Saturn, the Maligned

Or, “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Hardass”

Photo by Planet Volumes on Unsplash

Most of us in the occult world have at least a passing familiarity with the planets and their correspondences. Even the only vaguely-pagan will jest about computers, smartphones, and other technology faltering, glitching, or flat-out failing during Mercury retrograde.

As any planetary magician or western astrologer will tell you, big daddy Saturn has quite a reputation. Known as the “Greater Malefic,” the last planet in the classical system is known to bring—among other things—depression, weight, slowness, and restriction when invoked. Certainly other qualities fall under its rule which aren’t so negative. Patience, endurance, discipline, and so on. However, since we as a species typically focus more on the negatives of any given stimulus, the tendency is to see Saturn (primarily, at least) as something of an existential/spiritual threat. Especially when you consider that, until the discovery of the outer planets, Saturn was the realm of old age and death, aspects of life that even today are treated with fear and disdain in many cultures, although thankfully that attitude seems to be slowly changing with the encouragement of people like Caitlin Doughty, founder of the Order of the Good Death and the “Ask A Mortician” YouTube channel.

I could go on, but the picture seems pretty clear: Saturn bad. There are sites upon articles upon blogs with advice on how to face one’s Saturn return, around 29 years of age, supposedly a period of great challenge as the Taskmaster administers an exam of sorts to see how you’ve been dealing with life’s lessons up to that point. Some go further and discuss Saturn’s influence at its transits aspecting one’s natal Saturn at the squares and opposition, the most difficult aspects in western astrology and coinciding roughly with ages 7, 15, and 22.

But enough doomsaying. I think it’s long past time that we look more at how Saturn helps and cares for us and not just how it puts us through the proverbial wringer (as it were).

A couple months back I had something of an epiphany when studying my natal chart. In the scheme of the Tree of Life, Saturn is associated with Binah, the third sephira after Kether and Chokmah. In a nutshell, it is the point where the primordial energies of the previous two sephiroth begin to condense and solidify on the path to manifestation in the purely physical/mundane realm of Malkuth. Given its nature as a sort of cosmic womb or vessel, I contemplated whether one’s natal Saturn could describe any circumstances surrounding one’s conception. (I’m still looking for outside input regarding this idea.) Something about this train of thought flipped a switch for me, and suddenly I had an impression of Saturn not as the stern, grumpy disciplinarian that seems to be common, but more like…well….

Side-by-side image of Gramma Tala from Disney's "Moana" and Grandmother Willow from Disney's "Pocahontas"

Of course! The associations suddenly flashed rapidly through my mind. Binah is known as the Great Mother, whose magical image is that of an old woman with long hair. Images of the yoni, the womb, the veil, as well as personages such as Isis, Demeter, and the Virgin Mary are all related to the sphere. Wikipedia states: “In its fully articulated form, Binah possesses two partzufim. The higher of these is referred to as Imma Ila’ah (‘the higher mother’), whereas the lower is referred to as tevunah (‘comprehension’). These two partzufim are referred to jointly as Imma (‘the mother’).” It seemed quite reasonable to believe that, with all this allegory of beginning the manifestation process, incubation, gestation, the boundaries between life and death, separation and unity, looking at Saturn’s placement in one’s natal chart could describe something about the energies or influences in place at the time of one’s conception. Wave after wave of correspondence and symbolic relationship surged through my mind to the point that I couldn’t believe I’d never really seen Saturn as such a nurturing, guiding presence before, especially since some time prior I’d already established the feminine aspect in my personal cosmology (more on that in a future post). And that’s how she seemed now. She wasn’t the strict authority rapping my knuckles with a ruler; she was the loving crone, the village crazy lady, being firm in her teachings and the lessons she was trying to teach me but forgiving and compassionate when I fell, wiping my tears and pointing the way for me when I allowed myself to be vulnerable and admit my fault. She was a grandmother, the Great Mother, and she would help me from afar as I worked my way back up the Tree, ready to embrace me back into the darkness as I approached the veil once again.

Much as I’d like to end the post on such a lovely thought, I feel compelled to convey the rest of the train of thought. Prompted by this image of the “village crazy lady” and the idea of Saturn/Binah as both womb and crone, I found myself forming a tangential hypothesis that—if one imagines life as a journey from the top of the Tree of Life to the bottom and back—dementia, eccentricity, and all the other things we associate with cognitive decline due to old age are because we are approaching Saturn/Binah again and, more importantly, the boundary beyond which any theoretical individual existence becoems impossible to describe. The closer we come to the Source, the less our brains and bodies and handle (and, past death, the less our souls and spirits “tolerate” individuation). This would also explain the observation of the similarities between the capabilities & behaviors of the elderly and the infantile, particularly in those with dementia. It also makes the psalmic expression, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” all the more poignant and meaningful in light of Saturn’s correspondence witht the element of earth in Western esotericism, “[the] quarry of God’s spirit.”*

Now this shouldn’t suggest that I don’t still respect Saturn’s role in my life and my practice, such as it is; I think I still have a healthy appreciation and apprehension for her spiritual chancla. But perhaps it doesn’t get pulled out nearly as often as I convinced myself it does.

*Arthur Green. A guide to the Zohar

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