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MARCH 2008

Jessica Murray: Saturn, The Reality Show, Part 3

by Jessica Murray

In our last couple of columns we discussed the association of the planet Saturn with the concept of What Everybody Thinks, or, more precisely, What We Think Everybody Thinks. We talked about the way this fictive construct is fed by the human yearning to be “normal.” We talked about how this yearning is manipulated by the mass media, which functions, as it has in every age to a greater or lesser extent, as an arm of the government.


Governments in general are associated with Saturn. These will be under the spotlight the world over during the coming years, as Pluto moves through Saturn’s affiliated sign, Capricorn (1). There is a great deal of interest stirring in the mass consciousness right now about the nature of government on every level. The primary election we just had in California turned voters out in record-breaking numbers.

Now is the time to bring out the natal chart of the USA, and see what it tells us about America’s relationship with its own leadership infrastructure.

Father Knows Best

As a group entity, America has a strained rapport with its elected officials and the machinery that brings them to power. The astrological signature of this ambivalence is a 90º angle between Saturn and the Sun in the USA chart (2). This aspect, called a square, has led many astrologers to ascribe to the USA a walloping Father Complex: a love-hate relationship with persons and agencies of authority.

The interesting thing about this ambivalence is how much it clashes with the national self-image. (3) For a populace that crows about its freedom as much as this country’s does, it is truly remarkable how cowed Americans are by patriarchal agencies. Scared out of its wits by the intimidations of a bad-dad president and his fear-fomenting consiglieri, the citizenry of this Home-of-the-Brave-and-Land-of-the-Free has, over the past seven years, handed over its most cherished rights to FBI men with phone-tapping headsets faster than you could say “Islamic terr’ist.”

Because it conflicts so starkly with the country’s swaggering persona, this odd national tendency to spook in the face of officialdom gets very little attention from citizens and international observers. But astrology is well-suited to make sense of the pattern, which aligns quite predictably with what we know of natives who disown their Saturn.

In human individuals, a wide-eyed respect for the rules is a feature we expect, or at least hope for, in actual children. When we are very young, following a because-I-say-so figure is developmentally appropriate. (4) But in the case of adults who have not integrated their natal Saturn, childlikeness is distorted into childishness and is often projected upon a series of father figures. Examples of a misused Saturn-Sun square include the insecure college student looking to date her professor, not out of attraction but out of powerlessness; or the employee who rails against his boss at the water cooler but is quiet as a mouse in the big man’s office.

The Cowboy vs. the Boss

With group entities the same rules apply. When Saturn is estranged in a country’s chart, the citizenry tends to grumble and grouse but, in the end, scoots over and leaves the driving to Daddy.

American legend is full of mavericks and outlaws: Jesse James outsmarting the sheriff; Rocky Balboa prevailing against impossible odds through sheer pluck (and, as might be inferred from recent statements made by his creator, perhaps a little help from the syringe). The classic Sagittarius rising sees itself as a feisty rebel.

Meanwhile, the Sun-Saturn square in the US chart helps us understand why, despite their penchant for bad-boy underdogs in the movies, actual Americans tend to slump into obeisance in the presence of uniformed agents. When the voice of bureaucracy speaks over the P.A. system, or if a security guard in crisp polyester pleats tells them to stay behind the yellow line, by and large Americans will do as they are told. If the medical man in the white jacket tells them an operation is necessary, most will meekly prepare for the scalpel. The plucky outlaw is nowhere to be found.

The Jupiterian bombast of the US chart also has its negatives, to be sure; the heedless swashbuckler is an inherently adolescent figure. The natal standoff between America’s Jupiter and its ambivalently held Saturn is an example of uneasy equipoise, with both sides prone to distortion. We are focusing here on the Saturn side of things because only by coming to grips with the defects in this arena can we hope to rein in the perilous excesses in the Jupiter arena—among them, America’s Yee-Haw foreign policy.

Responsibility and unresponsiveness

In the etymology of the word responsibility we find the essence of the meaning of Saturn: the ability to respond. Astrologically defined, a mature individual is one who can come up with a genuine, inner-derived response—not a reaction—to the moment. A populace that has not pressed its Saturn into service is going to be inherently unresponsive. They will wait to be told what to do, what to believe, what to buy and whom to vote for.

Americans are not unresponsive in the sense of torpid or devoid of opinions (a Sagittarius-rising entity could hardly be devoid of opinions); but the true responsiveness that is Saturn’s highest potential is not expressed by mere restlessness (5) and strong convictions. The unresponsiveness of the US populace shows up in more insidious ways, which, as we discussed in our last column, are all the more worrisome for being considered normal.

In a communal waiting area, it might take the form of zoning out in front of one of the ubiquitous television sets that started to appear some years ago in doctors’ waiting rooms and now are popping up everywhere from fancy restaurants to bank lobbies. It may take the form of succumbing to the hypnotic Muzak piped into a department store to forestall critical thinking.

