Saturn: Our Worst Enemy or Our Greatest Friend?
Of the planets in our solar system visible to the naked eye, Saturn is arguably the most spectacular. Its very visible rings distinguish it from the other inner planets and give it a unique beauty. So why is this magnificent planet considered to be the supreme terrifier and feared by those who see him coming their way? In reality Saturn, like all the planets, has a function and a purpose. Here we will explore the mythology of Saturn and his function in astrology to show that he is, in reality, not the villain he is portrayed to be. In fact, he is one of the truest friends a person could have. Saturn, a friend? Knowing that you aren’t yet convinced, let us examine him more closely and see what we find.
Over the centuries Indian astrologers have found that the greatest, the most powerful, and the most dangerous of all the (inner) planets is Saturn. They have also invested a great deal of time and effort in trying to find ways to keep Saturn’s influence under control. (1) It is said that all beings fear Saturn. To eastern and western astrologers alike, Saturn is considered the greater malefic in the astrology chart. He is the grim reaper, ruler of bereavements and misfortunes. He is known to bring depravity, darkness and at times death to those whose lives he enters. In the book The Greatness of Saturn, Dr. Robert Svoboda says, “If pleased he will give you a kingdom, but if irate he will snatch everything away from you in a moment. His grace makes you happy, while his wrath so thoroughly ruins you that your name is completely forgotten in the human world.” (2)
In Greek mythology, Saturn killed his own father and in Indian lore, he is said to not even have spared his own guru when it came to delivering his wares. However, as we will see, Saturn is also depicted in some stories as being a divine king who ruled over a Golden Age where life was joyful and filled with abundance. So will the real Saturn please stand up?
The planets, like the gods and goddesses of Mount Olympus and like human beings in general, have a positive side, a divine nature, as well as a shadow side. Saturn is no exception. Each planet is designed to teach us lessons. In Indian mythology, it is believed that the planets are the deliverers of one’s actions. Their job is to bring to us the fruits of our actions, the fruits of our good and bad deeds. (3&4)
Svoboda sums it up quite nicely. “…the Nine Planets…are the nine chief masks of reality…These Nine Grahas…inhabit the corporeal planets in the same way that human personalities reside within physical bodies. The Nine Great Grahas are the nine major personalities which arise from the primordial images which populate the world of the mind, images which resemble the archetypes that Carl Jung described.” (5) Svoboda also talks about how a person’s destiny is the sum of their past actions. It is the job of the nine planets to “see to it that you reap, without fail, what you sow, for they are the executive officers of the Law of Karma, which is the Law of Action and Reaction.” (6)
The Law of Karma basically states that as you sow, so shall you reap. Newton’s third law of motion says that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, another way of stating this law of cause and effect. Even though all the planets are channels for giving and receiving our energy and subsequent karma, Saturn’s job is that of the enforcer-he forces you to experience the results of your actions, your karma. Saturn governs time. When the karmic alarm clock goes off, Saturn must deliver your karma to your doorstep, ready or not.
In astrology, Saturn also represents boundaries, limits, structure, discipline, responsibility, honor, and integrity, among other things. His rings are symbolic of those limits, forming a band around the planet, symbolic of the iron band (7) we form around ourselves as a result of our actions, our karma. Saturn represents the material plane. In astrology he has the ability to crystallize things into the physical. It is also interesting that Saturn with its rings looks like an atom with electrons swirling around it. Atoms are the building blocks of material, of matter.
Saturn is the furthest of the “inner” planets from the Sun and the last planet that can be easily seen with the naked eye. He therefore represents the boundaries or limits of consciousness, of that which can be seen. It appeared to the ancients that there were no planets beyond Saturn. Metaphorically it seems that nothing gets beyond Saturn. The karmic buck stops with him. When Saturn comes to visit by transit, people often feel trapped, stuck, imprisoned, like they can’t get past whatever is blocking them. Then it is a matter of time, of serving their time and of balancing whatever karmic box Saturn has delivered to their doorstep, before they are free from his grip.
To get a deeper understanding of Saturn, let us take a look at his mythology. In Vedic astrology, the depth of astrological knowledge was passed from teacher to student through planetary stories and myths. By telling stories and bringing the planets to life, the Jyotishi was able to integrate the meanings easier. The same drama of the planets are acted out here below, thus relating the macrocosm of the planets to the microcosm of our world.
