Of all the planets in our astrological pantheon, Saturn may be the planet most appropriately named, “the god of opposites.” As the planet who lived at the farthest edge of the known solar system, Saturn was the negater, the one who gave identity, particularity, and boundary to each of the other planets through his negations, his “no’s” and his oppressive linear and logical rigidity. Through every planet’s relationship with Saturn the archetypal field of a planet finds its limits and definition. It’s inherent archetypal duality that can’t help but be discovered when it relates to the god whose natural disposition is to oppose or observe. For example, it’s through the lens of Saturn and its relationship with the Sun that we can define the sun as (among other things) “self” focused. The Sun centralizes, radiates from the center, and holds together, and we can say these things because of Saturn’s nearly invisible presence within these descriptions. The word “centralizes” implies Saturn as the planet at the edge (NOT the center). The word radiate implies a movement from center outward, which implies Saturn as the planet that takes things inward and downward (a contrasting image of death and decay or inertia). The phrase “holds together,” similarly implies Saturn’s “taking apart,” or Saturn’s destruction or decay.
Through Saturn we come to understand the Sun’s unique qualities, its distinct character, and as a result an archetypal landscape emerges with its own unique hills and valleys, rivers, lakes and streams. Without this implicit power of Saturnian opposition, we also wouldn’t be able to differentiate between particular oppositional images within the archetypal realm of the Sun. For example, an inflated ego and a generous, glowing goodness. As the ruler of boundaries and opposites, it’s Saturn who creates these distinctions and rules over both sides of them equally (remember that Saturn is exalted in Libra, the sign of the scales).
Many attempts have been made to transcend or leap beyond Saturn’s duality. But these attempts are already being made in the same Saturnian spirit of duality. A “problem” with Saturn is already Saturn, since Saturn is the inseparability of the poison and the antidote. People who live with this inseparability, who are cognizant of it, are sometimes called melancholic. There is a kind of weighty, depressive feeling of inevitability and inescapable angst. Nothing virtuous isn’t also a vice and there is no vice that isn’t also a virtue. Deep within this unavoidably paradoxical structure is the knowledge of decay and impermanence, as well as the infirmity or sickness of the soul whose end is drawing near. The scales in the hall of the dead are in sight. Saturn’s gift to us is the ambivalence of old age, available to us at any time, not just in literal old age.
At the same time, people who rage against the inseparability of the opposites, always looking for an answer or some kind of absolute freedom, are driven by Saturn who is a ruthless taskmaster…whose work is the never-ending slave drive through the valley of tears. When the Buddha said in his final instruction that all things decay, or that experience is disappointing, and through vigilance you succeed, was he not giving us a kind of Saturnine secret? Perhaps it’s possible for us to see these final words as that “golden mean” extracted from the lead of Saturn. No escape. Only a disposition that we can take toward and within the dance of the opposites will keep us from being consumed too quickly by the dragon whose already eating us. The wisdom we think we have gained about anything (the antidote) is inseparable from the poison (the problem we found wisdom for). With this understanding (which is also Saturn’s wisdom) there comes a kind of reflective sense of humor, an ability to see things upside down, or to see through the literalness of one side to its roots in the other. We don’t escape poisons or antidotes, neither their contradictions or their paradox, but rather we see through them to their basis in the imaginal. Saturn is hence the god of inevitability…no escape…the limits and walls, the negation of death and decay, the collapsing of opposites into the imagination as well as their battles that ceaselessly create “the real world ‘out there.'”
Saturn is also the scapegoat. He is the one to blame for the fundamental feeling of these opposites. He is the one to blame for the hard divisions that make lead out of our perceptions. He’s responsible for these hardening opposites. So we blame Saturn. But in this blame, we are also already in the grip of one of Saturn’s dual expressions: blame and responsibility. “Experience is disappointing,” said the Buddha, which is an assignment of blame (the word blame means something like to rebuke or express dissatisfaction with), but “through vigilance you will succeed,” which is a statement of responsibility. Our relationship with the opposites is both disappointing and provoking of our attentive, mindful and responsible participation. Saturn is both the disappointing inevitability of our existence as well as the charge to be here for it and to work into its tensions with mindfulness to their absurdities, contradictions, and paradox.
