compass and map

Mapping the Vast Unknown

It's always a bit strange to talk about Saturn and Neptune together in the same sentence. They are as different as chalk and cheese, oil and water, heaven and earth. Yet, they need to work together when they interact by aspect, for better or worse.

No one can tell what goes on in between the person you were and the person you become. No one can chart that blue and lonely section of hell. There are no maps of the change. You just come out the other side. ...Or you don't. ~ Stephen King, The Stand

glyph saturnSaturn represents the physical world of manifestation. It's tangible, concrete, defined and comes with a built-in system of rules and boundaries. This is the realm of what is, and what can be only if we are prepared to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.

It's the stuff you keep bumping into when you try to hide out in Neptune for too long. Forget to pay your bills? Expect a call from the collection company that will make sure you take responsibility for your commitments. Indulging to excess in the potions and practices that grease the wheels of wishful thinking? Cold, hard reality will keep coming back to haunt you if it's ignored for too long.

glyph neptuneNeptune on the other hand signifies the world of imagination and the unknown. It's ethereal, sensitive, nebulous and wants to seduce you into total psychological surrender to experience the true depth of its nature. It is the realm of what could be, what might be, what we hope will be or what we fear will be, as opposed to what is.

It's the stuff that reminds you that you are not the centre of the universe—or at least that you are just as much a centre of the universe as everyone and everything else is. It is also the experiential and spiritual pathway by which we can connect to something greater than ourselves. As such, it reminds us that life doesn't stop where our skin meets the air. There is only so much we can know for sure, and Neptune is the abyss that lies beyond the boundaries of the known world. Here be dragons!

A World Without Saturn or Neptune

Am I alive and a reality, or am I but a dream? ~ Edgar Rice Burroughs, The Return of Tarzan

Saturn and Neptune can seem mutually exclusive. At best they tend to mix together about as well as oil and water. Yet, they can complement each other nicely, and indeed it is essential that they do so. Our human nature cannot live by Saturn alone; nor Neptune.

Optical illusion

Too much Neptune can make life ambiguous, disorienting and unfamiliar to the point where it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to function effectively in the world of time and space. And since we exist in that time-and-space world, we kind of have to play by its rules to some extent.

The unknown can provide a window that lets much-needed fresh air into a stale room that has been locked up too long. However, leaving that window open indefinitely invites disruptive elements that can mess up the order and consistency we still need to build our lives in the physical world.

When you're drowning in Neptune, you might feel overly emotional, vulnerable or impressionable. This watery state of mind can make it difficult to address situations that require logic, structure or mental focus. On the other hand, not everything can be solved by logic alone, and sometimes a more intuitive, blurred or shifted mental focus can allow you to see solutions that are obscured by the structure and order. Idealism and illusion are never far away under Neptune's twilight. One can blur into the other once we realize that a little mental Photoshopping can turn a distasteful view of life into one that glows with perfection.

Neptune is the master of illusion. That means its energy can help us see beyond the obvious to the subtle, but it can also obscure the obvious by making it look like something it's not. An example is film animation (ruled by Neptune, unsurprisingly) where the illusion of motion is actually made up of many static images that are slightly different from one another. When viewed in a graduated sequence our eyes see not a string of individual images but a smooth progression of movement (due to something called persistence of vision).

Phenakistoscope discPhenakistoscope disc. (fen-ah-KISS-tis-scope)When it spins, the figures seem to move smoothly due to persistence of vision.

Phenakistoscope detailPhenakistoscope detail. Click to animate. (375 KB; opens in new window)

In the same way, through Neptune's lens we see snapshots of reality and our mind fills in the blanks in between with what we think is there. However, what we think is there might not be what is actually there at all. Reality can become distorted by cherry-picking what we perceive; for example, making a get-rich-quick scam seem legitimate. On the other hand, that same selective vision can make a harsh reality easier to bear and make sour cherries taste like Cherries Jubilee.

Too much Saturn, on the other hand, makes life too regimented, too unforgiving and too demanding that we conform to external expectations that may have nothing to do with our individual needs or potential. We can become a cog in the machinery; a drone in the Borg Collective. Even if we take a central role, like a lynch pin in the wheel of that machine, we are still allowing ourselves to be shaped by the greater system. While this might benefit the collective good, the extreme version can be soul killing for the individual.

