The Saturn return is the most frequently mentioned of the planetary return transits in astrology. Too often there are vague and heavy, negative associations given with it. So it is useful to have a precise understanding of what the Saturn return is astronomically. And it is helpful to have a balanced perspective on its astrological meaning.
I. Definitions: What is the Saturn return and how long can it last?
Precise definition: Saturn’s transit back to the precise degree and minute of arc where it was when you were born.
In transit terms: Saturn conjunct natal Saturn. You will begin to experience it when it is still about 5° away. That is months or weeks before Saturn returns to its exact natal longitude (zodiac position). (There are some exceptions to this, which will get a bit technical. I’ll get to them shortly.)
The Saturn return is a transiting planet to natal planet relationship — the transit of Saturn back to the sign degree of its natal position (birth chart position).
It is not Saturn’s return to its natal sign or house.
The reason is because its re-entry to its natal house or sign can occur two years before or even months after the actual transit has begun. When Saturn entered the sign of Cancer in 2003 it was still more than 26° from former U.S. Pres. George W. Bush’s natal Saturn — and a couple years from the beginning of his second Saturn return.
However, Saturn’s transit position here in chart was at 22N36 declination, making a parallel to natal Sun at 22N44. That transit is quite significant, but also very distinct from the Saturn return. It is sloppy astrology and misinformation to put it under the header of ‘Saturn return.’
Again in Bush’s chart: Saturn at 22N30 declination is still in transit parallel natal Sun and edging closer to the conjunction — but still has not begun the Saturn return.
Saturn still far from returning to its natal position even as it enters its natal house. It hasn’t even begun the conjunction to natal Sun yet. So the Saturn return has certainly not started.
With transiting Saturn within 5° of its natal position, Pres. Bush’s Saturn return had begun.
The first Saturn return can only begin well after your 28th birthday. You will feel the effects (at least subconsciously) once the transit is within a 5.5° orb of influence. That could begin months before your 29th birthday.
Example Saturn periods between the cardinal points
||1st return date
||April 7, 1996
||May 25, 2024
||29 years, 48 days
||June 3, 2003
||July 13, 2032
||29 years, 40 days
||July 21, 2010
||Sept 5, 2039
||29 years, 46 days
||Dec 19, 2017
||Jan 24, 2047
||29 years, 36 days
With its retrogrades, the Saturn return (in longitude) can cover most of a year
During that time Saturn usually moves out of orb (out of the aspect) for weeks. So the action of the transit will not likely be continuous from the earliest beginning of the aspect until its final move out of orb.
However, there are some conditions of declination which allow Saturn to return to its natal declination (parallel aspect) on its way to the conjunction. That can occur a year or more before the conjunction (or linger well after it). So let’s go back to George W. Bush’s chart and look at how this can happen.
Saturn returned to its natal declination (21N02) in 2001. The transit of Saturn parallel natal Saturn began for Bush in late July 2001:
This transit holds many of the same issues in a kind of preview of the longitudinal Saturn return.
This happens most often when a planet is nearer the extremes of declination, which most planets (all but Pluto) arrive at when in the signs of Gemini, Cancer (north declination), Sagittarius, or Capricorn (south declination). See my page on declination for more illustrations and explanation.
II. What is the meaning of the Saturn return?
No planets, not even the old devil Saturn, are here to block your success or happiness. It does time some results forthcoming from your efforts from the previous several years. (7 years since it made its last square to its natal position.)
It may be time to sharpen the focus of your most important priorities into reasonable goals. It may be time to let go of some responsibilities and stick with what you can control.
Saturn is about learning within limitation: lessons and fears we break through to find greater transcendence (the outer three planetary energies). More specifically, it relates to responsibility, goals, parental issues (especially with father), desires for security and control, expectations and standards. Personal integrity, career, and reputation are included. So Saturn relates not only to a healthy sense of personal standards or integrity, but to an egoistic careerism or concern for reputation. It depends on what is framed up in your birth chart.
The Saturn return reactivates all the aspects it made in your natal chart and all its original conditions.
This is why the experience of the Saturn return varies widely from person to person. While there may be some general principles involved, it is an individual experience. Some people have mostly flowing aspects involving natal Saturn. Others may have mostly challenging aspects. Some experience setbacks, others experience make progress.
So it’s like a check-in to see how you’re doing overall with matters related to Saturn. The other transits that accompany the Saturn return also has an effect on how you experience the entire period.
Here is what Robert Hand has to say about it
Saturn conjunct Saturn
This is one of the most important times in your life. A major cycle of experience is closing, and great changes are about to take place. How great these changes are depends largely on what you have been doing with your life over the past several years. Have you been living as you feel you should or as you think others want you to? If you have been doing the latter, Saturn will have a greater impact.
— Robert Hand, Planets in Transit
That’s his opening paragraph on the topic. If you want to learn more about all kinds of transits and more in-depth astrology generally, I highly recommend you buy a copy of Planets in Transit for reference.
Try to maintain a constructive outlook.
While the Saturn return is an important transit, it is not a do-or-die kind of situation. It is not a succeed-or-fail moment either. Too often we fail — or perceive we’ve failed — only because we become frustrated and pronounce judgment on our efforts as inadequate. It is a challenge to stay constructive in our outlook and adjust our expectations or efforts.
My Feng Shui teacher Nancilee Wydra used to tell us students, “The road to success is paved with failures.” What is needed most of the time are mere adjustments in our approach or expectations. Long-term goals are fine, but breaking them down into shorter-term steps can make a huge difference.
What is important enough to your soul growth that you keep developing it?
Saturn’s positive expression is strength rooted in the wisdom gained through experience. What we make of that experience — and how much we’re willing to venture — is up to each one of us.