As Saturn ruled “the golden age,” there is also a wisdom to the oppressing endlessness and inevitability of living within duality. Through our entrance into decay and impermanence (Saturn’s domain), through entrance into oppositional consciousness, we see into the nature of limitation itself, so that limits become limited. This is why Saturn is also the ruler of both Capricorn and Aquarius, and this is also why James Hillman aptly pointed out that a fine “ruler” for the field of astrology itself was Saturn. When we know the limits of limits, these contradictions and oppositions are no longer a problem to be solved but rather terrain to be described in the language of symbol. Reality is not a matter of ultimate metaphysical origins or destinations, for seeing through both there is no beginning or end, a timelessness permeates time and space, universes endlessly creating and dying. The freedom of Saturn is the compass, the map, and the drawing tools. The freedom of Saturn is the paranoia of liberating humor, and imaginal antidote to the imaginal poison (the musical ‘laws’ of the imaginal spheres realigns our ‘literal’ problems, returning them to the imagination and timeless time).
Is it possible that Neptune’s discovery, as a psychic event in human history, coincides with an emerging awareness of Saturn’s own limits? This would not mean that Neptune “goes beyond Saturn,” for this is again the language of Saturn speaking, but rather that Saturn goes beyond WITH Neptune. Does our consciousness now have a special understanding of the limits of limits? Does this not give “shape” to the unconscious, to the unbound, to the imaginal itself? Does not Saturn’s relationship with Neptune create a conundrum for consciousness? No longer are we creatures striving for transcendence from the opposites, but rather we’ve grow into an awareness of the inevitability of both “the problem of the opposites” and the imaginal in which they are rooted and continually expressed.
The best example I can think of comes from my decade’s work with ayahuasca, which for a long time I viewed in strictly saturnine terms: ayahuasca is a door to consciousness beyond the opposites. This knowledge of the “realm beyond the opposites,” was, of course, Saturnine from the beginning, though I would have thought of it as Neptunian at the time. Eventually, through many years of participation, the problem with the opposites and the continual need for release, healing, transcendence, purgation, etc, became to my sight the old devil Saturn, taking me for a ride. The devil card in tarot. Needlessly chained to a chronic problem, all the while calling it a solution. Ironically everything I had ever heard about the “medicine” being an evil drink, a drink of dark forces and powers, a seductive practice, etc, was instantly true. It was also, false. But before I would have never been able to see both sides of Saturn’s face..the poison and the antidote alike.
This led me to let go of my devotion and practice with ayahuasca, which, over time, led to an entirely different perception of both Saturn and Neptune. I feel more Neptunian now that I have ever felt since ending my ayahuasc practice. More in touch with the shape and character of the unbound imaginal, with the timeless and eternal, and yet also deeply aware of the fact that this unbound/imaginal has its own face. Namely my own and the worlds I inhabit. But others too. Saturn’s gift to Neptune and Neptune’s gift to Saturn are one and the same expression…the distinct character of the imaginal, the timelessness of the opposites. Real imaginal problems with imaginally real solutions. A precise kind of freedom. Not just “you create your own reality,” but also “reality creates your own you.”
Now step back from all of this…and don’t take the bait. These thoughts are the expressions of Saturn and Mercury stationing as Saturn squares Neptune. No escape from oppositional tensions. No big answers that aren’t also poisons. These are imaginal longings distilled through my mind’s “problems.” But of course, that’s one idea I’m apparently committed to…the art of the astrologer is to sing the music of the spheres in such a way that others might find this moment’s reality reflected in eternity. Because I’m bound by problems and in love with them.
Prayer: the precise music of our problems…
Image by courtesy of Joe DeSousa, at creative commons image licensing