In India there are several myths and stories about Saturn. The Greatness of Saturn is an example of such a myth. Svoboda defines Saturn (Shani) as “the planet in charge of fate, which forces you to experience your karmas whether you want to or not”. (8) Saturn is the brother of Yama, the god of righteousness and death. The great sage and father of Vedic astrology, Parasara, linked Saturn with Brahma. (9)
The Greatness of Saturn addresses the 7˝ year period where Saturn enters the constellation before that of your Moon until it passes through the constellation after your Moon. Without going into great detail, in this story King Vikramaditya spoke ill of Saturn. “When the king was finished, the dark-countenanced Saturn spoke to him in a voice that rang with the calm cold of reality: “O Vikramaditya! You have insulted me in front of the entire assembly without even knowing the extent of my capabilities. Are you aware that Indra and all the other devas quiver in front of me? You know that whomever I get angry with I totally destroy, but what you have not yet comprehended is that I do not allow even a trace of that miscreant to remain; no, not even his name.” (10)
The king subsequently suffered for 7 ˝ years at the hands of Saturn and lost everything he had. When he asked for compassion, Saturn’s reply was that if he showed compassion, the King would not learn his lessons. Saturn told him that he must experience him. (11) Otherwise his “insolence” would not leave him. In the end, he learned many lessons and was grateful for his experience. He was a better person for it, “a wiser and much more sober man”. (12)
To his own Guru Saturn said, “O Guru! Anyone who is free from arrogance has nothing to fear from me, but everyone who harbors arrogance within will have to suffer as you have suffered.” (13) Hearing this story of how Saturn harried his own guru adds more to the fear people experience with Saturn. However, as Saturn explained, all incidents that happen are fruits of a person’s karmas, served up to them during their various Seven-and-a-Half periods. (14) Therefore, what one really fears is himself.
It is said that until you have completely conquered and gained control of your inner nature, Saturn can still affect you and you are at his mercy. Saturn searches out the weaknesses in our personality and will expose these weaknesses and limitations. This is where some of the positive aspects of Saturn, such as self-discipline, come in handy to help people pull in the reigns and control their lower nature.
In Greek mythology, Saturn was called Cronus. He was ruler of the Titans, or Elder Gods, the youngest son of Uranus and Gaea. Cronus’ father, Uranus, regarded his offspring with horror and cast them into the depths of earth when they were born. When Cronus was born, at the prompting of his mother, he rebelled against his father and mutilated him with a sickle. We see the themes of rebellion and independence, which are normally associated with Uranus, but here they are carried out by Cronus. The blend of the stories of Cronus and Uranus helps us see how Saturn is associated with both Aquarius, which represents the elements of rebellion, liberation and freedom, and Capricorn, which is normally associated with Saturnian qualities.
An oracle told Cronus that one day he would be overcome by one of his children. In response to this possibility, Cronus, following in similar footsteps as his father, proceeded to swallow his children when they were born. This is symbolic of Cronus repressing or swallowing his own creations (with children being the ultimate creation).
There is only so much that can be stuffed and at some point it has to come to the surface for resolution. Cronus’ wife, Rhea, who could be representative of the feminine or feeling aspect of himself, was overwhelmed with grief at the loss of her children. Saturn is cold and dry and it can be easier just to shut down emotionally rather than deal with things. At a certain level, people can only cut themselves off for so long until the grief and unresolved issues start to seep into the conscious mind.
So when Saturn’s son, Zeus, was born, Rhea’s parents, Uranus and Gaea, helped her to take Zeus away to be nourished and raised in secret. Instead of giving Zeus to Cronus, Rhea presented him with a stone wrapped in clothes for him to swallow. When Zeus was older, he asked Metis to create a drought that caused Cronus to vomit up the stone and all of his children.
Zeus symbolizes hope in astrology. Perhaps the birth of Zeus is symbolic of the birth of hope in Cronus and also of the process of bringing Zeus’ nature in Cronus to the conscious mind. The part of him that was represented by Zeus was nourished until one day, when Zeus was strong enough, he forced Cronus to bring the rest of his creations to the surface, symbolized by Saturn vomiting up his children.
Psychologist Carl Jung said “that which we do not bring to consciousness appears in our lives as fate”. (15) Saturn is the planet that represents our fate, our karma. In his myth, it is symbolic that the part of him that was unconscious (his children or his own creations that were swallowed or stuffed in the unconscious) did fulfill the prophecy and appear as fate, predicted by the oracle, with one of his children, Zeus, rising and overcoming him. Had he not sublimated his children, i.e. had he brought his actions and creations to consciousness, there would be no need for Zeus to overtake him.
According to Homer, Saturn (or Cronus) was then driven from the sky and cast out to the depths of the universe. Others say he was sent to the ends of the earth to dwell in bliss. (16) Here we see the two sides of Saturn. One is being cast to the depths of the universe, symbolic of Saturn being the outermost planet in ancient times, to experience one’s karma. The other is the bliss and blessing of having Saturn reflect back to us the error of our ways so that we can learn, become self-disciplined, change our ways and subsequently live in bliss, which is what everyone seeks in one way or another.
