What in the Universe Is a Saturn Return and Why on Earth Should You Care?

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Brace yourself. Photo: Sebastian Herrmann, Unsplash

Nicknamed “the great teacher,” Saturn is said to rule things like maturity, structure, and mortality.

The planet takes around 29 years to orbit the sun, which means that the end of your 20s typically marks the “return” of Saturn to its position when you were born. In astrology, this phenomenon is called your Saturn return—a period many claim is marked by trials and tribulations, but also life-altering breakthroughs.

Here, VICE asked two astrologers what the big deal is, and how to deal with it.

Why is Saturn important?

Saturn is the farthest planet from Earth that humans can see clearly with the naked eye. It’s also famously bound by its rings. According to Evan Nathaniel Grim, founder of Inner Worlds Astrology, that means the planet is all about limits.

If the sun represents your self-expression, the moon is your emotional world, and the rising sign is your persona, Saturn is about the ways society defines us. It’s about how well we fit in and how much we adhere to society’s rules.

Sometimes, adhering to those rules is a good thing. It helps preserve order, like driving on the right side of the road. But it can also create an unhealthy desire for success and status based on other people’s expectations.

What is a Saturn return?

“Saturn return, as the name implies, represents the moment when the planet Saturn goes back into the same sign it was [in] when you were born,” said astrologer and tarot card reader Larisa Vasile, from Saturn Revolution.

This planetary transit is significant because it tends to come with major transitions in a person’s life. Often, it’s characterized by different challenges and setbacks that make people question their priorities and paths in life, so far.

“[Our] Saturn return is the first legitimate reality check on how we’ve decided to organize our lives and work towards our goals in that society,” said Grim.

When does it happen and how long does it last?

It takes Saturn around 29 years to orbit the sun, so your first Saturn return typically happens when you’re 29. But this varies in every birth chart—some people might have their first Saturn return when they’re 27, others when they’ re 31. You can find out exactly when yours is by using an online astrology calculator or consulting with an astrologist.

“The reason everyone says that turning 30 feels like a life crisis is because Saturn is involved,” said Vasile.

It happens again when you’re around 60, and again when you’re around 90. For some people, Saturn retrogrades. That means it passes the point it was in when you were born, backtracks and hits that point again, then hits that point again when it continues its normal orbit.

Normally, Saturn stays in the same astrological sign for around two and a half to three years as it continues its orbit. Grim explained that how long Saturn returns last varies from person to person, but the definitive period typically lasts around eight months and peaks when Saturn is at the same degree it was in when you were born.

What happens during a Saturn return?

“Saturn return represents the moment when you realize you’ve been doing things the way society wanted you to for far too long, the way your friends or family have expected you to. It’s a return back to yourself, back to your authenticity, and, in doing so, a reclaiming of the responsibility you hold to make yourself happy,” said Vasile.

Vasile said that this can manifest in romantic relationships, hobbies and interests, career paths, friend groups, family, and even our self-image and appearance—all of those things are up for re-evaluation and change.

“In the midst of it, it feels overwhelming. It feels like all you have known is being taken away from you. But what remains is a stronger sense of self, which, in turn, helps you attract the people, situations, and career paths that are truly meant for you,” said Vasile.

How do you deal?

Part of the limits Saturn makes us face is our own mortality—the limits of our time on Earth. That’s why during a Saturn return “we feel judged and pressured to commit to a certain path,” said Grim.

The danger is when we commit to things because they’re socially acceptable “rather than [doing] something that’s authentically serving ourselves.”

“Oftentimes, what happens is that people reach the top but they don’t enjoy the view because they’re on someone else’s path—that’s the karmic moment that a lot of people face with Saturn returns,” Grim said, adding that people realize they made commitments that might have been good in the eyes of their parents or friends, but that ultimately weren’t serving themselves.

Grim said one of the best ways people can make their way through their Saturn return is to delineate between external and internal motivations. “If you rely on external motivations primarily, then you are not in control. You’re basically deferring to what society expects of you.” Instead, Grim advised living according to your own guidelines.

Saturn teaches us to act reasonably and uphold social order, “but ideally we’re acting responsibly towards [ourselves] and manifesting something that originates in the heart and springs from our inner joy,” said Grim.

Saturn returns can be challenging for anyone, but Vasile said it’s not an excuse to be in a state of self-pity. There will always be change, she said, and it’s always up to you how you manage it.

It’s also important to stay grateful and have faith.

“People often forget to be grateful during this transit. Nothing is happening against you, but for your own good and soon you’ll understand why,” said Vasile.

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