“There is no logical way to discover these elemental laws. There is only the way of intuition, which is helped by a feeling for the order lying behind the appearance.”—Albert Einstein
Saturn is the sixth planet from the Sun and the second largest in the Solar System, after Jupiter. Along with Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune, Saturn is classified as a gas giant. Much of what we know about Saturn came from the Voyager explorations in 1980-81. Saturn’s day is 10 hours, 39 minutes; and the planet is visibly flattened at the poles as a result of this fast rotation on its axis. The atmosphere is composed primarily of hydrogen, with small amounts of helium and methane; and Saturn is the only planet in our Solar System that is less dense than water. Saturn’s hazy, yellow color is marked by broad bands in the atmosphere which are similar to, but fainter than, those found on Jupiter.
Saturn’s prominent rings provide one of the most beautiful objects in the solar system to gaze at through a telescope. Space probes indicate that the main rings are composed of large numbers of narrow ringlets which are mostly ice particles with a smaller amount of rocky debris and dust. One theory for the ring’s origin is that they are shattered remnants of larger moons impacted by comets and small meteors.
Sixty-one known moons orbit Saturn, not counting hundreds of “moonlets” within the rings. Fifty-three of Saturn’s moons have been named. This diverse group includes rough, cratered surfaces and porous moons which are coated in ice particles. Titan is Saturn’s largest moon and the Solar System’s second largest, after Jupiter’s Ganymede. Titan is the most Earth-like world discovered so far and is of great interest to scientists because it has a substantial, active atmosphere and complex, Earth-like processes that shape its surface.
With its thick planet-like atmosphere, more dense than Mercury, Earth or Mars, and organic-rich chemistry, Titan resembles a frozen version of Earth, several billion years ago, before life began sending oxygen into the atmosphere. Titan’s air is predominantly nitrogen with other hydrocarbon elements, which gives Titan its orange hue. These hydrocarbon rich elements are the building blocks for amino acids necessary for the formation of life. Titan is therefore a possible host for microbial extraterrestrial life, or a prebiotic environment rich in complex organic chemistry. Titan is the only object, other than Earth, known to have stable bodies of surface liquid. Researchers have suggested that a possible underground liquid ocean might serve as a biotic environment.
Titan’s naturally produced, photochemical smog obscured its surface prior to the arrival of the Cassini spacecraft. On Jan. 14, 2005, the European-built Huygens probe achieved humankind’s first landing on a body in the Outer Solar System when it parachuted through Titan’s murky skies. Cassini revealed that Titan’s surface is shaped by rivers and lakes of liquid ethane and methane, the main component of natural gas, which forms clouds and occasionally rains from the sky as water does on Earth. Intense winds carve vast regions of dark, hydrocarbon-rich dunes that circle the moon’s equator and low latitudes. Volcanism may occur, but liquid water erupts instead of molten lava. Although Titan is classified as a moon, it is larger than Mercury. In fact, if Titan orbited the Sun, rather than Saturn, it would be considered a planet and have a marked role in astrology.
Not only is Saturn famous for its spectacular rings and intriguing Earth-like moon, but another enigmatic geometric feature of the planet puzzles scientists. First glimpsed by Voyager in 1979, Saturn has a bizarre hexagon-shaped cloud which circles the north pole. Nothing like this phenomenon has been observed anywhere else in the solar system, and scientists are stumped by its presence. In October 2006, the Cassini craft found that it is still there, further astounding scientists.
The hexagon is similar to Earth’s polar vortex which has winds blowing in a circular motion around the pole. Saturn’s hexagonal vortex could contain four Earths. The hexagon’s origin is a matter of intense speculation. Most astronomers believe it is some sort of standing-wave pattern in the atmosphere, but the hexagon might also be an unusual sort of aurora. Polygon shapes have been replicated in spinning buckets of fluid in a laboratory.
The hexagonal feature does not shift in longitude like the other clouds in the visible atmosphere. It’s intriguing that such a geometric enigma, along with the most dramatic planetary rings, should appear on the planet which astrologically symbolizes the principle of form and structure. Pythagorus is quoted as saying, “God geometrizes,” and one wonders what message from Nature might be contained in this conundrum.
Saturn is an old Italian god who is identified with the earlier Greek Cronus, Chief of the Titans, who is one of the great figures of myth. He is also equated with the Babylonian Ninurta and the Hindu Shani. One tradition portrays Cronus as a selfish and autocratic ruler intending to maintain his reign at any cost. Cronus swallowed his own children so that none of them would supplant him. His wife Rhea, herself a very ancient pre-Hellenic goddess from Crete, foiled this attempt by giving him a swaddled stone instead of his last-born child Zeus (Jupiter.) Subsequently, Jupiter tricked Cronus into coughing up the rest of his siblings and went on to become King of Heaven.
