WTF is a Saturn Return?!

A Saturn Return is arguably the most notorious, most dreaded transit in the astrological index. Even astrology newbies have stumbled across the term, and they, like the rest of us, often wonder what the f**k it is and why it’s so notorious and dreaded. 

Simply put, a Saturn Return is a time when transiting Saturn returns to the sign in which it was placed at the time of your birth. Since Saturn is such a slow-moving outer planet, he only makes this return once every 28 years, which is why this transit is so significant. It is an epic conjunction between outer Saturn and your inner Saturn that often coincides with or initiates significant life changes. 

One of the biggest reasons why Saturn Returns are so loathsome is because the outer planet is not a glamorous planet. Considered the “greater malefic”, or harbinger of sorrow and ruin, he rules over such things as discipline, self-mastery, restriction, frustration, and feelings of failure. 

In her book Saturn: A New Look at an Old Devil, astrologer Liz Greene calls Saturn “the Beast” from the fairy tale of Beauty and the Beast, for Saturn is stern, ugly, and a source of fear. He is the dark face of the Handsome Prince. In other words, Saturn represents our unconscious selves, our shadows. 

When Saturn Returns, he forces us into a period of intense self-discovery during which we experience a lot of pain and anguish. According to Greene, “…[man] can only earn his freedom by learning about himself… nothing stimulates this kind of exploration faster than frustration, which is the gift of Saturn,” (12). 

It’s true, when he conjuncts your natal Saturn, the transiting titan gives frustration, pain, anguish, and eventually personal growth. And he does this by instigating some serious Shadow Work. 

We’ve probably heard the term Shadow Work floating around the internet. Jungian psychology considers the shadow to be “everything of which a person is not fully conscious.” It is the part of ourselves that our egos (represented by Sun & Mars) don’t identify with (and more than likely project onto others). Through Shadow Work we work on becoming more conscious of our unconscious selves. In other words, we come face-to-face with the parts of ourselves we don’t like and have avoided for nearly 28 years in an effort to bring those qualities to light.

In the book, Alan Oken’s Complete Astrology, Oken states: “Saturn forces the individual to give up the illusions and misconceptions which hold him back from the liberation and freedom which come through a depersonalization of Self. Saturn requires the death of the personality so that the individuality (the Spirit) can emerge,” (211). 

Our Saturn Returns are divinely designed to make us conscious of the paths we are unconsciously following, and to shed the unrealistic ideals holding us back. The sign and House placement of the outer planet shows us what obstacles we must overcome, what shadows need illuminated, and what illusions need to perish in order for us to reach personal fulfillment. Internal conflict results when we realize that what we’re currently doing won’t get us to where we want to be. This is when we start questioning our life decisions. 

No Doubt’s 2000 album Return of Saturn is an example of this Saturnian existentialism. 

Throughout the length of the album, lead singer Gwen Stefani questions her life decisions, crooning about topics such as home, family, marriage, and children. (“Marry Me”, “Home Now”, and “Simple Kind of Life” are some example tracks.) 

Though marriage, security, and parental roles are all Saturn themes, they were especially prominent for Stefani because of her natal 4th House Saturn in Taurus. The 4th House coincides with home, family, motherhood, and our foundations; and Saturn is all about restriction, lack, and maturation. 

Saturn transited the fixed earth sign beginning in Feb. 1999, during which Stefani experienced her Saturn Return, and when she and the other members of No Doubt wrote the album. This is why so much of the album revolves around home, family, and motherhood (4th House themes), and growing up (Saturn themes), and is also why the album is named after the transit.

“By his sign and house position Saturn denotes those areas of life in which the individual is likely to feel thwarted in his self-expression,” (Greene, 11). Thus, when Saturn returns to his original sign and house position, he brings with him a resurgence of feeling thwarted. 

In Stefani’s case, she felt thwarted by her professional career, and believed that had she done things differently, she would have the husband, home, and family she always wanted. 

After the album’s release, Stefani talked about her feelings of guilt and insecurity which resulted from her choosing to pursue a career in music as opposed to a life as a wife and mother. 

“Anyone who knows me knows having a family has always been the most important thing to me. I wanted to be a mother—which is an unconditional giving of love—and a supportive wife…and right now I’ve chosen to do this. Being in a band is a bit of a selfish choice,” Gwen Stefani, Entertainment Weekly.  

Stefani’s shadow is her 4th House Saturn-in-Taurus. Her fear was that she did not have a home and family life and that she was not an unconditionally loving mother, all of which she needed to feel secure. Without those things, Stefani felt guilty, insecure, and frustrated. But it was through facing these shadowy feelings that she was able to write an album and shift into a new phase of her life.

Now, your Saturn Return may not see you doing as Stefani did, pondering marriage, motherhood, and family (though it is common). The themes of your Saturn Return depends entirely on the house and sign placement of your natal Saturn. For millennials entering into their Saturn Return in Aquarius, the major shadowy theme is that of not belonging. 

If you are already following the intended course of your life, then you have nothing to fear with your Saturn Return or the Shadow Work it brings along. A Saturn Return is most difficult only when we are unhappy with our life circumstances but also unwilling to change them. 

As Greene puts it, “Perhaps what is really asked of us by Saturn, and by our psyches, is that… we try asking why. It is possible that each delay and disappointment, or fear may be utilised as a means for greater insight into the mysterious mechanisms of the psyche, and that through these experiences we may gradually learn to perceive the meaning of our own lives,” (12).

Saturn urges us to take a look at the repressed shadowy parts of ourselves to better understand what we ultimately want out of life and whether or not we are doing what it takes to get it. Instead of screaming, “OH DEAR GOD WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?”, shift your perspective to that of acceptance and curiosity, and ask: “Why is this happening and what is it trying to teach me?”

Keep in mind that in addition to being the “greater Malefic”, Saturn is also the Karmic teacher. He is the planet whose stern, hard-to-learn lessons ultimately result in wisdom and the crystallization of your desires. Saturn Returns to test us so that we can gain strength. 

I won’t sugar-coat it, your Saturn Return will be challenging to say the least. However, it is also a period wherein you fully mature, where you fulfill your earthly obligations, and develop into the responsible, disciplined person you are meant to be. Like Greene says, delays, disappointments, and fears are prevalent; but they are also necessary, as they will eventually reveal to us our specific piece and placement in the grand puzzle of life. 

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Works Cited: 

Greene, Liz. Saturn: A New Look at an Old Devil. Ireland, Red Wheel Weiser, 2011.

Oken, Alan. Alan Oken’s Complete Astrology: The Classic Guide to Modern Astrology. United States, Nicolas-Hays, Incorporated, 2006.