In Roman mythology, Saturn was related to agriculture and was of the same rank as Jupiter. His name was synonymous to sator (a sower) and to abundance. He was a working god and was associated with the riches of the earth. After his overthrow by Zeus, he was said to have fled and became king of Italy during the Golden Age, a time of perfect peace and happiness which lasted as long as he was king. (17) His reign brought prosperity and abundance. (18) In a painting in Pompeii, Saturn is shown standing with a sickle in his hand, symbolic of agriculture and the earth’s riches. (19) It is also probably symbolic of the sickle with which he killed his father. So again we see the two sides of Saturn.
Saturn was originally one of the Numina, the protector of the Sowers and the Seed. In later days he was said to be the same as the Greek god Cronus. In memory of the Golden Age where he reigned in Italy, the great feast of the Saturnalia was held every year during the winter (time of Capricorn). It was considered that the Golden Age returned to the earth during the days of the feast. During this time no one could declare war, slaves and masters ate at the same table, executions were postponed, people gave presents. It kept alive the idea of equality, a time when all were on the same level. (20) This also relates to the fact that once you reap your karma, there are no favorites. The law of karma is the same for all.
Saturn is also the source of Saturday or Saturn’s day. Translated, Saturday means Sabbath. (21) It was considered a holy day, the day before the Sabbath. Saturn, as ruler of Capricorn, is associated with the year’s end. This is the time of Christmas and New Year’s celebrations, which also relates back to when the ancient Romans celebrated Saturnalia, the festival of Saturn and the winter solstice. Making New Year’s resolutions fits the theme of Saturn, where people vow to do things better, become more self-disciplined, set limits, etc.
It is said in esoteric teaching that Saturn is the planet of discipleship. “A disciple is someone who learns by surrendering to Reality, who studies minute by minute everything that Saturn has to teach, be it bitter or sweet. True disciples attempt to control their own nature, that they may influence Saturn’s influence on themselves.” (22)
Saturn is like the stern look of the guru. When you look into his eyes you see the mirror of your folly and your human creation. There can be fear in this experience, but if you let the transmutive fires of Saturn’s gaze go through you, you will come out the other side free from the substance and the habit patterns that got you there in the first place.
Saturn dries you up and parches your thirst to where you feel nothing-that is nothing that is not real. When karma is due, the swiftness of how it descends, sometimes with great terror, just like what happened to King Vikramaditya, can be devastating. That is why Saturn is viewed with fear and terror. However, he delivers nothing that hasn’t been ordered. He is simply the messenger and harbinger of our fate. When he comes to our door, time is up and putting off the inevitable of paying for our mistakes is not possible. However, once the karma is balanced and time is served, there is wonderful relief to the soul.
The key is to learn the lesson that Saturn teaches and not repeat the behavior. It is imperative that you get wise and become conscious of the fact that what is delivered to your doorstep can’t be blamed on anyone else, that you have to vomit that part of yourself out of the subconscious like Saturn did and face it. Otherwise, you will continue to weave a karmic web that you will eventually experience as fate or karma returning just as Carl Jung said-i.e. what is not brought to the conscious mind is lived out as fate.
When in the grips of Saturn, i.e. your own karma, you may feel hopeless, depressed, trapped. And you will be trapped for as long as necessary. However, there is hope in the midst of it. Be humble, look at the circumstances for what they are and know that it is coming around for a reason. You are experiencing something that you have done unto another and now it is time to learn the lesson of what it feels like to be on the receiving end.
Look inside yourself as to the causes, don’t blame another, open your heart to Saturn as your teacher, and it can be one of the most rewarding experiences of a lifetime. The sooner you learn that no one does anything to you, that you essentially do it to yourself, the sooner you are released from Saturn’s grip. Soon we begin to welcome Saturn into our life because we know that after his cycle is complete, we have paid a certain debt that will leave us freer and happier, and hopefully wiser, to live our lives unencumbered by karma hanging over our heads.
Saturn can be your greatest friend in that he shows you the tangible results of your actions so that you can make corrections, serve your time and turn around and do it right the next time. The stern gaze of Saturn is only stern to those who have something to fear, something to lose. That loss is the loss of their human creation, a creation that is not real in the first place and exists only in the sands of time and space.
