Saturn Return

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the January/February issue of The Astrological Journal in 2013 and has been republished with permission.

by Frank Clifford

“It happens often in the twenty-ninth year of life that all the forces that have been engaged through the years of childhood, adolescence and youth in confused and ferocious combat range themselves in ordered ranks… The straight 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… [At thirty] we find at last that vocation for which we feel ourselves fit and to which we willingly devote continued labour.”
Gertrude Stein, Fernhurst, pp.29 –30.

In a departure from my usual Snapshots column, I’ve collated over thirty published observations on the first Saturn return from two dozen astrologers. What follows is a range of opinions on, and insights into, this significant, often monumental life-time transit, which occurs around the age of 29.

The maturation process; a time of commitment; an initiation into adulthood

Grant Lewi
“[The Saturn return is] the most important period of introspection and self-analysis, which may rise directly from yourself or may be forced on you by circumstances… You are reviewing the past, taking stock of your aims… revising deeply your notions of many things… You will stand freed, when this transit is past, of many erstwhile inner restrictions. You will have swept your nature clean of dead wood.”
Astrology for the Millions, Llewellyn, 1990 edition, p.337.

Alexander Ruperti
“This is often a year of choice which determines the direction of the life, the type of associates one values, and the profession or business activity [one] adopts… The individual is obliged to act according to principle, fulfilling a definite function or role in society as significantly as possible.”
Cycles of Becoming, CRCS, 1978, p.139.

Noel Tyl
“For the year or year and one-half preceding Saturn’s return to its natal position, the identity finally grows up on its own, having learned from many false starts and mistakes: the life changes direction and/or level conspicuously. This change calls for full resourcefulness of the whole identity, the whole horoscope.”
The Principles and Practice of Astrology, Volume VII: Integrated Transits, Llewellyn, 1974, p.34.

Steven Forrest
“We are in the process of delineating our personal identity, seeking a Vision for our lives. Throughout this phase, our roadsigns are insights into our own personality and destiny. Their purpose is to lead us eventually into maturity.”
The Changing Sky, ACS, 1998, p.100.

Charles and Suzi Harvey
“We have to face the real challenges of adulthood with a more realistic attitude… we have a sense of knowing ourselves well for the first time.”
Principles of Astrology, Thorsons, 1999, p.213.

Erin Sullivan
“There is an increasing willingness to explore alternatives to what one has been doing with one’s life. Initially, this urge is instinctive, infantile and undeveloped… The first year of the Saturn Return is filled with the ambivalence of whether one really wants to grow up or not… [After the Saturn return] we are less likely to resent or blame parents… and more inclined to absolve them for their flaws, taking personal responsibility for our own lives and direction.”
Saturn in Transit, Arkana, 1991, p.73, 75.

Sherene Schostak and Stefanie Iris Weiss
“The precipice of adulthood. Now childhood is finally and irrevocably over… We have a choice at this moment, and if we make the right decision and live out the will of our hearts, the next twenty-nine and a half years will be richer, happier, and smoother.”
Surviving Saturn’s Return, Contemporary Books, 2004, p.6.

Linda Reid
“One feels an inner urge to make a bid for authority and maturity, while at the same time there is a growing awareness that such matters may constitute a trap.”
Astrology Step by Step, Canopus, 2001, p.185.

Crisis; the Lord of Karma; the principle of cause and effect

Robert Hand
“If you have built your life up to now around activities that are inappropriate for you, it will be a time of crisis.”
Planets in Transit, Whitford Press, 1976, p.348.

Martin Freeman
“There is likely to be a testing relating to whatever Saturn refers natally… The tests may come through other people or in external events; in dark moods or in inner striving. It depends on either the individual’s ability to contain the tension within and allow growth and transformation to take place, or his need to externalize the experience, projecting difficulties onto other people so that they are the apparent cause of the problems and personal responsibility is supposedly excused.”
Forecasting by Astrology, Faculty of Astrological Studies, 1982, p.27.

