Saturn and Pluto

Introducing the 3 modern planets, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto, to the system of astrology, did much more than just adding 3 new members to the family.  It also drastically changed the meanings of the traditional 7 planets.

The outer planets have taken some of their meanings away from the traditional Sacred Seven planets.  In the process, the meanings of the traditional 7 have become less rich and complex, thinned down, less multi-dimensional.

Part of this thinning down of meaning comes from a modern tendency to want to streamline and conceptualize the meanings of the planets. You often see that each planet is given a single core keyword or concept as a way to grasp its meaning.  This is done even by some teachers of traditional astrology.

However, if you read the older texts, the meanings of the planets are broader, more concrete, and much, much messier – I’m tempted to call them anecdotal. For instance, instead of saying that Saturn signifies where you have fear, a traditional text would explain how Saturn is associated with graveyards, dark places, underground, the skin, the bones and teeth, old people, diseases like arthritis, the color black, winter, and so on. The meaning of Saturn is given as a set of concrete associations or specific contextual meaning, and you have to feel your way into how these different items all fit together.

Starting with concepts rather than concrete associations tends to thin out the process and the meaning.

Returning to my original point – in addition to becoming more abstract and one-dimensional, some of the meanings originally associated with the traditional planets were transferred to the modern outer planets – which led to a loss of richness of meaning.

To illustrate this, I want to look at how many of the meanings now associated with Pluto were associated with a traditional planet we don’t normally think of as similar to Pluto.

That is – Saturn.


First, let’s list some of the common concepts and keywords that are associated with Pluto.
– death
– transformation
– a compulsive pressure to change
– destroying old forms so that new forms can be born
– a need to let go of old things
– pressure
– a process of transformation over time – sheer passage of time is part of the Plutonian pressure

Every one of those meanings were originally associated with Saturn. That is what I want to examine here.

Saturn is death – the figure of death – very old person or a skeleton, in a loose black hooded robe, carrying a scythe for the harvest – that symbol is the picture of Saturn.

Saturn is skeleton, bones, teeth. Saturn is old people.  The scythe is part of the symbolism of death as a harvest.

Also, Saturn, Kronos, is Father Time (or, perhaps, Mother Time), and represents the limitations and structure of a life within material reality and over time. Saturn is the effects of time.

In older texts Saturn is associated with places underground, with death, and with the realm of death, the underworld – precisely how we think of Pluto, lord of death and the underworld.

Saturn transits are notorious for applying pressure for change. It is a tester, and any structure that is poorly built or is past its pull date will be destroyed and transformed.

Think about your Saturn return!

It is precisely that sort of pressure to change that we now associate with Pluto.

There is also a sort of ruthless pressure of honesty with Saturn transits – you can’t get away with any pretense or sham, and you are stripped down to the core essentials and tried. It illuminates your weak points, your vulnerabilities, and that is where you are driven to change.  If you work with the change it can be gradual growth. If you resist or ignore the change it can be abrupt, cataclysmic – things break under the relentless pressure of Saturn.

Now take that previous paragraph, which is true of Saturn, and re-read it, substituting Pluto for Saturn. You would not need to change a single word.

I want to look at another way that the modern meaning of Saturn has been simplified and made one-dimensional, to provide a contrast or foil to the outer planets.

In modern astrology Saturn is often associated with the status quo, with existing structures, and with resisting change.

And yet – think of Saturn as the process and structure of time. So Saturn is indeed old structures, old patterns – and yet, being time, Saturn is also the pressure for change, that which breaks down old patterns to make way for the new. Saturn is the bones, and the pressure of age that breaks bones.

Saturn is also the decaying process – in older texts Saturn is associated with things that are rotting.

Modern astrology often sets up a dichotomy, with Saturn on the one side as the status quo, resisting change, and the outer planets as the forces for change and revolution. It is a false dichotomy, and it comes from a thinned out, one sided interpretation of the meaning of Saturn.

For instance, a Saturn/ Pluto aspect might be interpreted as Saturn being the forces resisting change, and Pluto being the forces of revolution. It is one against the other.

