- Temperament: Cold, Dry – Melancholic
- Color: Black, Grey
- Quality: Diurnal Malefic
- Names: Saturn, Chronos, The Great Teacher
- Rulership: Aquarius, Capricorn
- Metal: Lead
- Keywords: Old Age, Limits, Death, Self-Denial
Chronos, Falcifer, Father Time, Saturn. These are some of the names associated with the furthest planet visible to the naked eye. Guarding the limits of the known cosmos, Saturn signifies restrictions, boundaries, and darkness.
In the sky, Saturn is a dim, weak light, neither glorious nor beautiful. This contrasts with other planets, like shining Jupiter or fiery Mars. The astronomical reason for that is its distance from the Sun—twice that of Jupiter, the closest planet to Saturn.
These astronomical features of Saturn are directly related to its significations: it represents everything that is dark, isolated, lonely. Therefore it is considered the Greater Malefic. Alongside this set of themes, it is also related to limits in their various forms, from the skin on our body to the walls of a house.
Possibly because of its dim appearance in the sky, Saturn became known as the enemy of light. It rules the signs of Capricorn and Aquarius. When the Sun is in these signs, it is winter in the Northern Hemisphere—which is important, since astrology was developed mainly in that part of the world. In the cold, dark winter, when days are short and nights are long, Saturn rejoices, bringing harshness, restrictions, cold, and death.
It is also the main adversary of the luminaries—the Sun and the Moon, the lights of the world. These two are givers of life thanks to their light and heat. Saturn is contrary to these characteristics, which is why the Sun and the Moon are in detriment in Saturn’s signs, and vice versa. Saturn stands in opposition to the light and life that bursts forth in summer, as the Sun and the Moon dislike the death and darkness of winter.
The Greater Malefic
One of Saturn’s ancient names is Falcifer, the scythe-bearer, reminding us of the Grim Reaper, who does not differentiate between rich and poor, kings and beggars, priests, and sinners. Memento Mori, the reminder of the inevitability of death, is a saturnine concept.
It is also related to the boundaries that this planet signifies: the undeniable restriction of all life is that we are all going to die. Recognizing this fact can make a lot of difference in how we handle our life. It can bring meaning and purpose, and for this reason, some astrologers call Saturn the great teacher.
Certainly, it can be a teacher, but its primary astrological function is to signify painful themes. It is, after all, the Greater Malefic. He will point to pain, fear, deceits, restraints, sadness, sickness, misery, malice and will rule moments of suffering in our lives, but whether we learn something from these moments is a matter of wisdom and good fortune.
Apart from death, Saturn is related to everything responsible for setting limitations or boundaries. Therefore, it rules places like prisons, where inmates are deprived of freedom, as well as all types of walls and fences. In the body, it rules the skin, which separates our internal organs from the outside world. It also rules the bones, the basic structure of our bodies.
Saturn rules decay. Ruins, for example, are directly related to the Greater Malefic. This rulership is directly tied to Saturn’s Greek name: Chronos, the deity of time.
It isn’t so much about the growth of things, but their inevitable fall. Saturn rules everything old since these are the things that have most felt the influence of time. Fathers, grandfathers, and old people, in general, are signified by Saturn.
It also signifies tradition, the knowledge and culture that precedes us and extends through time. Those who came before us laid the foundation for our existence and consequently are related to Saturn. However, some traditions limit individual freedom. This too is under the influence of the Greater Malefic, which imprisons and restricts.
The Mythic Saturn
In Greco-Roman Mythology, Saturn was the father of Jupiter, a tyrant ruler whose father was also a tyrant—Ouranos—and he was responsible for dethroning him with the use of his scythe. The end of his father’s reign signified the end of all things.
A prophecy said that Saturn would be dethroned by one of his sons. To avoid this, he swallowed all his children just after they were born. Rhea, his wife and sister, was not happy about this, and when their last son, Jupiter, was born, instead of his son she gave Saturn a rock, which he swallowed without looking.
Jupiter, the Roman Zeus, grew up strong. The goddess Metis gave him a special substance, which Saturn drank, causing him to vomit up all his other children. Zeus joined them and they fought and dethroned Saturn and his siblings, the titans, in the Titanomachy, the war between gods and titans.
Saturn met his end in Tartarus, an isolated, dark, hellish place—certainly very saturnine. Some myths, however, say that he became an agricultural deity, no more the king of heavens but a humble helper of farmers.
The myth of Saturn and Jupiter, equivalent to the myth of Chronos and Zeus, teaches us about how time afflicts us all and that, no matter how omnipotent you were at a certain time of your life, your power will fade, your body will become weak and sick, and you will have to pass your throne on to younger generations. This may seem a dark thought, but it is what Saturn is all about.