Nicholas Campion
“This frequently coincides with an individual’s profound dissatisfaction at what has been achieved in life so far, and can thus be a time of crisis. People who made young and inappropriate marriages sometimes split up, while those who have resisted commitment suddenly settle down. The end result is usually a greater sense of stability and maturity.”
The Ultimate Astrologer, Rider, 2002, p.133.

Stephen Arroyo
“It depends entirely on how one has lived during the previous 29 years… to what extent the individual expressed or suppressed his or her ‘fundamental nature’… The first cycle of Saturn… is primarily based upon reaction to past conditioning, karma, parental influences, and social pressures.”
Astrology, Karma and Transformation, CRCS, 1978, pp.82–3.

Lyn Birkbeck
“[Saturn] checks out whether or not you are realizing your potential and living up to your responsibilities. Depending on how you are doing, it will impose tests and/or promote or consolidate your position in life… If after several good attempts to realize an ambition there is, under Saturn’s influence, still no success, then you can be sure that your dream is only that, or that the efforts you have made will come in useful at some later date.”
Do It Yourself Life Plan Astrology, Element, 2000, p.115.

James R. Lewis
“[It] forces us to examine our lives truthfully: if we have been striving with integrity and growing the best we know how, a Saturn Return can bring the fulfilment of many years of hard work… If, however, we have been drifting along with the strongest wind, having built our lives on foundations of sand, Saturn tends to pull the rug out from under us… Even at their best, however, Saturn Returns are rarely pleasant.”
The Astrology Encyclopedia, Visible Ink Press, 1994, p.455.

Jamie Binder
“The point in time when people enter full-fledged adulthood… Realistically grounded individuals, who have laid a proper foundation, strengthen and solidify their careers, or start on a fresh, new, more stimulating path… [But] the pipe dreamer often runs into a real problem during a Saturn Return.” Planets in Work: A Complete Guide to Vocational Astrology, ACS, 1988, p.24.

Reality bites; reconciliation

Adam Smith
“Dreams of all sorts may come up against reality with an uncomfortable bump at this time and it is only the practical and viable options that survive… Saturn is convention personified, of course, so it is somewhat in the nature of the Saturn Return to reconcile our own fundamental truth with the pressures and formal expectations of our environment.”
Saturn: Fatal Attraction, O Books, 2007, pp.71–4.

Rose Elliot
“We begin to feel uncomfortable with, constrained by, the life structures that we’ve spent our first thirty years working so hard to build up… Somehow it no longer seems to be a true expression of us as we really are.”
Life Cycles, Polair, 2008, p.74.

Steven Forrest
“Dreams must make a deal with reality – and reality is a notoriously hard bargainer… The time has come to strike a bargain. Maybe that aspiring young ‘rock star’ decides to become a music teacher. He has compromised; but the heart of his youthful vision remains intact.”
The Changing Sky, ACS, 1998, p.101.

Bernadette Brady
“The Saturn Return is the realization that… if we really want to live happily ever after then we have to take control and set up our life in a more realistic manner. The unrealistic expectation we carry from childhood of our right to a hassle-free marriage, children, career and so on, crumbles and hits the cold light of day.”
Predictive Astrology: The Eagle and the Lark, Samuel Weiser, 1999 edition, p.20.

Jamie Binder
“The chance to make a change and get on a more realistic course is disguised as a menacing obstacle which forces a re-evaluation of the career path… Individuals who unconsciously choose to run away are childishly attempting to play dodge ball with life.”
Planets in Work: A Complete Guide to Vocational Astrology, ACS, 1988, p.24.

Pruner of the false self

Robert Hand
“Consciously or unconsciously, you are pruning your life of everything that is not relevant to what you really are as a human being.”
Planets in Transit, Whitford Press, 1976, p.348.

