The phrase "planetary cycle" refers to a planet's relationship to itself as it moves from its location at the time of your birth around the entire chart, returning to its original birth placement as it moves across the sky. When comparing transiting planet A to natal planet B, such as transiting Jupiter conjuncting natal Mars, any two people will experience that aspect at completely different times in their life, perhaps one at 3 years old and another at 8 years old. One person may experience Pluto conjunct the Sun at age 21 where another person might never experience that aspect. It all depends on where the differing planets started to begin with.
But a planetary cycle, comparing moving planet A to natal planet A (a planet's relationship to itself) will always happen at roughly the same age for everyone. No one experiences their Saturn return at age 35, for example, because it is the reality of celestial mechanics that Saturn will find itself returning to the place it was twenty-nine and a half years ago regardless of where it started. No matter when we are born, we will experience Saturn's return at the same age as our parents did, as our grandparents did, and as our neighbor, friend, teacher, child will. Therefore, they are powerful trackers of overall human development.
This principle can be taken a step further to compare two planetary cycles to each other and recognize their resonance with each other because of a similar length of cycle. One example is the progressed lunar cycle and the Saturn cycle. The progressed moon takes about twenty-eight years to make it all the way around the natal chart and return to its original location, while transiting Saturn takes about twenty-nine and a half years to return. They pace each other throughout our entire lives and especially closely during the first thirty years of life.
The progressed moon represents the cycle of our emotional evolution. We will always have our baseline emotional needs as part of our emotional makeup which is represented by our natal moon's location in our chart. Yet, we experience and express those emotional needs in ever-evolving, ever more mature ways as we grow older and, through trial and error, find better and better ways of getting our emotional needs met but still within the context of what our natal moon will always need.
Saturn's twenty-nine and a half year transiting cycle as personal evolution represents most directly the process of maturity. Not just getting older, but gaining wisdom through what we learn in our experience of growing up. During highlights in our personal Saturn cycle, we are often asked to confront a certain reality, whether it's about how the outside world works or whether it's our internal state of being, along the theme of what Saturn represents in our birth chart by sign and house. Our personal Saturn cycle can also have us confronting authorities, again whether they are external laws, judges, teachers, or parents, and our internal lesson of claiming our own natural authority and governance over our own lives.
Simplistically, the Moon and Saturn represent the axis of the ever-stirring needs of our heart and our inner world, and the sometimes unbending realities of the outside world. Working with the two reveals our development of maintaining the core needs of our heart's desires while making the right compromises to get those needs met in a concrete, realistic way as we make our way through life.
All planetary cycles are happening together at once, but peaks in the progressed lunar cycle and the Saturn cycle are often happening within months of each other, which emphasizes the dichotomy of the subjective needs meeting objective reality, and how each need to negotiate with the other so we're not all emotional mush but not all cold realism.
Growing Up: Corresponding Highlights of the Progressed Lunar Cycle and the Saturn Cycle
The Waxing/First Quarter Square: Crisis in Action
The Opposition: Confrontation and Projection
This inner confrontation with ourselves is often reflected externally, where something we are trying to embody is found in our outer situations or relationships to give us an example of it and an opportunity to really see it. An opposition is like the monthly full moon: because the sun and moon are opposite each other from our earthly perspective, the moon reflects the sun's light to the fullest and we can see it most clearly. During the progressed lunar opposition, we are emotionally ready to see that perspective and that light, often through interaction with someone that has something we either covet or detest (often both) that feels outside of our power, at least so far; we may say things like "I swear when I grow up, I will never …" We may push things away that we don't relate to and don't want to be in reaction to this feeling of being on a precipice, at a halfway point: definitely not a child, but not yet an adult, which sets a perfect stage on which Saturn can perform its role.