This sets up a sort a good/evil dualism along the lines of progress and evolution, where Saturn is the Bad Guy standing in the way of change, and Uranus out through Pluto are the Good Guys, the forces for the new, for revolution.

I mean, new is always good, and we need to always move forward…Right?…

And yet, part of the effect of Saturn is precisely the applying of pressure on something that needs to experience change. By separating that meaning from Saturn we have split a complex process into opposing, less complex opposite forces. We have set up a false dichotomy.

Change is a very complex and mixed process, and keeping the complexity of the traditional meaning of Saturn helps us realize that. By no means is change always positive or desirable, and along with change much can be lost or destroyed. It helps us remember that life does not come in the form of a straight line march of growth and evolution – it has peaks and valleys, ups and downs, things which survive and things which fall apart.

The traditional meaning of Saturn embodies much of the complexity of the meaning of time and change.

Think of the scythe again – the harvest, the winnowing – separating the wheat from the chaff – that is a process of weeding, of testing, and keeping that which is valuable and discarding what is worthless.  That scythe is one of the key symbols of Saturn as the forces of change – and the forces of growth through change, for often what is harvested there is a change in consciousness.

To conclude – I am not suggesting that we drop the use of the modern outer planets – I use them myself. However, I am suggesting that we take the time to reclaim more of the richness and complexity of the traditional meaning of the Sacred Seven planets. They are, and always will be, the core of our astrology.

As a postscript, I’d like to note that I now have a page on my site where I am collecting all of the writing about Saturn that I have done in the past few years, especially on the topic of Saturn as Crone. This has become a major theme of mine.

Blessed Be,

Charlie Obert


Saturn and Pluto — 7 Comments

  1. Very nice post Charlie and it is insightful. I am thinking that where Saturn may rule leaves that have fallen and begin to rot, Pluto would be the compost the leaves turn into, giving way to new life in the spring. Saturn is death of old ways; Pluto resurrection. Saturn is certainly a dose of reality that corresponds to winnowing away non-essentials and what we intend for our lives and to ‘make real’ our experience. I like to think that Jupiter expands and grows….Saturn condenses and prunes, as things cannot grow or expand forever, and here on earth we’re all subject to the passing of time. The good side of Saturn means the pressure many of us feel can turn that lump of coal into a diamond.

  2. Thank you. Sometimes Saturn need a champion lest we forget. It’s not the most ‘colorful’ planet, but without its borders, foundations and pressure, we would be unable to evolve, to continue our cycle(s) of transformation. The descriptions for the outer three planets carry an exhilarating message of breaking old bonds and unleashing chaos, but their drama(s) are played out over centuries. Only when we look back can we see their influences. Saturn’s cycles are much more relevant and meaningful in each individual’s life.

    • >> May we look forward to a reclamation of Uranus and Neptune as well? Neptune in particular?

      I hadn’t planned it, but I have thought about it. I do have some ideas on how the meaning of Jupiter has gotten thinner since Neptune came along. Neptune did not just take meaning away from Jupiter, it also changed the meaning of words like spirituality.

      I’ll start taking notes on that topic, so I may have something later this year. Thanks.

  3. Excellent points, well presented, an enjoyable and mind-expanding read!
    For a while now, I’ve been thinking about Mars. IMHO his power has been bleeding off since a time that long precedes the discovery of Pluto. It seems to me that he was originally more like the out-of-control, mindless violence of the Greek Ares, and is now more like the Roman Mars, in charge of the occupying troops whose function includes protection of the conquered territories. I was wondering whether all his old fire had been transferred to Pluto, but your analysis is making me rethink that now …

    • Charlo,

      You make some good points. I think you are correct that the meaning of Mars has shifted over the years, even from Hellenistic to Roman times, and much more so since then. The Gods of the planets move towards being more civilized, and we lose some of the wild and edgy meanings. In modern astrology I think the planets get even more tame, and that out of control, mindless violence you mention morphs into helping you be more assertive in a meeting with your boss. It is well worth revisiting the old meanings.

  4. Thank you for this article! I learned a lot and I now have greater insight when it comes to my current Saturn return (heavy pressure to change and get rid of the old) thanks to this article.

    Also, I look at Saturn in a brand new light.


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