Being shaped by the system is not always a bad thing, though. Our human nature needs structure. At a certain level, we need to know where the boundaries are and what the consequences will be if we cross them. We will burn ourselves if we put our hand on the hot stove. We will become injured or our life will end if we fall off a cliff. Saturn is the principle of trial and error — by trying things we learn how far we can go without suffering problems and how consequences work. (And hopefully, we don't have to fall off a cliff to learn that it's a bad idea.) In that learning curve, we might even discover ways to solve those problems (e.g. using a parachute or gliding apparatus).

We require Neptune's imagination and vision to perceive and recognize life beyond the Saturnian formula. We are much greater than the sum of our parts. And if we only colour inside the lines we will never know what we are capable of when we dare to venture outside of those lines.

Neptune gives a greater meaning and context to the limited, predictable existence that Saturn would otherwise generate. Without Neptune, the Saturnian world of matter would become a closed loop with no potential beyond its own borders. With Neptune, the Saturnian algorithm can grow beyond its programming so that life always has the potential to be fresh and renewed. There will always be the "factor X" that makes life unpredictable and more chaotic, but also limitless and full of potential.

This can be said of all the transpersonal planets: Uranus, Neptune and Pluto. Neptune's role in this transpersonal conspiracy is to dare to believe in something beyond what we can perceive in our immediate environment... but remember that when we leave the world of Saturn, we can't always know what is true and what is a projection of our subjective hopes and fears.

Dancing with Saturn and Neptune

Those who danced were thought mad by those who could not hear the music. ~ Attributed to many

When Saturn and Neptune are in aspect (in the natal chart of an individual, or in the skies for everyone), they are invited to dance together. The conjunction (0° — occupying the same zodiac degree, give or take 6 to 15 degrees depending on how you like your orbs) is about bringing these energies together to create something new. However, as well as conjuring something new, they can just as easily hiss and spit at each other.

With these two planets joined at the hip, where one goes the other must follow. This can make it extremely difficult to access one of them directly or fully. Neptune's visionary idealism makes Saturn's pragmatic mandate seem short-sighted, harsh or boring. Saturn's skepticism can in turn take Neptune's sense of wonder and awe and make it seem ridiculous, hyped or naive.

The heck of it is, both of them may be right about the other. This can make it even harder to figure out when either planet is pointing out a legitimate shortcoming about the other versus how much is just its inability to speak the other's language. In addition, one answer is not going to fit everyone, so it will often take Saturn's trial-and-error methodology, using Neptune's creative imagination, to discover a balance point that works for you personally.

When the aspect is a harmonious one — the trine (120°) or sextile (60°) aspects — they are able to tango together with greater ease. And, as with the tango, it may work better when one takes the lead and the other responds in service to the lead's agenda.

When Saturn leads, you might commit to a project that builds some kind of structure whose purpose is based in compassion, spirituality, beauty or peace. For example, organizing an event to inspire world peace through meditation, or joining a group of artists. The focus is more on the system or formation that will hold the essential purpose, rather than on the experience or expression of that essence.

When Neptune leads the way, Saturn's emphasis on skill, formula and prioritization can be the foundation on which artistic and other create talents can find expression. That includes art, sculpture, music or anything that involves creative flair. The emphasis is on the inspiration and purpose of what you're doing, rather than on the methodology that allows you to do it.

Neptune is essentially love, peace, beauty, oneness and the highest truth you know. Saturn is basically our ability to function independently and effectively in the physical world. To manifest Neptune you must learn to work with Saturn, and the best use of Saturn is to incorporate a higher purpose inspired by Neptune.

That said, there is no such thing as the perfect marriage of Saturn and Neptune. Saturn will always be frustrated by Neptune's loosey-goosey way of seeping through rules, facts and rational clarity. And Neptune will always lose something in the translation when distilled from idealism down into the world of time and space. However, when the two of them are finally able to dance together, the result can be magnificent!