Saturn and the land
Mythologically, the story of the planet Saturn is complex because it combines the myth mentioned above with the Mesopotamian myth of Ninurta, the ruler of Saturn, and some particularities of the mythic status of the god Saturn in Italy, where he was associated with local agricultural deities. David McCann points specifically to the Etruscan god Satres, borrowed by the Romans as Saturnus.
As pointed out by this last association, Saturn is also the god of the land. Its scythe brings to mind the nature of time—which applies to the harvest too. Besides that, the discipline needed to cultivate crops is typical of Saturn: a rigorous relationship with the land, plowing, sowing, and removing parasites and weeds are essential for the quality of the harvest. On the other hand, there are a lot of restrictions and uncertainties that can disturb a crop and destroy its fruits, a harshness typical of Saturn.
If Saturn is an important personal planet in a natal chart, it will grant its qualities to the native. If the planet is well-situated, the boundaries and the darkness manifest as a sober, grave attitude, a sense of responsibility and seriousness that will bring the necessary strength to deal with the difficulties of life.
As the Greater Malefic, Saturn will always signify harshness, problems, and limitations, but a person signified by a well-positioned Saturn will reap benefits from all the challenges that they face through life. It is not hard to see Saturn signifying people in positions of power since they have the resilience and patience to ascend to a higher level from wherever they are put.
One of the characteristics most commonly credited to the sign of Capricorn is ambition. As a Saturn-ruled sign, it’s not about pleasure-oriented motivation, but that of the harshness and scarcity that winter signifies. It is the necessity of surviving that induces saturnine people to fight and rise above in their undertakings.
These traits are also directly related to the melancholic temperament, one of the four humors that were said to comprise the human body. The predominance of melancholy, the humor of the saturnine temperament, predisposes individuals to be serious, severe, attentive, studious, and isolated, cultivating projects slowly and steadily.
If Saturn is poorly situated, however, it can point to its negative and malefic traits: isolation from the world, greed, lies, and proximity to darkness-related themes—one classical association is ill-purposed witchcraft. Of course, no one should worry if their Saturn on its own is poorly placed since the narrative that a natal chart tells is constructed by a great many interconnected elements.
Saturn can also indicate aspects of a person’s life not related to personality, such as a time of isolation in their life, or of sickness. It can even be a signifier of how a person’s death will occur. On the other hand, it can point to serious, mature, and severe people who can be a source of structure and support, even if they tend to take life a little too seriously.
One of the classical significations of Saturn is the native’s father, especially in nocturnal charts. This is possibly related to a common perception of fathers as responsible for structuring and limiting the life of their offspring, even if mothers or other relatives commonly take on this role in modern times.
Other significations of Saturn
Everything poisonous has a saturnine quality. This applies mainly to herbs, but it is interesting how lead, the metal of Saturn, has a toxic quality that makes it very harmful to both people’s health and the environment. Still, it was used because of its good qualities, like making paints last longer—as mentioned before, time is another saturnine characteristic. Lead poisoning is a relatively recent discovery, whereas Saturn has been considered this metal’s ruler since at least the 1st century BC, according to Nick Kollerstrom.
Saturn is of the diurnal sect, teaming up with the Sun and Jupiter. The reason for its association with the day sect is that, since Saturn is considered extremely cold, some of its malefic qualities are attenuated in a warm environment like the daytime. Saturn is the main signifier of numerous unpleasant aspects of existence. It can be a source of fear, but we can be wiser in perceiving that these restrictions are important because they provide our lives with meaning and purpose. Even if it is the Greater Malefic, some good can come from it: whether from the rewards of challenges or from the benefit of accepting what we can’t change.
- ABU MA’SHAR. Great Introduction.
- BRENNAN, Chris. Hellenistic Astrology.
- GUTTMAN, Ariel; JOHNSON, Ken. Mythic Astrology: Archetypal Powers in the Horoscope.
- HOULDING, Deborah. Saturn – The Great Teacher.
- KOLLERSTROM, Nick. Planets & Metals: The Traditional Association of Saturn & Lead.
- LILLY, William. Christian Astrology.
- MCCANN, David. Saturn in Myth & Occult Philosophy.
- TOMPKINS, Sue. The Contemporary Astrologer’s Handbook (Astrology Now).
- VALENS, Vettius. Anthologies. Trans. Mark Riley.
- WATTERS, Joanna. Introducing Saturn.
- WHITTERS, Scott. Melancholy: The Saturnine Temperament.
Images on this page
- saturn-ominpresent-threat-life: Etching by W. Hollar after R. Streater | public domain
- saturn-time: Stipple engraving, Wellcome Collection | public domain
- saturn-detaching-wings-cupid: Wikimedia Commons | public domain
- saturn-chariot-raphael: Engraving by C. Lasinio after Raphael, 1516. | public domain
- saturn-chariot-maarten-de-vos: Maarten de Vos (1532-1603). Engraving by Jan Sadeler I (1550-1600). Indianapolis Museum of Art | public domain