Saturn through the Minor Arcana

There are five Minor Arcana cards that have Saturn in common. Okay, so you know how there are no truly bad tarot cards. In the right context, even cards as scary-looking as Death, the Tower, and the Ten of Swords can mean something positive. The same is true of astrology, where there are no completely horrible planets. But as with those tarot cards, there are planets that make a grim first impression, and Saturn is one of them. Before the discovery of Uranus, Saturn marked the outer limits of the solar system. It was the farthest known planet and the slowest. This has a lot to do with its meanings in astrology. Saturn is the planet that represents limitations, reality, responsibility, form, loss, restrictions, time, solitude, fear, insecurities, and slowness. As you can see from that list, it’s not that Saturn is evil, but it represents things that aren’t fun. Saturn brings rewards, but they’re the kind that come from hard work and genuine effort. There’s no luck where Saturn is concerned; it’s all “no pain, no gain.”  Saturn is anathema to rose-colored glasses, and a lot of the time we mere mortals don’t appreciate that.

When looking at Saturn through the tarot, it’s not possible to see it in its entirety. People are living, complicated beings who have all the planets interacting with each other and who could have Saturn in any of the twelve signs of the zodiac. Pairing Saturn with Minor Arcana cards makes for only five isolated snapshots without context. If you’ve got Saturn in one of these five signs, or you know someone who does, and you’re thinking this doesn’t really sound like them, this is likely to be the reason.

Five of Wands: Saturn in Leo

Saturn is never really a happy planet, but there are signs in which it feels more at home, signs that match its austere, cold nature. Leo is not one of those signs. Leo is a fire sign and it represents a need for creative self-expression and appreciation. This sign is often described as self-assured, playful, flamboyant, and generous—and sometimes as childish, melodramatic, and full of itself. Saturn in Leo shows Saturn’s qualities with a Leo flavor: an aversion to pleasure and luxury, fears of being insignificant, and a forced, dutiful creativity. Saturn can squelch Leo’s creativity like smothering a fire. But there’s also potential here for the creative impulse (Leo) to be made real (Saturn).

5WThe Waite-Smith Five of Wands shows five boys waving large sticks around, perhaps in a mock battle. In keeping with that picture, the Five of Wands generally means conflict, competition, and arguing. Both the Golden Dawn and Aleister Crowley named the Minor Arcana; the name for this card is Lord of Strife. That’s certainly an apt name, given its usual meanings. But “strife” is related to “strive” which doesn’t just mean to argue, but also to put a lot of energy into something or to endeavor. Are the boys fighting, horsing around, or trying to achieve something? Someone had an inspiration back at the Ace of Wands and they’ve taken the first steps to make it real, but they’ve hit the first serious challenge at the Five. The boys in the Five of Wands are neither very young children nor grown men: the process is off to a strong start, but it hasn’t reached the end and the boys haven’t achieved Saturn’s maturity. Their efforts could fail: victory is never guaranteed. Right now, there’s just the struggle.

Ten of Wands: Saturn in Sagittarius

10WThe Five and Ten of Wands share a suit and an element, but Leo and Sagittarius are different kinds of fire. Leo is fixed fire, “fixed” meaning a sign that’s stable, resistant to change, and inertial. Sagittarius is mutable fire: adaptable, ever-changing, and flexible, and it’s always on the move, seeking to expand its horizons. Sagittarius is religious/philosophical, optimistic, and open-minded, as well as tactless, restless, and self-righteous. Saturn in Sagittarius worries about being corrupted by new ideas and generally disdains everything foreign or strange. In constantly-moving Sagittarius, Saturn is a lead weight. But because Saturn is so thorough, it has the potential for wisdom and deep learning in Sagittarius.

In the Waite-Smith Ten of Wands, a man is carrying a bundle of wands towards a distant city. The wands are pulling him into an awkward position and they block his view of where he’s going. It’s an excellent illustration of the combination of Saturn and Sagittarius: the man is moving towards a distant horizon (Sagittarius), but his burden is slowing him down (Saturn). The Ten of Wands often means working too hard, taking responsibility, and struggling. Lord of Oppression, the Golden Dawn’s name for this card, is a good fit. This is the end of the Wands sequence and the fiery inspiration which was a struggle in the Five has now been made real. Whatever it became, it’s not as beautiful as that first idealistic vision back at the Ace, which is a disappointment. But this card suggests a certain success: the man is making slow progress and will have something to show for his efforts, if not as much as he might want.

