The Scarlet Letter
Volume IV, Number 3 | September 1997
Column: Jewels From the Naked Brilliance
Cycles Within Cycles
By Nephthys

SeptagramI have been noticing for the last few months that many of my friends have either just completed or are going to begin their Saturn return. “Whazzat?” asks anyone under the age of 30. Some people think it's their worst nightmare. Some people think it's their best hope. Both can be true.

Saturn is the Lord of Discipline. He cut off his father Uranus' genitals and flung them into the sea. The waters were fertilized, and Aphrodite sprang from the foam. This simple story is very reflective of the Saturn return. Something that seems very valuable must be sacrificed in order for something beautiful to be born. Saturn was not just severing his father's genitals: he was removing him from his entrenched place of power, dispersing his fertility and power to other things and relegating him to his place in Heaven where he belonged. Likewise in the Saturn return, one must sever one's self from what is unnecessary so that energy can be released and utilized for something better, no matter how painful the process. Uranus is thus known as the Father of the Heavens, his wife Gaia the Earth.

Those who follow Egyptian mythology will know these archetypes as Nuit and Geb. Saturn can be seen as a duality of Ra and Thoth by following Plutarch's version of the birth of Nuit's children. In its rigid, unchanging form, Saturn is Ra: he sealed up his Mother's womb so that Horus could not be born, thinking he could rule forever and evade prophecy. However, Thoth played a trick on him and added 5 days to the end of the calendar (representing the symbolic difference between a calendar year and a lunar year), henceforth allowing Nuit's other children, Osiris, Isis, Horus, Set, and Nephthys to be born since Ra was not paying attention. A Saturn return can be very much like this. Change may be resisted and self-deception attempted despite knowing full well what must occur or be done. But sooner or later, the true nature of the situation must be shown allowing growth to occur.

The Lunar influence of a Saturn return is not an accident. Just prior to one's Saturn return, which occurs around age 29 1/2, one experiences their Progressed Lunar Return. Progressions sort of stretch time: this one equates one day of life to one year of life; i.e. the first day you were alive reflects what your first year of life was like, and so on. 29 1/2 days or so after you were born, you experienced your first real Lunar return. Consequently, 29 1/2 years or so after you were born, you experience your first progressed Lunar return. Since progressions move so slowly, their impact is much greater and more long lasting than a normal transit. The progressed Lunar return prepares you emotionally for the coming Saturn return. The Moon has traveled through each sign of the Zodiac, spending approximately 2 1/2 years in each sign. When it comes back, you are able to integrate all of the emotional information that you have been collecting for the last 28 or so years into a cohesive working whole. Emotional issues that were confusing before suddenly become clear. You will need this clarity in the next couple of years.

This scenario is again reflective of the duality of Ra and Thoth, or the Sun and the Moon in classical Egyptian mythology. Ra, the Sun or Saturn, is blinded by his power and refuses to relinquish, though he knows very well that it has been foreseen that Horus will overtake his power eventually. Thoth, the Moon, is a reflection of Ra. In his pale silvery light he is able to see what Ra will not, and subsequently trick his brother into doing what must be done: the true face of Saturn. The Moon offers one the perspective one needs in order to see through some of the rigidity Saturn displays, especially when its power is threatened.

As I stated before, Saturn is the Lord of Discipline. Just as the Moon has been busy collecting emotional information for the last 29 years, so has Saturn been collecting constructive information about what works in one’s life and what doesn't. When Saturn reaches its natal point in one's chart, that same completeness that the Moon enabled with one's emotions is triggered in one's sense of order and discipline. This knowledge in mind, Saturn begins getting rid of anything it doesn't need. If one had not already been through the progressed Lunar return, the emotional upheaval a Saturn return would create would be immense, far more so than it already is.

Why are Saturn returns usually traumatic? Most people don't like change: they like things to stay the way they are. If they do want change, they want it to manifest how they see fit. Saturn returns take some of the control away from a person, and since we're not really very willing to trust that everything's going to be okay, we resist what's happening. What is affected in life depends on what sign and house Saturn resides in the chart. For example, a 1st House Saturn return in Pisces would most likely yield a final awareness about one's self, one's ego after an initial period of deception. A 7th House Saturn return in Pisces would be about that person's relationships. These same House placements, but occurring in, say, Aries, would be very different. The primary focus would be on initiative and action: the lesson would be patience.

All of the planets have a return cycle, though most of us won't live to experience the outer three, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto. A few may live to see their first and only Uranus return, occurring around age 84. Being that Uranus is about sudden, unexpected, and sometimes drastic change, it is no surprise that many people have their Greater Feasts in their mid 80s. With orbital periods of 165 and 256 years for Neptune and Pluto, respectively, Humans will not experience these returns unless the dreams of science fiction books come true (but anything's possible, isn't it?)

The return we are most familiar with is the Solar Return, more commonly known as your birthday, or Lesser Feast. The exact point of one's Solar Return will not occur exactly on one's birthday usually, but within a day or two of it. This is the time to recharge your very essence, “the flame that burns in every heart of man and in the core of every star.” We generally feel in control and comfortable around our birthday. New ideas for the coming year arise, plans are made. A cleaning of the slate, so to speak.