Liz Greene
“It is possible for the individual to face and free himself from painful feelings of inadequacy, spheres of overcompensation, parental ties, and values borrowed from the past… [There is a] disintegration, disillusionment, as well as the recognition of all that is false, one-sided, and unrealistic within the personality… [There is] ultimately a process of death and rebirth, the sloughing of the old mask and the discovery of the real – and often less ‘perfect’ – individual.”
Relating, Samuel Weiser, 1977, pp.241–4.

Eve Jackson
“We cannot escape the reality of any disjunction between our chosen direction and our true needs and abilities… The age of thirty is a milestone after which society finds it less easy to accept those ‘follies’ associated with youth. Now middle life approaches and one is an adult in earnest.”
Astrology: A Psychological Approach, Dryad, 1987, p.112.

Stephen Arroyo
“At the first Saturn Return, it often seems like an old debt is being discharged and many old karmic patterns and obligations are rather suddenly removed… There is simultaneously a feeling of unalterable limitation in one’s life structure and a feeling of inner freedom that in some cases is accompanied by exhilaration and inspiring joy… This feeling of unlimited inner freedom is also based on a clearer understanding of your real needs, capabilities, and creative potentialities.”
Astrology, Karma and Transformation, CRCS, 1978, pp.83.

Rose Elliot
“We may feel a good deal of inner conflict… Yet in spite of the disruption, something within us is urging us to go on; we simply cannot accept the limitations any longer.”
Life Cycles, Polair, 2008, p.74–5.

Rewards; personal development; an adult role

Adam Smith
“The Saturn Return highlights the balance between having some solid measure of achievement, against relying excessively on superficial success badges… It becomes a reward in itself to become successful at something we are good at… Choices become finite and seemingly more irrevocable – making life-defining decision with further-reaching consequences represents another of the main differences in being past thirty.”
Saturn: Fatal Attraction, O Books, 2007, pp.71–4.

Lois Rodden
“There is a condition in your life that is a payoff for prior character commitments; either in achievement and results, or in a hard lesson to learn. With patience, perseverance, discipline, and steadfast effort you can pay off old obligations and establish long-range goals for the future.”
Modern Transits, AFA, 1978, p.88.

Basil Fearrington
“It marks deep, conspicuous, important change. There is almost always a complete revision of one’s awareness of surrounding conditions… [By the end of the Return], one can be living a new life with a deeper purpose… All of this change potential frequently indicates a dramatic shift in human relations… [It] can be the most profoundly important period of conspicuous developmental change in one’s life.” The New Way to Learn Astrology, Llewellyn, 1999, p.205.

Sherene Schostak and Stefanie Iris Weiss
“[Saturn] is an ally in that his vision for us is nothing less than that of a great father… He wants us to manifest our potential, accomplish our dreams, be indebted to no one, and be true to ourselves… If we don’t address those lessons that our cosmic daddy has been patiently yet consistently trying to alert us to, he can show up in our life as a seemingly externally imposed crisis.”
Surviving Saturn’s Return, Contemporary Books, 2004, p.12.

Steven Forrest
“People who successfully navigate the Saturn Return are able to maintain intensity and a quality of mission or inspiration in their lives. Why? Because the adult identity they have created reflects the Visions of youth, modified and partly compromised, but still recognizable… The horror of a failed Saturn Return is that it is so often hidden behind veils of ‘maturity’ and ‘practicality’… A curious blend of nostalgia and cynicism about our own youth begins to enter our awareness, and our picture of midlife becomes one of noble futility in the face of failing systems.”
The Changing Sky, ACS, 1998, p.102.

Wendell C. Perry
“You can expect the call to grow up, take on the work or the role that will occupy your adult life, and face the limitations and problems that will define you as a person. It is a transit that is generally characterized by hard work, hard choices, and fateful decisions… Opportunities always come with heavy responsibilities and far-reaching implications… Missteps here almost always have major ramifications later on in life.”
Saturn Cycles, Llewellyn, 2009, p.284.

