The difficulty with exploring Saturn being feminine as a possible earlier and alternate form of astrology tradition lies precisely in the fact that it is earlier and alternate, and hence we have very few surviving written references. Like the work that has been done by feminist theologians in recovering a tradition of the feminine as divine, much of the work is as much reconstruction as it is recovery.
There are very few traditional astrology texts that refer to Saturn as feminine. Besides that one sentence in Dorotheus that I talked about in my first post on the subject of Saturn as feminine, there are another handful of sentences that I am aware of, scattered here and there through the hundreds of traditional texts that have come down to us.
As far as I can tell, if you rely solely on traditional astrology texts, the traditional support for viewing Saturn as feminine is very slight. Let’s acknowledge that up front.
The historical case for Saturn as feminine is greatly strengthened if there is evidence of a spiritual tradition alive in the West that consistently associates the planet Saturn with feminine symbols, . As it turns out, there is such a spiritual tradition, related to astrology, and passed down to us along similar lines, that has a strong history of associating Saturn with feminine meanings and imagery, and we will examine just a little bit of that tradition here.
It is known as Qabalah.
Qabalah is a system of symbolism that attempts to apprehend the relationship of the Divine to the created world, and to enable created beings to grow in awareness of their connection to the Divine. There are different theories of its origin, and there are also different forms in which it has been passed down.
The form of Qabalah I am presenting here is known as the Hermetic Qabalah, and it is a syncretistic movement that draws on elements of the Jewish Qabalistic tradition, Christian hermeticism, and NeoPlatonic and other elements from Hellenistic philosophy, including astrology. The system of attribution I am using, with astrological symbolism woven in with the Qabalistic structure, is found in Cornelius Agrippa’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy, published in the mid 1500’s, and Agrippa’s work is a compilation of earlier traditions. Qabalah came to Western Europe in the same stream that brought a revival of interest in Greek and other learning from the Middle East, and that includes the tradition of astrology.
Qabalah is a system of symbolism that attempts to contemplate the structure of the Universe in terms of a multi-leveled process of creation, from the realm of pure potential in the Divine Being down to our physical reality.
In the Qabalistic system God did not create the world all at once – and, btw, the conception of God here is far higher than the male anthropocentric sort of God in the popular Jewish or Christian faith.
The world was not created all in one action, but in a series of steps or phases. Qabalah is an attempt to symbolically model the long, complicated process of creation that goes from this world being just an idea in the mind of the Supreme Divine, all the way to the point where I am sitting here in a physical living room, listening to music and writing these words.
This multi-leveled process of creation is modeled in a structure called the Tree of Life, which consists of ten spheres, or levels of being, or stages of creation, that were called the Sephiroth.
In Qabalah this process of the levels of creation is correlated in symbolism with the sequence of the traditional planets, starting with Saturn near the beginning of the process, and moving on through the sequence of planets, culminating with Earth at the end of the process.
In the traditional model of the astrology world Saturn is the outer ring of our created world – closest to the heavens – and the Earth is at the center, about as far away from the heavens as you can get. In qabalah the spheres parallel that same order, from the most abstract to the most concrete.
For our purposes here we are going to consider just the first couple of stages in the process of manifestation. To do that, we have to take a symbolic journey to back before the beginning of time, and follow the process of creation.
Before the beginning there was the Zero, that which precedes any sort of idea at all. In order to even have anything to conceive, we need to move from the number Zero to the number One.
One is Unity, undifferentiated, the One God.
However, to be able to think about anything at all, we need to be able to compare it to something else. In other words, in order for there to be what we would recognize as consciousness, the One has to split into Two. By beginning the process of division we begin the process of creation.
Imagine the One splitting into polarized opposites.You can think of them as masculine – feminine, sperm – egg, force – form. In order to have any kind of manifestation, Unity has to separate into a pair of complementary polar opposites. This has a parallel in the Chinese model of creation from the I Ching, where the unmanifest Tao separates into two complementary opposites, the Yang and the Yin, which in turn give birth to everything else, what they call the world of ten thousand things.