Within a couple of months before or behind your Solar Return, you'll get a Mercury as well as a Venus return (not necessarily at the same time). Our communication skills are tiptop when Mercury's in our natal sign. We speak easily and with confidence. Venus makes us lovely and charming. We always look more attractive to others when Venus is in our natal sign. Our personal skills are refined and we have an eye for what is beautiful and pleasing to us. The first Mercury return is generally around when a baby will start talking and walking. The first Venus return marks the beginning of the baby's sense of like and dislike, as well as how to change their behavior to get what they want.

Every parent on Earth knows the Mars return: it's known as the Terrible Twos. “No!!! I won't do it!” This is the first assertion of the child's aggressive behavior, the knowledge that Mars has the power to get what Venus wants. The refusals to behave in appropriate ways, go to bed when they're supposed to, eat what's in front of them, these are all exertions of the child's first inkling that it has its own power. As with any Arian or Martian energy, moderation and patience are learned with each successive Mars return, which occur about every 2 years 2 months. At age 14 or 15, we experience our first Solar Martian return: that is, both the Sun and Mars have returned to their natal location simultaneously for the first time since birth. This combined aggressive and individual energy marks the beginning of the rebellious period of a teenager's life. Up until now, they've just had the realization that they can use their power as an external source: that is, they do not typically use it to separate themselves from their parents or others. When the Solar Martian return occurs, they are hit with the realization that they are a unique and complete entity unto themselves. This results in the typical adolescent behavior of disobeying authority and generally following what they deem to be their Wills, now that they have the power to exert it.

This is different from the social individuality of the Jupiter return, which occurs at age 12 and marks the beginning of puberty. Children still respect their parents and generally do as they say, but this is when they ask their parents to pick them up from school a block away so they are not seen by their friends. They will insist upon picking out their own clothes and personal decorations, and will generally disapprove of whatever style their parents exhibit. It is unacceptable to be seen as a child in a social context once the first Jupiter return has occurred. This is amplified with the Solar Martian return: it is no longer acceptable to be seen as a child, period. The second Jupiter return marks the beginning of a person's adult social life. Old friends that were seen throughout high school and college may fall by the wayside. New ones are made through the new social circles that are formed by expanding one's horizons. Each Jupiter return causes a person to re-evaluate their place in the world in a social context, and they occur every 12 years.

The other kind of return we experience regularly is the Lunar return, which happens approximately every 29 days. The Moon rules our bodies and emotions. We may be more conscious of those things when the Moon is in our sign. Since the Moon moves so rapidly, it is probably not something that most of us notice much unless we're actually paying attention. Nor will we particularly notice the exact time that Luna returns to her natal position, unless that's a busy spot in our chart. This is also why the Moon is about comfort: it is the most comfortable energy that we possess, the easiest to integrate into our daily lives because the cycle revolves so often. We may not realize its full potentiality until the Progressed Lunar Return, but the Moon nonetheless represents the part of ourselves that we probably know best.

Paying attention to the Moon is especially beneficial to women. I refuse to believe it is biological coincidence that most women's menstrual cycles are around 28 or 29 days long, the length of a Lunar cycle. Scientific facts like the match in salinity and minerals between amniotic fluid and the ocean, whose tides rise and fall in time with the Moon, compound this belief for me. Granted, some women have longer and shorter cycles, but I am firmly convinced that further study of such women's charts would yield a pattern that is dependent upon the Moon. Following the Moon's passage while noting emotional and bodily changes can help regulate an erratic cycle because the Moon rules body memory as well. Habits. The mind is connected to the body. Paying attention to this energy also offers a woman an alternative method of determining fertility, provided their cycle is very regular.

I believe this same principle can be applied to the male physique as well. It's fairly well accepted that men have a regular cycle that they go through just like women do: the nature and mechanism of that cycle is still under debate. I believe it is emotional in nature, just as it is in women, but it manifests more internally than it does for women. I have noticed some men will have regular changes in their appetite or body weight. Their bodily desires that give them comfort will change throughout the month as the Moon revolves.

Everyone feels a little more secure when the Moon is in their sign. Each Lunar return sets the emotional mood for the next cycle, depending on what aspects are in the sky at the time of the return. This is why an exactly repeated cycle is not observed: the same basic energies may flow, but down different paths. Likewise, the Solar return sets the expressive mood of a person for the next year. Their basic energy remains the same, but they may express it in a slightly different manner.

Paying attention to these cycles within cycles helps all of us understand ourselves a little bit better, both as individuals and as entities functioning within a greater whole. Our personal cycles, from the Moon out to Saturn, represent how we function against the slower backdrop of the outer planets. Seeing when these returns will happen can help us prepare for that shift in energy. Each return sheds unnecessary energy for that planet: its energy is re-evaluated. By knowing beforehand when our psyche will require us to do some housecleaning, we can get an early start by asking ourselves those questions before the Universe demands the answers. Ask the Moon how it wants to feel differently. Ask the Sun how it wants to express itself differently. Ask Mercury how it can better communicate its ideas. Ask Venus how it can get the things that make it feel good. Ask Mars what's pissing it off and how to fix it. Ask Jupiter what it needs to learn. Ask Saturn what it needs for order and structure. Learning to address these different aspects of the soul is a key to integrating them into a working individual more than capable of achieving the Great Work.


1. Hart, George; Trustees of the British Museum. Egyptian Myths. The Bath Press, Avon, 1990. Second printing: University of Texas Press, 1992.

2. Johnson, Robert A. She: Understanding Feminine Psychology, Revised edition. Harper & Row, 1989.

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