The Babylonians believed Saturn, or Kronos, to be the ghost of a dead sun and hence the oldest spirit in the heavens. Saturn is thus considered the place where ‘created matter’ first manifests; it symbolises the laws defining and delimiting material manifestation.
The alchemist’s journey is focused on breaching these laws – or passing through the so-called ‘serpent’s circle’ of Saturn – in order to break through transient time and return to the Golden Age of eternal youth and divine benevolence.
In ancient lore, references to this Golden Age are numerous.
Hesiod tells of:
A golden race of mortal men who lived in the time of Kronos when he was reigning in heaven. And they lived like gods without sorrow of heart, remote and free from toil: miserable age rested not on them . . . The fruitful earth unforced bare them fruit abundantly and without stint. They dwelt in ease and peace upon their lands with many good things. . . .
Similarly writes Ovid in the sixth book of his Metamorphoses:
In the beginning was the Golden Age, when men of their own accord, without threat of punishment, without laws, maintained good faith and did what was right. . . . The earth itself, without compulsion, untouched by the hoe, unfurrowed by any share, produced all things spontaneously. . . . It was a season of everlasting spring.
It is in this darkness that we find the fertile soil of new birth. Indeed, the word Saturn comes from the Latin – serere – meaning to sow or plant. Because Saturn marks the boundary between personal and transpersonal (cosmic) powers, it is the alchemists most important planet being equated with both the beginning and end of the Great Work.
Psychologically, Saturn forces acceptance of the limitations of human mortality. Paradoxically, we are unable commit to life until we can face ‘who’ and ‘what’ we really are rather than that which we’d like to imagine. This in turn bring us to the threshold of whole new phase of life, or octave (Saturn being the 7th ring and hence transgressing it ushers in the next octave); each phase or octave leaving further behind the gross material of bodily incarnation in favour of the more subtle matter of our spirituality.
Astrologically, it is with Saturn transits/progressions (especially Saturn returns) that we often commence the ‘Black Phase’. Inevitably this is easier for those with Saturn in the air and fire signs (Gemini, Leo, Aries, Sagittarius, Libra, and Aquarius) for these individuals are more able to keep the ‘faith’ that in the end, everything will be OK.
However for those like my heroine, Judith Shakespeare, who have Saturn in earth signs (Virgo, Taurus, and Capricorn) or water signs (Pisces, Cancer, and Scorpio) the Black Phase is much harder because these individuals are too close – too emotionally wedded – to their EGO needs and desires that are being swept away.