Eight of Cups: Saturn in Pisces

8CThe conflict between planet and sign is less dramatic in this card, where realistic, pragmatic Saturn meets the water sign of Pisces. Fire expresses its frustrations explosively, but water chooses the path of least resistance and drains away. Pisces is sensitive, empathetic, and imaginative, as well as escapist, prone to addiction, and martyred. Like Sagittarius, Pisces is idealistic, and we’ve already seen that idealism and Saturn are a bad combination. Nor is Saturn comfortable with Pisces’s mutability any more than it was with Sagittarius’s. In Pisces, Saturn flounders, looking for solid ground and fearing being swept under and dissolving. So it shies away from Pisces’s selflessness, mysticism, and deep emotion. But there’s still the potential for selfless love and sensitivity to others through empathy.

The Waite-Smith Eight of Cups shows a man walking away from the eight cups stacked in the foreground. The cups are solidly placed, but the man has had to pick his way across narrow ridges of land surrounded by water, and has only just found secure footing, although he’s still close to the edge. The Golden Dawn named this card Lord of Abandoned Success. Here, the emotional connection that has been growing through the Cups suit has failed. Saturn tries to pin Pisces down, and while water generally takes to form better than fire does (ice, anyone?), Saturn is too rigid for Pisces. In the Ten of Wands, the Sagittarius man struggled on regardless, but here in the Eight of Cups, the Pisces man abandons a hopeless situation and lets go.

8CThothI haven’t been discussing cards from the Crowley-Harris Thoth deck because its Five and Ten of Wands have essentially the same meaning as the Waite-Smith’s. But the Thoth deck was also designed with astrological correspondences in mind, and its Eight of Cups has a distinctly different feel to it. In Indolence, we have eight damaged cups balanced on the leaves of a sickly white lotus in a stagnant pond under a sky of ominous thunderclouds. Pisces is symbolized by moving (mutable) water, but the water in this card is almost entirely still except for a bit flowing from two cups. Perhaps the Thoth Eight of Cups is a depiction of what could happen if the man didn’t leave his unsatisfactory situation: Saturn deadening all feeling until little is left except someone going through the motions of living.

Three of Swords: Saturn in Libra

3SOf the five Saturn cards in the Minor Arcana, this one has given me the most trouble in seeing the connection between the astrological associations and the card. Libra is one of the signs in which Saturn is on its best behavior. The air signs motivate planets to act rationally. This is fine with Saturn, which prefers objectivity to intuition or feeling. Libra can be just, harmonious, and compromising, but also indecisive, superficial, and passive. It’s the sign most associated with one-on-one relationships and partnerships, and planets in Libra are concerned with relating to others. Because Saturn is Saturn, and there’s always some fear and opposition where it’s concerned, this isn’t a completely blissful combination. After all, air isn’t much more amenable to taking solid form than fire is. Saturn in Libra resists compromise and wonders if other people have earned consideration—or whether it itself deserves consideration from others. Still, Saturn is generally comfortable with Libra’s emphasis on justice and fairness, and Saturn in Libra has the potential for an excellent sense of justice and the ability to have fair and gracious relationships with others.

And yet this comparatively benign placement of Saturn is paired with the Three of Swords, one of the gloomier cards in the tarot. This is the simplest illustration in the deck: in the rain, three swords pierce a heart. Not surprisingly, the Golden Dawn name for this card is Lord of Sorrow, and the meaning of the card follows that, covering betrayal, loneliness, and pain. It’s taken me a while to make some connections between the card’s meaning and the astrological association, and I’m still not sure about them. In some circumstances, Saturn’s solitude is just being alone. But Saturn’s solitude combined with Libra’s focus on relationships may result in loneliness. Even when relationships have been established, they’re never static, and sometimes they fail, which can lead to betrayal, infidelity, or divorce (the last a legal process that fits Saturn in Libra’s association with justice, but is usually painful). It may be that the meanings of the Three of Swords are better explained by the Kabbalah or some other system than astrology.

Seven of Pentacles: Saturn in Taurus

7PYou know how I’ve said that Saturn tries to bring things into form and reality, and that fire, water, and air really don’t care for that? Well, now Saturn is in the most solid of the earth signs, and I find the Seven of Pentacles to be one of the least negative Saturn cards, at least if you’re considering the Waite-Smith version. Taurus, a fixed earth sign, is practical, stable, and persevering, with a love of the sensual, although it can also be materialistic, stubborn, lazy, and reluctant to change. That’s not a perfect match for Saturn, which prefers austerity to sensuality and hard work to laziness, but there’s a comfortable overlap. The struggle for Saturn in Taurus isn’t getting earth to take form—earth does that naturally—but holding onto it. Here Saturn fears loss, both of security and of material goods (which Taurus tends to see as the same thing). Saturn in Taurus disdains luxury and it doesn’t trust simply enjoying life. But it’s possible for Saturn here to develop a good sense of self-worth and to learn to enjoy material rewards in moderation.

