe much to the cycles described by Saturn.

Edmund Dantes, the hero of the classic novel The Count of Monte Cristo, was imprisoned for 14 years. Half a Saturn cycle is about 14 years, during which time Dantes studied with a wise, elderly man who seemed to be an astrologer, and learned to be more realistic (and perhaps more cynical) about life. Very Saturnine stuff! Ben, the character Dustin Hoffman played in the movie The Graduate, is about to turn 21 at the begin¬ning of the story. He’s just completed college, but doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life and feels sluggish and aimless, drifting into an affair with an older, worldlier woman. Saturn strikes again!

Golf phenomenon Tiger Woods won the Masters tournament at the age of 21, becoming the youngest winner and the first African-American to claim a major professional golf championship. Elvis Presley exploded on the scene at the age of 21 as well. 21 is approximately three-quarters of a Saturn cycle, although most people don’t come into their own professionally at this young age. Most of us seem to wait for Saturn’s first return. The term “return” refers to the time when transiting Saturn returns to the zodiacal degree this planet held at the time of a person’s birth, usually between the ages of 28 and 30. Betty Lundsted quotes Mark Twain in her book on planetary cycles as saying that, “When I was 21 my parents were quite ignorant, but by the time I reached 28, they had matured a lot.” This is Twain’s humorous way of saying that he, himself, had matured in the intervening years.

Something important does indeed change us when we reach the Saturn return. We’ve experienced life as individuals, and most of us have already taken on a job or other significant responsibilities, such as a marriage and children, and have a more concrete idea of who we are and what we want from the future. We’ve gained enough experience of life to have developed a sense of our own reality, and have a better idea of the way in which we’d like to fit into the world in the future.

Since Saturn is a major indicator of one’s career path, the Saturn return often changes or coalesces that path. For those who haven’t quite found their niche, or are in need of a job overhaul, the return can signal a time of change in a new direction, or to a different and more satisfying vocation. For those who have worked toward a particular goal, taking on more responsibility or making a more significant work commitment becomes the next step toward succeeding in a chosen vocation. Sometimes the responsibilities of career and other obligations weigh heavily upon us at the time of a first Saturn return. We must then prioritize things, decide which activities can be meaningful in the future, and which have merely become a burden and need to be dropped.

The writer and philosopher Gertrude Stein was born with the Sun, Mercury and Venus in Aquarius, all conjunct Saturn. Although not an astrologer, she seems to have had the keen appreciation of rhythm, time and cycles that Saturn’s influence often bestows. Born in 1874, Stein studied with the psychologist William James at Radcliffe College and later attended Johns Hopkins Medical School. She chose to give up medicine, however, and left the U.S. for France, her home for the rest of her life, at age 29, right around the time of her Sat¬urn return. Stein first began writing seriously at this time. She began her novel, Fernhurst, in 1904 at the age of 30: in it, she gives us great insight into what this turning point in life is all about:

“It happens often in the twenty-ninth year of a life that all the forces that have been engaged through the years of child¬hood, adolescence and youth in confused and ferocious combat range themselves in ordered ranks — one is uncertain of one’s aims, meaning and power during these years of tumultuous growth when aspiration has no relation to fulfillment and one plunges here and there with energy and misdirection during the storm and stress of the making of a personality until at last we reach the twenty-ninth year the strait and narrow gateway of maturity and life which was all uproar and confusion narrows down to form and purpose and we exchange a great dim possibility for a small hard reality.

“Also in our American life where there is no coercion in custom and it is our right to change our vocation so often as we have desire and opportunity it is a common experience that our youth extends through the whole first twenty-nine years of our life and it is not until we reach thirty that we find at last that vocation which we feel ourselves fit and to which we willingly devote continued labor.”

The Saturn return can represent the ending of a phase in one’s life, as well as the beginning of a new one. Its importance will depend upon the strength and significance of Saturn in the birth chart. But we don’t really need to look at the whole natal chart in order to get a better idea of how Saturn is operating in an individual’s life. The return always falls between the ages of 28 and 30, d¬pending on the part of the Saturn cycle in which we’re born.

Sometimes there are clear events in the outside world at this time which signify that we’re coming into our own sense of authority. The composer Mozart’s father, for example, died when Mozart was 30 years old. As his father was Mozart’s teacher and manager from the time he was a child, this must have felt like a release from the expectations of others. Although Mozart himself died at 35, he composed some of his greatest operas after his father’s death. Saturn can also simply initiate a release from restrictions. An example: one of the leaders of the Tienanmen Square rebellion in China was released from prison at the age of 29.

Occasionally, the first Saturn return signals a definite ending to a significant career phase. The poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge was very popular in the late 18th century. As he turned 29, however, he felt he was losing his poetic powers. He then entered a new phase of his life in which teaching, criticism and commentary become more important. Orson Welles was regarded as a has-been after he completed the film Citizen Kane at the age of 27. Although none of his later works were as highly regarded, he remained committed to movie-making and went on to make other wonderful motion pictures.