So again we ask, how can it be said that Saturn, the supreme terrifier among the planets, can be your greatest friend? As we have seen, it is simply because Saturn returns to us only that which we have sent forth. And once we are able to experience our own creation, our karmic return, we are able to learn, grow and be free from the burdens that we have imposed upon others and therefore, upon ourselves. And what could be more kind and loving than to have someone tell you what you are doing wrong. And since we are generally resistant to hearing what we have done wrong, Saturn has the thankless task of delivering our karma to us in such a way that we experience what we have done to another in exactly the same way they felt and experienced it from us.
What better way to learn our lessons. Unfortunately, we don’t always remember what we have done to another or even if we do remember, we don’t usually have co-measurement as to how it felt to the other person. Therefore, we blame Saturn and others for our misfortune. Nevertheless, those great and small must reap what they sow, whether they learn their lessons or not. And thanks to Saturn, there is no injustice in the universe.
What a great guy, this Saturn. Because of him, we don’t have to worry about people getting away with anything. We don’t have to blame others or try to get even. Fortunately for us, he has does all that for us when he delivers back to people what they have sent out.
We have been taught that one of the masters who rules Saturn is Maitreya, the Buddha whose essence is loving kindness. Those who worship Maitreya find that underneath his stern but peaceful gaze is the most gentle and kind father a person could ever want. So I say we give Saturn some credit. He walks around dark and thin from carrying all the messages and burdens he has to deliver.
However, Saturn delivers both good and bad karma. When he is happy “he causes good fortune to sweep through your life”. (23) Perhaps we could help take a load off of him by learning our lessons and creating pleasant karma for him to deliver to us. This is one way to befriend and please Saturn. Then we can go off to the ends of the earth and live with him in bliss or be his subject somewhere where he is king of a Golden Age.
1. Svoboda, Robert E., The Greatness of Saturn: A Therapeutic Myth (Tulsa, OK: Sadhana Publications, 1997), p. 17.
2. Svoboda, Robert E., The Greatness of Saturn, p. 87.
3. Danielou, Alain, The Myths and Gods of India (Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions International, 1991), p. 166 Quoted from Bhrat Parasara Hora 1.26.31. .
4. Danielou, p. 166 (Quoted from Karapatri, “Sri Visnu tattva,” Siddhanta, V, 1944-46).
5. Svoboda, Robert E., The Greatness of Saturn, p. 162.
6. Svoboda, Robert E., The Greatness of Saturn, p. 163.
7. Iron is the metal associated with Saturn.
8. Svoboda, Robert E., The Greatness of Saturn, p. 285.
9. Svoboda, Robert E., The Greatness of Saturn, p. 217.
10.Svoboda, Robert E., The Greatness of Saturn, p. 106.
11. Svoboda, Robert E., The Greatness of Saturn, p. 107.
12. Svoboda, Robert E., The Greatness of Saturn, p. 145.
13. Svoboda, Robert E., The Greatness of Saturn, p. 135.
14. Svoboda, Robert E., The Greatness of Saturn, p. 139.
15. Svoboda, Robert E., The Greatness of Saturn, p. 167.
16. Aldington, Richard and Ames, Delano, Translators, New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology (Hong Kong: The Hamlyn Publishing Group Limited, 1959), p. 90-92.
17. Hamilton, Edith, Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes (Boston, MA: Little, Brown & Company, 1940, 1942), p. 25.
18. Aldington, Richard and Ames, Delano, Translators, New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology, p. 205. Aldington and Ames, p. 207.
19. Aldington and Ames, p. 207.
20. Hamilton, p. 45.
21. Vaughn, Valerie, Astro-Mythology: The Celestial Union of Astrology and Myth (Amherst, MA: One Reed Publications, 1999), pp. 19-20.
22. Svoboda, Robert E., The Greatness of Saturn, p. 167.
23. Svoboda, Robert E., The Greatness of Saturn, p. 166.
Aldington, Richard and Ames, Delano, Translators, New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology (Hong Kong: The Hamlyn Publishing Group Limited, 1959).
Danielou, Alain, The Myths and Gods of India (Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions International, 1991).
Defouw, Hart and Svoboda, Robert, Light on Life: An Introduction to the Astrology of India (New Delhi, India: Penguin Books).
Hamilton, Edith, Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes (Boston, MA: Little, Brown & Company, 1940, 1942).
Svoboda, Robert E., The Greatness of Saturn: A Therapeutic Myth (Tulsa, OK: Sadhana Publications, 1997).
Vaughn, Valerie, Astro-Mythology: The Celestial Union of Astrology and Myth (Amherst, MA: One Reed Publications, 1999.
Copyright © 2003 Mystic Visions, Inc. Taken from a paper written for Kepler College.
Back to "Articles"