3DThothIn the Waite-Smith card, a farmer leans on his hoe, gazing at six pentacles on a bush and a seventh on the ground. He has put in the work, and now could be waiting for them to ripen enough for harvesting. The bush looks healthy, so it seems to be just a matter of being patient, and patience is one of Saturn’s lessons. This fits some of the traditional meanings of the Seven of Pentacles, which can mean evaluating your efforts and expecting a reward for your efforts. But perhaps the pentacle-bush doesn’t meet the farmer’s standards and he’s resigning himself to failure. That seems more in keeping with the Golden Dawn’s name for the card, Lord of Success Unfulfilled, and it’s Crowley’s name for the card, Failure. This is another card in which the Crowley-Harris version has a noticeably different feel to it. Against a background of dead gray leaves are seven gray disks with symbols of Saturn and Taurus on them. Even the sickly lotus in the Eight of Cups had more life than this; the Thoth Seven of Disks is a dead end. Taurus is normally a fertile sign (both versions of the card feature plants), but the poisonous lead weight of Saturn is more than it can deal with in the Seven of Disks.

Of Jupiter, Saturn, and philodendrons

Gardening is not my greatest skill. Be it a vegetable garden or a windowsill of houseplants, once I get the plants going, I tend to slack off on their maintenance. Especially watering. Really, if the shamrock plant could jump up on my bed and poke me until I watered it, the way my cat used to insist on being fed, all my plants would be happier for it. And someone who barely remembers to water her plants is unlikely to remember to prune them. Indeed, it’s difficult for me to get past the notion that pruning a plant will harm it. Never mind that millions of Americans mow their lawns several times a year without killing them off, it feels counter-intuitive that snipping off branches and fresh new growth helps a plant in the long run.

Over the years, I’ve amassed a moderate collection of houseplants that have managed to survive my maintenance style. Among them is a philodendron. It has been one of my more successful home gardening efforts, sending out tendrils and unfurling new leaves with exuberance, and bouncing back remarkably well when I’ve watered it after a period of forgetting. I certainly haven’t pruned it.

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In astrology, Jupiter and Saturn are symbolic opposites. Among other things, Jupiter represents growth and expansion. This is the planet associated with good fortune and boundless possibilities.  Jupiter brings with it the faith that it will all work out somehow, although this is the optimism that comes from never having had to grapple with a real problem. In the days of yore, astrologers dubbed Jupiter the Greater Benefic, and it’s difficult to see Jupiter as anything else than a good influence. Which of course, it isn’t always. Just ask anyone with a malignant tumor, a problem with obesity, or who is living on a planet suffering from ecological exploitation what the downside to unrestricted growth might be.

Saturn, the Greater Malefic, represents all those limitations and restrictions that Jupiter doesn’t comprehend. Duties, responsibilities, rules, delays, the passage of time, eating your vegetables before you get dessert, paying your dues, recognizing your limits—all of these are Saturn’s domain. Sure, nowadays we tell ourselves that these things are good for us, that they build character, but mostly we just put up with them.

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Leaving the philodendron to grow as it would seemed reasonable at the time. Heck, I was thrilled that it was growing, period. Leafy vines covered the plant stand, helping disguise the fact that all of my plants look a bit tired (living with me isn’t easy). But today, I saw the philodendron without my rose-colored glasses and realized that it wasn’t healthy. It had reached the stage where there were more vines and leaves than the roots could support, both in terms of nutrition and in holding the structure of the plant itself together. Those cascading vines had more dead leaves on them than living and many were largely bare. Dried leaves were scattered around the plant, which had a stretched look to it as the vines were pulled straight under their own weight.

So I’ve had to prune the plant to give it a chance to thrive. Maybe two-thirds of the vines had to be removed (the image of the god Saturn with his scythe comes to mind). I struggled to untangle vines to find a safe spot to clip them and discovered that the philodendron had started climbing up itself, strangling itself in the process. It’s entirely possible that in waiting this long, I may have had to cut off too much for it to survive. We shall see.