More often, it appears that people strike out in a new direction at around this time. The social worker Jane Addams founded Hull House in Chicago at the age of 29; she would later win the Nobel Prize for her work. Andrew Carnegie left his position at the Pennsylvania Railroad to pursue his own business interests at the age of 30. He went on to become one of the wealthiest and most prominent industrialists of his time. Similarly, the inventor Thomas Edison retired from the manufacturing world and gave all his time to his own projects at the age of 29. Occultist Annie Besant left her clergyman husband at the age of 27, and would soon help form the National Secular Society, where she espoused radical causes and practiced public speaking. This experience would eventually lead to her great involvement with the Theosophical movement. Lyndon Johnson was elected to Congress at the age of 28, kicking off a political career that would culminate in his presidency from 1963 to 1969.

It’s also quite common for people who have been in a satisfying vocation to reinforce their position somehow, or to take on more significant responsibilities between the ages of 28 to 30. Often this does involve some change as well as important developments. Saturn has the ability to focus or concentrate the attention, and to allow one to put more energy into the career.

The composer Gustav Mahler finished his first symphony, a very long, unique work, at the age of 29 after previously working on shorter pieces like cantatas and song cycles. The electrical inventor Nicola Tesla came to the United States at the age of 28, and soon thereafter got a job working for the Edison Company. Guglielmo Marconi sent the first transatlantic wireless message when he was nearly 28. Filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock was already lauded as the premiere filmmaker in England at the age of 30, but he would come to the United States, where his most highly regarded films were made, only after that.

The astronomer and astrologer Johannes Kepler began work under Tycho Brahe at the age of 27. Brahe had more sophisticated instruments than Kepler had access to, and Kepler was assigned the observation of Mars in order to compute more accurate planetary tables. Kepler was 30 by the time Brahe died, but the work they did together laid the groundwork for much of Kepler’s later work, including his three famous planetary laws. Napoleon Bonaparte defeated the Austrian Empire at the age of 28, then went onto capture Alexandria and Cairo, Egypt, when he was 29. This led to the investigation of the pyramids and other ancient treasures of Egypt (old things are very Saturnine), but also enhanced Napoleon’s reputation and allowed him to seize power in France later on. Musician Amy Grant signed her first music con¬tract at the age of 15, and concentrated on inspirational songs until she moved to general music at 30. After this time she was able to cross over to greater popularity with a larger audience.
Saturn cycles don’t function only in people’s lives. We can also see how they operate in mundane matters: the Berlin Wall came down at its first Saturn return, once again allowing East and West Ger¬many to unite. The celebration of Christ¬mas was not allowed in Communist Cuba from 1969 to 1997, a period of 28 years. South African president and activist Nelson Mandela was a political prisoner for nearly 28 years. All these situations show clear examples of restrictive Saturn periods.

The second Saturn return at about ages 56 to 59 is another momentous turning point in life for many people. Often this is the period when one begins to consider retirement, and to let go of some of the material trappings of life. Children are usually grown up with families of their own by this point, allowing for more personal freedom. Although the second Saturn return does indicate a period of endings for many, it’s also a time of new beginnings for a surprising number of people. Many are now living longer and will continue to work or will switch careers after retirement. For some, the maturing appreciation of death as a natural part of life encourages them to focus their energies even more strongly on the projects they feel they simply must accomplish in this lifetime.

There can, of course, be some sense of delay or limitation during the actual time of the return, as our energies are forced to re-focus. Indira Gandhi, for example, lost the Prime Ministership of India at the age of 59, after serving for 11 years, but made a come-back and was re-elected three years later.

Many do embark on important new beginnings in life at their second Saturn return. One lifestyle or approach is over and a fresh one replaces it. Sometimes our own struggles against the odds come to fruition at this time. Mary Baker Eddy founded the Christian Science movement at the age of 58 as a result of her own personal experience in healing herself through prayer. Spanish writer Miguel Cervantes published Don Quixote at the age of 58, thus insuring his fame. We remember Cervantes for this work, but he had written over 40 plays in the previous 20 years with no success.

Often, though, the second Saturn return represents not only a new beginning, but a culmination of years of effort and hard work. Richard Williams, the father and coach of tennis champs Venus and Serena, was 58 when his daughters played each other in the Wimbledon semi-finals. Mother Theresa had been doing her philanthropic work in India for decades, but was discovered by the world only when she filmed an interview at age 59. Madeleine Albright was appointed secretary of state at the age of 59, after working as an adviser to Democratic presidential candidates and serving as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations for five years.

These examples illustrate the many kinds of life developments that the Saturn return can bring about. Although the process can be tough for some, bringing the kinds of delays, restrictions and limitations typical of Saturn, it’s obvious that for many, even the second return offers opportunities for renewal and change, especially in terms of career development.

© Karen Christino – All rights reserved. Originally published in American Astrology.