Fighting with Saturn and Neptune

The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off. ~ Attributed to many

The more challenging aspects between Saturn and Neptune make this partnership even more awkward. This includes the square (90°) and opposition (180°) from the square aspect family (division of the circle by 4), along with their octile cousins, the semisquare (45°) and sesquiquadrate (135°) (dividing the circle by 8).

These are stressful aspects that bring tension through controversy, disagreement or a conflict of interests. They also tend to be dynamic and motivating, since they often lead to change in order to relieve the discomfort. As a result, challenging aspects tend to feel worse before they feel better. The discord drives you to decide that something must be done, so you redirect those energies in a more productive way. Difficult aspects can therefore act as a catalyst for change and achievement, but first they are often feel uncomfortable or downright painful.

Between Saturn and Neptune, each may be dancing to its own tune while insisting the other must follow its lead, which of course could lead to a tangled up mess. Alternatively, one planet might be forced to follow the other's lead (depending on planetary placement, dignity and such) but feel extremely out of place and stunted as a result. And individually we may favour one over the other for a while and then switch.

If Saturn Wins the Battle

In this case, it could feel like the responsibilities and commitments in your life have squished all the life out of Neptunian enjoyment, or it might feel like you're doing what's required with no satisfaction beyond complying with outside demands. Depression, cynicism or lethargy could result, as the Neptunian spectrum of rainbow beauty fades to what feels like a dull, washed out existence.

Neptune won't be done away with quite so easily, though, and you might find that in between the drudgery you feel increasingly drawn to forms of escapism, including overindulgence in alcohol, drugs, food, gambling, fantasizing about what-if or overspending in an effort to make life feel glamorous or fulfilling again. While this can help get you through a tough time, it's not sustainable without tripping over some harsh Saturnian consequences (e.g. addiction, stress-related health problems, depression).

On the other hand, a dominant Saturn can help you stay grounded so that you don't go floating off into the Neptunian ether as easily. Saturn can help keep you focused on the end result that you're trying to accomplish. Saturn also provides the container that shapes and gives definition to Neptune's visionary inspiration, which might otherwise remain ambiguous and difficult to grasp. This means your sense of self can become clearer, more defined and stable as you explore Neptune's deep undercurrents.

In addition, a victorious Saturn could help you rebalance an overdose of Neptune. For example, it could help you come to terms with an addiction or other escape mechanisms that have gotten out of hand, although the process might initially feel like you're being pinned to the mat by a sumo wrestler. Saturn might also warn you about deception or betrayal by others, or it might be the brick wall of reality you crash into after you catapult through the mirage. Saturn in a stressful aspect can be a difficult teacher, and his lessons, although sometimes bitter or harsh, are still valuable ones.

If Neptune Wins

In that case, you might find yourself clinging to an overly idealized image of what life "should be," making it difficult to accept or work with life as it actually is. "There and then" could blot out your ability to clearly see and work through the "here and now."

Neptune diffuses our focus and we may feel an acute sense of longing to surrender to something greater than ourselves. Neptune's quest is not to become squished into Saturn's world of form and restraint, but rather to diffuse and merge with All That Is. This pulls in the opposite direction from ego consciousness, and in fact requires that you let go of that identity since it belongs to the world of Saturn, not the realm of Neptune.

Since you still exist in Saturn's time-and-space territory (at least while you're in this body), you could wind up feeling a bit swamped by the Neptunian undertow as it tries to entice you away from Saturn and transport you to The Source of all existence (be it the unconscious or a more spiritual realm). In other words, it could be difficult to focus on tasks that must be done. You might feel confused or unusually sensitive to what goes on around you. Intuitive or psychic experiences could feel a bit overwhelming.

It may also be difficult to stick to decisions you made previously. The temptation to return to past habits or let your controlled resolve melt away could be stronger than your discipline to stay the course. As a result, it's a good time to watch out for relapsing from addiction recovery or reneging on commitments that require discipline, will power and determination to stay on track.

That said, Neptune can also take a life weighed down by too much Saturn and illuminate it with greater meaning and higher purpose. If you are feeling overwhelmed with responsibilities or struggling to make progress in your life, Neptune could relieve some of that heaviness by introducing some right-brain (non-rational) mental recreation that helps you look beyond the tasks at hand and out into the world of possibility.