For a populace to disown its Saturn is especially pernicious in an era of cynical officialdom. An unresponsive public serves the powers-that-be in consumer and bureaucratic settings in the same way that the dispensing of evening meds at a hospital promises to give the late-shift nurses an easier night.

As is so often the case when a planet is square the Sun, the USA is starving for its estranged Saturn. A citizenry knows in its collective soul when something is missing. What’s missing is responsibility; but when exercised without awareness this yearning expresses as blame. What does it tell us, for example, that American citizens have embraced litigation like a gambler at a slot machine, with lawsuits skyrocketing yearly? It tells us that Saturn’s wholesome impulse for redress, for recompense, for responsibility to be taken, has vacated its original offices in the halls of justice and is running amok through the corridors.

Sheep without shoes

No institution points up this phenomenon more blatantly than the post-millennial American airport. In this context the public’s Saturn, planet of practical intelligence and self-respect, seems to get confiscated at the security gate along with the hair gel. That American citizens continue to allow themselves to be corralled like farm animals while their shoes roll by on a conveyor belt has got to be one of the most devilish jokes the Cosmos has played yet on this cocky young nation; pointing up what happens when common sense (also associated with positive Saturn) and simple human dignity are surrendered. Where is the cowboy now? Timidly struggling to tie his shoes without losing his balance in a crowded queue, while scrambling to collect his carry-on bag from a little plastic tray.

Jon Carroll of the San Francisco Chronicle told a funny story recently about waiting to board a flight at SFO. The take-off time was postponed again and again for reasons that were never explained by any of the several disengaged airline Customer Service Representatives milling around, who instead offered up to the increasingly frustrated crowd ever-more-transparently bogus excuses for the delay.

“Because this was a flight to Paris,” Carroll writes, “there were a lot of French people in the waiting room… who began to kick up a fuss. It is said that Americans are big whiners with an inflated sense of entitlement (6), and it’s true that there’s no complainer like an American complainer. But en masse, we tend to be passive… The French have no such problem … They do not care whether strangers like them. …It [was] strangely comforting that the scary, sarcastic French were on [our] side… the French mob made hotel vouchers appear within minutes. International cooperation is a beautiful thing.”

Saturn mislabeled and misapplied

When it is not given away wholesale to The Man, how does Saturn express itself in America?

As often happens when a planet functions without awareness, the USA’s afflicted Saturn exhibits an odd all-or-nothing quality. This piece of the national chart has become at once inflated and wildly misidentified.

In the criminal misuse of America’s Saturn, Exhibit A is the word/concept “conservative.” Cautious, conventional Saturn governs the impulse to conserve: to safeguard that which retains value from the past. But in the context of the American cultural vernacular, “conservative” connotes meanings that have nothing to do with conserving.

When properly manifested, Saturn inspires us to treat with reverence social standards whose effectiveness has been tested by time. But America’s “conservative” icons’ most telling characteristic is their flagrant lack of this quality. Many are downright precedent-shattering. “Conservative” policymakers like the Bush crowd are notorious for flouting international institutions such as the Geneva Conventions, which are conventional in the classic Saturnine sense. Those American politicians who are blithely termed “conservative”—by themselves, the public and the media—commonly disdain and repudiate such agreements as the Kyoto accord and nuclear anti-proliferation treaties that constitute, collectively, the very epitome of the global impulse to conserve. And from the radio personalities deemed “conservative” we hear outrageous utterances that have nothing to do with the values of staid, taciturn Saturn; but rather, seem to be scripted to ensure that pundit’s presence on the evening news (e.g. Ann Coulter’s assertion last October that Jews need to be “perfected.”)

This is outlandish stuff. In content, form and intention these examples betray the very opposite of what conservatism might logically be thought to mean. Indeed, in a gambit that psychologists would find perversely predictable, pundits of this sort often accuse their perceived adversaries of über-conservatism; that is, of fascism (e.g. feminazis, enviro-fascists (7)). Fascism is the form Saturn takes when it is distorted to its furthest extreme. These name-callers are projecting a grotesquely exaggerated form of the Saturn archetype onto their ideological opponents, while misidentifying themselves as its true exponents.

Code words

This self-touting in America of the word/concept “conservatism” while exhibiting its opposite is a symptom of a planet in deep distress. The media exaggeration that often surrounds the term (consider the coinage “ultra-conservative”) exudes something of a hysterical quality. It is as if by ratcheting up the misnomer, America could make up for its desperate lack of true conservatism.

Another aspect of Saturn’s meaning that the USA has twisted into a pretzel is the notion of practicality. Saturn is the most utilitarian of the planets; last month we discussed its governance of the notion of realism. Ideally, this means honoring the empirical dictates of the material world and prioritizing efficiency. A properly functioning Saturn cares, first and foremost, about what works.