In Orphic cosmology however, which traces its roots to Egypt, Cronus was seen as a beneficent king, ruling over both heaven and earth. In this guise, Cronus ruled during a halcyon golden age in antiquity. Cronus is also sometimes identified with Chronus, who is not depicted as a personified being but rather as Time itself, which of course does swallow all of its children in due course.
Astrologically, Saturn’s influence is the embodiment of form, and the dramatic rings which surround the physical planet represent the idea of limitation. The ringed planet gives form to our life experiences and therefore provides our lessons. In Qabalah, Saturn corresponds to the Sephirah Binah on the Tree of Life. Binah is the Great Mother, matrix of form and template of the manifested universe, whose limitation and form-giving power is a fundamental principle of creation. Saturn represents the force of gravity and embodies concrete reality which gives form to energy. Saturn represents how we have structured our reality through our thoughts, and in a quantum sense Saturn represents the way we perceive reality as our individual and collective conscious has created and structured it.
Saturn is sometimes pictured as the Grim Reaper, wielding a scythe and cutting a wide swath in human affairs. Saturn’s symbol bears a likeness to the god’s sickle. In this role, he delivers his trials as a stern but wise taskmaster. The reaper is only “grim” if we have sowed metaphorical seeds of destruction. Saturn is often viewed in a dim light, but it is our veiled and incomplete understanding of the nature of how consciousness partakes in the creation of reality that is the problem with his reputation.
Saturn acts to eliminate the results of our wrong choices, and this process often feels like loss. Saturn actually works to bring us closer to our heart’s desire by showing us the consequences of prior choices which led in the opposite direction. Astrologically, Saturn is seen as lord of time, and when he connects to points in our horoscopes we feel his heavy hand. The influence of Saturn by sign serves to limit or control circumstances in our lives and can also indicate how we will be limited, controlled, frustrated, or delayed by what seems to be the cruel hand of fate, according to the sign Saturn transits.
In a paradoxical manner, Saturn seems to act as an external teacher manifesting tests in our lives through people and events. In actuality, it is our own inner consciousness, seeking balance and striving toward fulfillment, which brings about these “tests.” This is not really an external process, although it seems to be outer events that provide the class- room. With benefit of hindsight, most of us give credit for our most profound lessons to our toughest teachers. We look back in gratitude to those who expected the most from us or held our feet to the proverbial fire. Saturn is at heart a wise teacher even if he seems to be a stern taskmaster. When we are truly wise, we understand that Saturn plays the role of tough-love teacher; and if we accept his lessons gracefully, we are invariably strengthened in character.
Astrology, Order & Chaos
Because we live in a three-dimensional world, Saturn is perhaps the most important transiting influence to understand. Saturn demonstrates how we have structured our personal and collective universe. If Saturn represents the principle of order, structure and form, what is his relationship to the opposite principle of chaos in the Universe? In Greek myth, Chaos was the original matrix, or womb, out of which everything emerged, similar to the Babylonian Tiamat.
In mathematics, chaos theory describes the behavior of certain systems whose states evolve over time. Such systems become unpredictable over time; and as a result of this initial sensitivity, the behavior of chaotic systems appears to be random. In popular terms, this is called the Butterfly Effect and describes a sensitivity to initial conditions, which is described in chaos theory. This idea gave rise to the notion of a butterfly flapping its wings in one area of the world, causing a tornado, or some such weather event, in another remote area of the world.
The term “chaos theory” comes from the fact that the systems the theory describes are apparently disordered, but chaos theory is really about finding the underlying order that exists in apparently random data. The first true experimenter in chaos was a meteorologist, named Edward Lorenz. In 1960, he was working on the problem of weather prediction. He programed a computer with a set of twelve nonlinear equations to model the weather. It didn’t predict the weather itself but did theoretically predict what the weather might be.
Nonlinear problems are of interest to physicists and mathematicians because most physical systems are inherently nonlinear in nature. Nonlinear equations are difficult to solve and give rise to interesting phenomena such as chaos. The weather is famously nonlinear, where simple changes in one part of the system produce complex effects throughout. Many of the shapes that describe nonlinear systems are fractal, a set of shapes that are self-similar on smaller and smaller scales with no limit to the size of the scale. Fractals were discovered by Benoit Mandelbrot at IBM.
Astrology has ever been about finding order and seeing patterns in heaven reflected in earthly life. I believe the lesson to be learned from a deeper understanding of Saturn, and the order concealed in apparently random events, is learning to understand what the “initial conditions” are in our lives. When we start a ball rolling through choice and an act of will, the gravity of those initial conditions will sooner or later produce an effect which is related to the cause. Life itself might be described as a nonlinear equation, and part of the evolution of consciousness involves perceiving and directing the initial conditions which influence the direction we’re heading.