In the qabalistic model it is conceived just a little bit differently than the Chinese model. Before creation the unmanifest Zero first concentrated itself into a single point, or One. That One then divided into the next numbers in the series, Two and Three. Two is the sphere of the cosmic masculine, God the Heavenly Father, and Three is the sphere of the cosmic feminine, Goddess the Great Mother.
It is not until you get this pair, force and form, masculine and feminine, cosmic father and cosmic mother,that there can be any manifestation. The realm of form is where what we think of as a structure to the universe begins, and it is at the sphere of form, the sphere of the cosmic mother, that the qabalah begins to tie in associations with the planets of astrology.
I want to concentrate here on the symbolism of the Cosmic Feminine as the container, the shape, the womb of the entire universe. This realm of of the Cosmic Mother is the sphere in Qabalah that is called, Binah. If existence of any sort requires extension in space and time, then Binah is the container of space and time within which creation takes form.
The word Binah is usually translated, Understanding, but it has a far richer connotation than our usual use of that word. Think of understanding as most basically meaning Standing – Under, that which supports, contains and gives form to our entire manifest universe. It is the largest possible conception of the material universe we experience as a sort of cosmic womb, a cosmic container.
In Qabalah Binah is the first of the spheres to be associated with one of the planets, and Binah correlates to the outermost traditional planet, Saturn. Just as all of the other planets have orbits inside or below the orbit of Saturn, so all of the rest of the sephiroth, and all of creation, lie inside and below the sphere of Binah.
In Qabalah, the sphere of Binah separates the undifferentiated divine realm of potential from the multiform, complex realm of manifestation. In astrology, Saturn is the outermost of the planets, and her orbit is the gateway, the border between the unchangeable, unmoving divine world and the moving, changeable world of the planets, from the world of the formless to the world of form.
Pause and consider the implications of that – Saturn is associated with the sphere in Qabalah whose basic symbolism is the root of all that we conceive as feminine. Binah is the Great Mother, and Saturn is correlated in Qabalah to Binah.
Space, time, form, structure, container – all of these are basic symbolic ideas connected to Binah the Great mother, and all of them correlate in astrology to the planet Saturn. All of those ideas are basically feminine symbolism.
Consider these correlations from traditional astrology.
The process of creation of a child in the mother’s womb across a sequence of nine months or lunar cycles was given to the sequence of the planets. The beginning of this process, the first month in the womb, was given to the planet Saturn since it is that planet that gives the child its starting form, its structure, its template – Saturn is womb, container, structure.
Parellelling that, in the sequence of the houses in traditional astrology the first house is given to Saturn, since Saturn as taking on form in the finite world of space and time is the gate of life. The other house given to Saturn is the eighth house, the gate of death. Saturn is the door into life and the door out, the midwife who guides us into the world and the nurse who guides us out.
Saturn is the outermost of the traditional planets, and She marks the boundary of our manifest universe. Her orbit or sphere is the boundary or container where the formless takes on form.
Each of the other planets, from Jupiter on down through the Moon and to the sphere of the elements and the Earth, all take their respective parts in turn in the process of creation. In terms of our existence as physical beings in this world, Saturn is where the whole process begins, and also where it ends. Saturn is the door into life – and, conversely, Saturn is also the door of death.
Now that we are tying Saturn in with the qabalistic symbolism of Binah the great mother, there is another connotation of the term Understanding that is useful here.
Just as Saturn/Binah contains all, She also accepts all, the highest and the lowest, from life through to death. Saturn contains all, sees, all, accepts all, without any punishment or judgement. Since She knows the highs and the lows, growth, life, decline, suffering and death, there is a beautiful and severe compassion to her understanding. All living beings are the same in her eyes, and all are accepted as Her Children. Saturn understands.
I think that all-encompassing, compassionate understanding is very close to the heart of the meaning of Binah, the Cosmic Mother.
This is also the core of the meaning of Saturn at her highest and most comprehensive.
And, it is this all-encompassing compassion and understanding that is the mature fruit of Saturn as Old Crone as She manifests in our lives, the compassionate wisdom of age.
Gentle Reader, I present to you Binah, Saturn, the Great Dark Mother.