Grant Lewi
“[It is] the most important point at which free will operates in the life, untrammeled and as free of circumstances as it ever will be. Accept the obligations of this privilege: assume here and now the mastery over life and over yourself that is yours for the taking… Your free will in a very real sense forges your fate for a long time to come.”
Astrology for the Millions, Llewellyn, 1990 edition, p.337.

The shadow Saturn return at 31-32
I’d like to end this collection with a piece I wrote a while back for Noel Tyl’s website. It came out in an article I wrote on Solar Arc Directions for the Journal a few years ago.

We astrologers often see clients at the time they are going through their first Saturn return. But I was a bit flummoxed when clients returned two to three years later, at age 31-32, saying they were experiencing situations and themes similar to those at 28-29. I soon realized that the process of the Saturn return isn’t really over until the shadow Saturn return occurs some two to three years later. This is when transiting Saturn meets up with Solar Arc directed Saturn, some 31-32 degrees further along in the zodiac. This would take around 2.5 years to catch up, and by then it would occur in a new sign and often a new house.

The shadow Saturn return repeats themes, events and feelings that transpired during the original Saturn return at 29. As astrologers, we can help clients draw parallels and gain insight into what is re-emerging. The transit at 31-32 provides another chance to tidy up unfinished business, another stab at an opportunity, or a further chance to recognize a pattern from the past – and to make different choices, if necessary.

For example, while writing this piece, I finished a ’phone consultation with a client who has tr. Neptune conjunct her Solar Arc (SA) Descendant at 0° Pisces. She is attempting to be in relationship with a man who is uncertain about his sexual orientation; he is more interested in pursuing his first opportunity with a man. He is, simply put, unavailable. My client ‘feels’ that they have a very important link and is attempting to forge a greater bond by wanting to start a committed relationship. As we spoke about this, I mentioned several dates in 1992-3 when tr. Neptune was conjunct her natal Descendant. At this time, my client was immersed in a one-sided, devotional relationship trying to ‘save’ a man who was non-committal and troubled on a number of emotional levels. During our consultation, my client was able to see the link and its importance on a number of levels, and realize that this was a ‘second chance’ to revisit and examine her own compulsion to rescue or pursue the unavailable. In her words, she didn’t want to ‘drown again’ in a less-than-ideal situation. (With a heavy emphasis on the water signs in her chart, there is a strong natal theme of possible dependency in relationship.)

Knowing what happened during the transit-to-natal period enables us to understand themes that might be revisited when that transiting planet finally catches up with the SA position. Of course, the length of time it will take to do so depends on the transiting planet, so it may not happen in our lifetime. As already stated, the shadow transit will bring up the same issues (planet/angle) but with a different emphasis (sign) and usually in another arena (house).

My client files are packed with fascinating examples of these links. Often the same person reappears or a similar situation arises that forces a client to confront an area of their life/horoscope once again. When trying to anticipate how a transit to a Solar Arc directed planet is working in a client’s life, I now track the date of the original transit to the natal chart and ask, “What happened back then?” Usually the client recalls an event that has a direct link to current circumstances. It may be a repeat, ‘here we go again’, experience but in a different setting with different players. With the benefit of hindsight, we can make useful, meaningful links between past and present conditions that can empower our clients to make informed choices about their lives.

Want to learn more about the Saturn return?
Check out Steven Forrest’s talks:

Also see Darby Costello’s very current lecture:

Frank Clifford

© 2014 Frank C. Clifford – all rights reserved

Frank Clifford has written a dozen books on astrology and palmistry, including Palmistry 4 Today (US edition, 2009) and a book on horoscope synthesis, Getting to the Heart of Your Chart, which was published in April 2012. His book Horoscope Snapshots (Flare, 2014), is a collection of essays in modern astrology from TMA and other magazines. These books and more are available on Frank’s website

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