My Friend Saturn

Saturn is the planet of difficulty. Saturn is not the planet of fear, Saturn is not the planet of hate, Saturn is not the planet of dread – Saturn is the planet of difficulty, but Saturn does not create difficulty, Saturn reveals difficulty. This article is a brief articulation of the ways I love Saturn, and how I place it in a loving context that allows it to fulfill its purpose: to offer support. When Saturn is highly active, because of its placement in a birth chart, its transits, or due to profections or aspects to personal planets, difficulties become obvious to us, sometimes overwhelmingly so, but this is ultimately how Saturn offers its support to us. To do this, I will be borrowing astrological concepts expounded by the writer Alice Sparkly Kat, quotations from the poet Audre Lorde, verses from Paul’s address at Corinth (the biblical book of Corinthians), and from the life story of my own Grandfather.

My grandfather was an Aquarius, one of the two signs ruled by Saturn, along with Capricorn. His life had many classic Saturnian themes: he worked hard, and long. Like his brothers and primos,  he left school at a young age to work, working in fields, workshops, and garages to help his family support the education of his sisters and primas. Because he falsified his age to help with work authorizations, he was drafted into the 2nd World War at a young age, and spent his late teens on the western front, marching across Europe. He landed in Normandy on the night before D-Day, and marched across Europe, remaining on the front until well after the fall of Berlin. When he returned to the states, he learned a handful of trades, namely woodworking, and locksmithing, and did his best to support his extended family, and his community with the Ysleta Del Sur Tewa Pueblo. He was also a lifelong member of The Optimist International, whose creed reads in part: “Promise yourself – to be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind . . . to be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear, and too happy to permit the presence of trouble.” This creed mirrors the words of another Aquarius, the revolutionary poet Audre Lorde, who once said: “When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” This is one of the gifts of Saturn: it will cast your gifts and your challenges in exact light, revealing the relative smallness of each, making it evident that – though you are mortal and fallible, so too are the things which trouble you.

For my grandfather, this type of Aquarian strength meant that despite the pains of living in a segregated society, of the poverty of his community, of the neglect by the government towards its veterans, and of the literal pains of having bullets remain lodged in his flesh for his entire life, the man was never bitter, never grumbling, never resentful, and always going out of his way to be of service to those around him.

This is the way of Saturn: it faces and accepts obstacles. Saturn refuses distraction or false comfort, preferring the demands of overcoming. In Saturn’s Capricorn aspect, Saturn is a woodworker who measures twice and cuts once. Saturn understands that time invested will be rewarded, and that a job well done is its own reward. The tables and chairs which my grandfather made have outlived him, and will probably outlive me. Similarly, Saturn in its Aquarian aspect is a locksmith. A lock is a system of control, designed to block access, but like any system, it is only the sum of its parts, and for those who are patient in their study of it and precise in their actions upon it, the parts of the system can be manipulated, and even opened. The most sophisticated locks in the world are still, to this day, often vulnerable to simple tools such as stethoscopes and pointed metal rods. Saturn knows the limits of all things, even metal, even locks.

This, I would guess, is why Saturn has been so long shunned by the poets of English and Latin. We have seemingly always preferred the patronage of the Moon and of Venus, and of Jupiter. As Alice Sparkly Kat put it in her book, Post Colonial Astrology, the Moon is a symbol of wealth, and Jupiter is a symbol of empire, and Venus is a symbol of both. Poets, of course, write often about the moon (thank you Sappho), and the private joys one can take in the cover of night, and poets write often about Jupiter in its many masks as Jove, Zeus, Dionysus, Christ, and so forth, because of the promise of more life yet to come. And poets adore Venus, god of love, of artists, of art for art’s sake. In the company of these three, Saturn, the Greater Malefic, stands out as an unpopular and contrarian rebel. To the moon, Saturn reminds us that what we do in shadows will always come to light. To Venus, Saturn reminds us that all our riches have a cost in debt. To Jupiter, Saturn reminds us that every empire shall fall.