But although most right-wing thinkers present their policies in pragmatic terms—for example, when Big Agra disdains moral arguments (8) for raising farm workers’ working conditions to something other than quasi-slave labor (9), they mention “the bottom line” a lot—the utter disingenuousness of their arguments is clear when we consider that none of this belt-tightening is ever construed to apply to their CEOs.

The word “unrealistic” is often invoked by corporate spokespersons to describe, for example, employee health benefits; yet it is one of the more universally agreed-upon truisms of modern society that labor-force healthcare is a supremely realistic idea; considering the enormous loss of work-hours and resources that communities must otherwise shell out by waiting until people get so sick they have no recourse but the hospital emergency room. (10)

Meanwhile, the pharmaceutical industry, one of the top three most profitable industries in the USA, to whose lobbyists the most “conservative” politicians are sworn heart and soul, now spends more on marketing than research. One cannot help but feel that this kind of “realism” has a highly specialized meaning: that of rendering more and more real the cushy retirements of the companies’ biggest shareholders.

Other deliberately misleading Saturn terms that have been cropping up lately in the election speechifying include prudent—which in this context, as Jon Carroll reminds us, really means “no new taxes”—and affordable, which tends to mean corporate-subsidized. And most bloodcurdling of all, “safe; “ which has come to mean, “Torture is fine with me.”

A choice to make

In the USA chart Saturn holds an elevated position. It is highly placed in the tenth house, the part of the wheel that bespeaks high worldwide visibility. This placement suggests that the country has been given an important leadership role to play. The sign it is in, Libra, tells us that America presumes itself to be, and has the capability to be, a bastion of fairness and peace-promotion. These values, cited if not adhered to by patriots for 300 years, actually exist in potential form in the group soul that is the USA.

To access the sublime potential of a chart we must reclaim its planets in their purity. In this spirit, the identification of cultural blind spots is an excellent learning device. That troublesome square in the national chart is there for a reason; a reason karmically tailored to every self-actualizing citizen.

If we do not find in the culture around us the higher features of the planet of responsibility, we have a choice to make. We can cave into the collective tendency to go numb, and delay or avoid entirely (at least, in this lifetime) Saturn’s lessons of responsibility. This would entail going along with the current national penchant for reacting instead of responding, casting blame instead of looking to change one’s own terns of participation, or, if one can afford it, hiring lawyers to duke it out.

Or we can aspire to Saturn’s deeper capacities and get on with our soul work.



1 For a brief essay on this 15-year transit, see February’s Skywatch on

2 I refer here to the collective entity born July 4th 1776, for which I use the Sibly chart (see Soul-Sick Nation: An Astrologer’s View of America).

3 America’s Marlboro Man self-image is indicated by the USA’s Sagittarius Ascendant, as well as by the fact that Jupiter conjuncts its Sun. The face in the national mirror is that of a rollicking cowboy, asserting himself in his own territory however he wants, galloping unhindered wherever in the world he wants. Full of bravado about his own presumed freedom, this figure openly boasts about the contrast he perceives between his own sky’s-the-limit possibilities and the limitations that make all other nation-states losers in his eyes.

4 Juveniles require, by definition, the outside environment to provide boundaries. This is not just a psychological truism but an astrological one as well: no one younger than 28 can have experienced the three-decades-long circuit of Saturn through the zodiac back to its placement at birth. By astrological law this means that he cannot yet have assimilated Saturn’s meaning, that of knowing how to boundary the self. Once the planet does come back to its natal placement, the person has his Saturn Return. Chronologically, at least, the threshold of adulthood has been crossed. He is theoretically now able to understand the demands and rewards of maturity.

5 The frenetic perambulation of the US population is indicated by the mutable square between the US chart’s agitation-prone Mars in Gemini and its fluctuating Neptune in Virgo.

6 A classic symptom of the Jupiter-Sun conjunction in its unconscious state.

7 Here the name-calling extends into the furthest reaches of irony; for today’s environmentalists are the priests and priestesses of Saturn at its highest: the true conservatives.

8 Proponents of humanitarian legislation are often dismissed by faux-conservatives with the odd phrase “bleeding heart liberal,” a coinage bizarrely suggestive of medieval imagery from the Church of Rome. Has anybody looked into this etymology?

9 A recent study found that raising the American farm worker’s income to a bare minimum wage would add up to a mere fifty dollars per year for the households who consume the fruits and vegetables that would rot in the fields without their labor. This proposal would seem to meet the criteria of bottom-line integrity quite well, if the goal here were a just society.

10 But the insurance industry, in its current American form, is hardly the Saturn savior in this scenario. Medical costs are now the leading cause of personal bankruptcy even for those in the USA who buy insurance.