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The Saturnine Urge
A book review of Eva Sylwester's "Impossible Dreams: Hopes, Fears and Expectations for Saturn in Pisces"
Spring of 2023 was one of the most major cosmic updates we collectively experienced in a long while. It’s not because of any strange shift in the electromagnetic field or solar flares or anything like that, it’s because of the movement of the outer planets.
Astrologers everywhere have been flagging the ingress of Pluto from Capricorn into Aquarius (March 23, 2023) for a while now because Pluto takes anywhere between 12 and 24 years to change signs. It’s a big deal. Saturn is another planet that changed signs this spring from Aquarius into Pisces (March 7, 2023). While Saturn changes signs more frequently than Pluto, the shift does come with society-scale revelations and revolutions. March 2023 was a big month where we all felt these movements in one way or another. It had a no-going-back feeling where people finally realized that all the technological and social changes that have been building over the last couple decades are coalescing. I remember feeling a bit spiritually hungover after these two ingresses and thinking that we all needed to strap in for the next paradigm.
Because Saturn moves quicker than Pluto, multiple Saturn cycles can be observed within one person’s lifespan. One full Saturn cycle lasts approximately 29.5 years (as opposed to Pluto’s approximate 250-year cycle) and it’s fairly easy for a person to observe historical patterns and the phenomena that bloom out of them over the course of 3 decades. Impossible Dreams: Hopes, Fears, and Expectations for Saturn in Pisces, an anthology of essays edited by Eva Sylwester, provides just this kind of cyclical observation on Saturn’s transit through the last sign of the zodiac: Pisces.
Impossible Dreams is a great read for professional astrologers, hobbyists, beginners, and anyone curious about doing a deep dive into one of the planets and its transit. The first essay by Gael Johnson begins with an overview of the importance of Saturn, the zodiac, and why we, as astrologers, pay attention to these outer planet transits. The anthology is setup to give readers who are new to astrology a soft landing on the topic. This deftly provides the necessary context for reading and understanding the proceeding essays. I found each chapter captivating, even just thinking about their subject matter from beyond the scope of my knowledge as an astrologer. Impossible Dreams uses the astrological Saturn-through-Pisces transit as the lens to explore our current cultural shifts as well as make predictions based on the previous iterations of this transit. It’s an excellent text on mundane astrology, also known as the astrology of world events.
After the explanation of the significance and meaning of Saturn and Pisces, the essays start to explore the crux of the question the transit is going to pose to us over the next three years: where are we—or where are we going—spiritually as a culture? Since Pisces is the final sign in the zodiac, and thus the sign of higher spiritual transcendence, and Saturn is the planet of foundation and structure, we will hopefully come out the other side of this transit with a deeper sense of collective spiritual awareness. No doubt this will also have a supreme effect on the arts, especially because the ways a society develops culturally and aesthetically are wrapped up in pursuits toward the things larger than we are. Even without the astrological knowledge, we’re all very much aware of this pervasive question of where we’re going to put our spirit now that we’re seeing organized religion recede.
Sylwester offers up her own thoughts on this question, but she also provides us with some historical perspective from when Saturn was transiting through Pisces in the 1960’s when the Second Vatican Council was convened. In the chapter “We Throw Open the Windows and Let in the Holy Spirit: Memories of the Second Vatican Council” Sylwester interviews two women, both astrologers, who were young girls at the time the Church decided to make radical changes in its public-facing practices. To hear the personal reflections of both women on what they thought during the change and how their lives took shape after Vatican II was enlightening. This interview provides an insight into how this astrological transit affects things on an individual level. And, the opportunity to hear reflections on this transit with decades of hindsight is helpful, especially if we are feeling unmoored in today’s epic culture wars.
As I read through these essays I am reminded of the key value in studying astrology, and most specifically, the astrology of global events. It’s about recognizing patterns and living in cyclical time. When looking at transits that affect the collective and observing the recurring patterns that come up when certain planets enter certain signs, we are given the choice to either participate in the making of our own history or be unknowingly and passively affected by the circumstances. People often recoil from thinking about time in terms of cycles because they think it means time is a flat circle, forever repeating itself. This is incorrect because the cycle of time spirals upward, patterns and themes repeat, but are never the same. The reflective tone and thoughts in each essay in Impossible Dreams gives credence to this philosophy of time. Every Saturn-through-Pisces transit has unique facets, but rings true to the same thematic elements with every iteration. We can look ahead to the next three years knowing what to expect and take a proactive approach.
This frame of mind around astrology is also a useful tool against needless pessimism and overthinking. Watching the news or “doomscrolling” Twitter for even just an hour a day will instantly blackpill anyone if they’re not careful. People are mostly overwhelmed by the exponentially increasing speed of technological progress and innovation, especially when it comes to artistic output (see: AI generated art). This leads people to feel hopeless or existential about humanity’s place in the world. In Allison Callmann’s essay “Virgo in Baroque: An Exploration of Saturn in Pisces and Machine-Generated Creativity” we hear about the technical progress brought by Saturn in Virgo (Virgo is the sign opposite Pisces) and reflect on how these tools are being utilized now. Callmann suggests we leverage the Saturn-through-Pisces transit to ponder the role of machines and software in artistic production. This got me thinking about another time in history when these questions of technology and art were brought to the fore. Walter Benjamin’s book The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction was a seminal text from the early 20th Century trying to wrap his mind around tools like the camera that opened the floodgates for accelerated image making. The questions Callmann was bringing up in her essay here echoed Benjamin’s text so strongly that I decided to look up the year the book was published and check an ephemeris to see where Saturn was at the time. I was wondering if Benjamin was writing at a time when Saturn was in Pisces. And sure enough, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction was published in 1935, when Saturn was in the same position (the first 10 degrees of Pisces) as it is now.
As an astrologer, I loved Impossible Dreams for the cultural reflection on Saturn’s movement through Pisces. But the anthology is also a helpful handbook for anyone who’s looking to cultivate a deeper relationship to the patterns of astrology—it’s a text truly made for anyone. Sylwester has done us all a service in prompting us to think deeper about how we exist on the wheel of time. My personal hope for Saturn in Pisces is that we come out of this transit with appreciation for the boundless nature of creativity and spirituality, but with the will to channel that energy toward collective transcendence.
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