This too is the optimism of Saturn. My father is a Capricorn, and his favorite phrase – in good times or bad, when asked for advice, or entirely unprovoked, is to say, plainly and without much emotion or emphasis, “this too shall pass.” Poetic orthodoxy bristles against this, hopes that the good times shall stay good forever, imagines the gleaming monuments of the empire – its spires, cathedrals, minnarets, drinking halls, academies, parks – shall stand for all eternity, to which Saturn can only laugh. Saturn is funny. Saturn is probably the funniest planet. In my grandfather’s family, as in many native traditions of turtle island, the tradition we hold is that God is a comedian: the twists and turns of our fate are only components of an elaborate joke, which is slowly being unfolded by time, like a locksmith making his way through the tumblers of a lock towards our ultimate destiny, which is a punchline.

Saturn is, arguably, the root of the Latin conception of God. In Christian art, Saints, Angels, and Holy People are depicted with a halo behind their heads. In the summer of 2019, on a moonless night in rural Vermont, I had the chance to look through a telescope at Saturn, stationed in the night sky. I saw the perfect, white light of Saturn’s reflection, and of Saturn’s brilliant halo, and I cried. This was the face of divinity, the farthest point known to ancient humanity, the boundary line of all that was known. In classical astrology, Saturn takes its exaltation in the sign of Libra: the sign of justice, equality, fairness, and of course, Love. This is my favorite pairing in all of zodiacal astrology: Saturn together with Libra. Saturn clothed in the beautiful regalia of love; Libra supported by purpose, by patience, and by discipline. Together, they form the basis for utopian thinking, for civic living. If Jupiter is the planet of Empires, forever seeking a distant and abundant horizon to bring into its orbit, then Saturn is the planet of Cities: I am where I am, with the people I’m around, and together, we do what we must, and what we can.

Where Jupiter prevails over the voyages of soldiers and prophets, Saturn holds court at the deli, the garage, and the sanitation plant. Saturn is the planet which exults dirty hands, celebrates the bloody and difficult work of birthing children, raising gardens, repairing roofs, feeding hundreds. The poetry of Saturn is the poetry of survival, which is its own beauty. However much the concept of Self Care is distorted as a marketing tactic, I will always remember it at its roots: it was crafted by the mind of Audre Lorde, who formulated it as a tactic for survival and for rebellion even as cancer progressed through her body. Self care is the maintenance of self for the sake of self’s role: as an essential part of a community of care, of struggle, and of shared survival. Saturn is the god of the city: assembled millions of strangers, accepting the machinery of politics, bureaucracy and industry which make a collective life possible. However much Venus and Jupiter tempt the 21st century poet towards pastoralism and fantasies of a little house on the prairie, I will always prefer the grousing of a town, with its endless exchange of languages, responsibilities, and money. Where Jupiter, Venus, and the Moon care so deeply about your motherland, your origin, your lineage, and your place in the world – Saturn only asks, what can you do for your neighbor, and what do you need in order to keep doing it?

This is the optimism of Saturn. When Saturn activates in our charts, it is easy to forget about our joys. Which brings me back to Saturn as the God of Latin, the God of the Bible, and the God of Christ. I mean no particular heresy here, and don’t have the time to expound on the nature of the universe, or even to pretend that I understand whether God is a singular being, the collective body of all that ever is or was, or simply a heuristic by which finite Man understands the infinite, but here I will say that Saturn, as a concept, is a useful shorthand for God. I am theatrical, by nature and by training, so let me put it this way: of all the forces of the universe, humanity perceives only a stage upon the play, and in such a play, Saturn would play the part of the God of the Bible, who is known in the Hadiths of Islam as “The Giver of Peace,” (Saturn as the planet of restraint), “The Provider” (Saturn as the planet of work), “The Opener (of the gates of profit)” (Saturn the planet of locksmiths), “The Judge,” (Saturn exalted in Libra), The Affectionate, The Friend, the Trustee, The Subsisting (Saturn, planet of the worker), “The Pardoner,” “The Kind,” “The Emancipator,” “The Patient.” These epithets are the qualities of Saturn, or more accurately, are the qualities which Saturn aspires to. 

