We are living in Saturnian times. The planetary transits that are occurring in his realms are the kind that bring fundamental change to the world. The Old God Cronos aka Saturn is the lord of time, of laws and limits, of endings and of solitary work, which is why he is often called the Great Teacher, a somewhat ominous epithet implying that some lessons we will all eventually learn, whether we’re ready to or not. Aquarius, the sign of foresight and ingenuity, fosters the revolutionary, the truth-teller and the exile. Ruled by both Saturn and Uranus, it is future-oriented and socially-minded, bringing new ideas and envisioning new possibilities. As he embarks on this next leg of his journey from earth sign to air sign, Saturn is playing dual roles: the reckoner and the revealer.
Saturn is also the architect of the zodiac. Throughout his cycles in the preceding sign of Capricorn, his other home, he has been constructing his Great Work. Its walls are a show of strength: at times they protect and at times they imprison. They include as well as exclude. Now this edifice is starting to crumble; its foundation is starting to crack. As Saturn stands on the threshold of Aquarius, he is at a crossroads of time and space: the past confronting the future, and the old giving way to the new. Some things will be razed and some will be rebuilt. It is a landscape of skeletons and scaffolds.
In the book of Genesis, we find the story of the Tower of Babel, another monumental construction project: Generations after the Great Flood, there is one surviving race of people who all speak one language. They settle in the land of Babylon and attempt to build a tower that reaches all the way to heaven. As they ascend higher and higher into the sky, God starts to become angry, worried that if they succeed, “now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.” And so to prevent the workers from continuing, he confuses their language so that they can no longer communicate or understand one another, and with that, they abandon the project, fracture into groups, and scatter over the globe.
The biblical story of the Tower of Babel most likely has its roots in the mythology of ancient Mesopotamia, and interestingly, we find similar tales in traditions all over the world. There are also versions that elaborate on the details: a great king originally orders and oversees the construction; the tower is built of fired clay bricks and measures a certain height; it has a sort of spiraling, conical shape; and God destroys the tower with wind and storms. There is no definitive interpretation of the story, though many have been put forth: Is it an etiological explanation for the multiplicity of languages amongst humans? Is it an attempt to explain the provenance of an ancient ruin? Or is it a cautionary tale against hubris? When read metaphorically, it raises some interesting questions. Were the builders trying to defy God or were they trying to ascend to the realm of the divine? Were they trying to overthrow him or were they just trying to find him? Does it represent a utopian vision of cooperation that disintegrates into confusion and disarray? Or does it carry a prescient evolutionary message of vulnerability in uniformity and safety in diversity? And the language: is it an actual linguistic proto-tongue or could it too be a metaphor?
Viewing our current times through the framework of this story, however you interpret it, I believe, can tell us something about the recent transits of Capricorn and Saturn’s coming time in Aquarius. Why is it that the aforementioned Capricornian edifice is starting to crumble? Partly because it is old, and age brings decay (and decadence). But another reason is that much of the foundation was built on shaky moral ground, and the cracks are exposing the shadow side of Capricorn: greed, ultra-conservatism, ambition and exploitation. We have employed the laws of physics to create cities of skyscrapers, only for them to become empty symbols of wealth, monuments to rich men and corporations. We have achieved a westernized version of civilization in almost every corner of the world, but only at the expense of building materials and non-renewable resources plundered recklessly from the earth; the labor and abuse of enslaved people and immigrants; and the displacement of animals and indigenous populations. With this pandemic, the gods may not exactly be smiting us in a biblical sense, but we have clearly fucked up. We have designed this world to our advantage, but also at our own peril, as we are seeing now.
As we move further into Aquarius, we will have more and more opportunities to consider the human experiment and test our ingenuity in areas like science and social justice. And I suspect we will eventually be confronted with that sign’s particular shadow if we’re not conscientious about it. Right now, Saturn is giving us a preview of our limitations and reminding us that we are, in fact, not immortal and all-powerful as the gods. Globalization has made the entire world’s population vulnerable to a novel virus, and now airline travel and mass transit are halted, social distancing is drastically altering our connections and our communities, and science is hard at work to find a cure—all things that fall under the umbrella of Saturn and Aquarius. Before the coronavirus crisis, the political climate was making it harder and harder to understand each other and work together, much like the workers in Babel. But we were also connecting through technology in unprecedented ways. Will we abandon our project, or will we rebuild? Like Saturn, humanity is at a crossroads. The human brain wants to understand itself and the mystery of life; our subconscious fears death and seeks immortality; but mastery is not the same as divinity. We have confused trying to find god with trying to be god.
In the upcoming years, babies will be born, new leaders will be elected, and new discoveries will take place, that I predict will all contain some version of this story. In Aquarius, I imagine we will still be trying to build our metaphorical tower to the heavens, but it will look a lot different than Capricorn’s. Language will probably have something to do with it: not necessarily in the conventional sense of the spoken tongue, but in the sense of a complex, encoded, self-generating and near-universal system. AI and the internet leading us to new frontiers, perhaps? Or the complex coding that underlies the spiral-shaped building blocks of our very being: DNA? What new advances will we see in the fields of genetic engineering and human evolution? The eclipses coming in Gemini will probably plant some of those seeds. Uranus will be co-ruling this transit from the fixed earth sign, Taurus: will we see him in his role as Prometheus, defier of the gods and ally to humanity, or as Ouranos, primordial sky father? Add Jupiter into the mix and you have the patriarchal story of Zeus, Cronos and Ouranos: something, or someone, of the old order will be overthrown. Pluto will continue his work in Capricorn, as will Neptune in Pisces.
Saturn takes about thirty years to complete a cycle and spends about two to three years in a sign. The last times it was in Aquarius were 1991-94, 1962-4, and 1932-35 (give or take a retrograde). It will remain in the sign until March 7, 2023, with one retrograde period from July 1 to December 16. If you were born during any of those periods, you will be coming up on your Saturn return and will be learning from the Great Teacher. Not only that—you embody this placement and will serve as a kind of example to the rest of us of what it looks like manifested in the life. You will be teaching the rest of us, if we’re watching closely.
In the Major Arcana of the tarot, the Tower card depicts a bolt of lightning striking the top of a tall tower. Flames and smoke shoot out from the windows and roof, two people fall head-first to the ground, and a large golden crown is ejected toward the sky. The Tower card represents unforeseen change, sudden upheaval and destruction. But it also represents ultimate liberation and transformation. You’d miss it upon a cursory glance, but in the bottom corner of the card is a serpent-entwined staff (aka Pamela Colman Smith’s initials): the symbol of the healer-shaman. The Goddess is here with us—within us—but we are too busy building towers into the sky to notice and remember Her. She must be honored for there to be true liberation and transformation, I believe.
The world is experiencing a Tower moment, in more ways than one, as it turns out. It is unsettling at best and terrifying at worst. We are being humbled and we have lost the illusion of control that we once had. But Saturn in Aquarius also reminds us that human beings are capable of great resiliency and compassion in times of crisis. We will weather this storm, and then we will have an opportunity, to be the architects of our future, in a brave new world.