It can be a good time to indulge in some fresh forms of beauty. Take time out to watch a splendid sunset, listen to music that melts your heart, or dance 'til you feel your body floating. Meditation may also help you get out of your head and let go of the sharp-edged Saturnian focus long enough to allow the stress to leave your body and mind. Reach toward something greater than yourself, which can expand your awareness beyond the restrictions and limitations that currently define your life. Even if you can't shed those limitations just yet, reframing them in a greater context of higher purpose can give you fresh inspiration to carry on.

If you let it, Neptune can lighten up an overly austere stance in life. If you have been ultra defended, self-protective or desperate to manifest perfection in your life, Neptune's can soften the rough edges and make you more pliable and receptive to the kinder side of life. Mind you, for a while it might feel a bit like you're melting and or walking around like you've got no skin on, which can be unnerving. It's wise to make friends with Neptune in some way — find well-defined ways to dance with Neptune. Take an art class, learn to play a musical instrument, meditate, write down or sketch your dreams, or just sit by water in nature and just let you mind wander.

When navigating the Saturn-Neptune hall of mirrors, it's usually best not to take either of them too seriously or at face value. It's not easy to bring these two energies together, but it can be done. Like oil and water can make salad dressing when shaken together, it's best to keep things moving and use your creativity to find ways to spice up your life and make it more interesting. Bon appetite!

Saturn and Neptune Ephemeris

Your soul knows the geography of your destiny. Your soul alone has the map of your future, therefore you can trust this indirect, oblique side of yourself. If you do, it will take you where you need to go, but more important it will teach you a kindness of rhythm in your journey. ~ John O'Donohue, Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom

Below are the dates of the current Saturn-Neptune cycle with a brief interpretation of the meaning of the aspects.

ASPECTFirst Pass Date • PositionSecond Pass Date • PositionFinal Pass Date • Position
Saturn conjunct Neptune 3 Mar 1989 11:54 CP 23 Jun 1989 11:14 CP 13 Nov 1989 10:21 CP
The birth of a new structure, project or direction aimed at inspiration, longing and unity.
Saturn sextile Neptune (waxing) 27 Jun 1995 24:41 PI/CP 17 Aug 1995 23:22 PI/CP 15 Mar 1996 27:12 PI/CP
Opportunities to experiment with creative solutions that can bring form to imagination.
Saturn square Neptune (waxing) 25 Jun 1998 01:29 TA/AQ 31 Oct 1998 29:30 AR/CP 6 Apr 1999 04:07 TA/AQ
Struggle for dominant priority between practicality and inspiration.
Saturn trine Neptune (waxing) 25 Jun 2001 08:15 GE/AQ 23 Jan 2002 08:15 GE/AQ 1 Apr 2002 10:31 GE/AQ
Finding ways to imprint form with creative beauty and imagination with practical application.
Saturn opposite Neptune 31 Aug 2006 17:52 LE/AQ 28 Feb 2007 20:14 LE/AQ 25 Jun 2007 21:46 LE/AQ
Adjusting balance between realism and vision; practical purpose and greater meaning.
Saturn trine Neptune (waning) 10 Oct 2012 00:37 SC/PI 11 Jun 2013 05:22 SC/PI 19 Jul 2013 04:55 SC/PI
Demonstrating a cooperative partnership between creative imagination and defined structure.
Saturn square Neptune (waning) 26 Nov 2015 07:02 SG/PI 17 Jun 2016 12:02 SG/PI 10 Sep 2016 10:24 SG/PI
Struggle to resolve resistance to imprinting a higher truth into an intended end result.
Saturn sextile Neptune (waning) 31 Jan 2019 14:54 CP/PI 18 Jun 2019 18:43 CP/PI 8 Nov 2019 16:01 CP/PI
Distilling creative and concrete achievement from potential that has been cultivated.
Saturn conjunct Neptune(starts new cycle) 20 Feb 2026 00:45 AR    
Letting go of creative goals; anticipating what can be done with the achievements going forward.

AR=Aries • TA=Taurus • GE=Gemini • CA=Cancer • LE=Leo • VI=Virgo • LI=Libra • SC=Scorpio • SG=Sagittarius • CP=Capricorn • AQ=Aquarius • PI=Pisces

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