Consider then, the mission of those who aspire to Godliness, best known of whom are Christians. Saturn shares in the symbols of Christendom, represented by a cross with a crescent extending from it, like so:

The symbol has several meanings, but being a symbol from the Christian world, the Cross is the main point of reference. The curved line extending has at least two popular meanings. The first, and perhaps best known is that of the Sickle. Saturn has historically been a god of harvests and of agriculture, of peasants and laborers. In Post Colonial Astrology, Alice Sparkly Kat speaks of Saturn as the god of gambling, which was, in many places and times, mainly an entertainment and ritual for the peasant and working classes. Skillful surveillance of other players and of the tools of gambling, be they dice, cards, tiles or straws, can sometimes earn you a considerable advantage – but short of cheating, none can truly control the progress of fate, which appears to us as luck, or fortune (in its classical double meaning of both wealth and of luck). This is what Saturn appreciates: our best works must be their own reward and satisfaction, because rewards such as status, fame, monetary wealth, and so forth, are often governed by forces outside of our control – by the fickle measures of beauty and empire and family, Venus, Jupiter and Luna.

It’s widely speculated, though I have no definite proof of the link, that the communist symbol of the Hammer and Sickle is derived in part from the symbol of Saturn, which appears on many of the churches and cathedrals of Europe, particularly in Paris, where the communards staged their first, brief victory. Where Saturn prevailed as a symbol of the laboring classes, the political movement that aspired towards their liberation took up Saturn as its symbol. Various updates have added or subtracted various instruments, such as sickles, machetes, ak-47s, mechanical gears, light bulbs, paint brushes, compasses, and so forth, but the basic shape remains: the cross of material work, and the crescent path of destiny. This symbol could also be taken as a kind of representation of various forms of Materialist History, such as Historical Materialism or Dialectical Materialism, which privilege work, production, and the concerns of the stomach as being the drivers of history, rather than the perfection of ideas or the greatness of individuals. This is the optimism of Saturn: by hands was this world made, by hands can this world be re-made.

Another, and rather less popular symbolism of Saturn’s crescent, is that of the “path of the cross,” meaning the journey of Christ towards the cross, or of humans towards destiny. Taken literally, the crescent is the shadow cast by the cross on the ground. Taken metaphorically, this represents Saturn as the planet of fates: each of us has a prophesy to fulfill, though few know the date or the manner of the destiny set forth for us. Saturn is not the source of these fates and the difficulties they bring – Saturn is the source of the patience and determination which carries us through those dates. To some, that source manifests in daily prayers, which fortify the spirit against suffering, while to others, that source manifests as daily works, training, and studies, which arm the body against suffering, but in either case, the general pattern is the same: Saturn sees and loves all suffering and those who suffer.

Again, we see Saturn in his aspect of Capricorn: Christ was a woodworker. In the Christian tradition, the birth of Christ is celebrated as December 25th, well within the tropical Capricorn season. Christ was a woodworker both as a trade, which he used to provide for his family in his youth, and as a destiny, when he built his cross. In New Mexico, not far from where my grandfather lived, there is a small town with a perhaps apocryphal story about Christ the woodworker. The story goes that there was a small church, its convent consisting of less than a dozen holy workers and not many more parishioners. The story goes that the church, for whatever reason, needed a way to expand, and hoped to build an attic to make the room they needed, but it seemed impossible. The building was constrained by rocky ground on all sides, and so couldn’t expand around it, or dig into the earth for a basement, and the church was too poor to pay for such expansions anyway. The story goes that on a day when the sisters of the Church were about to give up hope and admit that the building was a lost cause, a man came knocking on the door. He was a gaunt campesino who had been traveling for some time, his hair and clothing quite wild, his shoes in disrepair, and his belongings carried over his shoulder in just one small bag, as though he were traveling by foot, or by hitchhiking along highways and rail cars. He said to the sisters that he was a carpenter, and that he was willing to work in exchange for a little food and a place to sleep. The sisters welcomed him in, though they had little for themselves, saying that it is fine to give it away, since the church itself will not long stand. One of the sisters explained that with an attic, they could make room for a workshop and begin to sell handcrafts to support themselves, but otherwise, they would have to write to the church for dispensation to travel, perhaps to Los Angeles far to the west. The carpenter said he would take a look at it, and that in the morning he would tell them if anything could be done. The sisters pointed him to the bits of scrap wood and nails they had around and retired for the evening.