Saturn's opposition to itself continues the process of confronting ourselves, but often in a more tangible, external, or obvious way. At this time, we may find ourselves confronting some kind of external authority. Again, this could be a parent or teacher considering that we are still of school age. We fight back, disagree, or rebel against those that would set the rules for us to live by. This is not a demonstration in non-conformity as with Uranus, but more a test of our own authority, our own ability to govern ourselves. It is time to prove to the adults in our lives that we are capable of carrying that authority with some responsibility. This is another separation; not only separating from being a child, but there can also be a separating from the authority figures in our lives that we once felt sheltered us, but now we have to take over that role, in full or in part, for ourselves.
By the time Saturn gets to the fullness of its own opposition, the progressed moon will be on its way to the quincunx. Entering into this new territory of "junior adult" is a little confusing and we're not even sure of our own role, let alone the adults around us. During a progressed lunar quincunx, we feel unsure of how to connect to what makes us feel comfortable because nothing seems to any longer. Consider a 15-year-old who may feel eager but too young to get her driver's license and get a summer job, yet still takes out her dolls to play with or other things from childhood. There is an emotional awkwardness here, not knowing where the new comfort zone, where the adjusted emotional home port is.
The Waning/Third Quarter Square: Crisis in Consciousness
Incidentally, the progressed lunar waning square happens in close correspondence with the waxing Uranus square. This is an intense period of outgrowing oneself rapidly, coming into a new relationship with one's source of authenticity that is starting to be more outside of the alignment of family as a unit, and more individually based.
When Saturn reaches its waning square, the progressed moon will be approaching a sextile to itself, which occurs about age 23. Now the situation is somewhat reversed, and it's the external world, the structures, routines, and rules you've created in your life that need restructuring. What you have built once again needs to be tested and reworked as you deal more and more with the realities of being in charge of your life as an adult. In youth, so many milestones of growing up occur and so close together. But now time is stretching out before you and your routines and foundation of what you're building your life on needs to be able to sustain you as move forward.
For instance, you might find yourself faced with decisions of really committing to a job or way of living and supporting yourself that isn't the way that a 16 or 18 year old might—it's not just about having cash for date night, but truly creating a life that supports itself. With the progressed moon in a waning sextile to itself during this time, there can be an accompanying feeling of excitement and a burst of internal enthusiasm for what you are creating.
The Return: Old Dog, New Tricks
Saturn returns between the ages of 29 and 30, which has the progressed moon already having started a new cycle and reaching the waxing semi-sextile, the memory of that emotional reconnection still resonating within you. This is the classic aspect of growing up, something even those who know nothing about astrology can recognize as a sort of rite of passage—leaving behind the 20s. You're a Real Grown Up now, but what does that mean? An external separation of childlike behaviors and ways of seeing the world is par for this course as with any of the significant Saturn cycle points occurs at this time.
As we go through our twenties, it's easy to just fall into commitments. We say yes to the job, the spouse, etc., because that's what grownups do, right? But Saturn is about self-government and an internal sense of authority. It's needful to remember what we realized we truly care about at the progressed lunar return so that as we enter this new Saturn and progressed lunar cycle, we can build our life, our structures and routines, with intention, not the happenstance decisions we made while we were just feeling our way through playing grown up.
Between the progressed lunar return and the Saturn return, we are asked to make our inner desires into our outer reality. We cannot have everything we may want, but we can have a few things if we are willing to do that work. There is a danger at the Saturn return of just blindly living out the results of our prior choices, without realignment with the true intentions and desires we realized at our progressed lunar return. Saturn will make something real. But it's the moon, the heart, that knows what you want to make real, even if it's challenging, and what is simply a cage you've signed up for to keep the things you have.
Of course, the sign, house, and aspects that your Moon and Saturn make in your natal chart will give you the details of living out these cycles and help you become clear about how to get those needs met. My book, Astrology of the Moon, is a full work up of the natal and progressed moon through the signs, houses, and aspects to guide you on this journey.
Amy Herring (Shoreline, Washington) has been a consultant and teacher of astrology since 1995. A graduate of Steven Forrest's Evolutionary Astrology Apprenticeship program, her articles have appeared in various astrology ...