In the morning, the sisters returned for morning mass and found the campesino had already departed. What he left behind was a magnificent spiral staircase, leading perfectly up to the rafters of their church. It was the narrowest staircase any had ever seen, and a bit of seemingly impossible architecture – it should have needed more space, more wood, or at least more time. Yet here it was: the staircase was made, and the obstacle removed. The sisters promptly moved their belongings up to the rafters, cleared out room for a workshop, and set quickly to work building up their workshop where they could grow valuable herbs and weaving blankets to sell to travelers making their way.

Again, it’s an apocryphal story, and several versions exist, mine being probably the worst told. I’ve gotten some of the details and dramatic flair wrong,  and there are, I’m sure, a few towns around the world which will tell me that this is a bastardization of their story, but the point is: Saturn is the remover of obstacles. Saturn gives our hands callouses so they will be prepared to care for others in acts of service and material devotion. Saturn is the planet of charity, of material mercy: Saturn is the herald of the Catholic God.

The first Catholic, Paul, was a very Saturnian figure. He was a centurion in the Roman armies – a centurion being literally one who would defend Rome and ensure it would last for centuries. Paul was a celebrated soldier, victorious especially in his campaigns against the rebel Christians – until one day, a sandstorm set upon Paul in the desert, causing him to wander alone, where Christ appeared to him. There, in the Desert, Paul saw the king of those he had tortured, and fell to his knees. Christ gave Paul forgiveness, and Paul cast off the armor and spears of the Empire, and set to preaching the glories of Christ.

Some years on, Paul delivered a message to the congregation of Corinth, in what is now called Greece. The congregation had fallen into infighting and judgments amid growing conflict with the rest of Corinth. Paul’s message was extensive, speaking of the nature of God, of Christ, of Miracles and of Worship, but what endures most of all is one particular passage, which, in one version reads:

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

This is Corinthians 12:13, one of the most quoted passages of the Christian Bible, well known for its appearances in films such as Sion Sono’s “Love Exposure,” or in Andrei Tarkovsky’s “Andrei Rublev.” It is a profoundly Saturnian message about the nature of God, and the nature of Love. Here, a man who has spoken directly to the worldly embodiment of God, and who has seen actual, astonishing miracles worked by the chosen followers of that God, says to the congregation: all of that is less than love. 

Saturn is the planet that aspires to this Godly love, and which guides us in our path towards it. Saturn is patient and teaches patience. Saturn is kind and teaches kindness. Saturn is humble and teaches humility. Saturn rejoices in truth, protects, trusts, and of course, always hopes always perseveres.

This is the optimism of Saturn, and what I hope to impart in this article. Saturn accepts the mistakes of the past as being like the mistakes of childhood, which prepare us to do better in adulthood. Saturn shows us the difficulties, flaws, and failures of our life only so that we can see ourselves in a mirror so that we can be ready when we see “the perfect,” face to face: when we shall know fully, even as we are fully known.

In these times of wars and rumors of wars, of plagues and famines, of tyrannical kings and fraudulent usurpers, Saturn has a simple, loving message: this too shall pass.

If Astrology is the language of your life, as it is with mine, look to the aspects of Saturn with kindness and patience, and you will find the same energy reflected back to you. Saturn is the greater malefic because it heralds hardship and suffering, but Saturn itself has no ill-will. Whatever the aspect or placement in the chart, Saturn is only there to support. Saturn’s support is at times uncomfortable – often critical, often demands difficult work to overcome weaknesses and repair errors – but it is always supportive. Saturn, in its archetypical roots, is devotedly selfless and committed to service. Unlike Venus, Jupiter, or the Sun, Saturn’s ego is not easily hurt. Saturn will visit no particular revenge against you – because who are you to Saturn? You are only another child of God, another pair of taxpaying hands in the polis. Saturn only wants to see you overcome your obstacles, fulfill your obligations, and continue to subsist. From this bedrock of survival, faith and hope can spring – but at the very foundation, underlying the very survival itself is Love.

Saturn carries no finery, no heraldry, no elaborate decoration or glorification. All that Saturn carries if Love- it is a tough love, and a love which lives only while it is working – but it is Love. Saturn wishes only to love, and in turn, I love Saturn, and I hope that you, dear reader, will come to love Saturn a little more in turn.